Buddhist texts

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Buddhist texts

Postby lotwell » Sun Jan 01, 2012 6:53 pm

Dear forumers,

I have a question pertaining to what Buddhist text are actually available/known.

First, I understand that throughout Buddhism's long history there have been a plethora of various texts from various schools. However, due to obvious reasons, many of these have not survived. (I think this might be true of many original Sanskrit texts ... or maybe not?). We know some of these "original" texts solely through later translation into other languages (i.e. Tibetan).

So what I would love to have explained is a general description/overview of the field working with historical Buddhist literature. What are the main divisions (language?... time peroid?..). What work is being most focused on by scholars nowadays?

Many thanks in advance for your response

Lotwell
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Re: Buddhist texts

Postby Aemilius » Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:00 am

You could start with the fact that Buddha himself never wrote anything. There is some disagreement about the language, or languages, in which He expressed himself to his audiences. It certainly is not true that he spoke pali. You can find a good teaching about this in Bhikkhu Bodhi's website, where he describes the origin and development of pali language. I'm of the view that the Bhagavan Shakyamuni mastered several languages, He wandered through a large area of India, he has therefore spoken the Dharma in the languages of different states and different peoples. The number of languages and writing systems in India is staggering.
There is the tradition that His speech was essentially endowed with mystic qualities, it was BuddhaVoice, Enlightened Sound/Speech, and thus nothing like a normal human language. It was understood by different peoples naturally.
The BuddhaVacana or BuddhaVoice was preserved orally from 300 to 500 or more years, before it was written down. The process of writing it down was slow and tedious. Even after most of the Collection of Buddha's teachings was written down, it was memorized, it was learned by heart. It was memorized by both laymen and by monks and nuns. Special words existed for people who knew the whole collections of sutras by heart, so it must have been fairly normal and feasible.To us it seems beyond comprehension.
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Re: Buddhist texts

Postby Huifeng » Mon Jan 02, 2012 2:06 pm

lotwell wrote:Dear forumers,

I have a question pertaining to what Buddhist text are actually available/known.

First, I understand that throughout Buddhism's long history there have been a plethora of various texts from various schools. However, due to obvious reasons, many of these have not survived. (I think this might be true of many original Sanskrit texts ... or maybe not?). We know some of these "original" texts solely through later translation into other languages (i.e. Tibetan).

So what I would love to have explained is a general description/overview of the field working with historical Buddhist literature. What are the main divisions (language?... time peroid?..). What work is being most focused on by scholars nowadays?

Many thanks in advance for your response

Lotwell


Much as I dislike citing Wiki:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_texts

What you are asking for is really quite a massive question, even in brief.
Especially the issue about modern scholars at the end.

~~ Huifeng
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Re: Buddhist texts

Postby maybay » Mon Jan 02, 2012 7:05 pm

DOnt tell him. He might go and read them!
People will know nothing and everything
Remember nothing and everything
Think nothing and everything
Do nothing and everything
- Machig Labdron
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Re: Buddhist texts

Postby lotwell » Tue Jan 03, 2012 5:05 am

Yes, I understand that this question is enormously large but your responses have been helpful. In all seriousness, Wikipedia is not a bad place to start for this sort of thing.

Thank you and I'll report back in later when I've done a bit more research and have more specific questions.

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Re: Buddhist texts

Postby Aemilius » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:28 pm

I find it amazing that there is no mention at all in buddhist circles about the oral tradition phase of Buddhism. This makes it sound like Buddha Shakyamuni went around starting literature clubs or something!
In Buddhism there is no knowledge about the nature of society based on oral tradition, what it was like, how it functioned, etc... Yet this oral period was a decisive period in buddhist history, much or most of it is in the dark, it seems. You have to use your imagination, to get some idea of it.
In Buddhism there is communication of words, and communication of meaning,( of Dharma).
In Internett and in published literature there are studies of oral tradition in Hinduism, in the Vedas, also about the oral literature and oral tradition among american indians, among africans, australians, and even among europeans in the form of bards, but nothing about orality in Buddhism! This is very strange, I think.
Even today oral teachings abound in buddhism, but people are not really aware of it, fortunately. This means all the stories about Chogyam Trungpa and about other teachers and things like that.. Things that are not found in the official and published teachings.
Some people in Buddhism want to ritualize the oral teachings, they want to decide what is the true "oral teaching". Then they want to forbid all normal discussion among people, they are probably afraid that a true oral teaching still might happen somewhere, kind of accidentally.
Great fear of Dharma, great attachment to authority.
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Re: Buddhist texts

Postby Huifeng » Tue Jan 03, 2012 2:40 pm

There is a fair recognition of the oral tradition in Buddhist studies.
And likewise, I've encountered a fair amount of it from Theravadin bhikkhus, too.
Guess it depends on what you read, and who you talk to.

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Re: Buddhist texts

Postby lotwell » Wed Jan 04, 2012 1:18 am

I think it is true to say that the oral tradition aspect of Buddhism is largely not dealt with due (especially by scholars) due to its speculative nature. There really is not anything tangible there to work with that does not involve large amounts of guess work. Its like filling in a large empty area of a puzzle without using any reference pieces.

But you raise an importnat point because this is true of all other religion's/culture's oral traditions. For example Islam places huge emphasis on oral tradition in the Sunnah and determining which stories of the Prophet are genuine or fabricated.

Perhaps Hui Feng could share a little more about his expereinces with oral tradition in Buddhism.

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Re: Buddhist texts

Postby Huifeng » Wed Jan 04, 2012 3:29 am

lotwell wrote:I think it is true to say that the oral tradition aspect of Buddhism is largely not dealt with due (especially by scholars) due to its speculative nature. There really is not anything tangible there to work with that does not involve large amounts of guess work. Its like filling in a large empty area of a puzzle without using any reference pieces.

But you raise an importnat point because this is true of all other religion's/culture's oral traditions. For example Islam places huge emphasis on oral tradition in the Sunnah and determining which stories of the Prophet are genuine or fabricated.

Perhaps Hui Feng could share a little more about his expereinces with oral tradition in Buddhism.

Lotwell


Again, I would say that there are a few scholars that deal with. Any sort of scholarship has a least a modicum of speculation, so that's nothing specific to this area. And, because the oral tradition is not confined to Buddhist materials, there is a fair amount of work that is not really "guess work" at all.

For Buddhist materials, you can check out this from Bhante Prof Analayo:
http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg. ... nsions.pdf

In the bibliography, there are a couple of important studies, eg.:
Allon, Mark 1997b: "The Oral Composition and Transmission of Early
Buddhist Texts", in Indian insights: Buddhism, Brahmanism and
Bhakti, P. Connoly et al. (ed.), London: Luzac Oriental, pp. 39-
61.
Collins, Steven 1992: "Notes on some Oral Aspects of Pali Literature",
in Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 35 pp. 121-135
Cousins, L.S. 1983: "Pali Oral Literature", in Buddhist Studies: Ancient
and Modern, P. Denwood (ed.), London: Curzon, pp. 1-11.
Coward, H. 1986: "Oral and Written Texts in Buddhism" in The Adyar
Library Bulletin, vol. 50 pp. 299-313.
Wynne, Alexander 2004: "The Oral Transmission of Early Buddhist Literature",
in Journal of the International Association of Buddhist
Studies, vol. 27 no.1 pp. 97-127.

It also mentions Lord, who developing Parry's theories, is a pioneer in this area:
Lord, Albert B. 1987: "Characteristics of Orality", in Oral Tradition, vol.
2 part 1 pp. 54-72.
But really, check out Lord's book the Singer of Tales, and of course, Walter Ong.
All classic studies in the fields of orality and oral tradition.

This is just a sample. There is stuff on this - just depends on what you read.

Though, caveat: If one doesn't have a good grounding in the ancient Indian
traditions, they will be prone to misinterpretation of what is presented here.
That's a caveat for people reading this thread, not for the cited scholars.

My own experiences are mainly from an old Sri Lankan bhikkhu, who has
huge amounts of the Sutta-pitaka and Vinaya-pitaka memorized.
I've seen this time and time again in his classes, over the course of several years.
He is a living "bhanaka", and thus has personal experience of how the
memorization process works, and so forth.

My own PhD was dealing with a type of literary structure that is often
closely associated with oral traditions. I applied it to the Prajnaparamita.

~~ Huifeng
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