Charles Jones wrote: ↑Thu Jan 11, 2024 1:12 pm
Arguing over definitions can seem purely academic, abstract, or absurd until it matters, like when you are trying to argue that your temple should be tax-exempt.
At least in the US, you can get tax exempt status as a variety of other types of organizations. I find religious corporation law at the state level might be the easiest set of laws to work with so maybe there's an advantage there.
There's also a historical dimension to this thread. When Buddhist missionaries came to America after the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893, they noted that potential converts were against "superstition," "priestcraft," and "ritualism." Thus, they purged their presentation of Buddhism of all those elements. If you read Walpola Rahula's "What the Buddha Taught" as a college textbook, you would think that Buddhism was entirely rational and scientific in the modern sense. You would never know that the Buddha performed miracles and spent significant time preaching to devas, gandharvas, nagas, and other spirits. It also led to western hubris in denigrating the practices and rituals of Asian Buddhism as a debasement of the Dharma. Once this happens, then it becomes much harder to see Buddhism as a religion.
Many Asians have internalized scientific materialism and that has influenced many modern iterations of Buddhism in Asia, many in the name of modernization. In many ways they've stuffed Buddhism into the same cubby hole churches have been stuffed into under the banner of separation of church and state. In many cases that's probably a good thing. It also has a way of sucking the life out of religions. That may be good or bad depending on one's perspective.
PadmaVonSamba wrote: ↑Thu Jan 11, 2024 4:13 pm
I find it also interesting that for many people (particularly from the Far East when compared to Western converts, in my experience) it’s these various ‘miracles’ which qualify the Buddha and thus validate his teachings, in somewhat the same way that the ‘miracle of the resurrection’ is what provides the basis of Christianity and thus validates Jesus’ teachings (as though feeding the poor and judging-not would otherwise be bullshit if Christ hadn’t risen from the dead).
If it leads people to live morally and generally leads them toward awakening, then the stories serve their purpose. There is that one sutta where the Buddha floated into the air and turned into a lawn sprinkler shooting Technicolor water and fire out of his body specifically to impress people who were impervious to his teachings.
I’ve always taken the ‘test it as a gold-buyer tests gold’ approach, meaning to practice the teachings to see if they are valid or not. This surprised someone I had been chatting with, whose devotion to Buddhism was based on the miraculous stories found in the sutras, almost to the point of offending him. It was as if he’d told me his father was a great surgeon who’d saved many lives, and rather than simply believing him, my response had been “Oh yeah? Prove it!”
That kind of faith is called prasada. It's compared to a fellow who has only one eye - that fellows kin and friends will endeavor to protect that one eye.
If one looks for images of the Buddha on the web, or on Instagram, most of the Mahayana-sourced images portray the Buddha as a larger-than-reality-itself, god-like celestial being. The Theravada-sourced images still show him glowing, but roughly the same as his followers, except that he has hair and an aura and they don’t.
Yes. Mahayana sources I read were well aware of the differences in the Buddha's appearance depending on whether the teachings were Sravakayana or Mahayana. The Sravakayana Buddha was an ordinary looking man attended by Sariputra and Maudgalyayana. The Mahayana Buddha is 12 feet tall and has the 32 major and 80 minor characteristics, and is attended by Manjusri and Samantabhadra. This is to make clear that the Mahayana teachings are of a different, transcendent quality while the Sravakayana is taught to people of limited capacities.
Likewise, many of the Mahayana sutras (perhaps composed under the royal patronage of King Ashoka) are over-the-top with grandeur, often taking many pages at the beginning just to get through the celestial guest-list.
Dune could not be told if it was set in Paul Muadib's roach infested studio apartment on E 8th St. In Manhattan. Sometimes to tell big stories you need a bigger scene. I'm grateful there were people willing to use their imagination to tell stories of a scale far beyond the limits of my experience, let alone someone who lived 2000 years ago and probably never went more than 25 miles from where they were born.
While this is obviously meant to be inspiring, it makes me wonder whether or not this plants a suggestion in the mind of the average person that Buddhahood is not really attainable, that it will take countless more lifetimes, and that perhaps all one can really do for now is to pray for a better rebirth and donate money. But is that really the message that the Buddha was trying to convey?
It probably discouraged some, but it probably also expanded the world view of many others, caused them to have a big, expansive consciousness that allowed them to extend trust and love beyond their immediate clan. Encouraged some to be so audacious that they actually aim to become Buddhas and save all beings. The ones who turned away discouraged probably were never going to seek something so audacious anyway. But they were opened to the possibility that others could.