The Mahayana Pantheon

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The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby vairocanafollower » Wed Jul 25, 2012 12:00 pm

I would like to ask all of you followers of the Mahayana, in a strictly academic opinion, where do you think this enormous pantheon of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas came from? I mean the Historical Buddha may taught that there was a Buddha before him and a Buddha that will follow him (Maitreya), but he didn't mention to my knoweledge any other beings that fill the Mahayana sutras.
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Yudron » Fri Jul 27, 2012 12:52 am

vairocanafollower wrote:I would like to ask all of you followers of the Mahayana, in a strictly academic opinion, where do you think this enormous pantheon of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas came from? I mean the Historical Buddha may taught that there was a Buddha before him and a Buddha that will follow him (Maitreya), but he didn't mention to my knoweledge any other beings that fill the Mahayana sutras.


Well, I think they came from sentient beings who practiced and attained Buddhahood. If you don't have faith in the Mahayana or Vajrayana teachings, you could view them as images of enlightenment that arose to inspire a variety of humans to practice.
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Andrew108 » Fri Jul 27, 2012 7:54 am

If you understand what Prajnaparamita is then you will know.
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Greg » Fri Jul 27, 2012 5:06 pm

vairocanafollower wrote:I would like to ask all of you followers of the Mahayana, in a strictly academic opinion, where do you think this enormous pantheon of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas came from? I mean the Historical Buddha may taught that there was a Buddha before him and a Buddha that will follow him (Maitreya), but he didn't mention to my knoweledge any other beings that fill the Mahayana sutras.


There is some discussion of this in Face to Face with the Absent Buddha - The Formation of Buddhist Aniconic Art, in chapter 10 of Mahayana Buddhism by Williams, and in "A Preliminary Study of The Meaning of Yoga in Sangharaksa's Yogacarabhumi and Its Context," just to name some sources offhand - there are many.

It is often suggested that first there was an evolution in the understanding of the practice of meditating upon the Buddha (buddhanusmrti). Originally it was a practice of recalling the Buddha's good qualities for inspiration. In Kashmir some yogins began to practice it as a way of having a visionary experience of Maitreya in Tushita heaven. From there you start to get an emergence of other Buddhas like Aksobhya and Amitabha and other buddha fields. Probably tantric deity yoga evolved out of this continuum of practice too. We also know that datura and other hallucinogens were in the mix to some degree - I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of the process.
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby dharmagoat » Fri Jul 27, 2012 10:03 pm

Buddhism, like most other religions, has a tendency to acommodate and absorb local traditions.
May all beings be happy
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby pueraeternus » Sun Jul 29, 2012 12:36 am

Greg wrote:
vairocanafollower wrote:I would like to ask all of you followers of the Mahayana, in a strictly academic opinion, where do you think this enormous pantheon of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas came from? I mean the Historical Buddha may taught that there was a Buddha before him and a Buddha that will follow him (Maitreya), but he didn't mention to my knoweledge any other beings that fill the Mahayana sutras.


There is some discussion of this in Face to Face with the Absent Buddha - The Formation of Buddhist Aniconic Art, in chapter 10 of Mahayana Buddhism by Williams, and in "A Preliminary Study of The Meaning of Yoga in Sangharaksa's Yogacarabhumi and Its Context," just to name some sources offhand - there are many.

It is often suggested that first there was an evolution in the understanding of the practice of meditating upon the Buddha (buddhanusmrti). Originally it was a practice of recalling the Buddha's good qualities for inspiration. In Kashmir some yogins began to practice it as a way of having a visionary experience of Maitreya in Tushita heaven. From there you start to get an emergence of other Buddhas like Aksobhya and Amitabha and other buddha fields. Probably tantric deity yoga evolved out of this continuum of practice too. We also know that datura and other hallucinogens were in the mix to some degree - I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of the process.


Jan Nattier is also of similar opinion that the knowledge of otherworldly Buddhas and Bodhisattvas arose from the visions of accomplished Buddhist master meditators, and their experiences and gnosis gained from their samadhis were then written down by themselves or their disciples and passed on.
If you believe certain words, you believe their hidden arguments. When you believe something is right or wrong, true of false, you believe the assumptions in the words which express the arguments. Such assumptions are often full of holes, but remain most precious to the convinced.

- The Open-Ended Proof from The Panoplia Prophetica
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Nighthawk » Sun Jul 29, 2012 8:02 am

Greg wrote:We also know that datura and other hallucinogens were in the mix to some degree - I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of the process.

Any sources for this?
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Greg » Sun Jul 29, 2012 5:43 pm

Nighthawk wrote:
Greg wrote:We also know that datura and other hallucinogens were in the mix to some degree - I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of the process.

Any sources for this?


Check out "Psychoactive Plants in Tantric Buddhism - Cannabis and Datura Use in Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism" - easily googled. It in turn gives a number of other sources - Davidson's book, a bunch of other stuff. It all relates to vajrayana specifically, but also establishes that these plants were common in the region and well understood for centuries before that. So it is entirely speculative to conjecture about non-vajrayana yogins, but it seems reasonable to me.
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Nighthawk » Mon Jul 30, 2012 1:02 am

Greg wrote:
Nighthawk wrote:
Greg wrote:We also know that datura and other hallucinogens were in the mix to some degree - I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of the process.

Any sources for this?


Check out "Psychoactive Plants in Tantric Buddhism - Cannabis and Datura Use in Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism" - easily googled. It in turn gives a number of other sources - Davidson's book, a bunch of other stuff. It all relates to vajrayana specifically, but also establishes that these plants were common in the region and well understood for centuries before that.

Thanks, I'll look it up.

So it is entirely speculative to conjecture about non-vajrayana yogins, but it seems reasonable to me.

I really doubt this. Mahayana masters are known to abide very strictly to precepts excluding some modern zennists.
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Greg » Mon Jul 30, 2012 4:46 am

Nighthawk wrote:
I really doubt this. Mahayana masters are known to abide very strictly to precepts excluding some modern zennists.


Even if you could establish that most forest dwelling yogins in Gandhara 2,000 years ago followed the vinaya very strictly, you would also have to establish that they would have considered it proscribed by the vinaya to ingest various substances in various ways. Unpack the word for "intoxicant" (whatever the Sanskrit term actually is) in the vinaya - what was that understood to encompass in that place and time?

Just to give an example, it is known that they did fire rituals in Gandhara probably well before Vajrayana emerged. We know that in later eras people burned datura in fire rituals. We know that can get a person high just by being in the vicinity. Would they have understood that as against the vinaya? Perhaps, I don't think we can make an a priori assumption that they would have.

Nowadays all the lamas frown on hallucinogens, but it is pretty clear they were part of the milieu of the formation of vajrayana. So one has to be careful extrapolating from today about hundreds and thousands of years ago. People get more conservative with time, as orthodoxies form. Almost no one today operates like a siddha from Abhayadatta 's stories - except maybe Hindu sadhus.
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Leo Rivers » Mon Jul 30, 2012 9:31 am

My guess is that when monks did public ceremonies - and incorporated local color that included psycho-actives into a Buddhist context - if that culture included psycho-actives, they would be along for the ride.

But the issue of intoxicants would likely have arisen in the same discussions as continuity of consciousness or the nature of purelands if intoxicants were ever actually "an ongoing issue", which I don't think they were.

Later Tantric rites might seem on the surface a likely place - but that's only to outsiders who in a Puritan Culture might view Tantra as "libertine" and thus a likely milieu. That is a mis-characterization and an imputation.

Humans being humans, Buddhists will have at some time or place tried everything. But I doubt a lineage of drug use ever really jelled - it would have been too much fun to scandalize about.

I only know about the use of speed by Zen pilots in WWII ... and that was not thought of as being 'drug use' or part of Buddhism.
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Greg » Mon Jul 30, 2012 10:10 pm

Leo Rivers wrote:My guess is that when monks did public ceremonies - and incorporated local color that included psycho-actives into a Buddhist context - if that culture included psycho-actives, they would be along for the ride.

But the issue of intoxicants would likely have arisen in the same discussions as continuity of consciousness or the nature of purelands if intoxicants were ever actually "an ongoing issue", which I don't think they were.

Later Tantric rites might seem on the surface a likely place - but that's only to outsiders who in a Puritan Culture might view Tantra as "libertine" and thus a likely milieu. That is a mis-characterization and an imputation.

Humans being humans, Buddhists will have at some time or place tried everything. But I doubt a lineage of drug use ever really jelled - it would have been too much fun to scandalize about.

I only know about the use of speed by Zen pilots in WWII ... and that was not thought of as being 'drug use' or part of Buddhism.


There is a fair amount of textual and other evidence for the use of hallucinogens by vajrayana practioners. In my opinion, only outsiders from a puritan culture would think that that was unlikely in the face of evidence to the contrary, or think that that was a bad thing that couldn't possibly be true.
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Leo Rivers » Mon Jul 30, 2012 10:49 pm

only outsiders from a puritan culture would think that that was unlikely in the face of evidence to the contrary, or think that that was a bad thing that couldn't possibly be true.


That's a fair rebuke - if that had actually been my attitude. But, institutionalized, or the lineage use of intoxicants still would have left footprints.

And as an aside, it would be interesting to hear what people think the function of intoxicants on a Dharma Path would be.,\
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Re: The Mahayana Pantheon

Postby Greg » Tue Jul 31, 2012 6:12 am

Leo Rivers wrote:
only outsiders from a puritan culture would think that that was unlikely in the face of evidence to the contrary, or think that that was a bad thing that couldn't possibly be true.


That's a fair rebuke - if that had actually been my attitude. But, institutionalized, or the lineage use of intoxicants still would have left footprints.

And as an aside, it would be interesting to hear what people think the function of intoxicants on a Dharma Path would be.,\


Perhaps, but it need not have ever been institutionalized.
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