Mahayana earliest origins ?

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Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby steveb1 » Mon Dec 24, 2012 3:57 am

Around the Web I've been encountering the claim that Mahayana did not stem from or diversify from Hinayana. Rather, there was always a kind of proto-Mahayana that grew up along with those who held what we now call Hinayana ideas. Some Mahayanists therefore claim that a kind of early Mahayana has as much claim to religious and historical validity as does Hinayana.

My confusion arises from the fact that some declare the independence of the Mahayana from the very beginning, while others do not. This cite from Wiki isn't helpful but I quote it for discussion's sake:

The origins of Mahāyāna are still not completely understood.[16] The earliest Western views of Mahāyāna assumed that it existed as a separate school in competition with the so-called "Hīnayāna" schools. Due to the veneration of buddhas and bodhisattvas, Mahāyāna was often interpreted as a more devotional, lay-inspired form of Buddhism, with supposed origins in stūpa veneration,[17] or by making parallels with the history of the European Protestant Reformation. These views have been largely dismissed in modern times in light of a much broader range of early texts that are now available.[18] These earliest Mahāyāna texts often depict strict adherence to the path of a bodhisattva, and engagement in the ascetic ideal of a monastic life in the wilderness, akin to the ideas expressed in the Rhinoceros Sūtra.[19] The old views of Mahāyāna as a separate lay-inspired and devotional sect are now largely dismissed as misguided and wrong on all counts.[20]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahayana_Buddhism#Origins

I was hoping that someone would be so kindly and helpful to verify or disconfirm this claim about Mahayana's earliness and perhaps point me to some websites, books, and/or articles that discuss this subject.

Thanks in advance for any assistance :)
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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby kirtu » Mon Dec 24, 2012 4:30 am

steveb1 wrote:Around the Web I've been encountering the claim that Mahayana did not stem from or diversify from Hinayana. Rather, there was always a kind of proto-Mahayana that grew up along with those who held what we now call Hinayana ideas. Some Mahayanists therefore claim that a kind of early Mahayana has as much claim to religious and historical validity as does Hinayana.

My confusion arises from the fact that some declare the independence of the Mahayana from the very beginning, while others do not. This cite from Wiki isn't helpful but I quote it for discussion's sake:

The origins of Mahāyāna are still not completely understood.[16] The earliest Western views of Mahāyāna assumed that it existed as a separate school in competition with the so-called "Hīnayāna" schools. Due to the veneration of buddhas and bodhisattvas, Mahāyāna was often interpreted as a more devotional, lay-inspired form of Buddhism, with supposed origins in stūpa veneration,[17] or by making parallels with the history of the European Protestant Reformation. These views have been largely dismissed in modern times in light of a much broader range of early texts that are now available.[18] These earliest Mahāyāna texts often depict strict adherence to the path of a bodhisattva, and engagement in the ascetic ideal of a monastic life in the wilderness, akin to the ideas expressed in the Rhinoceros Sūtra.[19] The old views of Mahāyāna as a separate lay-inspired and devotional sect are now largely dismissed as misguided and wrong on all counts.[20]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahayana_Buddhism#Origins

I was hoping that someone would be so kindly and helpful to verify or disconfirm this claim about Mahayana's earliness and perhaps point me to some websites, books, and/or articles that discuss this subject.

Thanks in advance for any assistance :)


We've hashed this out several times here so you might see if anything in earlier discussions helps. Basically there seems to be textual and archaeological evidence for the beginnings of the Mahayana doing back to around 150 AD and I think earlier. Fa Hsien's "Record of Buddhist Kingdoms" is the primary textual source for an earlier development of Mahayana but there is also some archaeological evidence. I present this here and the Buddhist scholars on the board beginning tearing the argument down.

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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby Huifeng » Mon Dec 24, 2012 4:34 am

"The earliest Western views of Mahāyāna assumed that it existed as a separate school in competition with the so-called "Hīnayāna" schools."

Not really, the earliest Western views of Mahayana thought it was a totally different religion... It took them a while to connect "Fo" and "Buddha".

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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby Rakshasa » Mon Dec 24, 2012 8:37 am

The Prajnaparamita Sutras first appeared, according to some scholars, from the Caitika sect of Early Buddhism, which was the southern branch of the Mahasamghikas.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caitika

Also, there was an early Buddhist sect called "Prajnaptivada" which believed in the doctrine of "two truths".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prajnaptivada

Here are some facts, and you need to connect the dots:

1. Prajnaptivada and Caitika sects were primarily found in Andhra region.
2. Andhra was once called the "abode of the Nagas" because the Naga people lived there (along with Kashmir and some Himalayan regions).
3. Nagarjuna was known to have recovered the Prajnaparamita texts from the Naga realm.

I personally see a lot of connection and I believe that Nagarjuna was a member of the Andhaka sect of Buddhism and popularized the Prajnaparamita texts which originated among these Buddhists. Thus the legend that these texts were brought from "Naga realm".

In Brahmanic and Buddhist literature, "Naga" is both a reference to half-men-half-dragon beings and also the people/race who worshiped Serpents. I would recommend "Naga cults of the western Himalayas" by Omcanda Handa.
Last edited by Rakshasa on Mon Dec 24, 2012 9:06 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby Skydancer » Mon Dec 24, 2012 9:00 am

But these are our Western academic explanations. Correct me if I'm wrong, but according to traditional Buddhist doctrine Buddha Śakyamuni thought all three yanas during his lifetime and people heard the teachings according to their capacity.
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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby steveb1 » Mon Dec 24, 2012 12:37 pm

Thanks to everyone for replying and for the interesting url links :)
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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby Huifeng » Mon Dec 24, 2012 1:23 pm

Skydancer wrote:But these are our Western academic explanations. Correct me if I'm wrong, but according to traditional Buddhist doctrine Buddha Śakyamuni thought all three yanas during his lifetime and people heard the teachings according to their capacity.


But, even what you claim here as "traditional Buddhist doctrine" is "Mahayana Buddhist doctrine", other non-Mahayana groups do not say such a thing. It is perhaps not so "traditional" after all, but belongs only to a given interpretation, and not the only one.

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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby Norden » Thu Dec 27, 2012 3:49 am

steveb1 wrote:Around the Web I've been encountering the claim that Mahayana did not stem from or diversify from Hinayana. Rather, there was always a kind of proto-Mahayana that grew up along with those who held what we now call Hinayana ideas. Some Mahayanists therefore claim that a kind of early Mahayana has as much claim to religious and historical validity as does Hinayana.

My confusion arises from the fact that some declare the independence of the Mahayana from the very beginning, while others do not. This cite from Wiki isn't helpful but I quote it for discussion's sake:

The origins of Mahāyāna are still not completely understood.[16] The earliest Western views of Mahāyāna assumed that it existed as a separate school in competition with the so-called "Hīnayāna" schools. Due to the veneration of buddhas and bodhisattvas, Mahāyāna was often interpreted as a more devotional, lay-inspired form of Buddhism, with supposed origins in stūpa veneration,[17] or by making parallels with the history of the European Protestant Reformation. These views have been largely dismissed in modern times in light of a much broader range of early texts that are now available.[18] These earliest Mahāyāna texts often depict strict adherence to the path of a bodhisattva, and engagement in the ascetic ideal of a monastic life in the wilderness, akin to the ideas expressed in the Rhinoceros Sūtra.[19] The old views of Mahāyāna as a separate lay-inspired and devotional sect are now largely dismissed as misguided and wrong on all counts.[20]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahayana_Buddhism#Origins

I was hoping that someone would be so kindly and helpful to verify or disconfirm this claim about Mahayana's earliness and perhaps point me to some websites, books, and/or articles that discuss this subject.

Thanks in advance for any assistance :)


Yes, AFAIK Mahayana origin is unknown. Many Mahayana Sutras origin also unknown.
Some said Mahayana teachings are deviated from what Buddha has taught. There is also a story of a monk called Mahadeva from Mahasanghika sect, who started the Mahayana origin and created five theses to covered up his weakness and to despise Arahat.
The last Buddhist council is unknown to the Elders. Split in the Sangha is already occured during Buddha's time, the condition is getting worse after the second or third Buddhist council held after hundred of years after the Buddha's parinirvana.
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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby steveb1 » Thu Dec 27, 2012 5:33 am

Norden thanks to you - and everyone else - for your thoughts in reply to my question. I keep monitoring this thread for more information as it may arrive :)
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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby Kim O'Hara » Thu Dec 27, 2012 6:20 am

Huifeng wrote:"The earliest Western views of Mahāyāna assumed that it existed as a separate school in competition with the so-called "Hīnayāna" schools."

Not really, the earliest Western views of Mahayana thought it was a totally different religion... It took them a while to connect "Fo" and "Buddha".

~~ Huifeng

Greetings, Ven Huifeng,
This is a bit cryptic, isn't it, and unfair to curious ignorami like myself? :tongue:
I have been trying to work out which east-west contact you are referring to but haven't come up with an answer. The English in China, about 1700? The first European contacts with Japan, around the same time?
:shrug:
If I wanted to be a bit speculative I would suggest a much earlier date. I haven't checked my references, but didn't the Nestorians get into China about 1400? And what did Marco Polo have to say about Chinese religion when he got home about 1300?
And what about earlier contacts along the Silk Road? If the Arabs count as 'westerners', they could have kept track of the Mahayana from its very beginnings.

:namaste:
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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby dzogchungpa » Fri Dec 28, 2012 1:02 am

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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby Huifeng » Fri Dec 28, 2012 3:57 am



Useful overviews, detailed but not overly long.
Joseph Walser's Nagarjuna in Context also has a good overview in chp. 1 or 2 (IIRC).

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Re: Mahayana earliest origins ?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Dec 28, 2012 6:06 am

Skydancer wrote:But these are our Western academic explanations. Correct me if I'm wrong, but according to traditional Buddhist doctrine Buddha Śakyamuni thought all three yanas during his lifetime and people heard the teachings according to their capacity.


One idea is that the śrāvakas did not hear the Mahāyāna, hence they were unaware of it. However, they were aware that disciples could become buddhas by virtue of the Buddha stating to Maitreya at the time that he would be the future buddha.

Bear in mind a lot of Mahāyāna ideas take on a kind of transmundane aspect. They are not teachings given to flesh and blood disciples. For instance the first line of the Mahāvairocana Sūtra reads as follows:

《大毘盧遮那成佛神變加持經》卷1〈1 入真言門住心品〉:「如是我聞。一時薄伽梵。住如來加持廣大金剛法界宮。一切持金剛者皆悉集會。」(CBETA, T18, no. 848, p. 1, a9-10)

Thus have I heard. At one time the Bhagavān was abiding in the Tathāgata's Blessed Vast Great Vajra Dharmadhātu Palace where all vajra-holders had assembled.


This is not Magadha in India in the 5th century BCE.

The other thing is that some texts are even attributed to other-worldly sources. As tradition holds, the Mahāyāna Sūtrālamkāra was composed by the tenth stage bodhisattva Maitreya and transmitted to Asaṅga (4th c.).

Whether one accepts this as true or not, there is nothing to say Asaṅga could not have had a vision of Maitreya. This used to happen and still does actually. Mahāyāna has always had a strong component of mysticism. This is perfectly viable, too, if you consider how the Mahāsāṃghika school perceived the Buddha (i.e., a transcendental force). This is why some Mahāsāṃghika lineages readily accepted Mahāyāna scriptures.

In trying to find the source of the Mahāyāna one should take into consideration the reality of mysticism.
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