Sutras origins

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Sutras origins

Postby zamotcr » Tue Jul 30, 2013 1:22 pm

It is said by many teachers that the Buddha taught the Mahayana Sutras. Scholars, Theravadins and others say otherwise.
Well, we know several sutras appeared so much after, some of them were created in China (like Surangama Suta, Brahma-net Sutra, etc).

Knowing this, how is explained that Buddha taught them? Was really him? Was him but just not with his Nirmanakaya form? How do you deal with authenticity? And with the chinese sutras, was Buddha too?

Also, sometimes it seems to me, that Mahayana is so complicated (comparing it to Theravada), sometimes I cannot understand anything (sometimes it seems to me that early Buddhism is much more simpler, but is just not for me). Has someone feel this too? How do you deal with it?

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Re: Sutras origins

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Jul 31, 2013 1:50 am

When you look at documents historically, then you have to consider the historic context. Indian Mahayana sutras are quite elaborate, perhaps a bit overbearing to the modern reader. But there are a lot of things we do not take into account. Such elaboration, for example, the introductions which just seem to go on and on and on, naming hundreds of Buddhas and reckoning countless bodhisattvas and such, it seems right over the top. But in its day, this would be considered appropriate for the importance of the texts. It is appropriate in proportion to the value of the teachings. You can see the same thing with things today, if it isn't given a whole lot of pomp, people might not pay any attention to it. Think of how much build-up a new movie gets, or how much money and effort is put into a wedding. This is not exactly the same thing, but the point is to consider the whole context.

As far as the validity of the teachings goes, nobody can prove that about any of the Buddhist teachings. The Theravada teachings (Pali Canon) were not written down until about a century after the teachings were given, and then, some 5,000 miles south of where the Buddha gave them, and in a language he didn't use. But consider this; Who was it who first rubbed two sticks together to make fire? Nobody knows. Yet, if you do that today and produce fire, the fire is just as valid as the fire produced in prehistoric times. so, the validity of the teachings lies not in historical documentation, but in being able to test out those teachings in the present day and replicate the results. They are valid because you can test them out for yourself.
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Re: Sutras origins

Postby Ramon1920 » Wed Jul 31, 2013 3:03 am

There are definitely fake sutras. If anyone doubts that I can write one in 30 minutes or less that looks like a very authentic English translation. I could even go as far as getting some very old blank paper and get someone to write something in sanskrit with gold powder or some undateable ink and take it to a university to get them to mistake it for a lost sutra.

The Theraveda suttas have more clout because they have a unbroken lineage of transmission through the nikaya(groups that orally recite the suttas and pass it down from generation to generation) where as if you were to look for a unbroken lineage of transmission of even the agamas, not even taking into account the other sutras, you will not find it for most.

Because of all these breaks in the transmission of the texts in the other schools, you can't always be sure of the origins.

Now if you are looking for fantastical suttas in in the nikaya collection, they do exist, we just tend not to pay much attention to them.

Now in the Bodhisattva vows(depending on the version you received) there are 2 vows that prohibit you from saying the Mahayana sutras are not the teaching of the Buddha. These vows have always been a point of contention because everyone knows there are fake and flawed copies of sutras floating around and it would be unreasonable and dangerous to just accept them as being valid because someone said they were Mahayana sutras. So here is my personal interpretation of these vows, "don't deny the Bodhisattva vehicle and the texts themselves are open to being questioned".

In the past many Buddhist authorities have tried to reconcile the issue of forgeries and flawed copies and obvious inconsistencies between reality and what was written. One example of this is the lists of categorical and interpretable sutras that Nagarjuna assembled.

There is a text I am very fond of that could not possibly have been written by the person the historical colophon says it was written by. Maybe it was the essence of his teaching condensed? Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity and someone added a short biography of the wrong person? Maybe it was an outright forgery and someone just put someone else's name on it so they could teach it without being ridiculed for making up their own teaching. Maybe the actual author used an unbelievable identity intentionally for some reason. I can't be sure right now, but the text feels right and seems to get right to the heart of the matter.
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Re: Sutras origins

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Jul 31, 2013 4:34 am

zamotcr wrote:It is said by many teachers that the Buddha taught the Mahayana Sutras. Scholars, Theravadins and others say otherwise.
Well, we know several sutras appeared so much after, some of them were created in China (like Surangama Suta, Brahma-net Sutra, etc).

Knowing this, how is explained that Buddha taught them? Was really him? Was him but just not with his Nirmanakaya form? How do you deal with authenticity? And with the chinese sutras, was Buddha too?

Also, sometimes it seems to me, that Mahayana is so complicated (comparing it to Theravada), sometimes I cannot understand anything (sometimes it seems to me that early Buddhism is much more simpler, but is just not for me). Has someone feel this too? How do you deal with it?

:namaste:


I sympathize with your feelings. There often discussion of this points on the Forum. It is a big topic in the subjects of 'Buddhology' or 'Buddhist Studies'. Suffice to say that one way to approach it is through books which look at the historical development of Buddhism as a movement. An early example was Buddhism: Its Essence and Development by Edward Conze. (There are probably other and more recent titles too.) But the point is, that approach gives some framework within which to understand how the Mahayana developed as an identifiable movement, and also the way in which 'The Buddha' came to be understood as something more than, or other than, simply an historical teacher.

You can also approach through your own spiritual search and meditation practice. This will bring up questions which are often dealt with by the Sutras. Find a particular theme, teacher, or sutra with which you have a particular affiniity and just stick with it. Don't forget we're in the 'information age', all of us have access to untold volumes of information on Buddhism (and any other subject for that matter.) Quite often in earlier times, you would only have one or two sutras or teachings. After all Hui Neng was enlightened on hearing a single line from the Diamond Sutra. So, that suggests a way of approaching it thematically rather than through a kind of 'encyclopedic' approach which tries to take in everything. Just pick a key idea, theme, or topic and work with it.
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