Questioning Height

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Questioning Height

Postby Astus » Fri Jan 28, 2011 9:47 am

The Agama/Nikaya teachings can be taken under two categories: early teachings (historically) and fundamental/basic teachings (doctrinally). On them were built the Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Tathagatagarbha and Vajrayana teachings. What the many developments brought about for Buddhism were a large number of skilful means and a more sophisticated view. Now, my question is if there's any validity for stating that one teaching is higher than the other. There are two perspectives: the teaching and the practitioner. From the point of the teaching, the more forms and methods it has the better. From the point of the practitioner, the stronger one's obstructions are more skilful means are needed to be applied. Thus the most varied teaching fits the largest number of people, while the simplest teaching is for the smallest number. This makes the later teachings lower doctrinally and higher applicably. What do you think?
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby tobes » Fri Jan 28, 2011 12:18 pm

Astus wrote:The Agama/Nikaya teachings can be taken under two categories: early teachings (historically) and fundamental/basic teachings (doctrinally). On them were built the Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Tathagatagarbha and Vajrayana teachings. What the many developments brought about for Buddhism were a large number of skilful means and a more sophisticated view. Now, my question is if there's any validity for stating that one teaching is higher than the other. There are two perspectives: the teaching and the practitioner. From the point of the teaching, the more forms and methods it has the better. From the point of the practitioner, the stronger one's obstructions are more skilful means are needed to be applied. Thus the most varied teaching fits the largest number of people, while the simplest teaching is for the smallest number. This makes the later teachings lower doctrinally and higher applicably. What do you think?


Interesting question Astus.

I'm not sure I entirely follow your logic here; are you saying that because later teachings have a wider range of methods, they are more suitable for a wider range of beings, and therefore, are higher from the practitioners perspective (because, they are potentially more efficacious)? That kind of makes sense, but I'm not sure how it follows that they are lower doctrinally ~ is that because they are more diffuse? What precisely do you mean by this?

In general, I have to admit that I'm not in favour of distinguishing and categorising Buddhist teachings as higher or lower. I think that generally this leads in the direction of people claiming that they are practicing "the true Buddhism" "the authentic Buddhism" "the superior Buddhism" etc etc; and I think all traditions at various points have tended in that unwholesome direction.

If pushed into a corner to respond to your general question, I'd say that the final barometer is epistemic. Is the teaching true?

If something is true, then it is simply true! Nothing more required, certainly not the statement "x is more true than y." Such would be quite a non-nonsensical claim.

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Re: Questioning Height

Postby Astus » Fri Jan 28, 2011 1:32 pm

They're doctrinally lower in the sense that there are more skilful means applied, more "smoke and mirrors" to help beings. It's like the Buddha showing Nanda the heavenly maidens who eventually achieves Nirvana.

Well, calling teachings higher and lower is very much part of Mahayana, so I find it important to address it.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby Rael » Fri Jan 28, 2011 5:54 pm

Kalden Geshe La , a friend , when he was alive we had this moment.

When i got all comfy with this Lama i asked him what was the highest teaching and if there was a special mantra.

this was very early in my introduction to Tibetan culture and teachings.

we were alone and he got all smiley and his eyes sparkled and he came quite animated in front of me and excited.

i felt this was going to be the moment when finally after so many years of trying to find "The Someone" who was going to tell me, or better yet "Show Me"..

I will share it with you.

He made eye contact and asked"Do you know what the highest teaching is? Do you want the Buddha's highest teaching?"
I nodded and said yes.

He said "The highest teaching of the Buddha is ,there is no highest teaching. what ever teaching teaches you to live a compassionate life is the perfect teaching for you. "
He then went on telling me about the Buddha turning the Dharma Wheel and all these teachings appearing all over the universe . He then said even Christianity is here due to the turning of the Dharma Wheel. The main clue is that love is the common "flavor". If a teaching is all about Love and compassion then it is a product of the turning of the Dharma Wheel.


He also giggled about the west's need for the highest teaching and the one big magic mantra....heh heh...

He was a great guy and friend to me. :namaste:
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby Hanzze » Fri Jan 28, 2011 6:43 pm

:thumbsup:
Just that! :-)
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby ground » Fri Jan 28, 2011 8:16 pm

The sravaka teachings cannot be compared to the Mahayana teachings because their intended audience is different.

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Re: Questioning Height

Postby Pero » Fri Jan 28, 2011 9:03 pm

Astus wrote:... From the point of the teaching, the more forms and methods it has the better. From the point of the practitioner, the stronger one's obstructions are more skilful means are needed to be applied. Thus the most varied teaching fits the largest number of people, while the simplest teaching is for the smallest number. This makes the later teachings lower doctrinally and higher applicably. What do you think?


Why do you think varied =! simple?
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby Astus » Fri Jan 28, 2011 9:27 pm

Rael wrote:If a teaching is all about Love and compassion then it is a product of the turning of the Dharma Wheel.


In Buddhism only love and compassion doesn't lead to liberation but rather to the brahma-heavens.

TMingyur wrote:The sravaka teachings cannot be compared to the Mahayana teachings because their intended audience is different.


What teaching is it meant only for sravakas but not for others? Even the five dhyani buddhas are equated to the different skandhas and the threefold training is used by everyone within Buddhism. Mahayana teachings are based upon the basics without what it couldn't stand at all. What I'm saying is that what came after the core speeches are further elaborations and embellishments on those basic tenets for the sake of helping beings.

Pero wrote:Why do you think varied =! simple?


By simply I didn't mean easy but less complicated. Like the difference between a piece of clay and a thousand-armed Avalokita statue.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby Pero » Fri Jan 28, 2011 10:25 pm

Astus wrote:By simply I didn't mean easy but less complicated. Like the difference between a piece of clay and a thousand-armed Avalokita statue.


Haha, got it. :smile:

Thus the most varied teaching fits the largest number of people, while the simplest teaching is for the smallest number. This makes the later teachings lower doctrinally and higher applicably. What do you think?


To what are you reffering too with "later" here?
Although many individuals in this age appear to be merely indulging their worldly desires, one does not have the capacity to judge them, so it is best to train in pure vision.
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby Astus » Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:07 am

Pero wrote:To what are you reffering too with "later" here?


Teachings that followed those before them. That is, Madhyamaka is later than Abhidharma but earlier than Yogacara, while Yogacara is earlier than Vajrayana. Historically earlier and later, which also reflects how one teaching is built upon another.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby tobes » Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:16 am

Astus wrote:They're doctrinally lower in the sense that there are more skilful means applied, more "smoke and mirrors" to help beings. It's like the Buddha showing Nanda the heavenly maidens who eventually achieves Nirvana.

Well, calling teachings higher and lower is very much part of Mahayana, so I find it important to address it.


I see. More literary upaya = more poetic verve, resonates with more people, but possibly less.....what's the word here.....singular in its assertion of truth and meaning?

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Re: Questioning Height

Postby tobes » Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:30 am

Astus wrote:
Pero wrote:To what are you reffering too with "later" here?


Teachings that followed those before them. That is, Madhyamaka is later than Abhidharma but earlier than Yogacara, while Yogacara is earlier than Vajrayana. Historically earlier and later, which also reflects how one teaching is built upon another.


I like your genealogical approach; I think it's really the only way to understand the unfolding of various Buddhist discourses.

But maybe I would say that any genealogy has twists and turns, tensions and ambiguities. So it could be a little dangerous to build a nice consistent narrative of how Buddhist teachings build on each other. For one thing, there is always more going on than the texts themselves: social and political conditions can be important. There is a really great introduction at the front of a recent translation of Asanga's Mahayana Sutra-Alamkara which situates the text in the climate of India's very rich literary-philosophical climate at the time......a very different cultural context than 1000 years earlier when the Buddha gave discourses.

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Re: Questioning Height

Postby ground » Sat Jan 29, 2011 3:49 am

Astus wrote:
TMingyur wrote:The sravaka teachings cannot be compared to the Mahayana teachings because their intended audience is different.


What teaching is it meant only for sravakas but not for others? Even the five dhyani buddhas are equated to the different skandhas and the threefold training is used by everyone within Buddhism.

But the context is intent on individual liberation of the sravaka or the benefit of beings. It seems to me that you are insisting to take the perspective of individual liberation as to both vehicles. This is a view that I do not share at all because it reduces the Mahayana to just another sravaka vehicle.

Astus wrote:Mahayana teachings are based upon the basics without what it couldn't stand at all. What I'm saying is that what came after the core speeches are further elaborations and embellishments on those basic tenets for the sake of helping beings.

For the sake of developing in beings the capacity to help beings.

Now one may ask "Is the Mahayana higher because of this?" I would tend to say "No" because it is destined for a different lineage.

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Re: Questioning Height

Postby ground » Sat Jan 29, 2011 3:55 am

So the question as to "height of teachings" can be validly asked only in the context of either Mahayana or sravakayana, but it is not valid across sravakayana and Mahayana.

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Re: Questioning Height

Postby Rael » Sat Jan 29, 2011 3:59 am

Astus wrote:
In Buddhism only love and compassion doesn't lead to liberation but rather to the brahma-heavens.


a Tulku once told me once one experiences Sunyata and combine it with love and compassion your enlightened.



i said
The main clue is that love is the common "flavor". If a teaching is all about Love and compassion then it is a product of the turning of the Dharma Wheel.


to which you reply
In Buddhism only love and compassion doesn't lead to liberation but rather to the brahma-heavens.

which isn't exactly what i was talking about.
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:09 am

Astus wrote:The Agama/Nikaya teachings can be taken under two categories: early teachings (historically) and fundamental/basic teachings (doctrinally).


This is a recent development. Until a few decades ago, outside of Theravada, all Buddhists would have considered the Lotus Sūtra just as historical and fundamental as anything in the Āgamas. Everyone believed the Lotus Sutra had been taught in the same manner as anything in the Āgamas. Of course nowadays there is a distinction between "Early Buddhism" and later developments such as Mahāyāna.


On them were built the Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Tathagatagarbha and Vajrayana teachings.


Well, this is the present day historian's point of view. However, some scriptures state that the Mahāyāna teachings are not a new development. Take for example the opening remarks in the Brahma Net Sūtra.

《梵網經》卷2:「爾時盧舍那佛。為此大眾。略開百千恒河沙不可說法門中心地。如毛頭許。是過去一切佛已說。未來佛當說。現在佛今說。三世菩薩已學當學今學。我已百劫修行是心地。號吾為盧舍那。汝諸佛轉我所說。與一切眾生開心地道。」(CBETA, T24, no. 1484, p. 1003, b10-15)

At the time, Vairocana Buddha for the great assembly began to speak generally of the mind ground within the inexpressible dharma gates as numerous as sands in a hundred-thousand Ganges Rivers. It was still only like the tip of a hair.

"This was taught by all Buddhas of the past. It will be taught by Buddhas of the future. It is now taught by Buddhas of the present. Bodhisattvas of the Three Realms have practised it, will practise it and now practise it. I have cultivated this mind ground for a hundred kalpas. I am called Vairocana. You Buddhas must transmit what I teach unto sentient beings and open the path to this mind ground."


From this perspective the Bodhisattva path has always been existent and taught by Buddhas of the past. It is not a development of Āgama ideas.

However, that will probably not satisfy the sceptical scholar who is employing literary analysis and building a totally different image of the development of the Buddhist canon.

Another example to consider is the Mahāyānasūtrālamkārakārikā which while nominally penned by Asanga is said to have actually been composed by Maitreya and transmitted to Asanga. Some Japanese scholars doubt this and suggested a monk named Maitreya might have been Asanga's teacher in the flesh. However, Robert Thurman argues that such a bias against Bodhisattvas actually residing in Tuṣita Heaven and being able to transmit teachings to sagely monks on Earth is not truly objective because it is really just a perspective conditioned by a materialist worldview which has its own set of preconceptions and ideas just as the Buddhist worldview does. Thurman concludes that unless evidence is presented to the contrary, there is nothing wrong with holding to the traditional account that Asanga had a vision of Maitreya and received the text through him.

Again, from that perspective there are no early teachings or later teachings. The teachings of Maitreya presumably had been available in Tuṣita prior to the Śrāvaka teachings being taught by Shakyamuni. Maitreya only revealed his teachings on the Mahāyāna when the time was appropriate.

Now, my question is if there's any validity for stating that one teaching is higher than the other.


Traditionally it is the case that there are higher teachings. The the goal of the Śrāvaka teachings is to become an Arhat. The goal of the Mahāyāna is the Bodhisattva path followed by Buddhahood.

There are two perspectives: the teaching and the practitioner. From the point of the teaching, the more forms and methods it has the better. From the point of the practitioner, the stronger one's obstructions are more skilful means are needed to be applied. Thus the most varied teaching fits the largest number of people, while the simplest teaching is for the smallest number. This makes the later teachings lower doctrinally and higher applicably. What do you think?


The premise of what you're saying requires that the Āgamas came first and then the other teachings, such as the Mahāyāna scriptures, really came later. However, if this is not truly the case then what you are proposing is unimportant. In other words, what if the Mahāyāna is not a development on the Āgama teachings and has actually always existed as I suggest above?
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby muni » Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:20 am

lost in comparing-clinging of pointing fingers (tool), no way to see the moon.
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby Astus » Sat Jan 29, 2011 11:34 am

tobes wrote:singular in its assertion of truth and meaning?


What I mean is that to accord with different inclinations you transform the teaching to look more attractive, thus setting up more steps before the end. It's what the Lotus Sutra's chapters on skilful means and the three parables are about. The difference in what I say here is that unlike that sutra's positioning a later teaching as the final intention and greater revelation, the argument here is that all the different teachings lead within themselves to the same realisation (not three but one vehicle) and there are no successive attainments (arhat, bodhisattva, buddha).

But maybe I would say that any genealogy has twists and turns, tensions and ambiguities.


Certainly it is good to see how different teachings emerged and come to dominate depending on its environment.

TMingyur wrote:So the question as to "height of teachings" can be validly asked only in the context of either Mahayana or sravakayana, but it is not valid across sravakayana and Mahayana.


The differentiation of inferior and great vehicle is only within a Mahayana context which makes comparison valid even according to your argument.

Rael wrote:a Tulku once told me once one experiences Sunyata and combine it with love and compassion your enlightened.


Adding prajna to the equation makes the difference indeed.

which isn't exactly what i was talking about.


Excuse me for the mistake.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Questioning Height

Postby ground » Sat Jan 29, 2011 11:43 am

Astus wrote:
TMingyur wrote:So the question as to "height of teachings" can be validly asked only in the context of either Mahayana or sravakayana, but it is not valid across sravakayana and Mahayana.


The differentiation of inferior and great vehicle is only within a Mahayana context which makes comparison valid even according to your argument.


Really? Well I don't know but I can imagine that sravakas argue about inferior or superior in the context of vipassana methods too. This argument is just based on afflictive obscurations and since practitioners are not enlightened from the start it should be ubiquituous.
And as to schools these are collections of non-enlightened individuals. So I do not believe in "inferior or superior" but I do believe in "appropriate" and "not appropriate". And within both sravakayana and Mahayana the question about "height of teachings" is a question of appropriateness.
It necessarily has to be a question of appropriateness. Why? Because there is no inherent meaning in signs and sounds.


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Re: Questioning Height

Postby tobes » Sat Jan 29, 2011 1:14 pm

Huseng wrote:However, that will probably not satisfy the sceptical scholar who is employing literary analysis and building a totally different image of the development of the Buddhist canon.

Another example to consider is the Mahāyānasūtrālamkārakārikā which while nominally penned by Asanga is said to have actually been composed by Maitreya and transmitted to Asanga. Some Japanese scholars doubt this and suggested a monk named Maitreya might have been Asanga's teacher in the flesh. However, Robert Thurman argues that such a bias against Bodhisattvas actually residing in Tuṣita Heaven and being able to transmit teachings to sagely monks on Earth is not truly objective because it is really just a perspective conditioned by a materialist worldview which has its own set of preconceptions and ideas just as the Buddhist worldview does. Thurman concludes that unless evidence is presented to the contrary, there is nothing wrong with holding to the traditional account that Asanga had a vision of Maitreya and received the text through him.

Again, from that perspective there are no early teachings or later teachings. The teachings of Maitreya presumably had been available in Tuṣita prior to the Śrāvaka teachings being taught by Shakyamuni. Maitreya only revealed his teachings on the Mahāyāna when the time was appropriate.


I think Thurman makes a good point there, and it really throws a spanner in the works for this discussion. Thanks for bringing it up.

Astus (and I) are presupposing a linear view of history, and conventional space-time. I think that maybe these are good methodological suppositions, if only because they are the suppositions most people hold. I think the danger that Thurman points to is that these may be taken to be more than mere methodological suppositions; they may become ontological.....in which case texts and the ideas contained within them must conform to that ontology.

But there is counter problem too isn't there? If we reject a kind of historicist skeptical hermeneutical approach and just go for traditional religious narratives.....then.......don't you end up getting close to the bible belt terrain in America where everything biblical is just believed.

Ultimately, I think this is a bigger danger than crabby, skeptical, scholars. Like all things, balance is warranted.

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