Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

A forum for those wishing to discuss Buddhist history and teachings in the Western academic manner, referencing appropriate sources.
Post Reply
Malcolm
Posts: 34576
Joined: Thu Nov 11, 2010 2:19 am

Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by Malcolm »

Walser's new book opines that the Ur-PP sūtra was written by a Sarvastivādin monk who was from a Maitrayaṇī Brahmin family in Mathura in the last half of the first century, CE, and that it intended to present a Buddhist compatible version of brahman, and further, that is was a fundamentally political move to secure a position at court. He further argues that Mahāyāna arose in Brahmin communities where "Buddhist" and "Brahmin" were ambiguous distinctions at best.

Discuss!

:popcorn:
"Nonduality is merely a name;
that name does not exist."
—Kotalipa
Padmist
Posts: 93
Joined: Fri Jan 01, 2021 3:12 am

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by Padmist »

Bronkhorst is saying the same
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/77156628.pdf

For a less incendiary take, Baruch or Williams (sorry I don't recall exactly) said that Northern Buddhists (not necessarily Mahayanists who viewed the 'establishment' class as corrupt) wanted Buddhism's status to be more secure, attractive, prestigious, etc. Not dissimilar to today's Buddhists 'westernizing' Buddhism by spreading it in English or in the West.
PeterC
Posts: 3227
Joined: Tue May 20, 2014 12:38 pm

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by PeterC »

Padmist wrote: Mon Jan 25, 2021 10:35 pm Bronkhorst is saying the same
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/77156628.pdf
This is an interesting argument. I think he has at least two hurdles to get over, though:

1/ There are a lot of imagery and devices in the pali canon that can plausibly be viewed as commentary on Brahminical practices. (This is essentially Gombrich's argument, though it is not uncontroversial.) The absence of descriptors of a Brahmin social milieu in the Pali canon doesn't imply a complete absence of the milieu.

2/ His argument rests on sanskrit documents containing references that pali documents do not. The traditional story of the origins of the pali canon involve it being an oral tradition for several centuries following the Buddha's parinirvana, and even after that point, texts evolve. So the alternative hypothesis that he would need to overcome is that the differences may reflect changes in the sutta pitaka over time, rather than insertions into subsequent sanskrit compositions. From an academic perspective, the identifiable 'core' of the sutta pitaka that people feel confident placing in the mouth of the Buddha is extremely small.
User avatar
Caoimhghín
Posts: 3096
Joined: Thu Jun 02, 2016 11:35 pm
Location: Whitby, Ontario

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by Caoimhghín »

How is this review of the book to those who've read it?

https://jcrt.org/religioustheory/2019/1 ... beysekara/
Then, the monks sang this gāthā:

These bodies are like foam.
Them being frail, who can rejoice in them?
The Buddha attained the vajra-body.
Still, it becomes inconstant and rots.
The many Buddhas are vajra-entities.
All are also subject to inconstancy.
Quickly ended, like melting snow --
how could things be different?

The Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa afterward.
(T1.27b10 Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra DĀ 2)
Malcolm
Posts: 34576
Joined: Thu Nov 11, 2010 2:19 am

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by Malcolm »

Caoimhghín wrote: Sat Jan 30, 2021 3:22 pm How is this review of the book to those who've read it?

https://jcrt.org/religioustheory/2019/1 ... beysekara/
Good review, it’s why I bought Walser’s book. I would add, however, that his knowledge of Tibetan Buddhist schools is rather shaky, and he makes blunders which indicate this.
"Nonduality is merely a name;
that name does not exist."
—Kotalipa
User avatar
tobes
Posts: 1904
Joined: Fri Dec 24, 2010 5:02 am

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by tobes »

I haven't read the Walser book, but I am a little suspicious of this (Nietzschean/Foucauldian) notion of power. It always presents as a radical critique with existing scholarship, but it also assumes so much - dogmatically - about the way things change through time. It seems to me that the notion of 'dialectic' is much richer to explain continuities and discontinuities, pushes and pulls between this tradition and that.

To those who have read it, how compelling is Walser's actual argument?
neander
Posts: 65
Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2020 10:24 pm

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by neander »

I read the first chapter that is available on line, and the review of the book says: " Part of Walser’s task in the Genealogies of Mahāyāna is to argue how Mahāyāna Buddhism is represented in terms of doctrines in such a way that those doctrines can often be abstracted, preexisting social-political power and discourse."

The bottom line is that during the Mauryan Empire it is impossible that Buddhism didn't go through any modification so I am not surprised by the conclusion of the book

We know now as per Bronkhost Buddhism in the Shadow of Brahmanism that the original movement was not a reaction to Brahmanism as it developed in a different geographical area (current Nepal).

Schopen pointed out that when the Sangha became a fixed cenobitical community with temples was subjected to donors financial influence but even without this the patterns were always the same: when Buddhism came to China elements of Taoism and Confucianism were merged into the teaching, in Tibet the Bon religion and in Japan the Shinto religion (Shinbutsu-shūgō) plus various folks religions according to the area, therefore when Buddhism spread to India various Vedic/Jaina / Brahminic elements were added and later on were called Mahayana...

People and sometimes scholars fail to acknowledge how violent the world was. As soon as religion was not perfectly aligned with the local politician had to change and adapt to survive, probably many Śramaṇa schools found the wrong king or politician in their ways..

Scopen points out how the Ashoka pillars did not mention any Nikaya but Schmithausen also notes that Ashoka's edits never mention the Karma that is quite strange seen the importance that later on had in Buddhism...
User avatar
FiveSkandhas
Posts: 532
Joined: Sat Jun 29, 2019 6:40 pm

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by FiveSkandhas »

I read this book when it first came out and while overall I enjoyed it, I found it to be a bit "scattershot" in its approach. The book bills itself as a take on "the origins of Mahayana" and I was really looking forward to a drilldown on this fascinating but eternally-controvesial topic. Instead he barely treats the issue directly until quite late in the book. There were some decent analyses of prajnaparamita textual history, again quite late in the book, and I wish he had expanded on and written more along those lines.

I suppose as a Buddhist I was a bit disappointed at all the meandering accounts of Brahmanism and other non-Buddhist traditions that seem not to be tied tightly enough together to make a coherent, Buddhism-centered message. I came away with a rather vague sense of what the overall point he was trying to make was.

In addition to the Indian/Brahmanical stuff other posters have also mentioned in this thread, there was an interesting but slightly disorganized examination of Chinese non-Buddhist notions of "emptiness" and astral religiosity, such as early ideas about "Heaven", stars, and the effect of the northern asterism and the wandering of the North Star over time on ancient pre-axial-age Chinese mythology and kingship. Then he dove into a discussion about strategies used in ancient China to tie smaller cities to the capital by mandating city gate architecture, the nature and ritual use of certain types of altars, etc.

All very interesting in its own right, but the ultimate relevance of all this to his alleged main topic ("genealogies of Mahayana") is somewhat questionable.

In short, this book is more of a wander across a vast and somewhat disconnected series of domains than a disciplined, efficient march to a pinpointed destination.
"One should cultivate contemplation in one’s foibles. The foibles are like fish, and contemplation is like fishing hooks. If there are no fish, then the fishing hooks have no use. The bigger the fish is, the better the result we will get. As long as the fishing hooks keep at it, all foibles will eventually be contained and controlled at will." -Zhiyi
neander
Posts: 65
Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2020 10:24 pm

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by neander »

this is an extract from the first chapter
"In the second half, I show that much of what becomes distinctively Mahāyāna has been considered to fall within “Buddhism” all along, albeit largely within Brahmanical communities of Buddhists at a time prior to a hard and fast distinction between Buddhism and Brahmanism."
FiveSkandhas wrote: Sat Apr 24, 2021 1:45 am

In short, this book is more of a wander across a vast and somewhat disconnected series of domains than a disciplined, efficient march to a pinpointed destination.

I had a similar impression by reading the summary and the first chapter and the title of subsequent chapters, I was looking to more chapters devoted to the Mahayana genealogy itself and maybe early/pre-sectarian Buddhism but again I have not read the book so I cannot comment on the whole book.
User avatar
tobes
Posts: 1904
Joined: Fri Dec 24, 2010 5:02 am

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by tobes »

Thanks for the replies. I actually think it is helpful to diffuse a very Buddhist centric approach, because the terrain in India simply is so diverse and pluralistic.

I am wondering more about his argument about the relationship between material conditions and ideas; it strikes me that this could be a touch overdetermined in his approach. I suspect a really good genealogy of the Mahayana has to leave room for forms of power which are basically immaterial in character......a thankless intellectual task, probably quite impossible. But nevertheless, necessary. I heard a good paper once which used Ricouer's hermeneutics to open up this kind of space for interpreting Mahayana sutras.
User avatar
Aemilius
Posts: 2973
Joined: Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:44 am

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by Aemilius »

I still hold the view that PP and the Mahayana were an oral tradition before the appearance of written sutras. And why? Because the PP and Mahayana are the true and complete teaching of the Buddha-mind, and it is inconceivable that Buddha Gautama would have entered Parinirvana without teaching them, atleast to his most advanced disciples. I don't see how PP or the Mahayana would have departed from the message and import of the Shramana movement, that was essentially outside of Brahmanism.
Why should we take seriously someone like Bronkhorst who says that "rebirth and karma were invented" (by some foolish Indian cranks presumably) ?
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
neander
Posts: 65
Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2020 10:24 pm

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by neander »

Aemilius wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 12:51 pm
Why should we take seriously someone like Bronkhorst who says that "rebirth and karma were invented" (by some foolish Indian cranks presumably) ?
Out of curiosity where does he say this ? I thank you in advance if you provide the actual paper, paragraph or book where he comes to the above conclusion (and I won't hijack this thread later on to a karma discussion as there is already enough material on this forum...).

I read his paper " Did the Buddha Believe in Karma and Rebirth? " published in 1998 and overall I enjoyed it (very interesting the fact that also Vetter dismisses the 4 noble truths as a core early Buddhist principle) and I found the paper very well done.
Malcolm
Posts: 34576
Joined: Thu Nov 11, 2010 2:19 am

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by Malcolm »

neander wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 3:12 pm
Aemilius wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 12:51 pm
Why should we take seriously someone like Bronkhorst who says that "rebirth and karma were invented" (by some foolish Indian cranks presumably) ?
Out of curiosity where does he say this ? I thank you in advance if you provide the actual paper, paragraph or book where he comes to the above conclusion (and I won't hijack this thread later on to a karma discussion as there is already enough material on this forum...).

I read his paper " Did the Buddha Believe in Karma and Rebirth? " published in 1998 and overall I enjoyed it (very interesting the fact that also Vetter dismisses the 4 noble truths as a core early Buddhist principle) and I found the paper very well done.
Bronkhorst agrees the Buddha indeed taught both rebirth and karma in that paper.
"Nonduality is merely a name;
that name does not exist."
—Kotalipa
neander
Posts: 65
Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2020 10:24 pm

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by neander »

Malcolm wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 4:33 pm
neander wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 3:12 pm
Aemilius wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 12:51 pm
Why should we take seriously someone like Bronkhorst who says that "rebirth and karma were invented" (by some foolish Indian cranks presumably) ?
Out of curiosity where does he say this ? I thank you in advance if you provide the actual paper, paragraph or book where he comes to the above conclusion (and I won't hijack this thread later on to a karma discussion as there is already enough material on this forum...).

I read his paper " Did the Buddha Believe in Karma and Rebirth? " published in 1998 and overall I enjoyed it (very interesting the fact that also Vetter dismisses the 4 noble truths as a core early Buddhist principle) and I found the paper very well done.
Bronkhorst agrees the Buddha indeed taught both rebirth and karma in that paper.
Exactly, but it was not the karma of Vedic and Jaina scriptures because that would have been a duplicate says the paper, it was more based on intentions and desires more than physical activities...
Malcolm
Posts: 34576
Joined: Thu Nov 11, 2010 2:19 am

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by Malcolm »

neander wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 4:59 pm
Malcolm wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 4:33 pm
neander wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 3:12 pm

Out of curiosity where does he say this ? I thank you in advance if you provide the actual paper, paragraph or book where he comes to the above conclusion (and I won't hijack this thread later on to a karma discussion as there is already enough material on this forum...).

I read his paper " Did the Buddha Believe in Karma and Rebirth? " published in 1998 and overall I enjoyed it (very interesting the fact that also Vetter dismisses the 4 noble truths as a core early Buddhist principle) and I found the paper very well done.
Bronkhorst agrees the Buddha indeed taught both rebirth and karma in that paper.
Exactly, but it was not the karma of Vedic and Jaina scriptures because that would have been a duplicate says the paper, it was more based on intentions and desires more than physical activities...
Yes, that is correct. It is also obvious to anyone who has studied the doctrines of rebirth and karma outside of Buddhadharma, so not new news.
"Nonduality is merely a name;
that name does not exist."
—Kotalipa
User avatar
Aemilius
Posts: 2973
Joined: Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:44 am

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by Aemilius »

neander wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 3:12 pm
Aemilius wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 12:51 pm
Why should we take seriously someone like Bronkhorst who says that "rebirth and karma were invented" (by some foolish Indian cranks presumably) ?
Out of curiosity where does he say this ? I thank you in advance if you provide the actual paper, paragraph or book where he comes to the above conclusion (and I won't hijack this thread later on to a karma discussion as there is already enough material on this forum...).
It is in the link given by Padmist, on page 2 in the middle of the page:

by Padmist » Tue Jan 26, 2021 12:35 am
"Bronkhorst is saying the same
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/77156628.pdf"
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
neander
Posts: 65
Joined: Fri Oct 09, 2020 10:24 pm

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by neander »

Aemilius wrote: Mon Apr 26, 2021 9:03 am
neander wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 3:12 pm
Aemilius wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 12:51 pm
Why should we take seriously someone like Bronkhorst who says that "rebirth and karma were invented" (by some foolish Indian cranks presumably) ?
Out of curiosity where does he say this ? I thank you in advance if you provide the actual paper, paragraph or book where he comes to the above conclusion (and I won't hijack this thread later on to a karma discussion as there is already enough material on this forum...).
It is in the link given by Padmist, on page 2 in the middle of the page:

by Padmist » Tue Jan 26, 2021 12:35 am
"Bronkhorst is saying the same
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/77156628.pdf"
Thanks Aemilius but on that paper, at pag 2, this is not what the author believes, on the contrary, the paper states that this is the common conclusion to which arrive scholars and Hindus and Buddhists.
User avatar
Aemilius
Posts: 2973
Joined: Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:44 am

Re: Genealogies of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Emptiness, Power and the Question of Origin

Post by Aemilius »

neander wrote: Mon Apr 26, 2021 10:00 am
Aemilius wrote: Mon Apr 26, 2021 9:03 am
neander wrote: Sun Apr 25, 2021 3:12 pm

Out of curiosity where does he say this ? I thank you in advance if you provide the actual paper, paragraph or book where he comes to the above conclusion (and I won't hijack this thread later on to a karma discussion as there is already enough material on this forum...).
It is in the link given by Padmist, on page 2 in the middle of the page:

by Padmist » Tue Jan 26, 2021 12:35 am
"Bronkhorst is saying the same
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/77156628.pdf"
Thanks Aemilius but on that paper, at pag 2, this is not what the author believes, on the contrary, the paper states that this is the common conclusion to which arrive scholars and Hindus and Buddhists.
Thanks for correction. Nevertheless, he does not mention karma and rebirth later in the paper.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
Post Reply

Return to “Academic Discussion”