Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

General forum on Mahayana.

Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 27, 2010 11:30 am

I know the subject might sound odd, but it has a point.

If one is to understand a certain quarter of Buddhism in the world, for example Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Thai Buddhism, etc..., in a broad but well informed manner, it entails studying a lot of non-Buddhist sources.

What do I mean by this?

Take for example Chinese Buddhism. Over the many centuries one has to take into consideration the vast influences from Daoist thought and practises, Confucianism and even things like divination. In my reading of Chinese Buddhist texts I often encounter references and allusions to non-Buddhist thinkers and traditions. It is actually so common that I often think I need to understand more Confucian thought before I can truly grasp what certain authors are getting at. The Sutras are naturally not like this, but the writings of Chinese Buddhist thinkers over the many centuries are.

Or in the case of Indian Buddhism, knowledge of the various heterodox schools like Samkhya, Nyaya and so on, is a prerequisite in understanding various Buddhist thinkers who spent much time writing arguments against such positions and refuting them.

I think because of all this it might be best to encourage people, particularly youth, to read broadly and to cultivate a broad understanding.

What do you think? If you want to understand Buddhism, should you read the Vedas and Confucius?
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
 
Posts: 5863
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: Nepal

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby Yogicfire » Thu May 27, 2010 4:44 pm

I think that we only have a very short life on this planet, and trying to cram in so much might prove impossible, and unproductive. Yes, it would be good to know about Nyaya, the theory of the Tathagatagarbha school and its relationship to certain heterodox tendencies within and outside Buddhism, the Sarvastivadin influence on Chinese thought, the influence of Vaisnava philosophy on Northern Buddhist tantra.... and so on and so on. OK, if you are a scholar (which I think you aspire to be in some way, shape or form) then learning around your sources is important. But, for the everyday bod, I don't think that all these external sources will be so important in terms of developing one's understanding of the Buddhist dharma, or at least not going into it all in so much detail anyway.

Yes, it is good to know something about where certain doctrines or teachings came from, and their Indian or Chinese background, but most good textbooks/books on Buddhist history will provide some coverage of this, and that could be enough.

A decent collection of the great spiritual classics such as the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao Te Ching amongst others, together with a varied selection of Buddhist books, would suffice for the vast majority I would say.
Yogicfire
 
Posts: 49
Joined: Mon May 03, 2010 7:55 am
Location: UK

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 27, 2010 5:10 pm

There is a quote from Nagarjuna in the Tree of Wisdom that I find quite striking:

By the wise all sciences will be studied even when they are past middle age.
Although there may be no results in this life
It will become easier for them to obtain such in another life.


It might seem like a waste of time to study a lot of heterodox thinkers, but it does cultivate intelligence and makes for easier study in future lives.

You might build a house and fifty years from now not remember what hammer you used, but you'll probably remember how to build a house.

I hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama is quite erudite and curious about many non-Buddhist subjects.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
 
Posts: 5863
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: Nepal

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby White Lotus » Thu May 27, 2010 6:18 pm

:namaste: Noble Huseng, i dont mean to sound overly simple, but everyone breathes and this breath will be spoken about by people who are not buddhist. however... all the words of all the great teachers are not a drop in the ocean of emptiness. not a hair enters it, not a grain of dust. if a teacher realizes emptiness then he is a buddha regardless of whether or not he calls himself a buddhist. everything just happens to be empty and unless one sees this for himself he cannot perceive the fundamental...
no matter how much he philosophises and reasons with clever ideas.

yes, everyone has something interesting to say, and sometimes some fascinating things, but they are unable to get to the root of things. the root of 'this'.

Buddhism truly is unique, and i say that coming from a Christian background... there is nothing like it, in any teaching anywhere. of course there will be those who speak words of truth in other faiths, but they do not approach the fundamental.

personally i feel that the first chapter of the Tao Teh Ching comes close to an 'initial' experience of emptiness, i know what you are saying and feel that respect is due where it is due. the Tao however does not open your eyes and ears to see that there is not a thing anywhere. it is not adequately explained in the Tao Teh Ching. nor is the process of realizing emptiness explained adequately. the Tao is like seeing one leg of the elephant of buddhism... if even that. the Going Beyond of Hinduism and the Tao is irrelevant if we are to understand and eventually experience emptiness in our daily perception.

others are looking for something remarkable, buddhism takes us to see the mundane as that which is truly remakable. that 'this' is 'emptiness', that emptiness is form.

There cant be any harm in openness to other perspectives, it is good to broaden ones approach to life. everyone has something good to say, whoever he or she is.
the buddha had read widely as a young person and studied the many and varied attitudes of sciences, mathematics and hindu metaphysics before setting out on the course that lead to his eventual enlightenment.

best wishes, White Lotus.
in any matters of importance. dont rely on me. i may not know what i am talking about. take what i say as mere speculation. i am not ordained. nor do i have a formal training. i do believe though that if i am wrong on any point. there are those on this site who i hope will quickly point out my mistakes.
White Lotus
 
Posts: 569
Joined: Sat Jan 23, 2010 12:56 pm

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby catmoon » Sun May 30, 2010 12:50 am

Yogicfire wrote:I think that we only have a very short life on this planet, and trying to cram in so much might prove impossible, and unproductive..



I agree. I started with all of Buddhism, narrowed my focus to Tibetan schools, then further narrowed it to elementary teachings. This helps me to keep pounding away at the things that are right in front of me, the "next thing on the path".
Sergeant Schultz knew everything there was to know.
User avatar
catmoon
Former staff member
 
Posts: 3002
Joined: Thu Nov 19, 2009 3:20 am
Location: British Columbia

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby plwk » Sun May 30, 2010 4:34 am

My little cup of tea here....that often runneth over :tongue:

Take for example Chinese Buddhism. Over the many centuries one has to take into consideration the vast influences from Daoist thought and practises, Confucianism and even things like divination. In my reading of Chinese Buddhist texts I often encounter references and allusions to non-Buddhist thinkers and traditions. It is actually so common that I often think I need to understand more Confucian thought before I can truly grasp what certain authors are getting at. The Sutras are naturally not like this, but the writings of Chinese Buddhist thinkers over the many centuries are.

Agree and have listened to enough of certain Dharma talks where Confucian and Taoist allusions have been inserted in. But I always remind myself that that doesn't mean it represents what the actual or often used phrase 'orthodox' Dharma per se stands for other than it being the personal view of the Dharma Master / speaker / lecturer and used to fit/relate to the intended audience.
One nag though...there is a tendency for many to mistaken the Confucian/Taoist views which were meant as a figure of speech or side talk as the core of Dharma and from my experience, in one example, Confucian morality and ethics or the Chinese ethnic ethics system is often superimposed on the Buddhist one, confusing some to the point of thinking whether Chinese Buddhism is actually pseudo Taoism/Confucianism or the proper Buddha Dharma in itself and worst still when sometimes, it is used by some as a 'stamp of approval', as if the Tathagata has said so.
So often, from my experience, I have seen how the people are taken in, overwhelmed and at times emotionally moved by samsaric models of morality rather than Buddha's teaching on Sila / Pratimoksha and other related respective constituent parts/practices that leads to final bliss of Nirvana, whereas in the case of the former, it merely perpetuates one's cycle in the triple burning worlds.
And I am assuming one know what happens when one puts words into the Tathagata's mouth...

What do you think? If you want to understand Buddhism, should you read the Vedas and Confucius?

If I want to be a doctor, do I sign up for an engineering course? Yes, they may know a bit on medical knowledge, but it remains for a fact that they are not equipped for the actual expertise/training of a doctor. So logically, I would sign up at a medical college to start my journey towards being a full fledged doctor. Once achieved, I can see other points of view, both from the medical side and other opinions from other non-medical professional sources without being confused by other presentations or getting my own practice as a doctor muddled.

Similarly, if I call myself a lay follower of the Buddha, I would first engage myself in thorough study, understanding and practice of the Buddha Dharma. When I am confident and established, only then can I venture out there and see other people's viewpoints both from THEIR side and most importantly from the lenses of the Buddha Dharma, as a lay follower of the Buddha, so as to avoid spiritual and philosophical confusion.

From the Great Compassion Dharani Sutra:
http://yzzj.fodian.net/world/dabei_sutra.htm
"At that time, I will illuminate them with a thousand eyes, and protect and support them with a thousand hands. From then on, they will be able to master all worldly literature, and will perfectly understand all Exterior-paths' theories and sorceries, as well as the Veda Scriptures."

Impressive isn't it? But guess what? All the paragraphs before this one spoke about first establishing oneself in the Buddha Dharma practices as expounded by Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva before coming/attaining to this one.

That reminds me of another level too:
http://www.cttbusa.org/42sections/42sec_b.asp
Section 11 The Increase in Merit Gained by Bestowing Food
The Buddha said,
"Giving food to a hundred bad people is not as good as giving food to a single good person.
Giving food to a thousand good people is not as good as giving food to one person who holds the Five Precepts.
Giving food to ten thousand people who hold the Five Precepts is not as good as giving food to a single Srotaapanna.
Giving food to a million Srotaapannas is not as good as giving food to a single Sakridagamin.
Giving food to ten million Sakridagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Anagamin.
Giving food to a hundred million Anagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Arhat.
Giving food to one billion Arhats is not as good as giving food to a single Pratyekabuddha.
Giving food to ten billion Pratyekabuddhas is not as good as giving food to a Buddha of the three periods of time.
Giving food to a hundred billion Buddhas of the three periods of time is not as good as giving food to a single person who is without thoughts, without dwelling, without cultivation, and without accomplishment."

So from the late Ven Master Hsuan Hua, in his commentary:
The eleventh section of the Sutra compares the superior and inferior fields of blessings and lets people understand the superior and inferior aspects of making offerings.

So, from my own understanding, as a lay follower of the Buddha, the giving/offering of my time and effort to first study and practice the Buddha Dharma is of course more superior and meritorious than any other forms of non-Buddhist knowledge, and by the time the latter is pursued, it is pursued from the motivation of Bodhicitta and through the lenses of the Buddha Dharma, then no longer it becomes a mere samsaric hobby or an empty/vain pursuit of head knowledge.

And another point...
If the Buddha Dharma is said to be good in the beginning, in the middle and in the end, why does a lay follower of the Buddha need to supplement non-Buddhist teachings to understand the Buddha Dharma?
Is the Buddha Dharma defective in some way or is our own method of learning the Buddha Dharma lacking in its proper sphere?

:namaste:
plwk
 
Posts: 2632
Joined: Thu Feb 25, 2010 10:41 am

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby Indrajala » Sun May 30, 2010 10:12 am

plwk wrote:And another point...
If the Buddha Dharma is said to be good in the beginning, in the middle and in the end, why does a lay follower of the Buddha need to supplement non-Buddhist teachings to understand the Buddha Dharma?
Is the Buddha Dharma defective in some way or is our own method of learning the Buddha Dharma lacking in its proper sphere?

:namaste:


I was speaking more from a point of view of study or scholarship.

You don't need to study Laozi to benefit from the Buddhadharma, but knowing Laozi would probably aid in really getting at what certain presumably advanced Chinese Buddhist masters of old were getting at in many of their writings.

In the case of the Agammas or Nikayas, knowing the opponents Buddha refuted is useful in understanding how and why the Buddha said what he did. Knowing why something is incorrect is useful in understanding what is correct.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
 
Posts: 5863
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: Nepal

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby Yogicfire » Sun May 30, 2010 1:43 pm

Well, your opening post was quite broad:

What do you think? If you want to understand Buddhism, should you read the Vedas and Confucius?

If you are talking from a scholarly point of view, then I would agree with the notion of exploring extensively outside your own specialist field.

In the Pali canon alone there is a large collection of information on various competing views concerning atman, nature of reality, and so on. To digest all that would take a fair bit of time.
Yogicfire
 
Posts: 49
Joined: Mon May 03, 2010 7:55 am
Location: UK

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby Astus » Sun May 30, 2010 2:28 pm

Huseng,

If one is a scholar who specialises in one part of Buddhism it is of course expected that such a person is familiar with the everything relevant to a higher degree. So if you were a Fazang expert you'd have to be knowledgeable about practically everything Fazang knew and even beyond that to be able to see the bigger socio-historical picture. On the other hand, if I want to learn and use the Huayan teachings, for me it's enough to read some of his works and that's it, even an acceptable translation may suffice, or a teacher who read Fazang.
"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)
User avatar
Astus
Former staff member
 
Posts: 4207
Joined: Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:22 pm
Location: Budapest

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby sukhamanveti » Mon May 31, 2010 10:14 pm

Greetings, Huseng.

> If you want to understand Buddhism, should you read the Vedas and Confucius?

I think it is a matter of proportion. Sometimes it may be necessary for a serious student of the Buddhadharma to understand a doctrine of the brahmins (e.g., the doctrine of the atman) or one of the six heterodox teachers in order to better understand the words of the Buddha which address wrong view in one of the scriptures. Understanding a bit about the Samkhyas or the Carvakas, among others, can help to illuminate portions of Nagarjuna’s excellent treatises. This is knowledge that benefits one’s understanding and one’s practice. It may also help one to refute wrong views.

On the other hand, I believe that my focus should be upon the teachings of the buddhas and that of qualified Buddhist teachers. If the study of nonBuddhist religious or philosophical teachings were to cause me to neglect the study of the Buddhadharma, then I believe that it would be excessive and detrimental. In the principal version of the Bodhisattva vows that I have studied (which is derived from a traditional Tibetan combination of Chandragomin’s Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattva Vow and supplementary material from Shantideva’s Compendium of Training), numbers 29 and 30 of the secondary or branch vows specifically prohibit excessive study of nonBuddhist scriptures and treatises and attachment to them, respectively.

> By the wise all sciences will be studied even when they are past middle age.

The study of such things as logic, science, medicine, and language is a bodhisattva practice, as I understand it. For example, Vimalakirti was learned in “mundane sciences” we are told. Nagarjuna is said to have practiced medicine, although this is something monks often did, whether or not they were bodhisattvas (Nagarjuna was both). His Holiness the Dalai Lama has studied physics, neuroscience, biology, logic (through the writings of Dignaga and Dharmakirti), and history. Paul Williams has said that bodhisattvas at the fifth bhumi learn “various secular arts such as mathematics and medicine, music and history,” because “they may be useful.”*


*Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism (New York: Routledge, 2nd edition, 2009), p. 205.
namo bhagavate śākyamunaye tathāgatāyārhate samyaksaṁbuddhāya | namaḥ sarvabuddhabodhisattvebhyaḥ ||

"Bodhisattva-mahāsattvas love all beings in the world equally, as if each were their only child..." Buddhāvataṃsakamahāvaipulya Sūtra
User avatar
sukhamanveti
 
Posts: 108
Joined: Fri May 21, 2010 5:50 pm
Location: U.S.A.

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby Kyosan » Sat Oct 16, 2010 8:52 pm

Buddhism is more of a practice than it is book learning. The main thing you need to know is how to practice. You don't need to read real broadly. I think that the thing to do is pick the form of Buddhism that is most appealing to you and start practicing it and use the most relevant Buddhist writings as your guide.
Kyosan
 
Posts: 331
Joined: Fri Oct 15, 2010 10:57 pm
Location: USA, Tucson

Re: Knowing Buddhism through non-Buddhist sources?

Postby Individual » Sat Oct 16, 2010 9:09 pm

You don't need to study from Buddhist sources to practice the Noble Eightfold Path, but it helps. So, why not?

And it does seem to be necessary to study Buddhist sources in order to teach others.

We shouldn't forget the incredible value of Buddhist texts as a very clear mirror into one's own nature.
Individual
 
Posts: 407
Joined: Wed Oct 13, 2010 1:20 am


Return to Mahāyāna Buddhism

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Alexa [Bot] and 6 guests

>