Are sutra's to be taken literally?

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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby kirtu » Thu Dec 29, 2011 12:19 am

Then secondly, sutra's as inspirational: sutra's like the Mahayana Brahma Net Sutra can inspire people directly. The Vairocana convocation at the beginning of the sutra has always spoken directly to me since I first read it somewhere as a teenager (as just like when Bill Gates said in an interview his experience with tests in school was generally that they had been written for him, in the same sense sutras that speak to us directly are like that - it's as if they have been written for us personally). The second part however confused me for a long time as the precepts there seems too difficult to follow.

Many sutra's are like that for different people. Of course we need a teacher to help us and guide our understanding but when we encounter these sutras they give rise to a positive, virtuous experience in out minds already and help us on our spiritual path.

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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Dec 29, 2011 7:49 am

kirtu wrote:
Huseng wrote:Literature on precepts have seldom been taken literally, both in present times and historically.


Well that depends too. The sutras dealing with precepts are mostly meant to be taken literally.

In the beginning the sutras are signposts or maps as Greg has noted. In the middle and presumably the end they are living experiences that arise within us. In this sense we meet Shakyamuni Buddha directly.

Kirt


The scripture might indicate that they are meant to be taken literally, but in reality people don't really do this. In my research I've come to understand that historically this has always been the case as well, no matter the culture or time period.

One example of this, which I researched for my MA, was Fazang in the Tang Dynasty. You mention the Brahma Net Sūtra, which specifically forbids owning weapons.

《梵網經》卷2:「若佛子。不得畜一切刀杖弓箭鉾斧鬪戰之具。及惡網羅殺生之器。一切不得畜。而菩薩乃至殺父母尚不加報。況餘一切眾生。若故畜一切刀杖者。犯輕垢罪。」(1)

If one is a son of the Buddha, one should not store any weapons such as knives, clubs, bows, arrows, spears, axes or other weapons of war as well as evil nets, traps and tools used in killing beings. All of these must not be stored. Furthermore, a Bodhisattva must not even avenge the killing of their parents, let alone other sentient beings. If one intentionally stores any knife or club [weapon], they commit a minor sin.


Fazang asserts exceptions where this rule could be disregarded.

《梵網經菩薩戒本疏》卷5:「七通塞者。義准為護佛法及調伏眾生畜應不犯。及從惡人乞得擬壞亦未壞無犯。反上一切隨畜皆犯。是故菩薩見他畜勸令毀破。若勸不得。應乞應贖。猶亦不得。應以威逼等撿挍6。要當令止。」(7)

VII. Exceptions. In principle one is not in violation if it is to defend the Buddhadharma or to placate sentient beings. There is also no violation if one begs and obtains [weapons] from evil people and while having the intention to destroy them has yet to destroy them. In contrast to the aforementioned [exceptions], all ownership is a violation. For this reason if a Bodhisattva sees others owning [weapons], he encourages them to destroy them. If his encouragement is unsuccessful he should beg or trade for them. If he still is unable to obtain them, then he should use coercion, threats and so on and obtain them. He must stop them [from keeping the weapons].


In this case the idea of "placating sentient beings" means for the state, which incidentally at the time was Fazang's patron, to violently crush rebellions.

Even someone as eminent and erudite as Fazang made exceptions to the rule in a rather questionable fashion. This is not unusual in Buddhist history when it comes to precepts and general ethics.

Basically, in my mind, when it comes to literature on precepts there is what it prescribes and then there is the social reality. In my estimation prevailing social customs, peer pressure and inner inclinations determine how Buddhists behave and how institutions make decisions rather than the literature on precepts which they subscribe to. Just look at how the death penalty exists in Buddhist nations with little opposition to it. You even have eminent Buddhist leaders in support of executing convicted criminals.

In many cases mere lip service is paid to scriptures and not much else.
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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Mr. G » Thu Dec 29, 2011 2:32 pm

Huseng wrote:
《梵網經菩薩戒本疏》卷5:「七通塞者。義准為護佛法及調伏眾生畜應不犯。及從惡人乞得擬壞亦未壞無犯。反上一切隨畜皆犯。是故菩薩見他畜勸令毀破。若勸不得。應乞應贖。猶亦不得。應以威逼等撿挍6。要當令止。」(7)

VII. Exceptions. In principle one is not in violation if it is to defend the Buddhadharma or to placate sentient beings. There is also no violation if one begs and obtains [weapons] from evil people and while having the intention to destroy them has yet to destroy them. In contrast to the aforementioned [exceptions], all ownership is a violation. For this reason if a Bodhisattva sees others owning [weapons], he encourages them to destroy them. If his encouragement is unsuccessful he should beg or trade for them. If he still is unable to obtain them, then he should use coercion, threats and so on and obtain them. He must stop them [from keeping the weapons].


In this case the idea of "placating sentient beings" means for the state, which incidentally at the time was Fazang's patron, to violently crush rebellions.

Even someone as eminent and erudite as Fazang made exceptions to the rule in a rather questionable fashion. This is not unusual in Buddhist history when it comes to precepts and general ethics.

Basically, in my mind, when it comes to literature on precepts there is what it prescribes and then there is the social reality. In my estimation prevailing social customs, peer pressure and inner inclinations determine how Buddhists behave and how institutions make decisions rather than the literature on precepts which they subscribe to. Just look at how the death penalty exists in Buddhist nations with little opposition to it. You even have eminent Buddhist leaders in support of executing convicted criminals.

In many cases mere lip service is paid to scriptures and not much else.


Really interesting Huseng.
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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby LastLegend » Thu Dec 29, 2011 4:54 pm

Huseng wrote:
kirtu wrote:
Huseng wrote:
Basically, in my mind, when it comes to literature on precepts there is what it prescribes and then there is the social reality. In my estimation prevailing social customs, peer pressure and inner inclinations determine how Buddhists behave and how institutions make decisions rather than the literature on precepts which they subscribe to. Just look at how the death penalty exists in Buddhist nations with little opposition to it. You even have eminent Buddhist leaders in support of executing convicted criminals.

In many cases mere lip service is paid to scriptures and not much else.


It is the intention that counts-the real weapon is the mind or the object? That's why people should not stay dead and rigid on the texts. Texts are to liberate the mind.

As for the bolded part, Buddhism has no interest in politics and Buddhism does not own the nation. But suppose that your criticism is valid, what can Buddhists do to help convicted criminals?
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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Dave The Seeker » Thu Dec 29, 2011 10:11 pm

I am not very experienced with reading and practicing the Sutra's, but I have read The Buddha said "it's not the words, but the meaning".
As each of us is an individual with different perspectives, and levels of experience and knowledge, wouldn't this be the proper answer to the OP:
To do the best of our ability, in the position we are at, to understand the meanings?

Not meant to "rile" any feathers of the much more knowledgeable than myself.

Kindest wishes, Dave :namaste:
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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby cdpatton » Fri Dec 30, 2011 2:04 am

Huseng wrote:
kirtu wrote:
Huseng wrote:Literature on precepts have seldom been taken literally, both in present times and historically.


Well that depends too. The sutras dealing with precepts are mostly meant to be taken literally.

In the beginning the sutras are signposts or maps as Greg has noted. In the middle and presumably the end they are living experiences that arise within us. In this sense we meet Shakyamuni Buddha directly.

Kirt


The scripture might indicate that they are meant to be taken literally, but in reality people don't really do this. In my research I've come to understand that historically this has always been the case as well, no matter the culture or time period.

One example of this, which I researched for my MA, was Fazang in the Tang Dynasty. You mention the Brahma Net Sūtra, which specifically forbids owning weapons.

《梵網經》卷2:「若佛子。不得畜一切刀杖弓箭鉾斧鬪戰之具。及惡網羅殺生之器。一切不得畜。而菩薩乃至殺父母尚不加報。況餘一切眾生。若故畜一切刀杖者。犯輕垢罪。」(1)

If one is a son of the Buddha, one should not store any weapons such as knives, clubs, bows, arrows, spears, axes or other weapons of war as well as evil nets, traps and tools used in killing beings. All of these must not be stored. Furthermore, a Bodhisattva must not even avenge the killing of their parents, let alone other sentient beings. If one intentionally stores any knife or club [weapon], they commit a minor sin.


Fazang asserts exceptions where this rule could be disregarded.

《梵網經菩薩戒本疏》卷5:「七通塞者。義准為護佛法及調伏眾生畜應不犯。及從惡人乞得擬壞亦未壞無犯。反上一切隨畜皆犯。是故菩薩見他畜勸令毀破。若勸不得。應乞應贖。猶亦不得。應以威逼等撿挍6。要當令止。」(7)

VII. Exceptions. In principle one is not in violation if it is to defend the Buddhadharma or to placate sentient beings. There is also no violation if one begs and obtains [weapons] from evil people and while having the intention to destroy them has yet to destroy them. In contrast to the aforementioned [exceptions], all ownership is a violation. For this reason if a Bodhisattva sees others owning [weapons], he encourages them to destroy them. If his encouragement is unsuccessful he should beg or trade for them. If he still is unable to obtain them, then he should use coercion, threats and so on and obtain them. He must stop them [from keeping the weapons].


In this case the idea of "placating sentient beings" means for the state, which incidentally at the time was Fazang's patron, to violently crush rebellions.

Even someone as eminent and erudite as Fazang made exceptions to the rule in a rather questionable fashion. This is not unusual in Buddhist history when it comes to precepts and general ethics.

Basically, in my mind, when it comes to literature on precepts there is what it prescribes and then there is the social reality. In my estimation prevailing social customs, peer pressure and inner inclinations determine how Buddhists behave and how institutions make decisions rather than the literature on precepts which they subscribe to. Just look at how the death penalty exists in Buddhist nations with little opposition to it. You even have eminent Buddhist leaders in support of executing convicted criminals.

In many cases mere lip service is paid to scriptures and not much else.


Wait, what? How are you leaping from "disciplining sentient beings" (<-- "to placate"? 調伏 is a common translation of vinaya) to "the State violently crushing rebellions"?

On the face of it, this passage is as easily read to refer to parents disciplining their children or law enforcement. "Disciplining sentient beings" is a common phrase in many Sutras describing a bodhisattva's teaching them to follow the precepts. Even if it is the state that is being addressed, there's no reason to think he's meaning anymore than maintaining civil order. Does Fazang describe what you're asserting somewhere else? Otherwise, this is a little bizarre to me to force a reading like that.

Also using weapons to defend the Dharma is found in the Nirvana Sutra, which advocates having basically lay body guards for travelling Dharma teachers to protect them from waylayers, and the like. I'd be surprised if it wasn't the basis for Fazang including that one. Which ties into the conversation about how Sutras sometimes contradict one another, I guess.

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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby cdpatton » Fri Dec 30, 2011 2:07 am

The Seeker wrote:I am not very experienced with reading and practicing the Sutra's, but I have read The Buddha said "it's not the words, but the meaning".
As each of us is an individual with different perspectives, and levels of experience and knowledge, wouldn't this be the proper answer to the OP:
To do the best of our ability, in the position we are at, to understand the meanings?

Not meant to "rile" any feathers of the much more knowledgeable than myself.

Kindest wishes, Dave :namaste:


I've read way too many Sutras, and I completely agree. The distinction is made in the Sutras. Knowing Dharma actually refers to having the texts memorized (back when writing was not so common as now) and knowing the meaning refers to understanding the meaning of the texts. The trouble I suppose is when two people talk about the meaning.

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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Huifeng » Sat Dec 31, 2011 2:31 am

LastLegend wrote:... what can Buddhists do to help convicted criminals?


Go to prisons and teach them the Dharma!

Actually, due to their situation - where they often clearly see cause and result - many convicts are in a very good position to practice the Dharma.

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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Huifeng » Sat Dec 31, 2011 2:35 am

cdpatton wrote:Wait, what? How are you leaping from "disciplining sentient beings" (<-- "to placate"? 調伏 is a common translation of vinaya) to "the State violently crushing rebellions"?

On the face of it, this passage is as easily read to refer to parents disciplining their children or law enforcement. "Disciplining sentient beings" is a common phrase in many Sutras describing a bodhisattva's teaching them to follow the precepts. Even if it is the state that is being addressed, there's no reason to think he's meaning anymore than maintaining civil order. Does Fazang describe what you're asserting somewhere else? Otherwise, this is a little bizarre to me to force a reading like that.

Also using weapons to defend the Dharma is found in the Nirvana Sutra, which advocates having basically lay body guards for travelling Dharma teachers to protect them from waylayers, and the like. I'd be surprised if it wasn't the basis for Fazang including that one. Which ties into the conversation about how Sutras sometimes contradict one another, I guess.

Charlie.


Ummm, yeah, what Charlie said. Just like one of the epithets for the Buddha is 調御丈夫 - puruṣadamyasārathi.

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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Dec 31, 2011 7:45 am

Huifeng wrote:Ummm, yeah, what Charlie said. Just like one of the epithets for the Buddha is 調御丈夫 - puruṣadamyasārathi.

~~ Huifeng


It is something pulled from past scholarship.

Given Fazang's participation in military campaigns and close relationships with the imperial family, it isn't a baseless assumption.
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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Huifeng » Sat Dec 31, 2011 8:00 am

Huseng wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Ummm, yeah, what Charlie said. Just like one of the epithets for the Buddha is 調御丈夫 - puruṣadamyasārathi.

~~ Huifeng


It is something pulled from past scholarship.

Given Fazang's participation in military campaigns and close relationships with the imperial family, it isn't a baseless assumption.


Okay, I think I get the idea. So, while the text states "tame / discipline", Fazang took this to the extent of "violently crush", right? I think that making the distinction between the text itself and Fazang's interpretation a bit clearer is helpful.

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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Dec 31, 2011 8:15 am

Huifeng wrote:
Huseng wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Ummm, yeah, what Charlie said. Just like one of the epithets for the Buddha is 調御丈夫 - puruṣadamyasārathi.

~~ Huifeng


It is something pulled from past scholarship.

Given Fazang's participation in military campaigns and close relationships with the imperial family, it isn't a baseless assumption.


Okay, I think I get the idea. So, while the text states "tame / discipline", Fazang took this to the extent of "violently crush", right? I think that making the distinction between the text itself and Fazang's interpretation a bit clearer is helpful.

~~ Huifeng


Also note how he presents the terms:

護佛法及調伏眾生 - Defend Buddhadharma and placate/discipline sentient beings.

It suggests that the ideas are closely related, particularly with the character 及, no? Defending the Buddhadharma means using weapons for that purpose. Disciplining sentient beings in the context of explaining exceptions to owning weapons would indicate this means using the weapons.

Would you use a sword or spear to discipline your disciples?

Presumably, he might have had law enforcement in mind as well, but that would extend to military ventures as well.

Again, he is explaining exceptions to weapon ownership. Why would having weapons to merely discipline people be an exception?
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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Dec 31, 2011 8:22 am

cdpatton wrote:On the face of it, this passage is as easily read to refer to parents disciplining their children or law enforcement.


In the context of weapons, why would you think it means parents discipling their children? With spears, swords and nets? :jedi:
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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby LastLegend » Sat Dec 31, 2011 4:33 pm

Huifeng wrote:
LastLegend wrote:... what can Buddhists do to help convicted criminals?


Go to prisons and teach them the Dharma!

Actually, due to their situation - where they often clearly see cause and result - many convicts are in a very good position to practice the Dharma.

~~ Huifeng


That is a good idea.

Has this been done?
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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Mr. G » Sat Dec 31, 2011 4:50 pm

LastLegend wrote:
Huifeng wrote:
LastLegend wrote:... what can Buddhists do to help convicted criminals?


Go to prisons and teach them the Dharma!

Actually, due to their situation - where they often clearly see cause and result - many convicts are in a very good position to practice the Dharma.

~~ Huifeng


That is a good idea.

Has this been done?


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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sat Dec 31, 2011 4:52 pm

LastLegend wrote:That is a good idea.

Has this been done?
Many times and with amazing results.

Check out these fantastic movies:
Dhamma Brothers - Vipassana in Prison (2007)
Doing Time, Doing Vipassana - Meditation in Indian Prisons (2000)

There are heaps more groups out there (ie not just Vipassana), doing this sort of work. I read some articles by an American Zen Buddhist monk working with death row inmates. A vajra sister of mine here in Greece also ran a project in a prison for women here in Greece.

The videos I mentioned are on the internet for free download/viewing. If you can't find them tell me and I will set up a dropbox link for you. You may also want to see "Meditate and Destroy", the guy in that video also teaches meditation to young offenders in juvenile prisons and kids in drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby LastLegend » Sat Dec 31, 2011 4:53 pm

Nice
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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby cdpatton » Sat Dec 31, 2011 10:35 pm

Huseng wrote:
cdpatton wrote:On the face of it, this passage is as easily read to refer to parents disciplining their children or law enforcement.


In the context of weapons, why would you think it means parents discipling their children? With spears, swords and nets? :jedi:


Usually its some sort of bludgeon that's used (sticks, belts, rods, paddles, etc), so as to ensure its non-lethal. In the West, we don't see much of it anymore, but it was once common. They still used a paddle in junior highschool in the 80s in Ohio. What do we know about Tang dynasty China on the subject?

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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Huifeng » Sun Jan 01, 2012 2:59 am

LastLegend wrote:
Huifeng wrote:
LastLegend wrote:... what can Buddhists do to help convicted criminals?


Go to prisons and teach them the Dharma!

Actually, due to their situation - where they often clearly see cause and result - many convicts are in a very good position to practice the Dharma.

~~ Huifeng


That is a good idea.

Has this been done?


Hi,

Of course, there are many groups that do this.
The organization that I am with runs an entire comprehensive prison detox program for hard drug users, amongst other things.

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Re: Are sutra's to be taken literaly?

Postby Jikan » Sun Jan 01, 2012 3:15 pm

Here's a bit more on teaching and practicing in prisons.

http://www.snowcrest.net/chagdud/main/prison.htm
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