Namdrol wrote:I am suggesting that there is a constant danger of "Dharma ossification".
On the contrary, Tibetans have managed to do so with spectacular success. There has not been a new idea in Tibetan Buddhism since about 15th century. Tibetan Buddhism is intellectually frozen. I would venture it is the same with all forms of Buddhism.
My view of Buddhist history is that Gautama presented the essentials to his disciples (early scriptures) from which came a gradual explanation of the many aspects until around the 13th century, the time when Buddhism established itself throughout Asia and practically disappeared in India. Then on there were no significantly new teachings but only continuing the tradition. In terms of Dharma-age - in my interpretation - the pre-sectarian period was the True Dharma, the sectarian period was the Semblance Dharma and from the 13th century on it is the Declining Dharma age; however, this carries too bad connotations to take it seriously.
I'm not sure if philosophical creativity is necessarily the measure of a living tradition. Hakuin's reform in Japanese and Gyeongheo's reform in Korean Zen didn't mean new ideas but rather a restoration - or reinvention - of old teachings. But it was a reform nevertheless. Same could be said of Theravada monks starting dhutanga communities in Thailand.
In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta the Buddha said,
"But in any doctrine & discipline where the noble eightfold path is found, contemplatives of the first... second... third... fourth order are found. The noble eightfold path is found in this doctrine & discipline, and right here there are contemplatives of the first... second... third... fourth order. Other teachings are empty of knowledgeable contemplatives. And if the monks dwell rightly, this world will not be empty of arahants."
It is the guarding and practising the path that keeps the teaching alive. There is also a series of talks on the future dangers (AN 5.77-80), later selected by King Asoka into his edicts, that address matters monks should take heed of in order to develop on the path. Another sutta (SN 20.7) warns about the dangers of not listening to the very teachings of the Buddha but instead to "discourses that are literary works — the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples" thus causing the disappearance of the Buddha's teachings. And if we look at Nagarjuna's works their aim is not to establish some new thought but to turn people back to the path itself, this is the expression of the very practical spirit of the prajnaparamita sutras. The same sentiment is found in other teachings that were later regarded as new schools, the attempt to return to the original teachings: not the words themselves but the insight. Isn't that what the upadesha teaching is about in Tibet, a direct discourse? But of course no teaching can avoid formalisation and eventual rigor mortis. That is impermanence. What keeps the Dharma alive is enlightenment, it is revived every time a person gains insight into the truth of the teaching.
So, what is intellectual liveliness? Does the pure citta of Ajahn Chah, the Juingong of Daehaeng Sunim or the Humanistic Buddhism of Yinshun qualify as such? I can't really tell. What do you say?