First mahayana sutras, when?

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First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby wangdak » Mon Jul 16, 2012 9:12 am

Hello,
is there any real evidence that first mahayana sutras appeared before BCE? Thank you.
:namaste:
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby catmoon » Mon Jul 16, 2012 10:15 am

It really does depend which sutra you are discussing. It seems there is general academic agreement that the Lotus Sutra was written between 100 BC and 100 AD. I think that date is based on a mention of the sutra in a dated stone column, but you should check that further. Ven. Huifeng would probably know all about this.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jul 16, 2012 2:15 pm

Estimations for dating almost entirely rely on literary analysis as we have so few extant physical specimens from that period in any language.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Greg » Mon Jul 16, 2012 10:01 pm

We can establish that Lokaksema translated Mahayana sutras in 179 CE. That's as far as that sort of thing takes us, although Hirakawa Akira among others uses the sort of literary analysis mentioned about to make a reasonable case taking us back to 1st century BCE for certain texts--particularly the Satparamita, Bodhisattvapitika and Triskandhakadharmaparyaya, none of which are still extant.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Leo Rivers » Mon Jul 16, 2012 11:14 pm

What makes a mahyana sutra a Mahayana sutra?

Mahayana can simply mean "a high road to go" within a traditional context.

Bodhisattvas and even Maha Bodisattvas and even Multiple Buddhas and Buddhas in the Past etc show up in various guises.
Even side by side co-operative old ways and new ways sutras show up. A "Mahayana" may simply mean "advanced placement courses". What is really interesting is to scan the lists of texts Nagarjuna quotes from and from that (not his own statements) reverse design his "religion"
And that first translation batch? Its a spectrum of mutually to some degree mutually exclusive centripetal texts.

1. Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
2. Larger Sukhāvatī -vyūha Sūtra
3. Akṣobhya tathāgatasya -vyūha Sūtra
4. Ugra -pari pṛccha Sūtra
5. Mañjuśrī -pari pṛcchā Sūtra
6. Drumakinnararāja -pari pṛcchā Sūtra
7. Śūraṅgama Samādhi Sūtra
8. Bhadrapāla Sūtra
9. Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodana Sūtra
10. Kāśyapa -pari varta Sūtra
11. Lokānuvartana Sūtra
12. An early sūtra connected to the Avataṃsaka Sūtra
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Greg » Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:41 am

Leo Rivers wrote:What makes a mahyana sutra a Mahayana sutra?

Mahayana can simply mean "a high road to go" within a traditional context.

Bodhisattvas and even Maha Bodisattvas and even Multiple Buddhas and Buddhas in the Past etc show up in various guises.
Even side by side co-operative old ways and new ways sutras show up. A "Mahayana" may simply mean "advanced placement courses". What is really interesting is to scan the lists of texts Nagarjuna quotes from and from that (not his own statements) reverse design his "religion"
And that first translation batch? Its a spectrum of mutually to some degree mutually exclusive centripetal texts.

1. Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra
2. Larger Sukhāvatī -vyūha Sūtra
3. Akṣobhya tathāgatasya -vyūha Sūtra
4. Ugra -pari pṛccha Sūtra
5. Mañjuśrī -pari pṛcchā Sūtra
6. Drumakinnararāja -pari pṛcchā Sūtra
7. Śūraṅgama Samādhi Sūtra
8. Bhadrapāla Sūtra
9. Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodana Sūtra
10. Kāśyapa -pari varta Sūtra
11. Lokānuvartana Sūtra
12. An early sūtra connected to the Avataṃsaka Sūtra


Your point is well taken that rigid distinctions can be anachronistic when applied retroactively. But in response to your question, what makes a mahyana sutra a Mahayana sutra, I'd venture that it is any sutra that is not part of the shared Agama/Nikaya corpus and has characteristics that typify Mahayana sutras.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Leo Rivers » Tue Jul 17, 2012 5:58 am

is not part of the shared Agama/Nikaya corpus and has characteristics that typify Mahayana sutras


I was hoping this would come up! There was multiple "Mahayanas" or independent "new outlooks" all across India and Central Asia and even China between 100 CE and 200 CE that each sported at least 1 new feature that was one of the
characteristics that typify Mahayana sutras
It must have been an amazing time. I can't help but think of High School in the 1960s. Everybody took the standard classes but we would divide up between those who thought the new Beatles album or new Dylan album was "where it was at". The Rock and Rollers didn't start their own schools, they just congregated after hours around their favorite new record.

I think the Mahayana sutras acted as a kind of supplemental social reformation like that. You would have a monastery all normal formal and a few secret sutras floating around which their "fans" would gather around after hours.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Aemilius » Tue Jul 17, 2012 8:11 am

As we know that buddhism first existed as an oral tradition, do you not think it more than likely that Mahayana and Mahayana sutras also first existed as an oral tradition? Before the appearance of written sutras.

It also depends on what you accept as a proof. In buddhism we have the five eyes, six supernormal powers, three knowledges, etc.
If some buddhist master, say like Nagarjuna, TsongKhapa, a Zen Patriarch or an other master of wisdom, sees with His enlightened vision that the Mahayana sutras were actually spoken and delivered by the Buddha Shakyamuni, does it constitute a proof for you?
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby viniketa » Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:01 am

wangdak wrote: is there any real evidence that first mahayana sutras appeared before BCE?


As mentioned, Buddhism was maintained as an oral tradition for a very long time. Language is the best available indicator of age. Sanskrit, as a written language, precedes the Prakrits or Middle Indo-Aryan languages (including Pali), which were originally vernacular, spoken dialects in ancient times. These languages are derived from and closely related to Sanskrit, which would most often be the written language of so-called "Mahayana" scriptures. Unfortunately, more Sanskrit sutras have been lost to history than Pali suttas, with the original Sanskrit writings being evidenced by later translations, primarily into Chinese. The age of the lost originals is usually unknown. So, evidence, yes. "Real" evidence, who knows? :thinking:
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Blue Garuda » Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:36 am

Well, the earliest written Buddhist records were probably found in jars from Afghanistan. It's interesting how some Theravadans reject the idea of termas when the first recorded scripture was found in a similar fashion. Since the Mahayana path also includes the same scruptures as Theravada to a large extent, it may be incorrect to assume that is a difference in early scriptures in the first place, and instead the differences lie in interpretation. So the earliest ever Buddhist text could be identified as both belonging to the schools which became Mahayana and belonging to the schools of which Theravada is a survivor:

''The British Library has discovered remarkable manuscript fragments which it says may be as significant for Buddhist scholars as the Dead Sea Scrolls are for Christianity and Judaism. The manuscripts, birchbark scrolls that look like "badly rolled up cigars" when first shown to the library, are believed to be the earliest surviving Buddhist text. The exact origin is unknown beyond that they were probably found in Afghanistan in earthen jars.

"These will allow scholars to get nearer to what Buddha said than ever before,"the deputy director of the library's Oriental and Indian Office Collection, Mr Graham Shaw said. They date from the end of the first century AD or the beginning of the second century AD. Apart from bringing scholars closer to the original language of the Buddha, this could corroborate the authenticity of teachings recounted in later text.''

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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Aemilius » Tue Jul 17, 2012 4:15 pm

It is very difficult for us to appreciate what an oral culture has been like. From elsewhere in the world we know that in an oral culture persons who know the texts from their memory are very proud of their skill, books are regarded as nonexistent by them, as something alien to real knowledge. The capacity of human mind and human memory has been/is amazing, a good bard could sing poems from his memory for a week... up to for three weeks. We can conclude that the situation in India must have been very similar. This is that for a long time the written sutras could not compete with the prideful authority of the knowledgable persons who knew the sutras in their mind. In some extent this situation and its attitudes continued in the countries where buddhism spread.

Nagarjuna says in Bodhicittavivarana (or in Bodhisambhara) that one should not doubt the authenticity of Mahayana. Perhaps it needs to be said that the Mahayana movement considered Mahayana sutras to be authentic teachings of Buddha. Mahayana sutras also begin with "Thus have at heard at one time...", which means that they were recorded and remembered by Ananda. Redpine says in his Diamond Sutra translation that the speaker of "Thus have I heard..." could also be Vashpa, whom the Mahayana tradition regards an oral recorder of Mahayana sutras.
Vasubandhu defends the authenticity of Mahayana in his commentary to Maitreya's Mahayanasutralankara, actually the original verses of Maitreya also defend the authenticity of Mahayana sutras.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Greg » Tue Jul 17, 2012 5:13 pm

viniketa wrote:
wangdak wrote: is there any real evidence that first mahayana sutras appeared before BCE?


As mentioned, Buddhism was maintained as an oral tradition for a very long time. Language is the best available indicator of age. Sanskrit, as a written language, precedes the Prakrits or Middle Indo-Aryan languages (including Pali), which were originally vernacular, spoken dialects in ancient times. These languages are derived from and closely related to Sanskrit, which would most often be the written language of so-called "Mahayana" scriptures. Unfortunately, more Sanskrit sutras have been lost to history than Pali suttas, with the original Sanskrit writings being evidenced by later translations, primarily into Chinese. The age of the lost originals is usually unknown. So, evidence, yes. "Real" evidence, who knows? :thinking:


Text as Father Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature, by Alan Cole, asserts that (in contrast to the Agama/Nikaya corpus) Mahayana sutras show considerable evidence of being literary compositions. He offers seven points of argument. Worth a read for those interested in the topic.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby viniketa » Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:16 pm

Greg wrote:... (in contrast to the Agama/Nikaya corpus) Mahayana sutras show considerable evidence of being literary compositions.


This would be the case when original Sanskrit sutras were lost to history. There are, of course, the standard "skillful means" explanations of differences in presentations. Even aside from that, however, it seems not only "unskillful" to impune the authenticity of written evidence from different traditions, it is furthermore divisive and counter-productive. We must keep in mind that, in those times, villages 10 miles apart might have had differing linguistic dialects or roots. Given that there are NO written accounts from the time of the Buddha in any language, most such discussions are based in speculation and "circumstantial" evidence.

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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Greg » Wed Jul 18, 2012 12:34 am

viniketa wrote:
Greg wrote:... (in contrast to the Agama/Nikaya corpus) Mahayana sutras show considerable evidence of being literary compositions.


This would be the case when original Sanskrit sutras were lost to history. There are, of course, the standard "skillful means" explanations of differences in presentations. Even aside from that, however, it seems not only "unskillful" to impune the authenticity of written evidence from different traditions, it is furthermore divisive and counter-productive. We must keep in mind that, in those times, villages 10 miles apart might have had differing linguistic dialects or roots. Given that there are NO written accounts from the time of the Buddha in any language, most such discussions are based in speculation and "circumstantial" evidence.

:namaste:


If you are interested in learning more about Cole's arguments, I'd suggest you have a look at the book. The lack of Sanskrit originals in some cases or the plethora of prakritic dialects has no bearing on the points that he makes. There is no point in arguing against points when you don't know what they are.

Whether or not it is "unskillful" from a Buddhist perspective to follow philological evidence to logical conclusions, regardless of whether or not those conclusions will be troubling to certain believers, is of no concern to me. In the academic forum this is a nonissue.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby viniketa » Wed Jul 18, 2012 4:32 am

Greg wrote:If you are interested in learning more about Cole's arguments, I'd suggest you have a look at the book. The lack of Sanskrit originals in some cases or the plethora of prakritic dialects has no bearing on the points that he makes. There is no point in arguing against points when you don't know what they are.


Thank you for the recommendation. Rather than argue against Cole, the point is simply that neither "authenticity" nor a time-line can be established with any certainty.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Greg » Wed Jul 18, 2012 4:56 pm

viniketa wrote:
Greg wrote:If you are interested in learning more about Cole's arguments, I'd suggest you have a look at the book. The lack of Sanskrit originals in some cases or the plethora of prakritic dialects has no bearing on the points that he makes. There is no point in arguing against points when you don't know what they are.


Thank you for the recommendation. Rather than argue against Cole, the point is simply that neither "authenticity" nor a time-line can be established with any certainty.


Not sure what you mean by "authenticity." The point I made in reference to Cole is that it can be established with reasonable certainty that many Mahayana sutras are literary compositions and not strictly the fruit of oral tradition.

Yes, the whole thing is shrouded in uncertainty and always will be. However, to try to refocus on the original post, we can conclude (based on philological and other evidence) only that it is probable that the first Mahayana sutras date to at least 1st century BCE. We can conclude with reasonable certainty that the first ones emerged by 1st century CE at the latest.

The first chapter of Joseph Walser's Nagarjuna in Context might be of interest to OP, as it is all about the origins of Mahayana.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Aemilius » Mon Jul 23, 2012 10:04 am

This line of thinking presupposes that there were no arhats, no practicers of dhyana, no ascetis, no living bodhisattvas, no persons who had attained the psychic masteries, the supernormal powers, the five eyes etc... who possed oral instructions, who could see past, present and future like the palm of their hand. Instead it supposes that suddenly there appeared a book club that sold Mahayana sutras, which had no contact with anything that really existed!! Can you not see that these books would have no authority at all ! Authority comes from the above mentioned persons: siddhas, bodhisattvas, yogis, ascetics, arhats, etc. Try to imagine the society there was before the loss of memory, before the appearence of bookish domination! Our tendency is to project a past that is very much like our the present, we are severely handicapped in not being able to understand a past oral culture. When the first books appeared they were still fragile and not very long lasting, like the palm leaf books. What is important are the persons of knowledge, without them there is nothing. We don't accept the nature of an oral culture, we don't want to see it. Instead we fabricate a history that is a copy of our modern literary culture, a history that is fundamentally wrong and distorted.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Leo Rivers » Mon Jul 23, 2012 6:14 pm

QUESTION:


This line of thinking presupposes that there were no arhats, no practicers of dhyana, no ascetis, no living bodhisattvas,


REPLY:

One's beliefs about their expression in this world may vary greatly. This is a little strong in statement.

This line of thinking presupposes .... no persons who had attained the psychic masteries, the supernormal powers, the five eyes etc... who possed oral instructions, who could see past, present and future like the palm of their hand. !



REPLY:

Omniscience is arguably the ability to see the eyes with a heart that knows the essential empty nature of things. That is the great one thing worth knowing because all things take place within it. Because people of various grades of matured mind use the same words in tales that describe BOTH the Formless and the Formless Worlds, (so we need metaphor - fantasy element to make invisible things visible) , different levels explanations naturally arose and continued side by side, explanations displaying different assumptions of of metaphorical literalness.

The fate of all things lays within the truths of coming together of persons and objects due to causes and conditions, their persistence driven by habit formations and the fruition of karma, and their eventual dissolving. Details like which disease gets you or which day you die are trivial details of relevance only to fictive ego viewpoint. That viewpoint of science is that in which the metaphorical language of sweet Dharma skillfully wrought tales is understood to be just that.

IN MY OWN OPINION ONLY: Those tales were told to reach out to everyone of all levels of metaphorical self imagining.

QUESTION:

Instead it supposes that suddenly there appeared a book club that sold Mahayana sutras, which had no contact with anything that really existed!! Can you not see that these books would have no authority at all !



REPLY:

IN MY OWN OPINION ONLY: No, don't lose heart - many were transformations of suttas, others to a new perspective were visionary soundings from the ground of bodhisattvas that tasted the same echoes of the dharmakaya as the Shakyamuni so as a 'buddha-ground hearing folks, followers in his footsteps', spoke continuing his voicing of the voice of the ground of Buddha nature.


In the growing consensus of academic study, "Book Clubs" actually light hardheartedly describes the monks and nuns new wave of Mahayana mindset living in traditional monasteries meeting to have study and worship centered on these new texts. The struggle of people to evolve is neither trivial or disappointing placed next to carnival wonders.

IN MY OWN OPINION ONLY: Letting go of the worldly metaphors carrying non-cognitive buddha realization is one that is incremental and can be a stressful and painful and these nyam or phenomenon are a feature of the path of effort.

There is no substance in self or phenomena. All metaphor of World and Contents is mind-construction.

IN MY OWN OPINION ONLY: So the pith of all metaphor is silence. AND The heart of all faith is kindness. To living deepening in knowing the truth of this - this is the Buddha's intent.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Greg » Mon Jul 23, 2012 6:26 pm

Aemilius wrote:This line of thinking presupposes that there were no arhats, no practicers of dhyana, no ascetis, no living bodhisattvas, no persons who had attained the psychic masteries, the supernormal powers, the five eyes etc... who possed oral instructions, who could see past, present and future like the palm of their hand. Instead it supposes that suddenly there appeared a book club that sold Mahayana sutras, which had no contact with anything that really existed!! Can you not see that these books would have no authority at all ! Authority comes from the above mentioned persons: siddhas, bodhisattvas, yogis, ascetics, arhats, etc. Try to imagine the society there was before the loss of memory, before the appearence of bookish domination! Our tendency is to project a past that is very much like our the present, we are severely handicapped in not being able to understand a past oral culture. When the first books appeared they were still fragile and not very long lasting, like the palm leaf books. What is important are the persons of knowledge, without them there is nothing. We don't accept the nature of an oral culture, we don't want to see it. Instead we fabricate a history that is a copy of our modern literary culture, a history that is fundamentally wrong and distorted.


Again, there is no point in arguing against arguments with which you are not familiar. I have not outlined them here. Needless to say, neither author makes the absurd straw man suppositions that you offer. Nothing that you mention really has any bearing the on the evidence of literary composition in Mahayana sutras.

If you are interested, I suggest you read the books mentioned. If you prefer to dismiss them out of hand without taking the time to learn what they are, that is of course your prerogative also, but that will not be the basis for a meaningful discussion.
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Re: First mahayana sutras, when?

Postby Aemilius » Tue Jul 24, 2012 11:45 am

I am replying your statement/opinion that they are literary compositions. The situation is that we have institutions like universities, book publishing companies, schools, etc.. We have unquestioning faith in them, this faith is so selfevident that we don't see it at all. In the same way in ancient India, and ancient world in general, there were equal institutions that had equal authority, power and prestige. If you say "groups of monks and nuns", they are equal to nothing, because they are like nothing in our present day society. Instead you have to realize that monasteries, ascetics, yogis etc had equal power and authority as the universities, publishing companies, etc have in our modern society. These institutions that had real natural authority had percieved what universe was really like. This means that the beings of the three realms, buddhas and bodhisattvas of infinite eons etc were facts. They were reality, like the facts that the modern authorities produce today, they were not tales at all. Almost all of our knowledge exists by faith, habitul faith in the authorities, socially enforced faith. We can not even trust our own experience when the society decides otherwise, we have to deny our own experience, or suffer the consequences of it.
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