SuttaCentral

And there goes any chance of retrieving any ancient Buddhist texts

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What’s the relationship between Afghanistan and ebt ?

Parts of Afghanistan used to Buddhist, like during the time of Gandhara. Ancient Buddhist manuscripts have been found in caves there, and there are probably more. But with the Taliban controlling everything, it’s extremely unlikely that anyone will be allowed to search for more.

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What is modern Afghanistan used to be an important hub of Buddhism.

Buddhism in Afghanistan was one of the major religious forces in the region during pre-Islamic era. Buddhism first arrived in Afghanistan in 305 BC when the Greek Seleucid Empire made an alliance with the Indian Maurya Empire.
The resulting Greco-Buddhism flourished under the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (250 BC-125 BC) and the later Indo-Greek Kingdom (180 BC - 10 AD) in modern northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Greco-Buddhism reached its height under the Kushan Empire, which used the Greek alphabet to write its Bactrian language.

Lokaksema (c. 178 AD), who travelled to the Chinese capital of Luoyang and was the first translator of Mahayana Buddhist scriptures into Chinese,[1] and Mahadharmaraksita who, according to the Mahavamsa (Chap. XXIX[2]), led 30,000 Buddhist monks from “the Greek city of Alasandra” (Alexandria of the Caucasus, around 150 km north of today’s Kabul in Afghanistan), to Sri Lanka for the dedication of the Great Stupa in Anuradhapura. The Greco-Bactrian King Menander I, (Pali) “Milinda,” ruled 165 BC - 135 BC, was a renowned patron of Buddhism immortalized in the Buddhist text the Milinda Panha.

The famous Persian Buddhist monastery in Balkh in northern Afghanistan, known as Nava Vihara (“New Monastery”), functioned as the center of Central Asia Buddhist learning for centuries.

The Buddhist religion in Afghanistan started fading with the Muslim conquest in the 7th century and finally ended during the Ghaznavids in the 11th century.[3]

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Why didn’t they search it before Taliban taking over ?

Afghanistan has been in a semi-war for at least a decade. Even while the US military was there it was a dangerous place. I don’t think it’s been safe for scholars and archeologists to spend weeks outside of US controlled areas scouring the landscape for caves and ancient texts.

To give you some idea of how bad it can get, I’ve heard stories of Taliban snipers sitting in the hills around US controlled areas, and during the night shooting at the glow of cigarettes, just hoping to hit someone.

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What’s your solution then ?

I don’t think there is one, hence the title of the topic.

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Just let it go, hope is good but reality is what matters

As far as I know only mahayanist got crushed by muslim so theravada is safe for now

Tibetan is in danger by ccp but mahayana is in a better position outside of china

The civil war has been much longer. It started when the leader of the Soviet backed Marxist revolution was assassinated in an internal coup 1978-79. The Soviet Union responded by occupying the country for a decade trying to stabilize the government. They finally gave up and withdrew in 1989.

Between 1989 and 2002, the Taliban arose to take over the country, and they had basically succeeded by the time the US and NATO repeated the same war the Soviets had lost. It was during those years that the black market for unearthed Buddhist texts began and Western collectors began buying up fragments. I’m not sure how many legitimate archeological digs were happening in the 1990s with the Taliban controlling the country. My guess is not many, but academics involved in studying the fragments would know more about it.

The Taliban are infamous for blowing up Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, but we may still see a black market for Gandhari fragments.

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Do we need more ancient texts?

Yes, the conflicts have a long and terribly history. The US training Osama Bin Laden to fight the USSR, only to then end up enemies with him, thus helping to create the extremist Islamic terrorists groups, is just one small part of the story.

It would be a great boon to find more Sanskrit or Gandhari texts, especially ones that may have been the sources of some of the Chinese translations that were handed down.

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How so? Just seems like more mind candy. We already have more ancient Buddhist texts than anyone could read in an entire lifetime. I suppose from the acedemic point of view there will never be enough stuff - but I am thinking from the perspective of what is needed for practice.

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Mainly it helps us understand the history of Buddhism if we can find older texts than we presently have. People often think the canons they study are ancient texts, but they are actually the modern versions of ancient texts. They’ve passed through many hands and editors on their way to us. Academics spend much of their time trying to sort those issues out. To practitioners its much ado over typos and rewrites, I suppose.

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To me, more ancient texts would be very good news, seeing that sometimes the Pali canon is inconsistent in some respects.

@Charlie: Sometimes the inconsistencies in the Pali Canon are resolved by comparing it with the Chinese versions (and enabling so, by the way, I believe is one of the goals of this site). I can only imagine that having more early texts will help us form a more complete vision of the Dhamma as the Buddha originally taught it.

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To add to this, there is also a lot of material in the Chinese Buddhist Canon that can be linked to the Northwest (e.g. Pakistan and Afghanistan), that has never been translated into any western language. There is not sufficient interest or funding to do so.

Western Buddhism has some good qualities, but reading sutras and preserving the Dharma is often regarded as optional.

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Yes, I agree. When I came upon the Agamas I realized this and thank you to all of you that have worked on making these available to us. I also appreciate the work that has been done on flagging the obviously corrupted or later additions to the suttas in the Pali canon.

Not exactly sure what you mean here by Western Buddhism. If you mean the import of modern Burmese vipassana and its mindfulness offshoot – I agree - I think they have been a big distraction for far too many people. I think it is important for people to have some understanding of the EBT’s and the Agamas. I would also throw in a few other non-ebt texts like Trust in Mind. In general, I think Chan Buddhism and Mahayana generally serve as a good counterweight to later Theravadan distortions to the EBT’s.

But something to keep in mind is that during Buddhas lifetime people only had access to a pretty small number of teachings – and yet they did all right. This is why I say it can become mind-candy. The sheer volume of material can trap us in endless discussions even though we already know the core of the practice. Life is short. It all depends of course on what we want from this and I don’t mean to criticize those who pursue this research but only to point out to practitioners it can be a real trap, an obstacle, you could even call it a hindrance.

The Buddha’s audience was a Vedic bunch of folks in 500 BC and I imagine he communicated with them in a way appropriate to their time and culture. We cannot fully revive a dead language nor understand the culture of that time.

Thus, when we try to analyze these texts at a very granular level, I feel we can introduce more noise, more artifacts of translation/interpretation than actual meaningful discovery.

I think a great source for understanding the EBT’s are our contemporary Arahants. Teachers like Ajahns Chah, Bua, Sumedho, Nanananda, and so on – teachings given to a living culture in a living language. There are actually quite a few available to us. I think this is what the Buddha wanted. Recently I came upon the Canadian monk Ajahn Sona and found his discussions on metta and jhana really practical and yet at the same time deep. No doubt there are many other gems out there to be discovered.

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The Gandharan Buddhist texts are every bit as vital as other EBT materials. Sometimes even more, because they can be dated with more certainty. The more versions of a text we have, the better. If we see three versions of a text from three totally different traditions, that tells us that at least some of the text predates all three traditions.

Some of our forum members here do check for parallels, and do use those parallels to inform interpretations. That becomes more important as we want to understand more about what was historically taught by the Buddha.

Following this logic, there would be little reason to study Buddhist texts. It would be impossible to learn anything. Yet study of the EBT’s has advanced. Study of Mahayana sutras has advanced. Understanding the original context and diversity of these texts is more possible today. The Gandharan Buddhist texts are part of that.

I have yet to read an EBT in which the Buddha warns his disciples not to learn the Dharma, because it could become dangerous “mind candy,” and it might radically interfere with their practice.

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I’ve listened to a few people on Youtube over the years that have said that there is a problem in general with finding, keeping, and translating ancient text in general. There is a pretty active black market for ancient Buddhist texts. I’ve heard a few really disenchanting stories, but this is the way of things. The loss of Dhamma text is a reminder of how fortunate the Sangha is at this moment in time, and how important it is to study what we can now.

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