Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

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Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Jnana » Mon Feb 04, 2013 9:15 am

When reading Mahāyāna sūtras and treatises it's not uncommon to come across what appears to be impassioned, defensive rhetoric and rather indignant name-calling directed at those who oppose or dismiss the Mahāyāna in general, or in some cases, the message of a particular Mahāyāna sūtra. This tone and posturing can be off-putting for a modern reader. It hardly comes across as the eloquent speech of an enlightened being.

It has been suggested that this defensive rhetoric is a characteristic of small, embattled groups existing on the margins of more established, mainstream groups. This seems like a reasonable explanation, and worth consideration.


The defensive rhetoric of a marginalized group:

The following is a passage from the first chapter of Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism by Gregory Schopen. He uses excerpts from Nāgārjuna's Ratnāvalī to illustrate his assertion that the Mahāyāna was a marginalized group (or groups) struggling for acceptance at the time the Ratnāvalī was written.

    Although the Ratnāvalī is describing the Mahāyāna after it had had a century or more to develop and take shape, there is no indication in the text that this Mahāyāna had even yet successfully effected anything like what Stcherbatsky called the “radical revolution [that] had transformed the Buddhist Church.” ... Even in the hands of one of its most clever advocates it does not appear as an independent, self-confident movement sweeping all before it as, again, Stcherbatsky’s influential scenario might suggest. But rather—and as late as the second or third century—it appears as an embattled movement struggling for acceptance. It appears to have found itself in an awkward spot on several issues. Nāgārjuna, for example, wants the Mahāyāna to be “the word of the Buddha”: “The benefit of others and oneself, and the goal of release, are in brief the teaching of the Buddha (buddhaśāsanam). They are at the heart of the six perfections. Therefore this is the word of the Buddha” (te ṣaṭpāramitāgarbhās / tasmād bauddham idaṃ vacaḥ / IV.82). But a few verses later he is forced to admit that “the goal of being established in the practice which leads to awakening is not declared in the sūtra” (bodhicaryāpratiṣṭhārthaṃ na sūtre bhāṣitaṃ vacaḥ / IV.93).

    To judge again by Nāgārjuna’s “defense,” the Mahāyāna had troubles not just in regard to its authenticity or not just in regard to its doctrine of emptiness. Its conception of the Buddha—what, significantly, Nāgārjuna several times calls its buddhamāhātmya—also appears to have been far from having carried the day in the second or third century. At least Nāgārjuna was still arguing for its acceptance: “From the inconceivability of his merit, like the sky, the Jina is declared to have inconceivable good qualities. As a consequence the conception of the Buddha (buddhamāhātmya) in
    the Mahāyāna must be accepted!” (IV.84). But immediately following this verse asserting that the Mahāyāna conception of the Buddha must be accepted comes another that seems to tacitly admit that it was not: “Even in morality alone he [the Buddha] was beyond the range of even Śāriputra. Why then is the conception of the Buddha as inconceivable not accepted?” (yasmāt tad buddhamāhātmyam acintyaṃ kiṃ na mṛṣyate / IV.85).

    The tacit admission here of the rejection of the Mahāyāna is perhaps the one unifying theme of the entire discussion in Chapter IV of the Ratnāvalī, and although Nāgārjuna—or whoever wrote the text—does occasionally muster arguments in response to the perceived rejection, the response is most commonly characterized not by the skill of the dialectician, but rather by the heavy-handed rhetoric typical of marginalized sectarian preachers. Typically the Mahāyāna is extolled without argument, and then some very unkind things are said about those who are not convinced. Verse 79 is a good example of such rhetoric: “Because of its extreme generosity and profound depth the Mahāyāna is now (adya) ridiculed by the low-spirited and unprepared. From stupidity (it is ridiculed) by those hostile to both themselves and others” (IV.79).

    Again this sort of rhetoric runs like a refrain throughout the discussion. Not only are those who ridicule the Mahāyāna stupid and ill prepared, but they are also “deluded” and “hostile” (vs. 67); they have no understanding of good qualities or actually despise them (vss. 68, 69); they have no sense (vs. 78); and they are “ignorant and blind” (vs. 83). This sort of rhetoric and name calling is generally not associated with a strong, self-assured, established movement with broad support and wide acceptance. But we need not rely on general considerations of this kind to conclude that the Mahāyāna was in the second or third century a long way from having achieved any significant acceptance in Nāgārjuna’s India. Our author—again, himself a proponent of the system or movement he is characterizing—repeatedly and explicitly declares that there is “opposition,” “aversion,” or “repugnance” (pratigha) to the Mahāyāna (vs. 97); it is the object of “ridicule” or “scorn” (vss. 67, 68, 69, 78, 79); it is despised (vss. 70, 89), verbally abused (vs. 80), not tolerated (vs. 85), and not accepted (vss. 85, 87). Its position would seem to be clear....

    Sectarian rhetoric—especially in isolation—is difficult to assess. What the observer sees as rhetoric the insider may see as self-evident and hold as conviction. But the fact probably remains that calling those who do not share your conviction “stupid” occurs largely in the face of a rejection that itself threatens that conviction and reflects a certain desperation. More self-confident movements are by definition more assured of their means of persuasion and do not commonly indulge in this sort of thing.

    Sociologists, however, who have studied sectarian groups in a variety of contexts have shown that this sort of characterization is typical of small, embattled groups on the fringes or margins of dominant, established parent groups. Moreover, the kind of rhetoric we find in the Ratnāvalī is by no means unique—Mahāyāna literature is saturated with it. There those who do not accept the Mahāyāna are said to be not only “stupid,” but also defective, of bad karma and evil, or even possessed by Māra. Further, while we cannot be sure that those who did not accept the Mahāyāna were “stupid,” we can be reasonably sure that such people existed at the time of our author—and in large numbers. Even the logic of the rhetoric would suggest that it would be self-defeating—if not itself “stupid”—for a proponent of a movement to repeatedly claim that that movement was an object of ridicule if it were not true; it would get him nowhere and in fact would undercut any argument he might make on that basis. The statements in the Ratnāvalī, indeed, presuppose that it was widely known by its intended audience—almost certainly literate and learned monks and perhaps the king to whom it was supposedly addressed—that the Mahāyāna was not taken seriously and was in general an object of scorn. Again, the force of our author’s arguments would seem to rest on this being fact.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Indrajala » Mon Feb 04, 2013 11:18 am

Interestingly, Jan Nattier in The Bodhisattva Path: Based on the Ugraparipṛcchā a Mahāyāna Sūtra proposes that the Mahāyāna was initially for "a few good men" (note: not women).

    [T]hey recognize that not all beings have the capacity to become Buddhas, and that the śrāvaka and not the bodhisattva path is appropriate for some. Thus even as they instruct the bodhisattva on the specifics of his or her chosen path - for in some of these scriptures bodhisattvas may also be women - they also treat the path of the śrāvaka as entirely legitimate. A careful reading of the surviving texts classified as "Mahāyāna sūtras" (preserved for the most part, only in Chinese and/or Tibetan) shows that this nonuniversalist position was actually quite widespread, especially in the early stages of the production of Mahāyāna sūtras literature.


So, was it that the Mahāyāna was a marginalized and possibly despised community, but moreover also exclusive to a minority of practitioners?
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Astus » Mon Feb 04, 2013 12:11 pm

I think there are different stages. In "Nagarjuna in Context" (p.23) it says that the earliest known sutras (translated by Lokaksema) rarely refer to mahayana, hinayana and bodhisattvayana, it is more about doctrinal-practical differences rather than sectarian.

I can't remember where I read this, but the MMK seems to try to be an argument for general acceptance by all Buddhists and does not quote Mahayana sources or the bodhisattva idea. In terms of karma it strangely accepts certain abhidharmic ideas (MMK 17.14).
"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)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“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; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby plwk » Mon Feb 04, 2013 12:49 pm

Interestingly Jnana, perhaps all that rhetoric was about establishing 'paternity' rather than mere rhetoric of a 'marginalised yana'?
I came across this work, 'Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature' by Alan Cole which kind of have some reflection of the posted text, and even questioned Schopen's idea, perhaps from another angle? An excerpt from his introduction...
http://ahandfulofleaves.files.wordpress ... e_2005.pdf
What could “text as father” mean, and what do fathers have to do with Buddhism in the first place?
The suitability of this topic will become clearer in the course of these chapters, but let me promise here at the outset that sifting through early Mahayana Buddhist sutras leaves little doubt about how important textually produced paternal figures were for organizing authority and legitimacy, in at least a portion of these texts.

What is crucial in organizing my reading is that I take these Mahayana sutras to be knowingly fabricated by wily authors intent on creating images of authority that come to fruition in the reading experience.
That is, I do not read the voices of authority—the Buddha’s and others’—that fill out these texts as reflections of prior oral articulations or similarly innocent statements about truth and reality. Instead, I see them as carefully wrought literary constructions that assume their specific forms precisely because they were designed to inhabit and function in the literary space where one encounters them.

Hence the title Text as Father was chosen to represent the dialectic in which texts created and presented images of “truth-fathers” who, among other things, speak to the legitimacy of the textual medium that contains them and, within this circle of self-confirmation, draw the reader into complex realignments with the Buddhist tradition and prior representation of truth and authority. To explore the form and content of these textual truth-fathers, and the narratives that support them, I have selected four interesting and diverse Mahayana texts: the Lotus Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, the Tathagatagarbha Sutra, and the Vimalakirtinirdesa (a work that isn’t technically a sutra but nonetheless comes to refer to itself that way by its final chapters).

In close readings of each of these texts, I show how their narratives first gather up authority, legitimacy, and sanctity, as they would have been previously constituted in the Buddhist tradition and then relocate those items within their own textual perimeters. Hence, in all four texts, the narrative offers a new figure of the Buddha who, once established in the flow of the narrative, explains to the reader that the sum of tradition is exclusively available in the reading experience and in the sheer physical presence of the book.

In a brilliant maneuver that fully exploits the physicality of textuality, the narratives pretend to represent the living and supposedly oral aspect of the Buddha, while that “orality” explains that the sheer physicality of the text—on palm leaves, presumably—represents the presence of the Buddha. Thus, by creating plots that delicately balance the Buddha’s presence on either side of the textualized form of the narrative—in its genesis and in its reception—these sutras were designed to serve as the singular vehicle for Buddhist authenticity, promising to actualize truth and legitimacy for any reader, in any time or place.

More exactly, in condensing and displacing the totality of tradition in this manner, each of these sutras offers a quid pro quo exchange in which it is said that if the reader accepts the encapsulation of tradition within the text as a legitimate fait accompli, then the reader can expect to receive from the text the totality of tradition. Thus the reader’s gift of legitimacy to the text results in the reader acquiring direct access to just that legitimacy from the text. Exaggerating only slightly, each text promises that one becomes a legitimate Buddhist by reading and believing narratives that explain, first, how the “real” Buddhist tradition is not in the monasteries, or in the recognized body of rituals, codes, and practices that shaped Buddhism since its inception, and, second, that tradition is fully installed in the text that is accomplishing this rhetorical overcoming of tradition.

Consequently, salvation in these four texts is no longer defined as the straightforward Buddhist task of overcoming desire and ignorance by seeing the true nature of reality.
Instead, salvation is predicated on the reader’s devotion to these new textual narratives that, among other things, completely redefined tradition. Putting aside the standard assumptions about Mahayana Buddhism—its supposed emphasis on emptiness and compassion—I think a careful and balanced reading of these texts leaves little doubt that salvation, more often than not, was defined not as the function of a view on reality but as a view back on tradition. That is, one’s salvation is said to be won through a change in allegiances—from traditional Buddhism to textualized Mahayana Buddhism—and not as the effect of a straightforward
grappling with existence. In a fully circuitous manner, then, these texts promise that one becomes a buddha by reading and assenting to particular theories about how one becomes a buddha.

Of course, this is not to say that these texts represent anything but a slice of the truly expansive body of writing and thinking that made up heterogeneous Mahayana Buddhism. However, even with this small sampling, I think we can uncover a number of thematics that invite a very different style of reflection on the origin and function of Mahayana rhetoric. Similarly, in seeing how their composition as literary works makes a number of demands on their form and content, we gain perspective for rethinking the doctrinal elements of these texts that, until now, have been read without reference to the “politics of textuality” that I am trying to resituate in our interpretations.

In short, for some time we have been quite aware of the politics of textuality during this early phase of Mahayana Buddhism, but we have not used that problematic as a point of entry for reading these narratives.
On a basic level, then, this book is an effort to understand the antagonistic interface between Mahayana textuality and the wider Buddhist tradition.

And, naturally, this book ought to be located within the recent trend in scholarship that has, in the past two decades, reconsidered the emergence of Mahayana Buddhism and veered away from the sugar-coated textbook explanations that are still often relied on, even in scholarly discussions. Whereas other researchers have been interested in using epigraphy, art, architecture, and travel memoirs to rewrite what now appear as unlikely and untenable histories of early Mahayana Buddhism, I have chosen literary analysis, with a focus on narrative dynamics and the various strategies employed for luring the reader away from traditional Buddhist ideas and practices.

And, similarly, whereas other scholars have been interested in writing social histories, I have opted for something closer to a literary history, which nonetheless has many implications for writing social or cultural history. One of the many good reasons for rereading these texts is that heretofore they have been approached with kid gloves and rather clumsily used as evidence for a cheery account of early Mahayana Buddhism that is not supported by other kinds of evidence, or even by the texts themselves, once they are read with the gloves off. In short, it is becoming increasingly clear that we do not really have a good idea about the nature of early Mahayana Buddhism.

Was it, as Gregory Schopen suggests, a peripheral, underprivileged, renegade movement with tendencies toward resentment and hysteria?
Or was it something more like a virtual community of readers having limited contact with one another and little or no institutional presence? Or, again, was it a diverse grab bag of new styles of thinking and practicing that defies any singular description? However we end up sketching these scenarios, there is every reason to start work with a return to these texts to ask more carefully what they are about and what they might tell us about the concerns of these early writers and, better, what their authors imagined were the concerns of their imagined readers.

To that end, I have chosen these four texts, which, though a sliver of early Mahayana textuality, can be read to show sides of Mahayana Buddhism that have gone unnoticed.
In particular, my hope is that by concentrating on a few Mahayana works, we will gain a useful platform for addressing the narrative complexity of these texts and their deep involvement in the project of seductively rewriting authority so that they can be seen as having the authority to rewrite authority.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Jnana » Mon Feb 04, 2013 1:42 pm

Huseng wrote:So, was it that the Mahāyāna was a marginalized and possibly despised community, but moreover also exclusive to a minority of practitioners?

I think it's possible that notions about the rarity of individuals capable of engaging in the bodhisattva path, and the notion that the śrāvaka path is more appropriate for most people, are carryovers from mainstream ideas regarding buddhahood and the purpose of Śākyamuni's dispensation.

Nevertheless, it also seems that there were intentional efforts to advocate for the Mahāyāna, often advocating right within individual Mahāyāna sūtras on behalf of that particular sūtra. So it seems that there was a self-conscious effort to want to extend the message to new prospects within the larger Buddhist community.

It's also been suggested by a number of scholars that the proponents of the Mahāyāna were far more successful in proselytizing in border regions and areas outside of the Indian subcontinent than they were within areas that already had well established Buddhist institutions. Thus, while the Mahāyāna became a major player in places like China at a comparatively early period, it seems to have remained marginal within India itself for hundreds of years. Again, Gregory Schopen, Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism, pp. 10-11:

    The contrast between the situation of the Mahāyāna and the Perfection of Wisdom “school” in China in the third century which Professor Zürcher has reconstructed, and the situation of the Mahāyāna in third-century India, which is inadvertently described in the Ratnāvalī, could hardly be greater. In China in the third century the Mahāyāna was of “paramount importance,” well situated among the ecclesiastical and social elite, well on its way—if not already—mainstream. In India it is, during the same period, embattled, ridiculed, scorned by learned monks and the social elite—bear in mind that the Ratnāvalī was supposed to have been addressed to a king—and at best marginal. These are historical situations that surely are not significantly parallel; they are almost the inverse of one another....

    It seems fairly certain that in China from the third century on the Mahāyāna became not less but more and more mainstream. The Mahāyāna in India, however, appears to have continued very much on the margins. Again, in striking contrast to its situation in China, the Mahāyāna in India was—until the fifth century—institutionally and publicly all but invisible.

In Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna, pp. 87-88, Daniel Boucher offers the following:

    The two Indian Buddhist groups, therefore, that have received the most scholarly attention, the Theravāda and the Mahāyāna, have received this attention precisely because their scriptures were available outside of India, in places where Buddhism continued to flourish. There is a certain irony here, however, in that these two groups were by all appearances among the least influential for most of the history of Indian Buddhism. On the basis of inscriptional records of donations to particular monastic orders as well as the accounts of Chinese pilgrims to India, we know that a number of other groups figured much more prominently. These would include the Sarvāstivādins, particularly in the north, the Kāśyapīyas, the Mahāsāṃghikas, together with their sublineages in the south, and the Sammatīyas, to name only a few. The Sthaviravādins (Pāli: Theravādins) are little known on the subcontinent outside of Bodh-gayā, a site they seem to have largely monopolized, and the Mahāyāna does not appear on the ground until the fourth or fifth century, with one notable exception.

And in Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition, pp. 97-98, Paul Williams states:

    [O]ne is tempted to suggest that the only explanation for near-silence is that Mahāyāna in Classical India was not a threat, and/or was not taken seriously. This could be because in spite of the size of the literature there were throughout much of the period of Buddhism in India very few monks who actually adopted the Mahāyāna vision, and those monks were just thought by their brethren to be a bit weird—but harmless. Alternatively it could be because in terms of what is to count as a threat among those who have come together to live a simple and cenobitic lifestyle the Mahāyāna was not a rival. I suspect it may be a combination of both of these factors.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Jnana » Mon Feb 04, 2013 1:50 pm

Astus wrote:I think there are different stages. In "Nagarjuna in Context" (p.23) it says that the earliest known sutras (translated by Lokaksema) rarely refer to mahayana, hinayana and bodhisattvayana, it is more about doctrinal-practical differences rather than sectarian.

Yes, I think this is probably pretty accurate.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Jnana » Mon Feb 04, 2013 1:54 pm

plwk wrote:Interestingly Jnana, perhaps all that rhetoric was about establishing 'paternity' rather than mere rhetoric of a 'marginalised yana'?
I came across this work, 'Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature' by Alan Cole which kind of have some reflection of the posted text, and even questioned Schopen's idea, perhaps from another angle? An excerpt from his introduction...

Thanks for mentioning this book. I've been meaning to read it for some time now.

plwk wrote:
Was it, as Gregory Schopen suggests, a peripheral, underprivileged, renegade movement with tendencies toward resentment and hysteria?
Or was it something more like a virtual community of readers having limited contact with one another and little or no institutional presence? Or, again, was it a diverse grab bag of new styles of thinking and practicing that defies any singular description? However we end up sketching these scenarios, there is every reason to start work with a return to these texts to ask more carefully what they are about and what they might tell us about the concerns of these early writers and, better, what their authors imagined were the concerns of their imagined readers.


Indeed, it may very well be some or all of these things happening in different regions over the course of a few hundred years. So far I've mostly been looking at a group of sūtras that were eventually included in the Mahāratnakūṭa collection, which primarily promote a kind of "back to the forest" bodhisattvayāna. In what may be the earliest of these texts, or the earliest versions of them, the primary target of criticism is sedentary monastics. But it doesn't take long in the evolution of these compositions for the criticisms to be extended to all those who aren't receptive to the Mahāyāna message. And the criticisms seem to grow more indignant, with name-calling, etc. Eventually, in other sūtras we find supersessionist claims that the śrāvaka path is only provisional and that sooner or later everyone has to enter the Mahāyāna. What I'm interested in exploring is how and why these strident criticisms developed. And also, if this kind of rhetoric is sustainable or even acceptable in the modern, pluralistic Buddhist world.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Michael_Dorfman » Mon Feb 04, 2013 2:37 pm

Huseng wrote:
So, was it that the Mahāyāna was a marginalized and possibly despised community, but moreover also exclusive to a minority of practitioners?


I would think so. The classic text here is Paul Harrison's "Who Gets to Ride in the Great Vehicle? Self-image and identity among the followers of early Mahāyāna", from JIABS 10 (1987).

The Mahāyāna['s] attitude to the rest of the Buddhist fold is characterised by ambivalence and defensiveness, and it gives every appearance of being a minority movement struggling to maintain the authenticity and validity of its teachings with a truly prodigious degree of polemical 'overkill'."
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Astus » Mon Feb 04, 2013 4:21 pm

Jnana wrote:What I'm interested in exploring is how and why these strident criticisms developed. And also, if this kind of rhetoric is sustainable or even acceptable in the modern, pluralistic Buddhist world.


I can't say much about the origins, but regarding the second part we just have to look at what Mahayana have become. They maintain (most of them) the monastic rules, they promise liberation in this life (Zen, Tantra, etc.) or the next (Pure Land), and the laity is busy with devotional and merit making activities. Sectarian arguments against ancient Indian schools are rarely used, and only to point to some errors on the path. However, arguments come back are among Western Buddhists (like on this forum) where people get busy denigrating everything else but their own tradition.
"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)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“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; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby pueraeternus » Mon Feb 04, 2013 5:04 pm

Astus wrote:
Jnana wrote:What I'm interested in exploring is how and why these strident criticisms developed. And also, if this kind of rhetoric is sustainable or even acceptable in the modern, pluralistic Buddhist world.

They maintain (most of them) the monastic rules, they promise liberation in this life (Zen, Tantra, etc.) or the next (Pure Land)


I always wondered if the sudden enlightenment and full enlightenment in one life paradigm is just a mirror of Sravakayana soteriology. From an exceeding difficult path that only mahasattvas can brave through for eons upon eons, we now have fast-track programs that promise liberation in 1 to a dozen or so lifetimes. Reminds me so much of good old boring stream-entry.
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.

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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Astus » Mon Feb 04, 2013 6:09 pm

pueraeternus wrote:I always wondered if the sudden enlightenment and full enlightenment in one life paradigm is just a mirror of Sravakayana soteriology. From an exceeding difficult path that only mahasattvas can brave through for eons upon eons, we now have fast-track programs that promise liberation in 1 to a dozen or so lifetimes. Reminds me so much of good old boring stream-entry.


Another interesting thing about the sudden enlightenment in this life idea is how it dismisses and belittles the gradualist bodhisattva path. I'd say that the long-term bodhisattva teaching was not a very successful one in the end.
"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)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“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; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Konchog1 » Mon Feb 04, 2013 9:39 pm

I wonder if the firm stance Mahayana takes on the abilities of laypeople arose simply out of a need for followers.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Greg » Tue Feb 05, 2013 1:37 am

I remember my surprise on learning that right up until the end of institutional Buddhism in India, the vast majority of Buddhists were sravakas of various kinds. My first exposure to Indian Buddhism being through the Tibetan presentation of the hierarchy of tenet systems, it seemed at least strongly implied that everyone converted en masse historically from one system to the next.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Konchog1 » Tue Feb 05, 2013 3:02 am

Greg wrote:I remember my surprise on learning that right up until the end of institutional Buddhism in India, the vast majority of Buddhists were sravakas of various kinds. My first exposure to Indian Buddhism being through the Tibetan presentation of the hierarchy of tenet systems, it seemed at least strongly implied that everyone converted en masse historically from one system to the next.
Well, since the members of the other sects likely reincarnated into the only surviving sects (Theravada and Mahayana), they kind of did.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Jnana » Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:54 am

pueraeternus wrote:I always wondered if the sudden enlightenment and full enlightenment in one life paradigm is just a mirror of Sravakayana soteriology. From an exceeding difficult path that only mahasattvas can brave through for eons upon eons, we now have fast-track programs that promise liberation in 1 to a dozen or so lifetimes. Reminds me so much of good old boring stream-entry.

Yeah, I've thought about that too. I remember seeing an interview with a Japanese Zen teacher who said that Zen is a hīnayāna practice with a mahāyāna aspiration.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Indrajala » Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:04 am

Jnana wrote:It's also been suggested by a number of scholars that the proponents of the Mahāyāna were far more successful in proselytizing in border regions and areas outside of the Indian subcontinent than they were within areas that already had well established Buddhist institutions.


That seems to have been the case. In the fifth century when Faxian was travelling through India he observed mostly Śrāvakayāna monasteries. The only two exclusively Mahāyāna monasteries were in the Tarim basin, which is not India proper. For some details on this see my blog post:

http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2013/01/ ... nt-in.html

Another relevant paper is Daniel Boucher's “Dharmaraksa and the Transmission of Buddhism to China” in Asia Major:

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

He notes that quite possibly the Mahāyāna proponents in China were actually refugees:

    Indeed, many no doubt were moved by a desire to propagate the Dharma. But it may also be true that those who arrived in the first few centuries may have been as much refugees as missionaries. This, of course, has a number of implications for the character of early Chinese Buddhism as well, in particular for our understanding of what conditions made Buddhism in China possible. But it also reminds us that the very conditions which opened the door to this foreign religion in China were still very much in formation in the Tarim Basin when Dharmaraksa appeared on the scene in the third century.


So for various reasons Mahāyāna could not thrive in India proper until perhaps the fifth century and finally the collapse of the Guptas. I believe the changing global economy at the time contributed to the decline in funding for earlier well-funded institutions. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire apparently affected Gupta India:

Burjor Avari notes in India: The Ancient Past A History of the Indian-Subcontinent from 7000 BC to AD 1200,

    The fall of the Western Roman Empire and the disappearance of the flourishing trade with Rome meant a certain definite decline from the end of the fourth century in the value and volume of Indian international trade. One indicator of this was the paucity of metallic money from the late Gupta period onwards.


Now, interestingly Gregory Schopen has revealed that for the first half of the millennium donative inscriptions in the epigraphical record constantly show that mainstream orders were patronized by prominent laity and royalty. There is only one clear example of a Mahāyāna group receiving patronage prior to the fourth or fifth centuries, which curiously is around the time that Mahāyāna imagery starts appearing. Around that time the mainstream Śrāvakayāna institutions start showing a clear lack of patronage. However, we know that Mahāyāna came to have a lot more prosperity later and even command certain large institutions like Nālandā.

If I'm not mistaken, the old hostile rhetoric towards a Hīnayāna also tones down, revealing a more confident and settled tradition.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Greg » Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:28 am

Huseng wrote:
Jnana wrote:It's also been suggested by a number of scholars that the proponents of the Mahāyāna were far more successful in proselytizing in border regions and areas outside of the Indian subcontinent than they were within areas that already had well established Buddhist institutions.


That seems to have been the case. In the fifth century when Faxian was travelling through India he observed mostly Śrāvakayāna monasteries. The only two exclusively Mahāyāna monasteries were in the Tarim basin, which is not India proper. For some details on this see my blog post:

http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2013/01/ ... nt-in.html

Another relevant paper is Daniel Boucher's “Dharmaraksa and the Transmission of Buddhism to China” in Asia Major:

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

He notes that quite possibly the Mahāyāna proponents in China were actually refugees:

    Indeed, many no doubt were moved by a desire to propagate the Dharma. But it may also be true that those who arrived in the first few centuries may have been as much refugees as missionaries. This, of course, has a number of implications for the character of early Chinese Buddhism as well, in particular for our understanding of what conditions made Buddhism in China possible. But it also reminds us that the very conditions which opened the door to this foreign religion in China were still very much in formation in the Tarim Basin when Dharmaraksa appeared on the scene in the third century.


So for various reasons Mahāyāna could not thrive in India proper until perhaps the fifth century and finally the collapse of the Guptas. I believe the changing global economy at the time contributed to the decline in funding for earlier well-funded institutions. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire apparently affected Gupta India:

Burjor Avari notes in India: The Ancient Past A History of the Indian-Subcontinent from 7000 BC to AD 1200,

    The fall of the Western Roman Empire and the disappearance of the flourishing trade with Rome meant a certain definite decline from the end of the fourth century in the value and volume of Indian international trade. One indicator of this was the paucity of metallic money from the late Gupta period onwards.


Now, interestingly Gregory Schopen has revealed that for the first half of the millennium donative inscriptions in the epigraphical record constantly show that mainstream orders were patronized by prominent laity and royalty. There is only one clear example of a Mahāyāna group receiving patronage prior to the fourth or fifth centuries, which curiously is around the time that Mahāyāna imagery starts appearing. Around that time the mainstream Śrāvakayāna institutions start showing a clear lack of patronage. However, we know that Mahāyāna came to have a lot more prosperity later and even command certain large institutions like Nālandā.

If I'm not mistaken, the old hostile rhetoric towards a Hīnayāna also tones down, revealing a more confident and settled tradition.


True, and I remember someone (perhaps Davidson?) arguing that things only got worse when the Arab conquests began, because they as traders supplanted the Indian mercantile class in certain aspects of international trade, and the mercantile class was a crucial pillar of support for Buddhism.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Rakshasa » Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:56 am

How does it explain the fact that Mahayana was once popular, if not dominant, even in Sri Lanka? Despite their strong conflicts, the Sri Lankans and Tamils are essentially the same people. And it is well known that at one point of time Mahayana was quite popular in Sri Lanka, so much so that Amoghavajra and Vajrabodhi had to visit Lanka to collect Tantrayana sutra, and even in 14th century, Dharmabhadra went to Sri Lanka - from Magadha of all places! - to investigate the meaning of Prajna under a Buddhist ascetic there.

I think the western scholars are not really looking at all the archaeological evidence. The only Buddhist caves I have visited so far are the Kanheri caves in Mumbai - and among about 90 caves for various monks, half of them are dedicated to Mahayanist and even Tantric Buddhists. Similarly, the caves found in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh show indication that it was once inhabited by both Mahayana, Hinayana and Tantric Buddhists (Andhra is thought to be the hometown of Nagarjuna and also the places from where Prajnaparamita Sutras were recovered - it also shows great influence of Naga culture with all the Naga statues found there). In any case, I believe that the conflict that Buddhists of various Yanas had was solely scholarly in nature. They were still living harmoniously together in same Buddhist cave complexes. I will be visiting Ajanta and Ellora in the near future. These caves also show sign of Mahayana influence (Avalokiteshvara statues etc) from what I have read.

PS: I would like to add that I have noticed in the historical Buddhist landscape of India, the places which were associated with Naga culture (Kashmir, Andhra, Kerala, Bengal etc) also happen to be places where Mahayana was pretty famous and Buddhism survived for longer than other parts of India.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Jnana » Tue Feb 05, 2013 10:17 am

Rakshasa wrote:How does it explain the fact that Mahayana was once popular, if not dominant, even in Sri Lanka?

According to Mahāvihāra sources there was interest in what were probably Mahāyāna teachings beginning in the third century CE, primarily connected to the Abhayagirivihāra. There were two councils convened (the first sometime between 214-36 CE and the second between 253-66 CE) after it came to the attention of the Mahāvihāra monks that the Abhayagirivihāra had accepted and were using Vaitulyavāda texts. Both times the councils, which were comprised of Mahāvihāra monks, concluded that the texts were heretical and they were burned and the Vaitulyavāda monks denounced. After the second council a large number of monks were expelled, and 60 of them gathered in southern India. They later returned to Sri Lanka and it seems that there was a period of ongoing struggles for political patronage, etc. (An overview of these events can be read in Buddhism in Sri Lanka by H. R. Perera.)

Rakshasa wrote:And it is well known that at one point of time Mahayana was quite popular in Sri Lanka, so much so that Amoghavajra and Vajrabodhi had to visit Lanka to collect Tantrayana sutra, and even in 14th century, Dharmabhadra went to Sri Lanka - from Magadha of all places! - to investigate the meaning of Prajna under a Buddhist ascetic there.

Yes, there is historical evidence of tantric activity from at least the 8th century through to the 12th century. For example, eight dhāraṇī inscriptions have been found at the Abhayagiri Stūpa. Gregory Schopen has identified the source of six of them as being the Sarvatathāgatādhiṣṭhānahṛdayaguhyadhātukaraṇḍadhāraṇī Sūtra, and Ven. Chandawimala has identified the source of the latter two as being the Tattvasaṃgraha Tantra.

Some other sources on Mahāyāna in Sri Lanka:

Chandawimala Thero, Rangama. Bodhicitta in Theravāda Buddhism with Special Reference to the Abhayagiri Fraternity in Ancient Sri Lanka. Presentation for Third Korean Conference of Buddhist Studies, 2006.

Chandawimala Thero, Rangama. The Impact of the Abhayagiri Practices on the Development of Theravāda Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Doctoral Dissertation, 2007.

Chandawimala Thero, Rangama. Esoteric Buddhist Practice in Ancient Sri Lanka.

Holt, John Clifford. Buddha In The Crown: Avalokiteśvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka. Oxford University Press, 1991.

Sundberg, Jeffrey R. The Wilderness Monks of the Abhayagirivihāra and the Origins of Sino-Javanese Esoteric Buddhism. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 2004.
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Re: Rhetoric of a Marginalized Yāna

Postby Greg » Tue Feb 05, 2013 10:48 pm

Rakshasa wrote:How does it explain the fact that Mahayana was once popular, if not dominant, even in Sri Lanka? Despite their strong conflicts, the Sri Lankans and Tamils are essentially the same people. And it is well known that at one point of time Mahayana was quite popular in Sri Lanka, so much so that Amoghavajra and Vajrabodhi had to visit Lanka to collect Tantrayana sutra, and even in 14th century, Dharmabhadra went to Sri Lanka - from Magadha of all places! - to investigate the meaning of Prajna under a Buddhist ascetic there.

I think the western scholars are not really looking at all the archaeological evidence. The only Buddhist caves I have visited so far are the Kanheri caves in Mumbai - and among about 90 caves for various monks, half of them are dedicated to Mahayanist and even Tantric Buddhists. Similarly, the caves found in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh show indication that it was once inhabited by both Mahayana, Hinayana and Tantric Buddhists (Andhra is thought to be the hometown of Nagarjuna and also the places from where Prajnaparamita Sutras were recovered - it also shows great influence of Naga culture with all the Naga statues found there). In any case, I believe that the conflict that Buddhists of various Yanas had was solely scholarly in nature. They were still living harmoniously together in same Buddhist cave complexes. I will be visiting Ajanta and Ellora in the near future. These caves also show sign of Mahayana influence (Avalokiteshvara statues etc) from what I have read.

PS: I would like to add that I have noticed in the historical Buddhist landscape of India, the places which were associated with Naga culture (Kashmir, Andhra, Kerala, Bengal etc) also happen to be places where Mahayana was pretty famous and Buddhism survived for longer than other parts of India.


I don't think that conflicts with anything the OP asserted, if one allows for the fact 1) Sri Lanka could be considered not India proper and 2) that by the second half of the half of the first millennium CE Mahayana had a bigger share of a smaller pie.
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