Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Mr. G » Fri Jan 07, 2011 12:46 am

Dharmakara wrote:Ah, my friend, the Dharma is said to be changeless in time and space, eternal and undying (amita), hence it is highest in the world and therein lies the rub when it comes to instituionalized Buddhism because the Buddha summed up the whole of his teaching in one gatha: to cease from all evil actions, to generate all that is good, and to cleanse one's mind, that this was (and still is) the constant advice of the Buddhas.


I agree with what you've said Dharmakara, though I'm not sure how you're defining "institutionalized Buddhism". If you mean that all schools of Buddhism follow the 8FP, karma, etc....then yes, of course.
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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Fri Jan 07, 2011 12:52 am

Hi, I'm going to lock down this thread for 24 hours.
That way everyone can cool, or at least the debate can cool.
Don't worry, I promise to reopen it :)

Best,
Laura
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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Dharmakara » Sat Jan 08, 2011 3:51 am

Laura, thanks for re-opening the thread. There is truly meaningful discussion within this thread, where the difficulties in discussing this are more related to fair-mindedness, a necessary foundation in the proper application of critical thought, ensuring that any topic can be discussed with maturity by all parties involved.

I originally posted this over at Buddha Forum as a means to encourage fair-mindedness, so maybe your members here can benefit from it as well.

DK

----

Critical thinking involves basic intellectual skills, but these skills can be used to serve two incompatible ends: self-centeredness or fair-mindedness. As we develop the basic intellectual skills that critical thinking entails, we can begin to use those skills in a selfish or in a fair-minded way. In other words, we can develop in such a way that we learn to see mistakes in our own thinking, as well as the thinking of others. Or we can merely develop some proficiency in making our opponent's thinking look bad.

Typically, people see mistakes in other's thinking without being able to credit the strengths in those opposing views, where liberals see mistakes in the arguments of conservatives, conservatives see mistakes in the arguments of liberals, believers see mistakes in the thinking of nonbelievers, nonbelievers see mistakes in the thinking of believers, ect.

What does fair-mindedness require?

Intellectual Humility: Having Knowledge of Ignorance

Intellectual humility may be defined as having a consciousness of the limits of one's knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one's native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively. This entails being aware of one's biases, one's prejudices, the limitations of one's viewpoint, and the extent of one's ignorance. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one's beliefs.

Intellectual Courage: Being Willing to Challenge Beliefs
Intellectual courage may be defined as having a consciousness of the need to face and fairly address ideas, beliefs, or viewpoints toward which one has strong negative emotions and to which one has not given a serious hearing. Intellectual courage is connected to the recognition that ideas that society considers dangerous or absurd are sometimes rationally justified (in whole or in part). Conclusions and beliefs inculcated in people are sometimes false or misleading. To determine for oneself what makes sense, one must not passively and uncritically accept what one has learned. Intellectual courage comes into play here because there is some truth in some ideas considered dangerous and absurd, and distortion or falsity in some ideas strongly held by social groups to which we belong. People need courage to be fair-minded thinkers in these circumstances. The penalties for nonconformity can be severe.

Intellectual Empathy: Entertaining Opposing Views
Intellectual empathy is an awareness of the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others so as to genuinely understand them. To have intellectual empathy is to be able to accurately reconstruct the viewpoints and reasoning of others and to reason from premises, assumptions, and ideas other than one's own. This trait also correlates with the willingness to remember occasions when one was wrong in the past despite an intense conviction of being right, and with the ability to imagine being similarly deceived in a case at hand.

Intellectual Integrity: Holding Ourselves to the Same Standards
Intellectual integrity is defined as recognition of the need to be true to one's own thinking and to hold oneself to the same standards one expects others to meet. It means to hold oneself to the same rigorous standards of evidence and proof to which one holds one's antagonists --- to practice what one advocates for others. It also means to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one's own thought and action, and to be able to identify inconsistencies in one's own thinking.

Intellectual Perseverance: Working Through Complexity and Frustration
Intellectual perseverance can be defined as the disposition to work one's way through intellectual complexities despite the frustration inherent in the task. Some intellectual problems are complex and cannot be easily solved. One has intellectual perseverance when one does not give up in the face of intellectual complexity or frustration. The intellectually perseverant person displays firm adherence to rational principles despite the irrational opposition of others, and has a realistic sense of the need to struggle with confusion and unsettled questions over an extended time to achieve understanding or insight.

Confidence in Reason: Recognizing that Good Reasoning Has Proven Its Worth
Confidence in reason is based on the belief that one's own higher interests and those of humankind will be best served by giving the freest play to reason. Reason encourages people to come to their own conclusions by developing their own rational faculties. It is the faith that, with proper encouragement and cultivation, people can learn to think for themselves. As such, they can form insightful viewpoints, draw reasonable conclusions, and develop clear, accurate, relevant, and logical thought processes.

In turn, they can persuade each other by appealing to good reason and sound evidence, and become reasonable persons, despite the deep-seated obstacles in human nature and social life. When one has confidence in reason, one is "moved" by reason in appropriate ways. The very idea of reasonability becomes one of the most important values and a focal point in one's life. In short, to have confidence in reason is to use good reasoning as the fundamental criterion by which to judge whether to accept or reject any belief or position.


Intellectual Autonomy: Being an Independent Thinker
Intellectual autonomy may be defined as internal motivation based on the ideal of thinking for oneself; having rational self-authorship of one's beliefs, values, and way of thinking; not being dependent on others for the direction and control of one's thinking.
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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby ground » Sun Jan 09, 2011 10:35 am

Dharmakara wrote:I originally posted this over at Buddha Forum as a means to encourage fair-mindedness, so maybe your members here can benefit from it as well.

[size=85]Intellectual Humility: ...
[b]Intellectual Courage:
...
...


Hmh ... in the context of religion - and the discussion so far clearly has shown that it is about one or more religions - I don't think that all those ideals can be implemented.

There are school specific tenets involved ... those who have commited themselves to schools would violate their school's tenets if they applied all these guidelines.

There is no "Intellectual Autonomy". Is this bad or good? ... I don't know.
It may be an illusion anyway to think that there can be "Intellectual Autonomy".
This illusion may be rooted in the spirit of "European enlightenment" which is partly dealt with in this thread.


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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Jnana » Sun Jan 09, 2011 10:58 am

TMingyur wrote:Hmh ... in the context of religion - and the discussion so far clearly has shown that it is about one or more religions - I don't think that all those ideals can be implemented.

There are school specific tenets involved ... those who have commited themselves to schools would violate their school's tenets if they applied all these guidelines.

All of those ideals can certainly be implemented without violating anything.

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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby ground » Sun Jan 09, 2011 11:03 am

Yeshe D. wrote:
TMingyur wrote:Hmh ... in the context of religion - and the discussion so far clearly has shown that it is about one or more religions - I don't think that all those ideals can be implemented.

There are school specific tenets involved ... those who have commited themselves to schools would violate their school's tenets if they applied all these guidelines.

All of those ideals can certainly be implemented without violating anything.


"Ultimately" ... :smile:

That they cannot is shown by the course of this discussion.

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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Jnana » Sun Jan 09, 2011 11:36 am

TMingyur wrote:That they cannot is shown by the course of this discussion.

Just because they haven't been consistently adhered to in the course of this discussion does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that they cannot be. I've had this very discussion with other "Buddhists" of various persuasions where there was no problem adhering to the principles Dharmakara lists.

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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby ground » Sun Jan 09, 2011 1:20 pm

Fine. Give it a second try then.

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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Chaz » Sun Jan 09, 2011 8:49 pm

TMingyur wrote:
Dharmakara wrote:I originally posted this over at Buddha Forum as a means to encourage fair-mindedness, so maybe your members here can benefit from it as well.

[size=85]Intellectual Humility: ...
[b]Intellectual Courage:
...
...


Hmh ... in the context of religion - and the discussion so far clearly has shown that it is about one or more religions - I don't think that all those ideals can be implemented.

There are school specific tenets involved ... those who have commited themselves to schools would violate their school's tenets if they applied all these guidelines.
<snip>



What schools and tenants would those be?
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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Dharmakara » Sun Jan 09, 2011 8:54 pm

TMingyur wrote:There is no "Intellectual Autonomy". Is this bad or good? ... I don't know.
It may be an illusion anyway to think that there can be "Intellectual Autonomy".
This illusion may be rooted in the spirit of "European enlightenment" which is partly dealt with in this thread.


Kind regards


Hmm... did not the Buddha excercise intellectual autonomy? How about Nagarjuna? The Buddha even encouraged such among the Kalamas, reflected in the Kalama Sutta, a teaching grounded in the application of critical thought.

In essence such schools would be saying that they don't want you to think for yourself. Is this what the Buddha encouraged?
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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Blue Garuda » Sun Jan 09, 2011 9:31 pm

Dharmakara wrote:
TMingyur wrote:There is no "Intellectual Autonomy". Is this bad or good? ... I don't know.
It may be an illusion anyway to think that there can be "Intellectual Autonomy".
This illusion may be rooted in the spirit of "European enlightenment" which is partly dealt with in this thread.


Kind regards


Hmm... did not the Buddha excercise intellectual autonomy? How about Nagarjuna? The Buddha even encouraged such among the Kalamas, reflected in the Kalama Sutta, a teaching grounded in the application of critical thought.

In essence such schools would be saying that they don't want you to think for yourself. Is this what the Buddha encouraged?


Autonomy is a tricky word, but even Buddha experienced in his mind what arose from causes and conditions, at least during the thinking prior to his enlightenment. Critical thought need not be any more or less autonomous than other thoughts.

I don't know of any Buddhist schools which teach that you should not think for yourself. It would be a poor school which did so.
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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby kirtu » Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:00 am

Yeshe D. wrote:
kirtu wrote:
Yeshe D. wrote:The Indian Nikāya schools who only accepted the Āgamas (and corresponding Nikāyas) as the Buddha word. These schools were mainstream until at least the 5th or 6th century CE. The "Mahāyāna" was comprised of some marginal groups which existed on the fringes of the mainstream institutions until at least this time.


This date range and interpretation is not correct.

It is quite correct, considering all available sources, including Faxian (Fa Hsien).


No your assertion is wrong. I cannot account for Schopen and Boucher but they are either selecting data or haven't analyzed it correctly. I don't know for sure but probably Schopen and/or Boucher aren't well versed in mathematics and haven't considered the speed of religious diffusion over time considering the data reported.

This is what is not wrong with your assertion: The Indian Nikāya schools who only accepted the Āgamas (and corresponding Nikāyas) as the Buddha word. These schools were mainstream until at least the 5th or 6th century CE.

They were probably mainstream until then although the history may be more complex (for example the Tibetan history states that they formed a schism with the orthodox minority school which became the Mahasangika).

This is what is wrong in your assertion: The "Mahāyāna" was comprised of some marginal groups which existed on the fringes of the mainstream institutions until at least the 5th or the 6th century.

Why? Because the Mahayana was represented in cities and whole monasteries in places in the northern and central Indian subcontinent by the time of Fa Hsien's journey. Therefore it was not marginal. Your argument is like asserting the Mormon or Anglican Church's are marginal in Protestant Christianity. They are in a minority position and are highly correlated according to geographic, economic and ethnic characteristics but are not marginal.

The second thing is the dates given. Fa Hsien's journey occurred from about 399 to 412 CE. Fa Hsien himself can be safely assumed to have been a Mahayana adherent or at least to have been familiar with the Mahayana in his kingdom in China at the time because be returned with a complete copy of the Mahasanghika Vinaya. It would strain credulity to assert that the Mahayana had just appeared in his kingdom during his lifetime (although that might have happened) and that Fa Hsien was one of the early adopters of the Mahayana in China. Therefore it is more likely that the Mahayana had representation as a monastic institution in his part of China by the 4th century CE.

However during his journey Fa Hsien is asserting that thousands of monks in some places are Mahayana monks. Outside of the influence of a charismatic religious source or founder or sudden religious fervor or hysteria or forced conversion, thousands of people do not suddenly convert to a faith in one location or convert over a large area and then spontaneously co-locate. Fa Hsien did not note a charismatic religious source or hysteria and spent some time in many of the places along his journey so he would have been able to observe the people carefully (there is one possible exception noted - in northern India in particular he notes the presence of significant stupa veneration - it is possible that this arose shortly before his journey as a significant galvanizing element). Outside of some galvanizing element it takes generations for people to assemble together over time and form a stable social structure. A minimum of three generations would push the date back to the 3rd century CE. Since society forms a network, and since networks have constraints, religious phenomena and esp. diffusion can be modeled (I don't however know of any studies doing this).

If the Mahayana were actually marginal and existed on the fringes until the 5th or the 6th century then Fa Hsien could not have noted it's presence in northern and central India during his journey. If the Mahayana had arisen in northern India as a marginal movement then Fa Hsien could not have noted thousands of Mahayana monks before 414 CE. If it had been an actual marginal movement at that time it could not have spread outside of one geographical region and would not have been represented in northern and central India and Fa Hsien's corner of China because religious movements don't spread rapidly in short periods (outside of the presence of a charismatic leader or some hysterical event and these are always noted). The Mahayana almost certainly minimally existed as a presence (at least an option) prior to Fa Hsien's birth in the early part of the 4th century and given his reports of thousands of Mahayana monks almost certainly three generations before that pushing the date back to the 3rd century.

Kirt
Last edited by kirtu on Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:30 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby ground » Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:08 am

Chaz wrote:
There are school specific tenets involved ... those who have commited themselves to schools would violate their school's tenets if they applied all these guidelines.
<snip>



What schools and tenants would those be?


Tibetan. But I won't mention the tenets. Actually they are everywhere in this forum. But to mention them and label them "tenets" would be to question their contents and to initiate further unwholesome discussions.

Perhaps Yeshe D. is following a school too - in his case it is however not so obvious. Perhaps he has just set up his own system of beliefs. Quite likely. Actually it is impossible to clearly differentiate between belief and "objective" analysis.

Dharmakara wrote:
TMingyur wrote:There is no "Intellectual Autonomy". Is this bad or good? ... I don't know.
It may be an illusion anyway to think that there can be "Intellectual Autonomy".
This illusion may be rooted in the spirit of "European enlightenment" which is partly dealt with in this thread.


Kind regards


Hmm... did not the Buddha excercise intellectual autonomy? How about Nagarjuna? The Buddha even encouraged such among the Kalamas, reflected in the Kalama Sutta, a teaching grounded in the application of critical thought.

In essence such schools would be saying that they don't want you to think for yourself. Is this what the Buddha encouraged?


Perhaps you misunderstood what I said because you projected onto my words more than they actually signify. I questioned "Intellectual Autonomy", not more and not less.
But this may be a good example! Actually this may be one cause of lacking "Intellectual Autonomy": Proliferation.
And furthermore the thought "I am intellectual autonomous" may just be another case of "I" and "mine" making.

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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Dharmakara » Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:41 am

Hmmm... first of all, "proliferation" has nothing to do with autonomy, intellectual or otherwise, and your citation of "I" and "mine" would be better represented by your statement of "perhaps you misunderstood what I said", as this was clear an assumption on your part.
Last edited by Dharmakara on Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby ground » Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:42 am

Be that as it may. It is not worth further discussion.

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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Dharmakara » Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:44 am

Really? Another case of "I" and "mine". :smile:
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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Jnana » Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:46 am

kirtu wrote:No your assertion is wrong. I cannot account for Schopen and Boucher but they are either selecting data or haven't analyzed it correctly.

Have you examined the work by Schopen, Boucher, and others? Here is a short list of studies which come to mind:

Boucher, Daniel. Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna: A Study and Translation of the Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra. University of Hawaii Press, 2008.
Nattier, Jan. A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path According to the Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipṛcchā). University of Hawaii Press, 2005.
Ray, Reginald A. Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. Oxford University Press, 1999.
Schopen, Gregory. Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks: Collected Papers on the Archaeology, Epigraphy, and Texts of Monastic Buddhism in India. University of Hawaii Press, 1997.
___________. Buddhist Monks and Business Matters: Still More Papers On Monastic Buddhism in India. University of Hawaii Press, 2004.
___________. Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India: More Collected Papers. University of Hawaii Press, 2005.
Silk, Jonathan. The Origin and Early History of the Mahāratnakūṭa Tradition of Mahāyāna Buddhism With A Study of the Ratnarāśisūtra and Related Materials. Doctoral Dissertation, 1994.

kirtu wrote:If the Mahayana were actually marginal and existed on the fringes until the 5th or the 6th century then Fa Hsien could not have noted it's presence in northern and central India during his journey. If the Mahayana had arisen in northern India as a marginal movement then Fa Hsien could not have noted thousands of Mahayana monks before 414 CE.

First, Faxian's visit was in the 5th century CE. Second, the Mahāyāna had no independent institutional identity or financial backing until at least this time. Third, the Mahāyāna never developed an independent ordination lineage. As I already said previously, Faxian is an important source, but it is only once source among many which have to be taken into consideration. Schopen, as a Buddhist historian has done this. As have others.

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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby Jnana » Mon Jan 10, 2011 4:49 am

TMingyur wrote:Perhaps Yeshe D. is following a school too - in his case it is however not so obvious. Perhaps he has just set up his own system of beliefs. Quite likely.

Given what your last number of posts have indicated, why would you choose to reply to this topic at all?

It seems that this bears repeating: A longstanding trend amongst Western Buddhists is the rationalization of everything which doesn't fit the rationalist worldview. This is one extreme. The other extreme is to attempt to toss one's intellect out the window and unquestioningly replace it with a mythic worldview, and then assert that this mythic worldview is in fact the only "truth." Both of these extremes lack integration. What is necessary is to clearly see the visionary domain and the rational domain as equally valid in their own terms. They are not in conflict in any way. They are each valuable and each pertain to different fields of prajñā. There is only a perception of conflict between the two if these domains are mistakenly conflated in some fashion.

In short, one's Mahāyāna faith need not be contingent upon believing that the Mahāyāna sūtras were spoken by the śramaṇa Gautama. The academic historical narrative pertaining to the development of Buddhist ideas and the visionary narrative pertaining to the bodhisattvayāna are not in conflict in any way. It is quite absurd to suggest otherwise.

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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby ground » Mon Jan 10, 2011 5:17 am

Yeshe D. wrote:
TMingyur wrote:Perhaps Yeshe D. is following a school too - in his case it is however not so obvious. Perhaps he has just set up his own system of beliefs. Quite likely.

Given what your last number of posts have indicated, why would you choose to reply to this topic at all?

I have been asked a question therefore I replied. But you are right that it was my fault to post anything in this thread in the first place. Consider it to be an instance of lack of discipline.


Yeshe D. wrote:It seems that this bears repeating: A longstanding trend amongst Western Buddhists is the rationalization of everything which doesn't fit the rationalist worldview. This is one extreme. The other extreme is to attempt to toss one's intellect out the window and unquestioningly replace it with a mythic worldview, and then assert that this mythic worldview is in fact the only "truth." Both of these extremes lack integration. What is necessary is to clearly see the visionary domain and the rational domain as equally valid in their own terms. They are not in conflict in any way. They are each valuable and each pertain to different fields of prajñā. There is only a perception of conflict between the two if these domains are mistakenly conflated in some fashion.

Since you started this post by quoting some of the words I posted I want to make clear that I do not advocate any of the extremes you have mentioned above. Nevertheless I do not believe that there is "intellectual autonomy". There is however the possibility to comply with a certain system of conventions when engaging in intellectual analysis and based on this agreement by all participants in a discussion there may be mutual understanding and fruitful discussions. But the agreement to such a system of conventions by all participants in a discussion is what usually is lacking.



Yeshe D. wrote:In short, one's Mahāyāna faith need not be contingent upon believing that the Mahāyāna sūtras were spoken by the śramaṇa Gautama.

I agree. As stated earlier my personal belief is that the Mahayana is a "product" of bodhisattvas.


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Re: Defining Buddhism - Theravada/Mahayana/Varayana

Postby kirtu » Mon Jan 10, 2011 5:19 am

Yeshe D. wrote:
kirtu wrote:No your assertion is wrong. I cannot account for Schopen and Boucher but they are either selecting data or haven't analyzed it correctly.

Have you examined the work by Schopen, Boucher, and others? Here is a short list of studies which come to mind:


I have not. Have they addressed the question of the rate of religious diffusion?

kirtu wrote:If the Mahayana were actually marginal and existed on the fringes until the 5th or the 6th century then Fa Hsien could not have noted it's presence in northern and central India during his journey. If the Mahayana had arisen in northern India as a marginal movement then Fa Hsien could not have noted thousands of Mahayana monks before 414 CE.

First, Faxian's visit was in the 5th century CE. Second, the Mahāyāna had no independent institutional identity or financial backing until at least this time. Third, the Mahāyāna never developed an independent ordination lineage. As I already said previously, Faxian is an important source, but it is only once source among many which have to be taken into consideration. Schopen, as a Buddhist historian has done this. As have others.
[/quote]

You are just dogmatically repeating your assertions. Fa Hsien finished his famous journey at the beginning of the 5th century. Given that you have to really be asserting that the Mahayana arose suddenly at the same time Fa Hsien made his journey and that is illogical. No such religious phenomena has arisen suddenly in that manner.

I found some papers on religious diffusion. The work of Dr. John Hayward uses an epidemiological model with enthusiastic people over a fairly short time period as "infectious agents". Given reasonable assumptions this establishes upper and lower limits on diffusion rates.

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