Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

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Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby Namu Butsu » Fri Mar 12, 2010 1:19 am

Alright so here goes the question. We all know mahayana sutras were written well over the passing into Nirvana of the Buddha. A priest i was speaking to told me that the mahayana sutras were not written by the Buddha. So why is there attribution to Buddha? For me I enjoy Jodo Shinshu buddhism and we ascribe to the Buddha, the pure land sutras, even if the Buddha did not author it there is Deep wisdom in many mahayana sutras, but I am wondering why we make it as if it was said by the Buddha himself? Like Nichiren buddhist claiming that the Lotus sutra was definately the words of Buddha etc.
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby catmoon » Fri Mar 12, 2010 2:35 am

I'm relatively new to all this but the way I see it is; if this here Mahajanner stuff kin produce a feller like thet thar Dally Lammer, welp, there must be sumthin' to it. Yep.
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby Namu Butsu » Fri Mar 12, 2010 2:59 am

Um.....what? LOL

Gassho
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby Huifeng » Fri Mar 12, 2010 3:26 am

Nowadays it is popular to talk about the "historical Buddha" (complete with little "scare quotes"), ie. Sakyamuni, the founder of what we now call "Buddhism". However, even before the "Buddha (tm)", this word was used for any "awakened one". In fact, that is precisely what the word "buddha" means, "budh+ta --> buddha", "awake-ened". Some early Mahayana sutras indicate that basically whoever is also "awakened" is also thus qualified to teach the teaching of the "Buddha". This is an ancient idea, not a new one. Rather, the idea of narrowing the sense of "Buddha" to one single person, is the newer idea!

So, when someone asks: "Is the Buddha the author of the Mahayana sutras?" These above points may be worth bearing in mind. It is easy to transpose a more recent criteria of "buddha" onto an ancient question. But that may miss the point, and lead to all sorts of anachronistic problems.
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Mar 12, 2010 5:10 am

Some sutras are explicitly said to be preached by the dharmakaya or the sambhogakaya and not th nirmanakaya.

In that case it becomes irrelevant who penned them in this kama-loka of ours as they're just the medium through which the teaching passed. :smile:

That being said one of Asanga's famous works, the Mahayanasutralamkara, is credited to the future Buddha Maitreya who transmitted the teachings through Asanga.

There is a history in Mahayana Buddhism of receiving teachings through visions, dreams and transmission.

This actually still happens. I don't know if it would be appropriate to go into details here, but I know one person who has had these kinds of transmissions and put it down on paper as a kind of exquisitely composed poetic verse (and it rhymed). It wasn't "inspired by" a Buddha or Bodhisattva, they said it came from them. The words were definitely dharma in my estimation of them.

If you look at the histories too, there is mention of this kind of thing occurring.
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby plwk » Fri Mar 12, 2010 6:46 am

...We all know mahayana sutras were written well over the passing into Nirvana of the Buddha. A priest i was speaking to told me that the mahayana sutras were not written by the Buddha. So why is there attribution to Buddha? For me I enjoy Jodo Shinshu buddhism and we ascribe to the Buddha...

Here's a story...
http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Thus ... nd_Stories
PARABLE 0120: THIS MIND IS THE BUDDHA
"Once a monk asked Big Plum what [the famous Zen Patriarch] Matsu taught him.
Big Plum said, 'This mind is the Buddha.'
The monk replied, 'Nowadays Matsu teaches That which isn't the mind isn't the Buddha.'
To this Big Plum replied,
'Let him have That which isn't the mind isn't the Buddha. I'll stick with This mind is the Buddha.'
When he heard this story, Matsu said, 'The plum is ripe.' (Transmission of the Lamp, chapter 7)."
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby catmoon » Fri Mar 12, 2010 7:06 am

Namu Butsu wrote:Um.....what? LOL

Gassho
Namandabu Namandabu


if this here Mahajanner stuff kin produce a feller like thet thar Dally Lammer, welp, there must be sumthin' to it. Yep.


Translation from the southern dialect:

If the Mahayana teachings can produce a teacher like the Dalai Lama, there must be something correct in them.
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby plwk » Fri Mar 12, 2010 8:55 am

Um.....what? LOL

Gassho
Namandabu Namandabu


if this here Mahajanner stuff kin produce a feller like thet thar Dally Lammer, welp, there must be sumthin' to it. Yep.


Translation from the southern dialect:

If the Mahayana teachings can produce a teacher like the Dalai Lama, there must be something correct in them.

Agreed and lurve that Mahaparinibbana Sutta part:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .vaji.html
And the Blessed One spoke, saying:
"In whatsoever Dhamma and Discipline, Subhadda, there is not found the Noble Eightfold Path, neither is there found a true ascetic of the first, second, third, or fourth degree of saintliness.
But in whatsoever Dhamma and Discipline there is found the Noble Eightfold Path, there is found a true ascetic of the first, second, third, and fourth degrees of saintliness.
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby Namu Butsu » Fri Mar 12, 2010 1:19 pm

Thank you all, it is hard to grasp this understanding just like a lot of things in buddhism may be hard to grasp. I absolutely believe that there is something to mahayana sutra, I just wanted to know how we would view it thats all.

Gassho

Namandabu
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby catmoon » Fri Mar 12, 2010 8:10 pm

Namu Butsu wrote:Thank you all, it is hard to grasp this understanding just like a lot of things in buddhism may be hard to grasp. I absolutely believe that there is something to mahayana sutra, I just wanted to know how we would view it thats all.

Gassho

Namandabu


I wish I could help, but frankly most of Mahayana is beyond me. All I know is a little bit about emptiness and bodhicitta and not very much of that. I have no empowerments and don't really understand them at all.
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:11 pm

Greetings venerable Huifeng,

Huifeng wrote:Some early Mahayana sutras indicate that basically whoever is also "awakened" is also thus qualified to teach the teaching of the "Buddha". This is an ancient idea, not a new one. Rather, the idea of narrowing the sense of "Buddha" to one single person, is the newer idea!


I wonder then.... what's the most recent Mahayana Sutra, and is there any reason why the 21st century couldn't spawn additional Mahayana Sutras? If it was viable in the centuries after Gotama, is there any logical reason for it to be otherwise in the centuries after that? Is there a logical cut-off point, and how would it be defined?

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby catmoon » Mon Mar 15, 2010 3:39 am

retrofuturist wrote:Is there a logical cut-off point, and how would it be defined?

Metta,
Retro. :)


Tibetan monks are still producing, uh termas or tormas or something they call them. Hidden scriptures that amount to new revelations. Some are quite radical, representing substantial changes in practice. And of course, written commentary is endless.
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Mar 15, 2010 4:40 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings venerable Huifeng,

Huifeng wrote:Some early Mahayana sutras indicate that basically whoever is also "awakened" is also thus qualified to teach the teaching of the "Buddha". This is an ancient idea, not a new one. Rather, the idea of narrowing the sense of "Buddha" to one single person, is the newer idea!


I wonder then.... what's the most recent Mahayana Sutra, and is there any reason why the 21st century couldn't spawn additional Mahayana Sutras? If it was viable in the centuries after Gotama, is there any logical reason for it to be otherwise in the centuries after that? Is there a logical cut-off point, and how would it be defined?

Metta,
Retro. :)


It wouldn't be conducive to the greater good nowadays to call something a sutra because unless it is dug up out of the ground and dated to an ancient period, the canons have been fixed and any new scripture appearing would be subject to too much doubt.

That being said, however, I think useful texts still appear, but they appear in a form more conducive to them being read and considered. Many great modern masters have composed and are writing many Buddhist works which are being consumed by many. :reading:

Centuries from now I imagine a lot of them will be designated as 20th and 21st century sastra, and probably still widely read.
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Mar 15, 2010 5:13 am

Greetings Huseng,

Huseng wrote:It wouldn't be conducive to the greater good nowadays to call something a sutra because unless it is dug up out of the ground and dated to an ancient period, the canons have been fixed and any new scripture appearing would be subject to too much doubt.


Do you think the doubt would be on account of the present diversity of the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, whereas in the early days, the Mahayana tradition would have been more homogenous (and thus, collectively more accepting of new sutra)?

Or is it more just a question of centuries having elapsed, and the "rationalist" skepticism of the modern age?

I'd be interested in your thoughts (and thanks for those provided above!) and in those of anyone else who has an opinion on this matter.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby plwk » Mon Mar 15, 2010 7:48 am

It wouldn't be conducive to the greater good nowadays to call something a sutra because unless it is dug up out of the ground and dated to an ancient period, the canons have been fixed and any new scripture appearing would be subject to too much doubt.

Reminds me of today's questionable compositions like the 'True Buddha Sutra' or also known as 'The Sutra of Authentic Dharma that Removes Hindrances and Bestows Good Fortune' and the yesteryear's Tang/Zhou Dynasty's Empress (Emperor) Wu Ze Tian's infamous 'Great Cloud Sutra' [ see here and here (although we are indebted to her for the famed 'Sutra Preface/Opening Verse' recited by the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese Mahayana Traditions and elevation of the Buddha Dharma then)]... :reading:
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby Huifeng » Mon Mar 15, 2010 7:57 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Huseng,

Huseng wrote:It wouldn't be conducive to the greater good nowadays to call something a sutra because unless it is dug up out of the ground and dated to an ancient period, the canons have been fixed and any new scripture appearing would be subject to too much doubt.



If you look at the modern Burmese Chattha Sangayana Tipitaka, you'll find not only the three root pitakas, but also atthakatha commentary, tika sub-commentary and "other works", such as writings by Ledi Sayadaw. The whole thing is under the broad heading of "Tipitaka".

If you look at the modern CBETA edition of the Chinese canon(s), you'll find not only the Taisho and Xu canons with their Sutra, Vinaya, Sastra, Abhidharma, and Chinese commentaries, "yulu" genre, but now they've also added the Jiaxing canon to it, as well as "ex-canonical" literature as well. Some of the latter was written maybe just a few years ago. All under the broad heading of the "Buddhist canon".

Of course they call them 'sutra', but the canon is not, and probably has never been, closed.

Do you think the doubt would be on account of the present diversity of the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, whereas in the early days, the Mahayana tradition would have been more homogenous (and thus, collectively more accepting of new sutra)?


Not about doubt so much, as that nobody would call it a sutra. Same reason why the "ex-canonical" stuff mentioned above goes under names like "thesis", or "academic article". Different genre, including historical perception of genre.

The notion that "in the early days, the Mahayana tradition would have been more homogenous (sic)" is interesting, but I don't know how many specialists would agree that that was the case. What makes you think that early Mahayana was "homogeneous"?

Or is it more just a question of centuries having elapsed, and the "rationalist" skepticism of the modern age?

I'd be interested in your thoughts (and thanks for those provided above!) and in those of anyone else who has an opinion on this matter.

Metta,
Retro. :)


As above.

I recommend Joseph Walser's "Nagarjuna in Historical Context" for some of these questions.
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Mar 15, 2010 8:16 am

Greetings venerable,

Huifeng wrote:The notion that "in the early days, the Mahayana tradition would have been more homogenous (sic)" is interesting, but I don't know how many specialists would agree that that was the case. What makes you think that early Mahayana was "homogeneous"?


Thank you for the insights.

The logic was only that this is what tends to happen to everything over time. The more time that elapses, the more opportunities for diversification... and diversification seems more common (particularly in the sense of Buddhist schools) than unification.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Mar 15, 2010 8:19 am

Huifeng wrote:Of course they call them 'sutra', but the canon is not, and probably has never been, closed.



Hi Venerable Huifeng! :smile:

In Chinese they are called jing 經, but that designation doesn't necessarily always correspond to sutra as it is understood in English or in Sanskrit. In English if you call something a sutra in the Buddhist context most people would probably agree it refers to a sermon by the Buddha or a Buddha.

My point is that if somebody in our present day announces they have a new Mahayana sutra and that it is just as authentic as the Heart Sutra or the Brahma Net Sutra (both of which are generally thought to have been penned in China), I doubt few would take that person seriously. It wouldn't be categorized within the same sutra division 經部 and would most likely be called apocryphal and dismissed as the writings of a modern author.

The first questions would be, "How did you get a sermon from the Buddha? Or did you see this in a vision? A dream? What makes you so special as to have access to this sermon from a Buddha?"
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Mar 15, 2010 8:29 am

retrofuturist wrote:Do you think the doubt would be on account of the present diversity of the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, whereas in the early days, the Mahayana tradition would have been more homogenous (and thus, collectively more accepting of new sutra)?


Hi Retrofuturist! :smile:

I don't know how homogeneous the Mahayana was in the early days. There might have been several separate Mahayanas that initially grew separate from one another. If you read some Indian Buddhist writings where they debate with one another, there are sometimes objections raised that one party doesn't recognize the scripture that is being presented as canonical. Each school had their own set of scriptures which they considered canonical and accurate. I mean just look at the multiple vinaya systems that arouse in India.

For a few reasons I think in our present day, at least in the west, there would be much difficulty in accepting new Mahayana sutras.

Scholars would look at it, try to place it in the timeline, see it as a modern creation and dismiss it as apocryphal. The general joe would see it declared as such and probably see it as not worth his time. Anyone claiming to have access to new or revealed sutras would be held under a lot of scrutiny and possibly denounced. Unlike in previous centuries and ancient cultures, Buddhism isn't directly financed by the state, so proliferating a new sutra and having it seen as authentic would be a matter of whether or not present day schools and their leadership accept it as such.

The safer and more efficient route to edification is to write a book. :twothumbsup: It can convey the same teachings as a sermon by the Buddha, and it is much more readily digested by sceptical modernists. :reading:
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Re: Buddha the author of Mahayana sutras?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Mar 15, 2010 8:33 am

Greetings Huseng,

Thank you for the insightful words and good humour.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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