Pema Rigdzin wrote:Namdrol wrote:We can speculate all we like.
But there are some salient points to bear in mind. It was not imagined by Mahāyānists that there were persistent oral lineages of Mahāyāna teachings in Jambudvipa.
Quite the contrary. Mahāyāna is the original treasure tradition. Mahāyānists came to believe that their texts had been laid away for four centuries or more and then revealed by such masters as Nāgārjuna and so on, kept by Bodhisattvas such as Mañjuśrī for safe keeping until the time was right for them again to be promulgated. Therefore, any honest person whose mind is not clouded by the delusion of religious zeal and fervor has to admit that it is unlikely that the detailed and highly complex literary compositions which we now know as Mahāyāna sūtras could not possibly have been composed in any thing other than a visionary manner at a much later time than their purported setting. Moreover, they would have to admit that these detailed literary compositions, (even as early as the Digha Nikāya), betray evidence of extensive editing and development over many centuries, as is proven by the layers of such texts in Chinese translation. For example, the Maitreya Chapter, so important to gzhan stong exegesis, is completely missing in Chinese sources, proving that it was a Yogacara addition to the PP corpus.
You make a good case, and what you say is probably the most likely explanation. Since we've already established that these texts' provenance is beside the point (aside from the enlightened nature of that source), my continued participation here is just for the sake of it being interesting to me and because I may learn new things as I continue to probe.
With that in mind... It was my understanding that the PP sutras were rediscovered by Nagarjuna, and Maitreya's five treatises were kind of like pure vision teachings received by Asanga, etc., but are all of the Mahayana sutras said to have come to us in a similar way? Were none said to have come to us in a long lineage from the Buddha (a la kama)? If there are cases where a "kama" lineage of certain Mahayana sutras is claimed traditionally, is it not possible that the historical teachings spoken of in these sutras did in fact take place, were faithfully transcribed and hidden, and later edited and added to throughout the centuries following their rediscovery? Again, I acknowledge that it really doesn't matter, but I am curious.
It is highly unlikely.
No Pali suttas of which I am aware are so highly self-referential, making constant references to worshipping themselves in book form, or constant references to the doctrine they contain, or defensive remarks about criticizing their contents. In other words, the Agamas and Nikayas seem to lack any anxiety at all; whereas Mahāyāna sūtras seem to be filled with anxious polemics about their authenticity.
This anxiety that is so noticeable in early Mahāyāna texts begins to vanish when India authors, copying a strategy of the Theravada Abhidhamma pitika authors, hit on the strategy of ultimately siting the original source of Mahāyāna sūtras in the person of Tathāgata Vairocana in Akaniṣṭha Gandavyuha.
Now freed form the spatio-temporal constraints of Kapilavastu, Rajagriha, etc., and utilizing docetic strategies of transmission (the three kāyas), these texts were now immune to hermeneutical critiques of authenticity based on their composition as texts ultimately voiced by Shakyamuni located within the lifetime and career of Shakyamuni. Shakyamuni's role, in India, as the proponent of Mahāyāna was subordinated to that of Vairocana. Shakyamuni-as-nirmanakāya now appears more as a shepherd of the Dharma, rather than its ultimate source. There are many other threads one can work out from this basic premise.
This did not happen without some dissenting backlash, of course i.e. the Saddharmapundarika can be seen as a reaction to this firm trend, with the ultimate result that in India the Saddharmapundarika was completely sidelined since it did not fit into the innovative Yogacara docetic model of sūtra transmission with the sambhogakāya acting as an intermediary between the dharmakāya and the nirmanakāya.
Yogacara doceticism is a vital key also in the composition and dissemination of Vajrayana. Now, freed utterly from the dictates of the career of Gautama, Buddhist authors/mystics could fearlessly compose tantras free of concern about their historicity. The only evidence of anxiety in the tantras is that they would fall into improper hands.
The Agamas, Vaipulya-sūtras, and tantras should be seen as a successive record of the religious experiences of people who attained awakening in some measure, starting with The Buddha. When the main themes of Indian compositional strategies in Mahāyāna had been set down, these themes adopted to compose original sūtras in Chinese, Tibetan, Khotanese, etc. These themes of composition were so strong, so compelling, that even nominally non-buddhist peoples such as Bonpos adopted them hook, line and sinker, developing a religion in Tibet that is virtually indistinguishable from Tibetan Buddhism other than details of narrative origin, and used these narrative strategies to express their own spiritual evolution.
I am a firm believer in evolution. I personally think that Buddhism is a religion that underwent and is undergoing significant evolution, reaching its high point in the teachings of the great perfection, and adapting itself to various cultures in an evolutionary manner according to the environment in which it found itself.
The reason Buddhism was able to undergo this evolution without it's core being destroyed, but rather revealed and expressed with greater and greater clarity as successive generations of buddhas refined its essential message, is that the essence of the dharma is dependent origination.
Ok, said enough, now have to get back to work.