I think we have to use everything we know about human beings, human nature and human history to arrive at the most plausible hypotheses about the formation of the vast Buddhist textual corpus, and the development of the earliest phases of the Buddhist religious movements. I don’t think we have any other examples in the history of religion in which a large variety of separate religious teachings converged, crystallized around the name of a single mythological figure who actually contributed nothing substantial himself, and then were disseminated with great energy and devotion under that name into a religion of vast geographical reach. It’s always possible, but that just doesn’t seem to be the way powerful religions form. It’s simpler to assume that there was an intellectually, spiritually or morally charismatic synthesizing individual who is responsible for that explosion of religious energy.
Also, the early texts are not just filled with edifying spiritual discourses, aphorisms and morality tales such a might be compiled as “The Sayings of Master X”. They contain significant collections of tediously repetitive statements of the same material, expressed in only slightly different ways: for example, the Niddanasamyuta, in which various different, but often excruciatingly similar, lists of nidanas and their connections are presented without any edifying explanations or lessons drawn. To me, the dry and repetitive style of these texts is evidence of a nearly obsessive urge to remember, formulate and pass down the words of a teacher, words that different people heard and remembered slightly differently, and that many of the students don’t even seem to have understood very well, but nevertheless thought it was important to commit to memory. That’s not the only possible explanation, but we have to choose the one’s that seem most plausible.
Well, there are also those who believe that Jesus did exist. But either way, the case is far far stronger for Jesus since we know there are no eye witness accounts. We cannot however say that we know the suttas and vinaya to not include many many eye witness accounts. And then there is the greater level of inconsistency in Christianity’s early texts.
Also, Christianity became big after Jesus died, made into a religion for all by Paul, right? He seems to be the main architect of the religion. Again, this is apparently and plausibly not the case for Buddhism, the Buddha having (we assume from the textual evidence) taught for 45 years and in the process made a well functioning organisation built to last.
But yes of course in general I am agreeing with you, it seems so very unlikely in the case of Buddhism.
Yes, exactly. Thanks for a good example of the consistency I was referring to in the EBTs!
A simple metric for those who want to find literature that is “older”, with that being the main qualification being looked for, is to look through the material for material which literally cites older material. Mahāyānasūtrāṇi cite śrāvaka buddhavacana. Śrāvaka buddhavacana does not cite bodhisattvayāna in parallel reference.
That actually leaves a lot of ambiguous text in the middle. But it’s one metric I can imagine people using.
Don’t be so hard on yourself and others .
It is good to see buddhist care about Buddhism . However , if we were to take into many considerations perhaps then we could see what we regarded as true and what we believes is wrong , irrational , nonsensical and superstitious beliefs and many more things (in Mahayana/ Vajrayana) , others also could find what you assumed is sensible , true and sane but actually were not acceptable and regarded it as superstitious by others .
You mentioned those intelligent and rational and knowledgeable westerners were misguided by Mahayana and Vajrayana teachers . Is not that contradict your statement , if they are intelligent and knowledgeable and being rational , they won’t be misled by them .
Say for example , the kind of Truth that most westerners wants , is many of them demand equality , which Buddhism don’t have . According to one thread I read , they were saying women’s subjugation in Buddhism is unacceptable .
Take for example what you believe is truth ( eg 4NT 8RP DO Kamma Rebirth ) , and you may think that most westerners whom are intelligent , knowledgeable and rational would think like you ! But , you will see actually the case is not !
They accepted 4NT 8RP and their version of DO , and they discarded the Kamma and Rebirth part . For them , kamma and rebirth is something irrational and superstitious .
Do you not see that those in favour of Abhidhamma teachings , their teachers and followers were advocating Their version of " Truth " ?!
In Theravada Buddhism itself there were already many version of Truth .
And then there are Christian , Islam ( to many Muslim we are evil ) , Tao , Hinduism , Materialist , etc etc .
Mind is a Myth , the whole of existences is a Myth , all the universes / multiverses is something which humans are still exploring and from time to time , “Truth” according to different people , actually may Alter . On this account , you or anyone may choose which one is , in their opinion , according to their ability and degree of Understanding , the best , which you think is wise choice , rational and sane and acceptable to our self .
Ps . I supposed you probably already aware that all along there were many bodhisattva aspirants in Theravada traditions . Many Theravadins were actually Mahayana practitioner .
None within any secular scholarship, nor within the serious academic scholarship in the Mahayana traditions of East Asia, so far as I know. Tibetan Buddhist practitioners still usually believe their texts are the literal word of the Buddha.
It depends on what one is willing to accept as evidence. Paccekabuddhas are lauded in the Apadāna and the commentaries, so presumably the authors of these texts thought that aspiring to paccekabodhi was an admirable thing to do — and something that some people had in fact done.
Also in Thai forest tradition hagiographies a very common apadānic component is the would-be arahant bhikkhu’s encounter with some seemingly insurmountable impediment to his progress, followed by the discovery that what’s impeding him is a past-life vow he had made to attain either paccekabodhi or anuttara sammāsambodhi. The bhikkhu then has to decide whether to stick to that vow and continue developing the ten perfections or to abandon it and strive for arahatta in the present life. In every case that I know of it’s reported that the bhikkhu opted for the latter. Sometimes this is easy: the bhikkhu simply makes a resolve to relinquish his former vow. But in some of the more colourful stories this relinquishing is beset with problems, most often because the vow had been made in conjunction with other persons.
For example, it is reported of Ajahn Weun that he and his past-life wife made a somewhat oxymoronic vow that they would attain paccekabodhi together . They then spent many aeons cultivating the perfections as husband and wife until the present age, when Weun was born as a human and his former wife as a female nāga. When Weun ordained and began doing things conducive to arahantship the nāgī wasn’t very happy about it and paid him a visit to remind him of their joint vow. Weun told her that he wanted out of saṃsāra and had decided to strive for arahatta in the present life.
“Oh no, you’re not!” exclaimed the outraged nāgī and then threatened that she’d make his life hell if he didn’t quit striving for arahatta.
There then follows a long narrative of all the mischief the nāgī got up to to wreck Ajahn Weun’s meditation. The story ends with Weun paying a visit to Sakka in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, who teaches him a garuḍa-attracting mantra. From then on, whenever the snaky ex-wife comes to bother him, Weun just recites the mantra and a flock of garuḍa birds (the mythical enemies of nāgas) appear and chase her away.
Yes of course many people who believe in factually incorrect superstitions, believe that their beliefs are true and sane (think of flat earthers; creationist; climate change deniers…). Just as so many Brahmins did, whom the Buddha refuted. As a Buddhist, I find it significant that the Buddha refuted and taught against many of these things which the Mahāyāna teaches. So it does make me somewhat uncomfortable that people are being taught to have blind faith in things which both the Buddha, and scholarship and science with an evidence-based approach, refute.
When all the evidence shows a view to be false, and when teachers teach their followers to have blind faith in it anyway, this seems to go against the whole Buddhist aim of ‘seeing things as they are’. Do you see what I mean? It seems quite against the principles of the Buddha’s teachings to teach things as fact, when they have been clearly disproven. I say this just as I would were schools teaching disproven ideas, such as creationism, fake nationalistic history, denial of the holocaust and so on; or the media giving fake news, such as Corbyn being a Russian agent, or Trump being honest!
Do you think having some degree of knowledge and rationalness makes one immune to being misled? I don’t think so at all! Yes they may be harder to mislead, but friendly old men from mysterious Tibet, wearing exotic red robes, and having hundreds of people bow at their feet, can, with their charisma, be a powerful influence.
And I am saying this as someone who has very deep respect for many such men! And have received many teachings from many of them, with deep gratitude. But still, this is important to consider. Similarly very intelligent men and women can be convinced that Muhammad, who killed so very many people and taught his follwers to kill, is the most perfect example of a human being. You see, blind faith can powerfully overide our rational mind. And that gives teachers a huge responsibility. And, I believe that many are abusing that responsibility, by teaching things which are known, through a mass of evidence, to be false. And even from a Mahāyāna perspective, this should be addressed.
Actually it seems to me that the Buddha expected a kind of blind faith in those doctrines. I would not expect people to simply accept those teachings necessarily. However, I would expect most intelligent people to consider the evidence, and conclude that it seems likely that the Buddha did teach those doctrines. Whether you believe them or not is another matter. But with an evidence-based approach, we can at least enquite into their historical authenticity.
Yes, of course! I do admire the Sautrantikas! And I do not think that any responsible and educated Buddhist should teach that the Buddha taught abhidhamma, because the evidence is against that proposition. Fine to teach abhidhamma, but, I think it is Wrong Speech to teach that it is the word of the Buddha.
Sorry, Islam… ‘they’? The people are Muslims, the religion is Islam. I never said ‘they’ are evil. It is perfectly possible for peaceful people to have faith in a violent religion. And I have many Muslim friends. And to be precise, I never even said Islam is evil.
I do not hold the view that everything is as true as everything else. ‘I am a dog’, and ‘I have been living in England for 397 years now’, are in my opinion not in any way as true as ‘I am a member of this forum’, and ‘I currently live in England’. If someone disagrees with me on that, then fine, but I am talking from that perspective.
Yes I am quite aware of that. I am not sure what that has to do with this conversatin though.
Great, thanks! That’s good news. I did regard it as a well established fact, I was just not sure if all early Buddhist scholars agreed with it. So I am glad to hear that they all do. Makes sense!
Yes, I have noticed As a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, I find this very sad.
I would not accept that as evidence, just as I would not accept Mahāyāna’s occasional respect of arahants to be an indication that any of them aspired to become arahants.
If there is evidence of that, I would be interested to know about it.
I find it significant that this puts the aspiration in a past life. Firstly I question whether the story is true or made up, and conveniently it is not possible to go to ask the person since they are already dead by several lifetimes. Secondly, don’t you find it suspicious that none of these guys made the vow in the life in which the claim he made the vow is being made? If this means we have no reports of anyone making this vow, except in supposed memories of past lives, this does not look like strong evidence to me at all.
If we believe this, then we have no examples of anyone deciding to take the paccekabuddha path. But examples of people who believed they had already made that decision in a past life, and are now renouncing that in this life.
I would like to ask, do we have any of those monks’ direct claims about that? Or merely second hand report of it? For example, have any of those people written themselves that they are following that path, or given well documented interviews where they have said that? The only one I have read is in the biography of Ajahn Mun, where they talked about a monk who had apparently taken that past life vow. I.e. an indirect source.
If the only stories we have are ‘I used to follow that path because of a bas decision in my past life but I renounced it now already’, that does not look like evidence of anyone committed to that path, or even any report of someone actually following (rahter than supposedly having followed) that path.
Firstly I doubt the truth of the story. But secondly, this is again an example of someone not following that path, and instead explaining obstacles to his path as being because of this vow. So again it is not an example of someone actually following that path (except in a claimed past life).
The allusions to paccekabuddhas in two suttas in the MN and half a dozen in the AN indicate that Buddhists from quite an early time believed paccekabodhi to be something that certain persons had in fact attained. Obviously there’s no way of showing that they were right to believe this. It does however count strongly against the notion that paccekabuddhas were a merely hypothetical category and still more strongly against the suggestion that the [late Mahayana] use of the term as a slur was in any way normative.
Yes, it is sad. Of course it’s understandable to be concerned when your sacred scriptures are being scrutinized. There’s a feeling of nervousness you get, “Oh-oh, what’s going to happen!”
But then it turns out, hey, it’s okay. At the end of the day, they’re only texts. Not all Pali texts are early; and not all Chinese or Tibetan texts are early. If we really believe that the Buddha taught, and that those teachings are represented in the various different texts, what’s the problem?
In Taiwanese Buddhism, Master Yin Shun accepted the reality that the nikayas/agamas were the earlier teachings, and showed the lines of continuity between them and the Mahayana sutras, especially the early ones. This doesn’t seem to have threatened or destabilized Taiwanese Buddhists. On the contrary, it invited them to revitalize and reform, establishing a whole range of new approaches that enrich Buddhist culture and practice. Reality is never the enemy of the Dhamma.
We all operate in some specific domain. We evaluate and justify our experiences/knowledge based on our own set of assumptions (or premises/axioms).
When we say that this is wrong or right, exist or not exist, we based on the accepted definitions/premises within our domain.
When we say there is no evidence that the previous Buddhas ever existed, we based on our assumption that all of those Buddhas were in the same earth/world with us, and if we cannot locate anything from them here then they do not exist. This may be true in our domain, but it may not be the truth.
However, if we move to other domain, we may think differently.
Right. I picked up the ‘hypothetical’ thing from some scholar’s work. Perhaps we can ammend that by saying that maybe it started as a real thing - perhaps a term to refer to other meditator hermits that were doing it by themselves, perhaps following the sramana ideal but not really connected to any group, and attaining realisation - and then once Buddhism got going, remained as a hypothetical, i.e. no actual Buddhists following that path. And so far as I understand, you cannot really be a paccekabuddha if you are Buddhist anyway, since, being a Buddhist, enlightement would make you an arahant, not a buddha, right?
So even if an arahant doesn’t teach, he’s still an arahant if he got there from Buddhist practice. And so vowing to become a paccekabuddha is actually vowing to be reborn in a place/time where there is no Buddhism, and then attain enlightenment, and not teach! So that, is why I believe it is totally absurd for any Buddhist to want to become a paccekabuddha. Why not wish instead to be reborn where there’s Buddhism, and become an arahant?! The fruit is the same (arahantship, since they are just all variations of arahants after all), and either way you can decide not to teach anyone, so all that is identical - but the path is a lot easier if you have teachings to follow! So why would anyone choose to be born in a place that doesn’t even have teachings to guide you to the fruit you want to acquire?!
And that is why I feel it is so important as Buddhists! Because if we live in fear and inaction in the face of the feeling “Oh-oh, what’s going to happen!”, how can we ever hope to attain enlightenment? Awakening requires opening up to that feeling “Oh-oh, what’s going to happen!”, and to let go!
And I have personally always tended to be more drawn to the “oh-oh” rather than ignorance, even if knowledge/wisdom would entail difficulty as a result. I have always tended to prefer truth.
Well, the problem is this. If we find that our texts are not as old as we thought, and were not taught by the Buddha, then that brings into question whether or not our text do in fact represent the Buddha’s teachings. And, the goal of the arahant is one example of this. If we find the Buddha didn’t teach the Mahāyāna sūtras, then we may also question the position of arahants. And we may find that that was actually the highest goal. And so we can change our views on that. And also reconsider whether the path that the arahants had followed - the path of jhāna - might be worth trying! Since we can now realise that that was the main path the Buddha taught, even though it has been abandoned by the Mahāyāna.
It also brings into question the use of Sanskrit, which some Mahāyānists make a big deal of. The Buddha seems to have specifically taught to not using it for the teachings. And the use of chants in order to be reborn in a buddha realm or pure realm - this would be brought into question as the ideal path, and might mean reconsidering that the Buddha taught a different path as the ideal one, based around meditation.
And so on. So, it does bring some potential problems. But in my opinion, it should be a very healthy process. And open the practitioner to see the more clear picture of the origins of their practices and doctrines, but then still choose to keep the practices and doctrines which genuinely help the Buddhist path (of which there are many), but to reject the ones which contradict the Buddha’s teachings as we can know them from the EBTs. Either that, or to admit that they disagree with the Buddha on some points. And hopefully find a way to be okay with that. But not to deny that. Honesty is the best policy here, I feel.
That sounds really awesome - thanks for sharing about this! Inspiring
I am not sure why someone’s status as a monastic somehow lessens their credibility on the issue of the historicity of the Buddha, unless you’re suggesting that a monastic has a confirmation bias that influences the quality of the scholarship. Some clarification of this unusual claim might be helpful.
I work in a field where quality evidence and credibility is critical. I have read many articles, including many written by our friend Jayarava, and have yet to study a body of work as authoritative as Ven. Sujato and Brahmali’s Authenticity project. I do believe that both of these scholars were careful to establish their credentials as serious scholars, and I have yet to read any scholar review this study with a suggestion that the findings were influenced by the fact that the researchers and writers are Bhikkhus.
Sometimes, being in the minority ( I am not sure that this is true, but in any case…) does not disqualify an expert from being correct. Even Einstein had numerous critics, who were quite sure of themsleves that his primary relativity theories were incorrect. Time, scholarship and evidence proved his theories correct and his critics deeply incorrect.
I have found that in academia or scholarship that some create controversy or develop approaches that are contrarian in order to create names for themselves, or to create space for their own agendas or peculiar views. I am OK with that; that is the nature of scholarship within academia or the blogosphere.
Well, perhaps, though in the earliest texts texts referring to paccekabuddhas we’re left so much in the dark that it’s hard to draw any strong conclusions about this. Basically all we’re told is:
The names of certain paccekabuddhas of yore.
That they possess the special qualities of ariyans: āhuneyyo, pāhuneyyo, etc.
That a gift of food to a paccekabuddha is a hundred times more meritorious than such a gift to an arahant, but only a hundredth as meritorious as one to a Tathāgata.
That like Buddhas, arahants and cakkavattī rājās they deserve a stūpa after death.
That it’s not a good idea to insult one:
When that was said, a certain monk said this to the Gracious One: “What was the reason, reverend Sir, what was the cause, through which the leper Suppabuddha became a poor man, a wretched man, a miserable man?”
“Formerly, monks, the leper Suppabuddha was a son of a wealthy merchant in this very Rājagaha. While going to his pleasure park he saw the Pacceka Buddha Tagarasikkhī entering the city for alms, and having seen him, this occurred to him: “Who is this leper roaming around with his leper’s robe?” And having spat, and circumambulated him disrespectfully on the left side, he went away.
As a result of that deed of his for many years, for many hundreds of years, for many thousands of years, for many hundreds of thousands of years, he boiled in the nether regions. And as a result of the remaining part of that deed of his he became a leper in this very Rājagaha, a poor man, a wretched man, a miserable man. Ud.5.3
In the fully-developed conception of paccekabodhi, arrival at this kind of awakening is said to always occur either in an “empty aeon” (suññakappa, i.e., one in which no sammāsambuddhas appear) or in a non-empty aeon (asuññākappa) during the dark period in between the dispensations of two sammāsambuddhas. Within this scheme I think that a paccekabuddha would count as a “Buddhist” in the sense that to awaken is by definition to have gone to the Dhamma for refuge. Also by virtue of the fact that the preparatory work for paccekabuddhahood is done during non-empty aeons through exposure to the Dhamma by repeated encounters with sammāsambuddhas, their disciples and their dispensations. It’s only in his final life that the Private Buddha is truly private.
The all-too-common statement that “paccekabuddha don’t teach” is not quite accurate. In fact they do (or at least may) teach. What they don’t do is establish a dispensation with a fourfold assembly, etc. But if one didn’t teach, just by virtue of his existence he would be serving as an “incomparable field of merit to the world” in a dark age when few such are to be found.
Who knows? Perhaps a person may have such a strong preference for his own company that he just doesn’t fancy being part of any club.
I mean “private” in the sense that they arrive at awakening in their last birth without being under anyone’s tutelage. In other respects they’re not necessarily very private at all. For example the Pali commentaries and certain Tibetan texts like to depict them as dwelling or roaming about in gangs of five hundred.
Does this come from an EBT? I honestly cannot imagine the Buddha teaching such a thing. Has this been studied to see if it goes back tot he oldest layer or not?
Don’t you need two more refuges to be classed as a Buddhist? Otherwise people like Ramana Maharishi may well have fallen into that category, right? If we are to assume he realised the dhamma.
I expect the idea that they learned from buddhas in their past lives came from the prideful assumption that they coulldn’t possibly have worked it out for themselves, so they must have learned the path from a buddha. However, if the community around the Buddha was genuinely aware of these folk, then I would assume that they were separate from the Buddhist community, and simply found the way by themselves. No need for far-fatched stories about having learned from a buddha in the distant past!
It seems totally irrational from a Buddhist perspective, don’t you think?
Ah yes, I remember reading Ray’s work a long time ago, and being excited, especially for Devadatta. And then years later I read refutations, and have never recommended that book of Ray’s (Buddhist Saints in India?) to anyone since!
There is a Wiki article which scholar(s) believe Mahayana indeed is taught by the Buddha as “precanonical Buddhism” which is later being discarded (but not all) by canonisation process in Asoka’s time:
But I think this hypothesis is just a “wild assumption” of the scholar(s)…