Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

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Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 15, 2010 6:36 pm

The other day I was watching the Dalai Lama's teachings which were broadcast live via his official site.

One thing he said was that Tibetan Buddhism is a bit more logical than other varieties like Chinese Buddhism.

I've heard these same sentiments from other Tibetan teachers and initially I thought I could point to the vast Classical Chinese canon and all the numerous treatises written in the same logical style as what we find in the Indian or Tibetan traditions, but then I wonder how they arrive at such conclusions in the first place?

Comparatively speaking very little of the Chinese canon has been translated. Moreover, what is popular in English language translations seems to be odd and irrational Chan stories. I've never seen a translated work of Zhiyi, Fazang or Kumarajiva outside of an academic library. Moreover, I've never heard of any such works being translated into either modern or classical Tibetan, so the lamas probably wouldn't readily know of them unless they went out of their way to look at them.

Also at the ground level I imagine Tibetan lamas see in their travels Chinese Pure Land temples which, while having a dedicated base of devoted members, probably doesn't encourage or even require debate like what is found in Tibetan monastic education.

Likewise in Japanese Buddhism as far as I've ever seen or heard there are no formal classes in debate (debate being what Tibetan Buddhism prides itself on). In the case of Soto Zen, you might read Dogen, but then Dogen isn't really coherent. In Tibetan Buddhism they praise and religiously read Dharmakirti, which indeed readily employs consequential logic at every twist and turn to refute opponent arguments.

So, while there are plenty of works in Classical Chinese that require the same intellectual devotion as Dharmakirti to really understand, but how much study of it is in the open enough that Tibetan lamas would get the impression their own model is a bit more logical than other cultural variations of Buddhadharma?
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby mudra » Thu Sep 16, 2010 1:18 am

Partisan as I am as a student of Gelug teachers, I think you bring up a valid point as to the accessibility of Chinese scriptures to Tibetan lamas. I am sure that much of the current opinion amongst Tibetans is formed on an anecdotal basis and of course due to bias.

But there has also been some exchange over the centuries between China and Tibet which may have gone to forming HHDL's view. And nowadays apparently there are scholars of Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese who are of the opinion that the Tibetan translations of Sanskrit texts are closer to the original than Chinese translations, albeit stylistically stiffer and not as melliflous as the Chinese. This ma be partly due to the rigourous measures put into place especially post-Atisha of having the translations directly supervised by Indian pandits and retrandslated back into Sanskrit as a final check. Perhaps this might be something to explore.

Personally I am incapable of judging, relying on translations into English for all these languages. I have only read a couple of retranslations into English from Chinese (Sutras). I found the style distracting, but that's more personal taste and hardly definitive.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby plwk » Thu Sep 16, 2010 2:05 am

One thing he said was that Tibetan Buddhism is a bit more logical than other varieties like Chinese Buddhism.

I wonder....when HHDL had a meeting with the late Ven Master Sheng-yen of Dharma Drum Mountain back then, if HHDL had mentioned this to the latter... it would have been an interesting exchange if that was raised :sage:

Then again, I also recalled how HHDL showed his respect with a bow to a delegate of Vietnamese Sangha when he regarded them as the 'elder Dharma brethren' as they took the lineage from the Chinese, where the Dharma transmission came in earlier than Tibet. Watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKNGH0uqFWo

And nowadays apparently there are scholars of Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese who are of the opinion that the Tibetan translations of Sanskrit texts are closer to the original than Chinese translations, albeit stylistically stiffer and not as melliflous as the Chinese.

I wonder if nowadays, some may have forgotten past pristine translators like Kumarajiva and his contemporaries and when I was visiting Nalanda recently, the local guide mentioned that the great Tang Dynasty master, Xuan Zang was an eminent scholar/translator at Nalanda and an ardent fan of Arya Asanga's teachings.

Also at the ground level I imagine Tibetan lamas see in their travels Chinese Pure Land temples which, while having a dedicated base of devoted members, probably doesn't encourage or even require debate like what is found in Tibetan monastic education.

Yes, that's what I have found this feature after being with some places in the Chinese Trad for over a decade now, perhaps a legacy of the Confucian rote learning tendency or the unquestioning mind in a patriarchal society? Yet, when we read of the some past Pure Land Masters writings, there were many questions that they dealt with, both from monastics and the laity alike and present Chinese masters like the late Ven Master Hsuan Hua and Sheng-yen Sifu encouraged critical thinking.
I don't think that it would be fair to compare 2 different societies and Traditions with different mindsets although both receive the same transmission from India. I would rather along 'different strokes for different folks thingy'...
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 16, 2010 2:16 am

mudra wrote:Partisan as I am as a student of Gelug teachers, I think you bring up a valid point as to the accessibility of Chinese scriptures to Tibetan lamas. I am sure that much of the current opinion amongst Tibetans is formed on an anecdotal basis and of course due to bias.


Many of the same scriptures exist in both languages (which is extremely useful when doing translations), but obviously the emphasis is placed on different ones.


But there has also been some exchange over the centuries between China and Tibet which may have gone to forming HHDL's view. And nowadays apparently there are scholars of Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese who are of the opinion that the Tibetan translations of Sanskrit texts are closer to the original than Chinese translations, albeit stylistically stiffer and not as melliflous as the Chinese. This ma be partly due to the rigourous measures put into place especially post-Atisha of having the translations directly supervised by Indian pandits and retrandslated back into Sanskrit as a final check. Perhaps this might be something to explore.



Some of the Chinese texts were translated in somewhat informal circumstances. Some were state organized with the best of the contemporary minds working on them. Xuanzang and Kumarajiva are examples of the latter.

There are also cases where lectures by Indian or Central Asian masters became "translations". For information about that I recommend reading this short article by Funayama:

http://www.ihp.sinica.edu.tw/~asiamajor ... nayama.pdf


Also keep in mind about the Sanskrit -- what the Chinese translated may have been a different version of the Sanskrit text that we have access to today. Also, in some cases they didn't translate Sanskrit but probably some Indian dialect or even a Central Asian language. To the common Chinese it was all "that language from the west".
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 16, 2010 2:22 am

plwk wrote:Yes, that's what I have found this feature after being with some places in the Chinese Trad for over a decade now, perhaps a legacy of the Confucian rote learning tendency or the unquestioning mind in a patriarchal society? Yet, when we read of the some past Pure Land Masters writings, there were many questions that they dealt with, both from monastics and the laity alike and present Chinese masters like the late Ven Master Hsuan Hua and Sheng-yen Sifu encouraged critical thinking.
I don't think that it would be fair to compare 2 different societies and Traditions with different mindsets although both receive the same transmission from India. I would rather along 'different strokes for different folks thingy'...


You don't understand Confucianism and it sounds like you're just outlining the standard stereotypes about it. In fact Confucianism as practised by its representatives over history were quite critical even at the expense of their own lives. Many statesmen throughout many dynasties who would have had a thorough education in the Confucian classics were critically minded. It some cases they lost their lives as a result. In other cases it initiated positive reforms.

It wasn't just Confucians who memorized material. That's actually how education was conducted even in Europe. In Buddhist monasteries, both Tibetan and Chinese actually, even to this day as well memorization of key scriptures is required.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby 5heaps » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:47 am

Huseng wrote:One thing he said was that Tibetan Buddhism is a bit more logical than other varieties like Chinese Buddhism.

whats the context of this thought though?

TB is more correct? relies more on logic? has more logic? is more rational? is better at meeting the needs of current societies?
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby catmoon » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:02 am

I think it is. But there are qualifiers. I have no idea if the scriptures themselves are more logical, and I don't think this is what HHDL was referring to. I think he meant Dharma as taught today. I can't remember the last time I heard the Dalai Lama ask me to take something on faith, he always tries very hard to provide a solid rational basis for his teachings. Even when he says something that requires belief, and relies on authority, I can very often fill in the missing reasoning from other teachings he has done. It's just that time constraints prevent him from demonstrating everything from first principles.

This is not unique to Tibetan Buddhism, but it is sort of their specialty.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby plwk » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:14 am

This is not unique to Tibetan Buddhism, but it is sort of their specialty.

I dunno cat but I must be mixing around the wrong crowd I guess...most have not come up with anything 'logical'...'just believe' seems to be the logic of the day....if I have to agree with this statement, it must be in the scholastic circles and not really found in the common masses...

Just one simple pick on 'Guru Devotion' or that 'Dorje-shall-not-be-named' and one has to tread 'carefully' already...logic or not... :shrug:
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby catmoon » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:29 am

plwk wrote:
This is not unique to Tibetan Buddhism, but it is sort of their specialty.

I dunno cat but I must be mixing around the wrong crowd I guess...most have not come up with anything 'logical'...'just believe' seems to be the logic of the day....if I have to agree with this statement, it must be in the scholastic circles and not really found in the common masses...

Just one simple pick on 'Guru Devotion' or that 'Dorje-shall-not-be-named' and one has to tread 'carefully' already...logic or not... :shrug:



Maybe it's just my peculiar way of seeing things. In my view, what is happening is that the high leadership - people like HHDL, GKG, the FPMT and others - are disseminating a highly reasoned form of Buddhism that gets almost instantly corrupted when it hits the street in the West. The problem is a sort of anti-academic attitude that is strongly averse to formal reason, and far prefers the approach of faith, trust, and letting others do the hard thinking.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby Astus » Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:15 am

This is a really good argument in this era to say that one's tradition is more logical than the others. But if we actually look at them I don't think we could definitely claim logic more to one than the other. Actually, the whole tantric system is not too logical, except if there's such thing as "sympathetic logic" as used in magical thinking. One positive argument on the side of the Tibetan tradition is that they've kept alive the epistemology of Dignaga and Dharmakirti unlike in East-Asia. On the other hand, there's Tiantai and Huayan developed in China while the Tibetans worked on madhyamaka a bit further and that's all.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:35 am

catmoon wrote:I think it is. But there are qualifiers. I have no idea if the scriptures themselves are more logical, and I don't think this is what HHDL was referring to. I think he meant Dharma as taught today. I can't remember the last time I heard the Dalai Lama ask me to take something on faith, he always tries very hard to provide a solid rational basis for his teachings. Even when he says something that requires belief, and relies on authority, I can very often fill in the missing reasoning from other teachings he has done. It's just that time constraints prevent him from demonstrating everything from first principles.

This is not unique to Tibetan Buddhism, but it is sort of their specialty.


I think you're right in that he was probably referring to how things are done today.

Again, though, it makes me wonder why Tibetan lamas get the impression that their traditions are more grounded in logic than say Chinese traditions.

I imagine in the case of contrasting themselves to Chinese Buddhism, they'll see a lot of Pure Land Buddhism and Bodhisattva devotionalism which is largely based on faith and cannot even begin to compare to Madhyamaka, Yogacara or logicians like Dharmakirti in terms of philosophy.

If they look at Japan they'll probably see again Pure Land Buddhism and Zen. The latter has a tendency to openly dismiss book study, reason and debate. Nichiren and Soka Gakkai have as their core practice reciting the title of the Lotus Sutra. There is Shingon and Tendai too, but I don't know how much the average Tibetan Lama would know about those two schools. I know HHDL did visit Koyasan at one point. Shingon considers Tibetan Vajrayana to be a long lost cousin. I don't know if that feeling is mutual however...

Last month in Taiwan I happened to meet a Kagyu-pa monk at the museum who had visited Foguangshan. Foguangshan is probably the largest Chinese Buddhist organization in the world. His impression was that while people at Foguangshan work very hard, there is little practice that goes on there. However, to the defence of Foguangshan, I'd mention their philosophy that work is practice. Still, his impression does say something of how a Tibetan might perceive modern Chinese Buddhism as it is practised by FGS.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:40 am

Astus wrote:This is a really good argument in this era to say that one's tradition is more logical than the others. But if we actually look at them I don't think we could definitely claim logic more to one than the other. Actually, the whole tantric system is not too logical, except if there's such thing as "sympathetic logic" as used in magical thinking. One positive argument on the side of the Tibetan tradition is that they've kept alive the epistemology of Dignaga and Dharmakirti unlike in East-Asia. On the other hand, there's Tiantai and Huayan developed in China while the Tibetans worked on madhyamaka a bit further and that's all.


Setting aside Tantra, I know my own Venerable Guru, a Gelug-pa, was well educated in Abhidharma philosophy as part of his education.

Huayan and Tiantai are quite rigorous on the intellectual side, but as to how many monks and nuns are actually educated in those philosophies anymore I don't know. They are both still well studied, but it seems more something you do in university than as part of a monastic education.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby mudra » Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:50 am

plwk wrote:
This is not unique to Tibetan Buddhism, but it is sort of their specialty.

I dunno cat but I must be mixing around the wrong crowd I guess...most have not come up with anything 'logical'...'just believe' seems to be the logic of the day....if I have to agree with this statement, it must be in the scholastic circles and not really found in the common masses...

Just one simple pick on 'Guru Devotion' or that 'Dorje-shall-not-be-named' and one has to tread 'carefully' already...logic or not... :shrug:


I don't think the example of Guru Devotion as "illogical" is a good one. The Tibetan schools tend, even in the case of the more scholastic Gelug, to also rely on direct, unbroken lines of transmission. When one explores Guru Devotion properly, for example finding the reasons behind the points in 50 verses of guru devotion, the very much emphasized basic requisites (10 for Sutra, another 10 for Tantra) a guru should have etc, it's a very clear system as to how make sure you don't end up being the disciple of some whacko. If anything guru devotion practiced properly should make you use your intelligence more.

If you want an example of taking something on faith, then a more universal-to-all-Buddhists one would be karma. But even in the case of faith, one should, as one develops more skill and understanding, move from simple faith to a deeper conviction based on reflection and analysis.

As to the protector issue it's more a case of not getting sidetracked.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby mudra » Thu Sep 16, 2010 11:57 am

I think I might be going out on a limb here by suggesting this, but it seems to me that certain Tibetan Buddhist perspectives are more inclusive of different stages of the path and different requirements at those stages.

As a result there is a sequential "graded" set of stages, each being the foundation of the next. Classically illustrating this from the Gelug POV would be Lam Rim, from the Kagyu the Jewel Ornament of Liberation (Gampopa) - these two preceding being pretty much in the tradition of Atisha - and the Sakya's Lam Dre.

Perhaps this was what HHDL was referring to?
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby Astus » Thu Sep 16, 2010 12:29 pm

Mudra,

The gradual path is present in every Buddhist tradition, not a Tibetan speciality at all. BTW, I wouldn't say that karma is a faith thing, except for those who lack understanding.
"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)
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby catmoon » Thu Sep 16, 2010 2:40 pm

Besides, karma is a testable theory. Next time you walk down the street, try smiling and generating kindness towards the people walking by, and see what the response is. Sometimes you will even see them go on the smile at someone else, and they at someone else in turn.

The rest is just development of this simple phenomenon. If you happen to already believe in rebirth, then a karmic influence on that rebirth is just another case of the ripples on the pond eventually reflecting back to their source.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby mudra » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:10 pm

Astus wrote:Mudra,

The gradual path is present in every Buddhist tradition, not a Tibetan speciality at all. BTW, I wouldn't say that karma is a faith thing, except for those who lack understanding.


Astus, of course the gradual path is implicit in every Buddhist tradition, but in some it is more explicitly explained than in others.

As to Karma, it is a fairly "hidden" phenomena. Ordinary beings like myself don't see it's workings but we learn to anticipate according to what is explained to us. It's not as easy as putting two apples together and adding them up. It definitely starts as a faith thing until we gain first intellectual understanding then perhaps one day the direct perception. Well that's where I am at least.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby Jikan » Fri Sep 17, 2010 9:09 pm

I'd say that many streams of Tibetan Buddhism (not all) frontload reason and dialectics instead of devotional practices, where East Asian Buddhist traditions generally start with devotion or meditation or liturgy. The difference is in pedagogy and emphasis.
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby mudra » Sat Sep 18, 2010 12:20 am

catmoon wrote:Besides, karma is a testable theory. Next time you walk down the street, try smiling and generating kindness towards the people walking by, and see what the response is. Sometimes you will even see them go on the smile at someone else, and they at someone else in turn.

The rest is just development of this simple phenomenon. If you happen to already believe in rebirth, then a karmic influence on that rebirth is just another case of the ripples on the pond eventually reflecting back to their source.


I wouldn't use that example as proof of karma, that is more a case of human interaction and communication. As such it is cause and effect, and is recognized by many who don't believe in karma, which is a more "specialized" branch of cause and effect which is far more hidden.

Karma and it's effects is something which plays itself out in the mindstream - it originates there and it's results are once again triggered from there. Karma is not necessarily immediate (indeed debatable if it ever is truly immediate), and of the three types of results the full fruition (type of rebirth) requires at least two lifetimes!!!
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Re: Is Tibetan Buddhism more logical?

Postby mudra » Sat Sep 18, 2010 12:21 am

Jikan wrote:I'd say that many streams of Tibetan Buddhism (not all) frontload reason and dialectics instead of devotional practices, where East Asian Buddhist traditions generally start with devotion or meditation or liturgy. The difference is in pedagogy and emphasis.


IN some ways I would agree with the "frontload" bit, but in reality devotion plays a huge role in Tibetan Buddhism especially when it comes to tantra as the whole practice relies completely on Guru Devotion.
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