Reading “A Concise History of Buddhism”

Reading A Concise History of Buddhism by Andrew Skilton and wanted to run one thing by you guys and also ask for any recommendations

  1. If I’m understanding him right I believe he wrote that Theravada teaches Arahantship is impossible in this current degenerative age? Does that sound right?
  2. And also since I’m so thoroughly enjoying this read can y’all recommend any other unbiased authors that have a more scholarly approach to Buddhism as a religion or its history? I’m planning on tackling Indian Buddhism A.K. Warder THANKS FRIENDS and VENERABLES!!!
2 Likes

Some Theravadans have thought that since the middle ages. It’s not the “official” (i.e. commentarial) view of Theravada however.

My recommendations can be found here, especially the first book. :blush:

7 Likes

Thank you, Bhante, for your excellent work on Open Buddhist University project. I’m surprised to find the story of Mara’s temptation is actually part of EBT. Thank you for the recommendation. The book is easier to digest compared to A.K. Warder’s “Indian Buddhism”.

1 Like

First post long-time reader. I’ve followed Ajahn Geoff for some time; his daily app and many recorded talks are one of my mainstays. However, I’ve always wondered why he has retained his given name ‘Geoff’ unlike other monastics. Do you know why?

1 Like

Most other Western, Theravada monastics you’ve heard of are either from the Ajahn Chah lineage (e.g. Ajahn Brahm) or were ordained in Sri Lanka or Burma. But here in the (forest branch of the?) Thai Dhammayut Order, we tend to keep our lay names, just with an honorific in front*. I’m not exactly sure why, but it does feel a bit less formal.

* - Online I use my Pāli name, but at the temple people will call me “Than [Lay Name]”

3 Likes

Thanks for your swift answer. I adore Ajahn Geoff and, as a Westerner, feel closer to him quite possibly because his name is not exotic. (Mind you, I also adore Ajahn Brahm, but that’s because he’s funny.)

2 Likes

No problem. Welcome to the forum :grin:

2 Likes

Well that will keep me busy enuff for a long time to come. Awesome thanks

2 Likes

I’m sorry for highjacking your thread.

As you asked for scholarly books on Buddhism, one that I’m currently reading is " The Religious Traditions of Japan 500-1600" by Richard Bowring. It’s not exclusively about Buddhism, but Bowring does explain the various Buddhist sects’ principles in some detail while charting the movements of thought over the millennium covered in the book.

The Buddhist focus is almost entirely on the Mayaha and Vajrayana traditions, and there is the usual marginalising of the ‘Hinayana’. However, the detail Bowring gives to the various beliefs is impressive. I’ve gained so much knowledge about the types of debate possible, and the areas where the various monastics have focused their attention in regard to doctrine and interpretation. It’s a fascinating, scholarly read. But do be prepared to laugh off his treatment of the ‘Hinayana’ schools.

2 Likes

That pretty much sums up exactly what I’m into. Thanx dear friend

As I understand it, this is a widely held view amongst lay people in many Buddhist countries, but not having personally interviewed all Buddhists in those countries I can’t confirm.

I asked the question in the forum a few months ago whether anyone personally knew or have heard of any arahants, but did not receive a positive answer.

Some believe that there are arahants amongst us, but they have chosen not to reveal themselves or they are too obscure and we have not heard of them.

I like to think that is true, because the alternative (that there hasn’t been a confirmed arahant since 1 BCE) is kind of depressing

You may find the following passage from “The Broken Buddha” interesting reading. I can’t confirm the accuracy, and the author is definitely not “neutral” so I’ll leave it to you to form your own judgement:

The original purpose of the Sangha was to provide the optimal environment for attaining Nirvana and to have a body of people capable of disseminating the Dhamma. In Theravada at least, it has long ceased to be of much value for these noble ends. In Sri Lanka it is widely believed that it is not possible to become enlightened anymore and it’s not just simple folk who believe this either. I once attended a talk by the famous Narada Thera of Vajirarama in Colombo during which he said that it is even impossible to become a sotapanna today. Richard Gombrich found this same idea to be widely held in Sri Lanka. ‘The comparative rarity of meditation is closely connected with the widespread belief in the decline of Buddhism. A village girl said that in a Buddha-less period one must keep trying, but only limited progress is possible. It is further believed by the majority of monks, at least those whose general attitudes can be described as traditional, that the sasana has already declined so far that it is no longer possible for men to attain nirvana. This opinion is very prevalent among the laity…One monk even specified that till (Metteyya) comes it is not even possible to become a sotapanna. The last arahat is commonly said to have been Maliyadeva (1 B.C.E). Others say that there may still be human arahats, but it is unlikely and/or undiscoverable. One monk compared the sasana to a worn-out organism; very few can attain nirvana now just as a tree grows barren when its fruit is picked too often, and the seventh child is weaker than the first. The average view, perhaps, was that of the monk who said that it was not impossible to attain nirvana now, but as ‘religious practice’ is weak, it is hard to believe that there is anyone alive who has become an arahat’(italics in original).

3 Likes

I don’t know if the @moderators can delete threads. You could try reporting the off topic post and see if the person who posted it would consider removing it.

1 Like

You know what scratch that request. I’ve been giving it some thought. Anyone that thinks there is no liberation or even stream entry today obviously doesn’t study the suttas correctly. They specifically say the Dhamma is true even if a Buddha arises or not. We have the 4 noble truths, the 8 fold path and the teaching of dependent origination. Nothing about that has changed so no need to wait on or be reborn when the future Buddha M appears because he will be teaching that very thing. I’m over it. That entire idea is ridiculous

12 Likes

Well said, Sadhu X 3 :anjal:

I would think that many ‘well-learned’ experts on this site should take heed from your statement.

Nice to see your faith and wisdom is growing in equal increments it seems.

5 Likes

Wow thank u dear friend it means a lot. Much much merit to you. I have learned quit a lot from this board. I don’t know any practioners except online. This will sound WAY OUT THERE but on the topic of Metteyya mentioned earlier I’m starting to think he has already arrived in the form of the internet itself. There is probably countless humans that would have never heard true Dhamma with out the Net. If you’re as old as me then you can remember life without it. In my case I’ve always lived in the southern Bible Belt of the states and when I was young hearing about let alone studying Buddhism just didn’t exist here. Now it’s in my pocket. I know it’s a crazy idea and I don’t mean it dogmaticly but it’s just a cool idea.
I like to think of my parents for instance. They are in there 70’s/80’s and are true spiritual seekers. BUT they were only exposed to Christianity and the closest they had to Buddhism were statues at the local Chinese restaurant. But I know they are hard core serious Christian’s that have renounced the world as much as possible with in that faith. In turn I hope they are reborn as humans in the future and in turn again be seekers and find the Dhamma through modern technology that time around. Again way out there ideas but who knows perhaps

3 Likes

Should you ever have a concern about a post, the thing to do is to click on the three dots beside the reply button and then click on the flag. This will give you a number of options to explain any concerns you have about a post to the Moderators, who can both offer you advice if needed, and can even press one of their magic buttons to disappear material.

Of course what was quoted from The Broken Buddha, is only the opinion held by the author at the time that they wrote it, and is perhaps only as good or bad as the myriad of opinions we hear uttered from day to day on matters where it isn’t possible to provide explicit proof.

We are warned to discount any personal claims to enlightenment (especially if made on the internet!), but it does seem in certain cultures or specific settings that some people have the faith that certain other people, are enlightened, close to it, or in some way “special.” This I can easily believe, because I have, on rare occasions, met people who just radiate a felt presence of being special. Such people are inevitably the most modest, and were they on the internet would probably come across as almost cardboard.

6 Likes

I’m starting to feel most of the things discussed in Buddhist message boards is about Buddhism itself, translation debates, history, what other people are doing and saying and not about the Dhamma. But of course I decided to get on said message boards. So any misinformation or things that may weaken insight or practice is my personal karmic predicoment so I shouldn’t be complaining

1 Like

Well, they are BUDDHIST message boards, not Dhamma message boards. :slight_smile:
And Dhamma practice exists in the context of history and contemporary life, so it’s virtually impossible to discuss it without discussing all these topics.

1 Like

You are absolutely correct and thank you but I RARELY see anything else being discussed other than the above mentioned. It’s all good just not for me. Even though I’m doing that very thing right now lol in fact I’m being a total hypocrite because I’m the one who started this thread about a Buddhist history book…and let me plz say boards such as this one have been invaluable to me when I’m stuck on a translation for example. I hate to be critical and I just need to shut up

2 Likes

Embedded within the quotation is a quotation ascribed to Professor Richard Gombrich.

As we all should know, Prof Gombrich is one of the leading translator and interpreter of Buddhist Pali and Sanskrit texts. He was the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford, former president of the Pali Text Society and founder of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies.

I believe the quotation was taken from Prof. Gombrich’s book “Precepts and Practices” in the chapter entitled “Monastic Practices and the Decline of Buddhism”

For those who are interested in Prof Gombrich discussing the Dhamma, he gave a really interesting talk about how can we know what the Buddha taught with specific examples from the suttas:

The following is an introductory lecture by Prof Gombrich on “What the Buddha Taught” - I strongly recommend after listening to this lecture is to go out and buy his book. I learnt more from the Introduction chapter than the previous 50 years of reading Buddhism books. He is clearly a man aligned to my heart, for he takes a critical thinking approach to understanding the suttas and his insights are literally mind blowing.

1 Like