Dharma should not be made into a religion?

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Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Namshe » Sat Jul 17, 2010 2:12 am

In any of the Mahayana sutras or those of the Tripitaka, did the Buddha ever directly advise against turning the Dharma into a religion or philosophy of sorts? Are there written records of such a statement in any of the sutras, or is this a reinterpretation or misinterpretation? Can something along the lines of "do not make the Dharma into a religion" be attributed to the Buddha? Did the Buddha ask that his teachings not be taken as religious teachings?

Are there sources other than the Kalama Sutta of the Tripitaka that advise against blind faith or other traditionally "religious" tendencies such as superstition, mystical beliefs, and ritual?

I'm wondering if this can be traced to the sutras, or if it is a modern view without any scriptural support.
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Chaz » Sat Jul 17, 2010 2:17 am

Namshe wrote:In any of the Mahayana sutras or those of the Tripitaka, did the Buddha ever directly advise against turning the Dharma into a religion or philosophy of sorts? <snip>
I'm wondering if this can be traced to the sutras, or if it is a modern view without any scriptural support.


Does it matter?
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Namshe » Sat Jul 17, 2010 2:27 am

Chaz wrote:
Namshe wrote:In any of the Mahayana sutras or those of the Tripitaka, did the Buddha ever directly advise against turning the Dharma into a religion or philosophy of sorts? <snip>
I'm wondering if this can be traced to the sutras, or if it is a modern view without any scriptural support.


Does it matter?


Not particularly. I am merely wondering about the origins of the statement I posted as the title of this thread. Any discussion or references are appreciated. Thank you for your response. Your input is insightful in pointing toward the underlying insignificance of the question. It might be best not to search for authority where there is none, but I am still curious about whether or not Gautama Buddha ever mentions the Dharma in relation to religion. Thanks.
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Chaz » Sat Jul 17, 2010 2:39 am

Namshe wrote:
Chaz wrote:
Does it matter?


Not particularly. I am merely wondering about the origins of the statement I posted as the title of this thread. Any discussion or references are appreciated. Thank you for your response. Your input is insightful in pointing toward the underlying insignificance of the question. It might be best not to search for authority where there is none, but I am still curious about whether or not Gautama Buddha ever mentions the Dharma in relation to religion. Thanks.


I don't think your question is addressed in Sutra. In fact I doubt that the Buddha taught on the subject one way or the other.
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Dexing » Sat Jul 17, 2010 3:11 am

The Diamond Sutra is pretty direct:

A.F. Price translation:

Chapter 6:

"My teaching of the Good Law is to be likened unto a raft.
[Does a man who has safely crossed a flood upon a raft
continue his journey carrying that raft upon his head?]
The Buddha-teaching must be relinquished;
how much more so mis-teaching!"


What sort of religion is it if it is to be relinquished? It is merely a tool to combat our delusions such as selfhood, not to create another religious identity around! You never replace one I-my-me for another.

Chapter 8:

"Subhuti, what is called "the Religion given by Buddha" is not, in fact Buddha-Religion."

Buddha-Religion is the translation here of Buddha-Dharma, basically the Buddha's teaching. Whatever you want to call it, it's not that. His real teaching is not something that can be formulated, written down, studied, or adopted as a religion. That's all Ordinary Beings' language.

Hence it is said in Chapter 7:

"Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata attained the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment? Has the Tathagata a teaching to enunciate?

Subhuti answered: As I understand Buddha's meaning there is no formulation of truth called Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment. Moreover, the Tathagata has no formulated teaching to enunciate. Wherefore? Because the Tathagata has said that truth is uncontainable and inexpressible. It neither is nor is it not. Thus it is that this unformulated Principle is the foundation of the different systems of all the sages."


Religion is Ordinary Beings' speech, something which can be contained in written form and expressed in words, creeds, systems of belief, etc..

The Buddha's true teaching is clearly not that.

:namaste:
nopalabhyate...
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Huifeng » Sat Jul 17, 2010 3:56 am

Namshe wrote:In any of the Mahayana sutras or those of the Tripitaka, did the Buddha ever directly advise against turning the Dharma into a religion or philosophy of sorts? Are there written records of such a statement in any of the sutras, or is this a reinterpretation or misinterpretation? Can something along the lines of "do not make the Dharma into a religion" be attributed to the Buddha? Did the Buddha ask that his teachings not be taken as religious teachings?

Are there sources other than the Kalama Sutta of the Tripitaka that advise against blind faith or other traditionally "religious" tendencies such as superstition, mystical beliefs, and ritual?

I'm wondering if this can be traced to the sutras, or if it is a modern view without any scriptural support.


The first question would be, what word would the Buddha have used that corresponds to the English word "religion"?

There are a couple of possibilities, the most appropriate being probably "dharma" and "desana". However, neither of them have the exact meaning of "religion" in modern English.

In general, the Buddha definitely encourages people to take up and practice what he taught. He was also determined to establish the Samgha as a body of people fully dedicated to his teaching.

Apart from the Kesiputta sutta (aka the "Kalama sutta"), there are very few statements to this effect. And this sutta was never considered particularly important throughout Buddhist history. It has only mainly been modern Western view that has suddenly made this sutta the "Buddha's charter of free inquiry". Says more about the modern western view perhaps, than about the Buddha. ;)


Have a look here, and here.
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Huifeng » Sat Jul 17, 2010 4:06 am

Dexing wrote:The Diamond Sutra is pretty direct:

A.F. Price translation:


The sutra is indeed direct, however Price goes beyond the text with his particular choice of translation (?) terms.

Chapter 6:

"My teaching of the Good Law is to be likened unto a raft.
[Does a man who has safely crossed a flood upon a raft
continue his journey carrying that raft upon his head?]
The Buddha-teaching must be relinquished;
how much more so mis-teaching!"


What sort of religion is it if it is to be relinquished? It is merely a tool to combat our delusions such as selfhood, not to create another religious identity around! You never replace one I-my-me for another.


The term translated here as "Buddha-teaching" is "dharma". However, this is not necessarily what it means in this context.

Although one should abandon the raft of the Dharma, ONLY abandon it once one has made it to the other shore of liberation. Abandoning it beforehand is tantamount to certain death by drowning.

Chapter 8:

"Subhuti, what is called "the Religion given by Buddha" is not, in fact Buddha-Religion."

Buddha-Religion is the translation here of Buddha-Dharma, basically the Buddha's teaching. Whatever you want to call it, it's not that. His real teaching is not something that can be formulated, written down, studied, or adopted as a religion. That's all Ordinary Beings' language.


The problem is, the term "buddha dharma" does not usually mean "teaching of the Buddha" in Mahayana sutras, but means "particular qualities of buddhas".

The sutra says: "buddha-dharmas are not dharmas", but the first meaning of the term "-dharma" is different to the second. In effect it is saying "the qualities of the buddhas are not elemental factors of existence".

One has to be pretty careful in translating the term "dharma", because it has a lot of different meanings.

Hence it is said in Chapter 7:

"Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata attained the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment? Has the Tathagata a teaching to enunciate?

Subhuti answered: As I understand Buddha's meaning there is no formulation of truth called Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment. Moreover, the Tathagata has no formulated teaching to enunciate. Wherefore? Because the Tathagata has said that truth is uncontainable and inexpressible. It neither is nor is it not. Thus it is that this unformulated Principle is the foundation of the different systems of all the sages."


Religion is Ordinary Beings' speech, something which can be contained in written form and expressed in words, creeds, systems of belief, etc..

The Buddha's true teaching is clearly not that.

:namaste:


Likewise by translating the term "dharma" here as "formulation of truth". That is just a mistranslation. The point is: when the buddha attained awakening, he did not realize some elemental factor of existence. Likewise, the Buddha does not teach about any sort of elemental factor of existence.

One of the problems with relying on the Chinese texts for these statements, is that where the Sanskrit has singular and plural - which is a major key to knowing the exact meaning of the term "dharma" singular or "dharmA" plural in a given context, the Chinese does not. So a lot of people just reading from the Chinese garble the usage of the term "dharma".

That is not to say that some schools considered that all verbal teachings were expedient and not ultimate, because several schools did. Whether or not this is related to "religion" or not, may be another matter.

And it is also very easy to turn "the Buddha's teaching is inexpressible" into another such form, not realizing just how ironic this statement is in the first place. I think Vimalakirti got it right, after all ...
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Dexing » Sat Jul 17, 2010 5:17 am

Huifeng wrote:Although one should abandon the raft of the Dharma, ONLY abandon it once one has made it to the other shore of liberation. Abandoning it beforehand is tantamount to certain death by drowning.


Well of course. But if it is made into a religion, which one builds a religious identity around and holds as a view, it will never carry one to the other shore of liberation, and will become instead a hindrance. It will exchange bad ordinary "I-my-me" for good Buddhist "I-my-me".

I would further add that Hinayana teachings must be relinquished when turning toward Mahayana, which includes the classical understanding of the Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination and such. They take on different meanings in Mahayana and are given up before ultimate liberation.

The problem is, the term "buddha dharma" does not usually mean "teaching of the Buddha" in Mahayana sutras, but means "particular qualities of buddhas".

The sutra says: "buddha-dharmas are not dharmas", but the first meaning of the term "-dharma" is different to the second. In effect it is saying "the qualities of the buddhas are not elemental factors of existence".


I don't know about the Sanskrit, but the Chinese actually says "Buddha-dharma" twice. It says the "the so-called Buddha-dharma, is not the Buddha-dharma", rather than saying "the so-called Buddha-dharma, is not a dharma".

Also it is clear from context when it says the Buddha "speaks the Buddha-dharma", it refers to his spoken teachings. Translating Buddha-Dharma into "qualities of the Buddhas" doesn't really match the context of the Sutra here.

Likewise by translating the term "dharma" here as "formulation of truth". That is just a mistranslation.


Again the Chinese text translated as such is not just "Dharma", but 定法, meaning "fixed Dharma". Again in context of the Buddha "speaking" this fixed Dharma, it refers to a spoken teaching, which is "expressed" and can be "contained", meaning a "formulation of teaching (of truth)".

The Buddha is saying here that his true teaching is not that which can be "expressed" and "contained" in various speech and practices. Hence later in Chapter 26:

"If one sees me in form,
or seeks me in sound,
they are practicing the wrong path,
and cannot perceive the Tathagata."


By context, I don't think it is a mistranslation at all.

:namaste:
nopalabhyate...
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Huifeng » Sat Jul 17, 2010 6:01 am

Dexing wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Although one should abandon the raft of the Dharma, ONLY abandon it once one has made it to the other shore of liberation. Abandoning it beforehand is tantamount to certain death by drowning.


Well of course. But if it is made into a religion, which one builds a religious identity around and holds as a view, it will never carry one to the other shore of liberation, and will become instead a hindrance. It will exchange bad ordinary "I-my-me" for good Buddhist "I-my-me".

I would further add that Hinayana teachings must be relinquished when turning toward Mahayana, which includes the classical understanding of the Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination and such. They take on different meanings in Mahayana and are given up before ultimate liberation.



One can practice a fair way with self-view, and in many cases a form of self-view is present in a large number of wholesome mental states. For example, hri and apatrapya.

I am still clear what term used by the buddha you are reading as "religion". And why you seem to think that a "religion" necessarily involves negative states. Despite the statements in the Vajracchedika, there are a huge number of statements where the buddha obviously encourages people to teach the Dharma. Part of a bodhisattva's vows are to establish a desana. One can quite clearly do these without having self-view or other obstructions.

The problem is, the term "buddha dharma" does not usually mean "teaching of the Buddha" in Mahayana sutras, but means "particular qualities of buddhas".

The sutra says: "buddha-dharmas are not dharmas", but the first meaning of the term "-dharma" is different to the second. In effect it is saying "the qualities of the buddhas are not elemental factors of existence".


I don't know about the Sanskrit, but the Chinese actually says "Buddha-dharma" twice. It says the "the so-called Buddha-dharma, is not the Buddha-dharma", rather than saying "the so-called Buddha-dharma, is not a dharma".

Also it is clear from context when it says the Buddha "speaks the Buddha-dharma", it refers to his spoken teachings. Translating Buddha-Dharma into "qualities of the Buddhas" doesn't really match the context of the Sutra here.


It's "buddhadharmāḥ buddhadhannā (sic) iti subhūte abuddhadharmāś caiva te|" plural, for a start. The use of the term "dharma" as "teaching" is almost always singular from what I see. In the Mahayana, the usage of the plural is used in reference to various qualities that are particular to Buddhas, not to other vehicles. eg. the 18 avenika-dharmas, the 10 bala, etc.

But if you look at this whole pattern in the sutra of "X is not X, it is called X", there are some major differences between the Skt and Kumarajiva's translations. Harrison has a good article on this, if you are interested.

Basically, the Skt has a compound X-Y, and states "XY is a-Y, is XY".
The only part negated is the Y, not the whole compound. (There are a couple of exceptions in the Skt sutra, but the vast majority are like this.)
Moreover, the negation is just the prefix "a-". Kumarajiva used 非 and all the other Chinese translators followed him. The other option would have been 無. This is what the Tibetan uses. Both are possible in Skt, though the two are different. The former is like English "not-Y", the latter is English "without Y", or "Y-less".
Most importantly, in the compounds XY, the term which is negated, the Y, is usually a term which in sectarian Abhidharma Buddhism was used as a synonym for a particular kind of elemental factor of existence. eg. dharma, dhatu, laksana, skandha, bhava, dhara, etc.
However, in the compound XY, the term Y does not have this meaning, but a much more basic meaning.

So, the end result is saying that "XY is without any sort of elemental factor Y, but is just XY" in a much more normal linguistic usage.

A buddha-dharma is the sense of a special quality (dharma) of buddhas, but is without any sort of elemental existence (adharma), but it is just called a "buddha special quality".
A merit-skandha is the sense of a big heap of merit (skandha), but is without any sort of fundamental element (askandha), but it is just called a "heap of merit" (punya-skandha).
An endowment of laksana is the sense of having certain physical characteristics (laksana), but is without any sort of fundamental cognitive percept (alaksana), but it is just called an "endowment of physical characteristics" (laksana-sampat).
A world dhatu is the sense of a world system (loka-dhatu), but is without any any sort of fundamental element (adhatu), but is just called a "world system" (loka-dhatu).

etc. etc.

Of course, the Chinese, following Kumarajiva's doubling up of the compound XY in the negation, and his type of negation, meant that this gets greatly obscured. The Chinese then had to render the Vajracchedika in much more abstruse ways.

But, if you have a look at Kumarajiva's translation of the Xiaopin Prajnaparamita, you'll find that where this same pattern appears in this text, "XY is Y-less, it is XY", he uses 無. I think that this was a bit later in his translation program, and maybe he got the idea a bit sharper here. eg. chp 1, the definition of a bodhisattva or mahasattva. And elsewhere.

Likewise by translating the term "dharma" here as "formulation of truth". That is just a mistranslation.


Again the Chinese text translated as such is not just "Dharma", but 定法, meaning "fixed Dharma". Again in context of the Buddha "speaking" this fixed Dharma, it refers to a spoken teaching, which is "expressed" and can be "contained", meaning a "formulation of teaching (of truth)".


The Skt says "subhūtir āha| yathāhaṃ bhagavan bhagavato bhāṣitasyārtham ājānāmi nāsti sa kaścid dharmo yas tathāgatenānuttarā samyaksaṃbodhir abhisaṃbuddhā| nāsti sa kaścid dharmo yas tathāgatena deśitaḥ|" The usage of the word "定" is an addition from Kumarajiva. It works in the sense of a "definite factor of existence" too, so it's appearance here from Kumarajiva does not necessarily suggest that the term "dharma" here is "teaching" either, rather than "factor of existence".

The Buddha is saying here that his true teaching is not that which can be "expressed" and "contained" in various speech and practices. Hence later in Chapter 26:

"If one sees me in form,
or seeks me in sound,
they are practicing the wrong path,
and cannot perceive the Tathagata."


By context, I don't think it is a mistranslation at all.

:namaste:


What about the other half of the verse?

ye māṃ rūpeṇa adrākṣur ye māṃ ghoṣeṇa anvayuḥ
mithyāprahāṇaprasṛtā na māṃ drakṣyanti te janāḥ
draṣṭavyo dharmato buddho dharmakāyas tathāgataḥ
dharmatā cāpy avijñeyā na sā śakyaṃ vijānituṃ //

Which clearly shows that the verse is talking about the dharmakaya as dharmata, rather than about his "true teaching".

But I think that the biggest problem seems to be the assumption that "religion" always involves attachment and self view. I'm not entirely sure that this is the case.

And it may really help to look at the Skt for some of these texts, rather than relying on the Chinese alone. The Chinese texts will help you understand how the Chinese took it, but that is not necessarily what the sutra was saying in the first place.
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jul 17, 2010 6:24 am

Namshe wrote:In any of the Mahayana sutras or those of the Tripitaka, did the Buddha ever directly advise against turning the Dharma into a religion or philosophy of sorts? Are there written records of such a statement in any of the sutras, or is this a reinterpretation or misinterpretation? Can something along the lines of "do not make the Dharma into a religion" be attributed to the Buddha? Did the Buddha ask that his teachings not be taken as religious teachings?

Are there sources other than the Kalama Sutta of the Tripitaka that advise against blind faith or other traditionally "religious" tendencies such as superstition, mystical beliefs, and ritual?

I'm wondering if this can be traced to the sutras, or if it is a modern view without any scriptural support.


In East Asia until the 19th century there was no word that corresponded to "religion" as it was spoken of by westerners. With the translation and study of western thought, they had to create a new word to translate this word "religion".

As Ven. Huifeng has pointed out above, in Buddha's time there was no lexical item that corresponded to what we think of a "religion" in present day English.

In fact, the dichotomy between the "religious" and "the secular" is a fairly recent idea in traditionally Buddhist cultures. I can't speak of SE Asian traditions, but in East Asia, where the Mahayana has existed for longer than it did in its native India, if you examine the history there were no definite lines between what scholars presently call "religion", "science" and "politics". In Chinese history you can see astronomy/astrology (they were of the same system), statecraft, religious practice, ancestor worship and mathematics all harmoniously incorporated together. They had no conception of "science" and "religion". If it had a utilitarian value they used it (and Buddhism evidently did have a utilitarian value).

I think unfortunately too few scholars recognize this and anachronistically project into the past their ideas of ideological classification.

From a modern western perspective, Buddhism in any tradition or period qualifies as a religion because it makes plenty of unfalsifiable claims about reality. Karma, rebirth and the cosmology cannot be tested for under laboratory conditions. For our purposes Buddhism is a religion, but the important thing to keep in mind for most its history the various Buddhisms were not "religions" because no such idea really existed in the cultures they went to.
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Bodhi » Sat Jul 17, 2010 6:38 am

Namshe wrote:In any of the Mahayana sutras or those of the Tripitaka, did the Buddha ever directly advise against turning the Dharma into a religion or philosophy of sorts? Are there written records of such a statement in any of the sutras, or is this a reinterpretation or misinterpretation? Can something along the lines of "do not make the Dharma into a religion" be attributed to the Buddha? Did the Buddha ask that his teachings not be taken as religious teachings?

Are there sources other than the Kalama Sutta of the Tripitaka that advise against blind faith or other traditionally "religious" tendencies such as superstition, mystical beliefs, and ritual?

I'm wondering if this can be traced to the sutras, or if it is a modern view without any scriptural support.


you know I really don't know, but in vietnamese, Buddhism is often called Dao instead of Ton Giao, Dao means "the way" while "ton giao" means "religion". But all together I think we have to give it some sort of label to refer back to it in conversation. Because how is it possible to communicate as a human using human means of communication to refer to something to someone that have no name? It is just not exactly possible. Giving a label doesn't necessary means it is bad, and like many means of cultivation, all is a form of attachment but a raft to carry us to the other shore. So same for name, a label to refer to something when spreading the Dharma is necessary but just a mean.

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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jul 17, 2010 6:40 am

Huifeng wrote:The usage of the word "定" is an addition from Kumarajiva. It works in the sense of a "definite factor of existence" too, so it's appearance here from Kumarajiva does not necessarily suggest that the term "dharma" here is "teaching" either, rather than "factor of existence".


How do we know it is an addition? Kumarajiva might have had a different text or been translating from some other Indian or Central Asian language.
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby muni » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:29 am

Namshe wrote:In any of the Mahayana sutras or those of the Tripitaka, did the Buddha ever directly advise against turning the Dharma into a religion or philosophy of sorts? Are there written records of such a statement in any of the sutras, or is this a reinterpretation or misinterpretation? Can something along the lines of "do not make the Dharma into a religion" be attributed to the Buddha? Did the Buddha ask that his teachings not be taken as religious teachings?

Are there sources other than the Kalama Sutta of the Tripitaka that advise against blind faith or other traditionally "religious" tendencies such as superstition, mystical beliefs, and ritual?

I'm wondering if this can be traced to the sutras, or if it is a modern view without any scriptural support.

Where are those tendencies dwelling? There are all fools "outside" in my own misperception.
In which category of my limitations right now should i put it?
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Re: Dharma should not be made into a religion?

Postby Will » Sat Jul 17, 2010 3:41 pm

"it is a modern view without any scriptural support."

One does not teach for decades what all Buddhas before taught and form a community of believers and expect a nightclub to result.
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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