How Sacred Texts evolve

General forum on Mahayana.

How Sacred Texts evolve

Postby Sher » Tue Jun 30, 2009 5:40 pm

This comment is related to the topic --the historical validity of Mahayana texts that has been recently been discussed, but I wanted to take it in another direction, and I am never sure if I should shoot of in another direction when this action may derail the train--so to speak. Maybe I will get that figured out by my 100th post on the forums. :smile:

For my job I need to consider all religions and how their sacred texts arrive and evolve. One thing I have noticed overall and also I have noticed this is regards to Mahayana texts it that texts seem to evolve according to what people need at a particular point in their development. And by development I mean their development spiritually as a group. Sacred texts arise to solve problems and needs that arise from earlier texts and teachings, or they arise to fulfill a need of the community at that time. So, perhaps the texts do not reflect "exactly" what Buddha taught, but they do reflect the possible implications of Buddha's teachings. What I mean is -- the Buddha taught to be island unto oneself and to discover truth and understanding not by what is revealed by what is realized. Although as a Theravada practitioner I interpret this one way, a Mahayana practitioner may find realization comes through one's relationship with celestial Buddhas (for example, I am guessing as I do not know).

Back to original point.
I wonder if it wasn't realizations in part that drove the creation of the Mahayana texts. They are valid, because they can help us reach liberation. Teachings that help one reach liberation was a big concern of Buddha. Validity is not just defined by being historically accurate but in their usefulness. Or we have to differentiate and say ok, this is not historically accurate, but it sure is effective and helpful for realizing the purpose of Buddhas teaching!

The Buddha would agree, I think. So, we can ask questions based on what can be scientifically proven and we can evaluate the validity of texts by their ability to support believers, and in the Mahayana case -- by their ability to help practitioners reach liberation.

I am not trying to prove anything but share what I have been thinking about recently in regards to sacred texts and how they change and evolve.

An example might be found in art --in early, early Buddhism images of the Buddha were symbolic, such as a foot print or a wheel, they did not represent the figure of the Buddha, but after the Buddha's death images of Buddha sitting, and lying ...began to be seen. Why? Some scholars say that is was because the people needed the figural reassurance found in representations of the Buddha. Years and years were passing since his death, and by seeing images of the Buddha, people were less apt to forget. Does this make the represented form of the Buddha not valid, because it developed later based on people's needs and not based on the time of the Buddha, I don't feel this is so.

Having said this --the sheer immensity of the Mahayana texts have, historically, put me off as being overwhelming.
Yet, I really do not want to deny their validity in being able to help people reach the goal, unless, I see for myself and know they are not helpful. I hope that makes sense.

I am daunted by Mahayana, comforted by it, and am open to it, but I seem to be able to access Theravada more clearly and easily at this point. Sher
User avatar
Sher
 
Posts: 13
Joined: Mon Jun 29, 2009 3:42 am

Re: How Sacred Texts evolve

Postby sraddha » Thu Jul 02, 2009 3:22 am

Hi,

I agree with what you said, in fact, Mahayana greats such as Ashvaghosha states that Mahayana sutras were created because it leads directly to understanding the teachings many find hard to understand today because their faculties are in decline compared to the time Buddha was physically present amongst us.

However, not all Mahayana sutras are very long :smile: -- in fact, many are quite small such as Bhaisajya Guru -- some are even one page, here you can browse through the selections:

http://www.uwest.edu/sanskritcanon/dp/index.php?q=node/107
sraddha
 
Posts: 302
Joined: Sun May 24, 2009 11:54 pm

Re: How Sacred Texts evolve

Postby Sher » Sun Jul 05, 2009 5:26 pm

sraddha wrote:Hi,

I agree with what you said, in fact, Mahayana greats such as Ashvaghosha states that Mahayana sutras were created because it leads directly to understanding the teachings many find hard to understand today because their faculties are in decline compared to the time Buddha was physically present amongst us.

However, not all Mahayana sutras are very long :smile: -- in fact, many are quite small such as Bhaisajya Guru -- some are even one page, here you can browse through the selections:

http://www.uwest.edu/sanskritcanon/dp/index.php?q=node/107


Did you find any of these texts in English? I browsed through the site, but all is in Chinese or Sanskrit, or...?

Thanks, Sher
User avatar
Sher
 
Posts: 13
Joined: Mon Jun 29, 2009 3:42 am

Re: How Sacred Texts evolve

Postby Heruka » Sun Jul 05, 2009 6:04 pm

It might help if you can learn to distinguish definitive from provisional texts.
Heruka
 
Posts: 1069
Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2009 2:34 am

Re: How Sacred Texts evolve

Postby sraddha » Mon Jul 06, 2009 12:33 am

Sher wrote:


Did you find any of these texts in English? I browsed through the site, but all is in Chinese or Sanskrit, or...?

Thanks, Sher


Unfortuneatly, many of the really shorter texts are untranslated, with scholars translating the longer ones -- but here are translations of many of the smaller sutras:

For the Bhaisajya Guru sutra,
http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/medbudsutra.pdf

the Amitabha sutras,
http://www.drba.org/dharma/amitabhasutra.asp
http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/sbe49/sbe4927.htm

also the Diamond Sutra
http://www.drba.org/dharma/vajrasutra.asp

Srimala Devi Sutra,
http://www.mandala.hr/3/srimaladevi.html

Vimalkirti Sutra (which is a semi-short sutra)
http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln260/Vimalakirti.htm

The Amitabha and Medicine Buddha sutras are very faith intensive, with very little discussion on concepts and ideas. However, the other texts are faith intensive, but it will really test your understanding of the Nikayas.

Ultimately, Mahayanists believe there is only one school -- the Buddhayana.
:smile:
sraddha
 
Posts: 302
Joined: Sun May 24, 2009 11:54 pm

Re: How Sacred Texts evolve

Postby Sher » Fri Jul 10, 2009 4:22 pm

Sraddha
I apologize for taking so long to reply. Summer is a busy time in Alaska when we have visitors and many outdoor activities going on. :)

This morning I was able to take a look at the links you provided and see the range you mentioned. I agree the diversity of imagery, Budhhas, devas, and ritual is quite different from the stark, simple approach I find in the Pali suttas. Valuable to see. Thank you for posting. Sher
User avatar
Sher
 
Posts: 13
Joined: Mon Jun 29, 2009 3:42 am

Re: How Sacred Texts evolve

Postby sraddha » Fri Jul 10, 2009 10:43 pm

Your welcome! Don't worry, I've been working 60 hour weeks too with the onset of the summer season, so I can understand your time constraints. :smile:

If you want some background of the Bhaisajya Guru Sutra -- the link I gave you is from a Chinese translation from one of the masters at Nalanda University --[url]Hsuan Tsang[/url]-- he defeated all schools of Hinduism, (at a time Hinduism was gaining a resurgence in India and Buddhism in severe decline due to Hun invasions) and was considered one of the brightest stars of Nalanda University!

http://www.silk-road.com/artl/hsuantsang.shtml

Hsuan Tsang was a part of the Yogacara school.

:anjali:
sraddha
 
Posts: 302
Joined: Sun May 24, 2009 11:54 pm

Re: How Sacred Texts evolve

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Sat Jul 11, 2009 5:03 am

Hi Sher!

Thanks for sharing what you did. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds the sheer volume of texts to be daunting.

Zangpo la, can you expand? How can we recognize the difference?

:namaste:
Ngawang Drolma
Founding Member
 
Posts: 2324
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 8:44 pm


Return to Mahāyāna Buddhism

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 8 guests

>