Over the years I have noticed within different lay Buddhist circles the occurrence of different shades of skepticism and contempt with regards to the institution of Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Sanghas which to me tend to tick all the boxes of proper conspiracy theories.
[details=About Conspiracy theories]
A conspiracy theory is an explanation of an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy without warrant, generally one involving an illegal or harmful act carried out by government or other powerful actors.
Conspiracy theories often produce hypotheses that contradict the prevailing understanding of history or simple facts.
According to the political scientist Michael Barkun, conspiracy theories rely on the view that the universe is governed by design, and embody three principles: nothing happens by accident, nothing is as it seems, and everything is connected.
Another common feature is that conspiracy theories evolve to incorporate whatever evidence exists against them, so that they become, as Barkun writes, a closed system that is unfalsifiable, and therefore “a matter of faith rather than proof”.
Usually, such theories suggest that the institution of Sangha we find alive nowadays is nothing but a way, almost a scam, some smart and lazy people found out to wear different robes, not work nor pay taxes, and get four basic requisites for free.
And things like the parajika rule/offense #4 - which forbids bhikkhus or bhikkhunis of claiming any sort of any super-human quality, knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones - are pointed as evidence of the setup of a system in which the “good apples” are never to be identified and therefore the community of scammers not put at risk.
Sadly, such theories require one to deny totally the possibility that the Buddha established through the Vinaya and Patimokkha the foundations and boundaries of a model of right livelihood he Himself identified as the most likely to allow for awakening. Hence adherents of such views usually consider suttas like DN2, AN6.45 and MN 107 just not authentic.
Proponents of such views seem to rely on the peculiar hypothesis that just before his passing away the Buddha would have ordered the dissolution of the Sanghas. And hence the reference to the exhortation for us to be islands or refuges to ourselves.
If you look carefully you may find so-called EBT scholars who somehow adopt investigative stances aligned with such sort of conspiracy theories. And of course this shapes most of their so-called academic insights into a model of Early Buddhism void of Patimokkha or Vinaya.
It is as well a usual pet point of view of those who cannot find either ways to further profit from Dhamma (e.g. for-profit lay teachers, vipassana instructors, etc) or are unable to move themselves towards the level of renunciation required for the holy life to take place and its fruits be heaped. These peculiar individuals are usually looking for ways to identify in EBTs evidence of non-ordained arahants as well.
This topic is therefore created to discuss:
- to what extent EBTs suggest the Buddha or the early Sangha were met with similar skepticism and/or conspiracy theories, and how they addressed (or not) to it.
- gather references that tells us of the different ways these conspiracy theories take shape nowadays and how to address it.