where did the mahayana come from

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jcsuperstar
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where did the mahayana come from

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Jan 16, 2009 9:54 am

where did the mahayana come from, i know they butted heads in sri lanka so they must had had an idea about how this arose.
what is the classical idea here?
whats "our side of the story"?
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Anders
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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Anders » Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:48 am

The classical idea is that the Mahayana sutras the Buddha spoke were preserved by bodhisattvas and other beings in different realms and then revealed at later times as needed.

The modern idea is that the mahayana sutras were a forum for extra-agamic debates happening across the various schools, using the sutra format to authenticate their ideas.

My own take is a bit of both. My picture is something along these lines (bear in mind, my narrative assumes the mahayana sutras are authentic dharma, so adjust your lenses accordingly): After the time of the Buddha, not everyone congretated into neatly lined schools and the like. Geographical isolation and the like could easily create situations where communities of bhikshus would form around a lineage of highly realised beings, that originated around arhats that might have received only a few choice teachings from the Buddha before going off on their own. As they did not have contact with the wider community who invested the resources to establish a set canon of the Buddha's teachings, these people might formulate the teachings in different ways that didn't chime with how the established orthodoxy interpreted the teachings, as they relied mostly on their own realisation and went on their own conceptualisations of this to express it. Probably quite a few of these groups were also interacting with classes of enlightened beings beyond the human realm.

All of this is of course predicated on a 'handful of leaves' notion, that is to say although the Buddha laid bare all the necessary tools to become liberated he did not not teach all the possible ways of expressing this and did not express the wider implications of liberation or of how this took place in other realms. Included in this, was the way to become a buddha.

So fastforward a few hundred years of these groups developing like this and you can imagine what would happen when some wandering Vibhajjavadin, who was wellschooled in the canon that had been established and studied in the commentarial tradition that had grown around it, stumbled across a group like this who had developed a dharma rethoric along the lines of 'minds are not minds, they are called mind, neither past, present or future mind can be grasped' and furthermore, claimed to have a hotline to some Buddha they called Ashokbya in the eastern direction along with a select few 'bodhisattva' beings, apparently in training to become Buddhas that they were getting kinds of 'pure vision' from, teaching the Dharma. And that these people were aspiring for the same(!). Well, one can hardly blame such a bhikshu for thinking this was total adharma.

Actually, it's not quite so black and white. A lot of the notions we think of as being Mahayana today, such as the status of the Buddha, the two truths, the view of emptiness, upaya and such developed among the 18 early schools. There was clearly very different ideas going around of what the Buddha really meant based on the early sutras in the early schools. But there were also a lot of developments going in very different directions than this, primarily the abidharmic literature being developed by the Vibhajjavadins and Sarvastivadins.

In that scenario, the purpose of the mahayana sutras were twofold. One was to establish the actual meaning of the Buddha's teachings (a project everybody were busying themselves with). For example, the prajnaparamita sutras show very distinct traits of implicitly dialoguing with the realist teachings of the sarvastivadin abidharma. The other was to reveal the implications and variety of dharma-related phenomena left unsaid by the Buddha as being authentic expressions of the Dharma. For example, Nagarjuna is said to have received the Avatamsaka sutras from a group of nagas. That could refer to intelligent serpents, but naga is also en epithet of wise ones, so perhaps a theory that might appeal more to modern sensitivities is that he received it from just such a group as I've postulated here. The avatamsaka btw is what I would class very definitely as a 'pure vision' sutra, ie a teaching received from a Buddha with a very clearly structure and purpose for delineating the dharma in a specific way.

I think a work like the biography of Ajahn Mun is a good modern snapshot of how such 'proto-mahayana' developments might have taken place. Here's a meditation master, who spent a lot of his time on the fringes of Buddhist society in the forest with forest masters (not unlike how it is believed the prajnaparamita groups developed), chatting up Buddhas in other realms, receiving teachings from 'deceased arhats' and describing how what he learned about reality every day since becoming an arhat was vaster than could ever be described in scripture.

This is more or less how I see the early mahayana developments. At the end of the day, I think if one has an intuition that the mahayana sutras were spoken by enlightened beings, I think it holds up. If not, it can be substituted for the deluded misapprehensions of mystics who had strayed from the Dharma. But I think these basic intuitions and inclinations are generally the only worthwhile basis for determining whether the Mahayana is authentic or not, unless of course you're an arhat with the divine eye and such and can check up on it yourself.
Last edited by Anders on Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:57 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:56 am

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Anders » Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:59 am


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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jan 16, 2009 11:03 am

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Element » Fri Jan 16, 2009 11:10 am


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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Jan 16, 2009 11:30 am

that does explain whyd they make up soooooo many discourses though....
and doesnt the dharmagupta (which i think most mahayana monks have always taken the vinaya from) have more rules than the theravada?
i'll listen to sujato, cause i dig his work, but at first glance that doesnt seem like it'd be the reason
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Dhammanando » Fri Jan 16, 2009 2:40 pm


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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Individual » Fri Jan 16, 2009 4:34 pm

The best things in life aren't things.


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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:23 pm


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Will
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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Will » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:28 pm

This is interesting, but very much off topic. Why not move it to Dhammic Free for all or the Lounge?
A bodhisattva does not become weary of evil beings nor does he commit the error of bringing forth thoughts inclined to reject them and cast them aside. Avatamsaka Sutra, ch. 25

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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:36 pm


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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Dharmajim » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:48 pm

I agree with tilt that what today is referred to as "Mahayana" was never a unified movement in India. Rather it consisted of a cluster of tendencies and interpretations whose only unifying factor is their acceptance of non-Nikaya/Agamic texts as authentic.

I think one can find the source of these tendencies, the seeds from which they developed, in the Classical Theravada literature. I would specifically focus on the Jatakas and similar literature. In addition the Apadanas provide the seeds for some of the more devotional tendencies.

The Jatakas form a bridge between the Theravada and the 'Paramitayana'. [An aside: I've started referring to the 'Mahayana' tradition as 'Paramitayana' in order to avoid the entire Hina/Maha dichotomy.] The virtues, such as patience, generosity, etc., that are illustrated in the Jatakas are the canonical foundation for the view that the Perfections are the surest set of practices for the practitioner. This, I think, is the central idea that gave rise to the Paramitayana traditions from the Perfection of Wisdom Discourses right through to the Lotus Sutra, etc. Historically I think what gave birth to this tradition is the placement of the paramitas at the center of practice and interpretation; this would necessarily replace such practice structures as the 37 limbs.

Best wishes,

Dharmajim

P.S. I think moving this thread to 'General Theravada' would be appropriate.

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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Dhammanando » Fri Jan 16, 2009 8:07 pm

Greetings all,

Since the OP asked specifically for the classical Theravada perspective on the Mahayana's origin, I would prefer to let this thread remain where it is. But if you wish to discuss this topic from a broader range of perspectives, feel free to initiate a new thread in the General Forum.

Best wishes,
Dhammanando Bhikkhu

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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Cittasanto » Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:50 pm



He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Jan 16, 2009 11:23 pm

the reason i asked the question here was/is i wanted the mahavihara answer, i know mahayana conspects came to sri lanka and had to be driven out, so i assumed they would have had to come up with a pretty good argument not only against these new trends but why they came to be..

i hae never really seen any modern institutional attacks on the mahayana
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jan 16, 2009 11:37 pm


Element

Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Element » Sat Jan 17, 2009 12:39 am


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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Ben » Sat Jan 17, 2009 12:42 am

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

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Re: where did the mahayana come from

Postby Dhammanando » Sat Jan 17, 2009 1:54 am



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