This is largely academics, studying the history of the texts. The fact remains that the canons that still exist have a large set of core teachings that they agree on. So, those teachings must go back to the time before writing. Probably they go back to the Buddha’s time.
The actual wording of the texts, the stories they tell, the way the common teachings were understood; those things did change by time of the earliest texts we have so far (1st c. BCE - 4th C. CE).
I mean before what we have today. At this point, we have fragments from 1st c. BCE that were the basis for a re-orientation in how scholars of Early Buddhism understood why Chinese Buddhist translations are very different from the late Sanskrit texts that they were compared with, and so forth. We could compare them to Gandhari fragments, and they matched! Aha! That’s why Chinese transliterations are so different than Sanskrit words sometimes. And so on. We didn’t know these things before that.
It was similar to the discovery of Gnostic texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls for Christian scholars.
And, yes, I agree that it looks that may be the limit of what can be discovered because of the climate of India and the distance in time.
Yes, it’s significant that we can see certain teachings appear to be newer than others because the lists are disordered from one canon to the next. That is important. Disordered lists though are common outside of that solid core like the five aggregates and eightfold path, and they often agree on the beginning and end.
You’re right that the number ten seems to have become popular at some later time. Ten paramitas developed later, and there’s a list of the eightfold path that adds two items to make ten. And there’s the famous Avatamsaka Sutra that uses teachings in the tens of tens throughout.
Isn’t that interesting, Gene? Yes, SA 684 is the one I mentioned that I think might have originally been five powers for arhats and five powers for the Tathagata. Then it turned into ten somewhere along the line.
Thanks for the other references. I haven’t tried to study all of these various lists of powers (bust translating for the most part!), just the one that became the Tathagata’s ten powers. Interesting that in the Theravada the arhat was given ten powers by expanding the five from the 37 factors, but in SA they don’t reach that number equal to the Tathagata’s.
We see the development in existing sutras in this case. Isn’t there a smaller list for the Tathagata somewhere in Pali? I tried to find when I wrote the post about it, but couldn’t at the time. Time! What a constraint it is.
Sorry that was a typo, I meant contents, not contexts! It seems you got my meaning though.
That is a statement hard to understand for me. It doesn’t answer the question.
Great! So we agree that studying early parallel texts is very useful for understanding the past.
Yes, and the popular 10 bhūmi scheme, though there are many other sets of bhūmis. Also - regarding the ‘10-fold path’ - I remember in the suttas somewhere, simply the 8fold path plus the 2 fruits. It’s funny because some people, anti-jhāna people, go on and on about jhāna not being the ‘goal’. Well, yes, that’s true, but the Noble Eightfold Path is the jhāna path! And no-one seems to be vehemently warning everyone away from the Noble Eightfold path because it’s not the goal! As a remedy for this confusion I think putting the path together with its 2 fruits into a 10fold system is a good idea to make thins very clear.
Going back to the story of the earliest manuscripts we have… I’ve seen many Mahayanists mistaking discoveries of early Mahayana texts as proof that their tradition is older than the EBTs. This is of course an erroneous position. So I do think that it’s vital not to confuse the evolution of written compositions, with the evolution of oral compositions.
Yes. I’m glad you realized I wasn’t arguing something like that.
I don’t know. I think the earliest bodhisattva texts are pretty old, but they aren’t Mahayana in the sense that their authors thought of themselves as Mahayanists. Still, Mahayana arose out of those texts, so I’d say they are derived from EBTs. I mean, there’s a Maitreya sutra in the Madhyama Agama. Apparently, it wasn’t considered Mahayana when it was incorporated into the Sarvastivada canon. Then, again, it manages to be a Maitreya sutra without actually mentioning bodhisattvas. It’s an odd duck.
This has been an incredibly difficult thread to follow–indeed, one I find I may have to re-read and re-read to grasp all the nuances of all the arguments. I feel I will benefit from understanding both of your arguments irrespective of whether I come to agree with either of you. So my gratitude to both of you for sticking it out this far. That said, I wanted to mention this,
I really like this! Can we talk more about this? Perhaps an entirely separate thread would be needed? Forgive me, but, this is too pregnant a statement to let pass without remark.
Thank you very much for this kind response and link. It shows me, however, that my post was not specific enough. What was intriguing about @Senryu 's post was the claim that
Even with the caveat that jhāna is not “the goal,” this is still a somewhat bold, categorical statement–or, at the very least, one that calls for some discussion, I think (unless there’s already some discussion in the archives).
It sounds as if you mean anything pre-Mahayana is ‘Early Buddhism’? I feel sure that is not how ‘Early Buddhism’ is used as a term in the field of Early Buddhism.
Sure, the bodhisattva concept is older than the Mahayana. But it’s not from the Buddha’s teachings. It must have taken a while for this misunderstanding to develop. (The misinterpretation of ‘bodhisatta’, them taking the adjective ‘satta’ meaning ‘sakta’, to be the noun ‘sattva’). Incidently, the Buddha only used this adjective in describing himself specifically in the period after he left home, until he became enlightened. I.e. all the time he was striving for (sakta) enlightenment.
Once that concept was popularised, and many stories added to the collection of teachings, such as folk tales supposed to be the ‘lives of the bodhisattva’, the logical conclusion became that if there are two paths - the path the Buddha taught his disciples, resulting in arahantship; and the 3 countless aeon length path of the bodhisattva, to become a Buddha, then, it’s logically to want to have a go for the better, higher goal. Especially since as time went by, the level of the Buddha had been progressively increased, as is the natural tendency of religions regarding their founder.
So ‘arahant’ was still great, but ‘buddha’ was becoming increasingly better. And now you have a category of being, created by a linguistic misunderstanding and the tendency to mythologise, who are on the path to that bigger better goal. Is your mouth watering yet?
So, a few textual compositions were created, for the few men who were fanatic enough to want to undertake this 3 countless aeon long path. They would even have to avoid even attaining stream entry, for all that time until their last life or last few lives (attaining stream entry automatically and immediately limits your number of future lives). But they were into the idea. So, this new movement arose, only for men, and was explicitly not meant to be followed by most people. They were meant to follow the standard teachings, the arahant path. And that was seen as the proper thing to do for most people, and also what they would themselves teach their disciples in that extremely distant future when they become a buddha in a land devoid of Buddhism.
Now, it took a while for that to catch on. Centuries. I heard it caught on abroad first, probably because the local people didn’t know what was what, it was all new to them so they didn’t know these were newly created ideas. And I guess the Chinese elite liked magical thinking and the various fancy elements of these new teachings. Eventually popularity spread back to India, and when they had enough dominance, they pushed the difference between arahants and buddhas even more, demoting arahants as selfish and not really enlightened, etc. And that path, which the Buddha taught, they then named ‘Hīnayāna’, the vile/despicable/deficient vehicle/path.
So yes, there are old bodhisattva texts. There are also old abhidhamma texts. But the Buddha did not even use the bodhisattva concept.
Sure. What do you want to know?
Ah, about that. Well, the Buddha tried various methods, none of which succeeded. He then remembered being a kid entering jhāna. To cut a long story short, he concluded 'that (jhāna) is the path to enlightenment.
He then practiced jhāna and as a consequence, became enlightened. And then he taught the jhāna path to his disciples. Specifically, in the formula of doctrine, this is expressed as the Noble Eightfold path, which he specifically taught as being a path of successive steps, each one being requisite for the next. Well, what is the final step? Jhāna. (Sammā samādhi is specifically defined as the 4 jhānas - see Mahāsatipatthāna sutta for example). That is the whole point of the path, it is specifically to get you to the last step. And what is the result of that? The 2 fruits.
Every argument against this I have ever seen, has failed to stand up to analysis.
The problem with the presentation that you’ve made, which is well done by the way, is that it has no solid data to place these logical events in time. When we say “later” it could mean a year or two after the Buddha’s Parinirvana or it could be a couple centuries later. We don’t actually know these specifics because there’s no way to judge beyond looking at textual canons that were put together when writing became more common.
Some of the trouble we still have I think is, again, I’ve looked closely at the Chinese materials and I come from a different background than say, Bhikkhu Analayo. It’s great that Pali scholars are involved in this; they have important perspectives to add. But we still haven’t had much input from the other side of Buddhist studies beyond Yinshun and a few scholar who followed up on some of his ideas.
Okay, something I’d like to do next is to get back to looking at actual parallels. It may take me a couple days to put together the post, but I want to present a full set of parallels for a small sutra, MA 1 (AN 7.68 for Pali readers). It’s a lot to compare, so I may end up creating a Google Sheet or something. Then, we can think about the specifics and the issues that arise from the picture that we see in front of us, rather than endlessly summarizing well-known consensus theories and critiquing them.
Even more difficult and problematic in all this is that, most of the texts we are comparing are Sthavira texts. We have very few Mahasamghika texts (relatively speaking, though if EA is Mahasamghika, we have way more than we think). So even if we compare, say, all the parallels in Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Gandhari and Pali, most of these are Sthavira. So, to be really sure that a text was shared by all or most early schools, we’d need something from the Mahasamghika to compare it with, since they were the other main school after the first schism.
Because of this, we need a lot of comparative studies on the Mahasamghika texts that do survive (and how they compare to the other EBTs), but there’s not that much work being done on these (or zero…?), like the Mahavastu, Salistamba sutra, Mahasamghika Vinaya, Śariputraparipṛcchā and so on. I don’t even know of any comprehensive survey of all the surviving Mahasamghika material (does anyone else know of any recent scholarship which looks into their surviving texts?). That’s sad because they are a very important missing link in comparative studies, since they are the other big branch of early Buddhist schools.