Dear dhamma friends,
I hesitate sharing my thoughts here because I feel it might generate anger, but I am sharing this note in the hopes that skillful dialogue can be generated in what I am about to bring up.
I think a few of the comments in this thread, in my mind, are examples of why the term ‘EBT’ it self is problematic in the Buddhist practitioner community. Within Buddhism there are distinct textual collections that are synoptic with each other in terms of terminology, view, and practice. I think scholars would agree, and in fact any one can see, that there are similarities and differences between various textual collections in Buddhism. I think the problem with the term ‘Early Buddhist Texts’ is that it places a historical value judgment on the texts it is referring to based on academic specializations such as Archeology or History which use methodological scholastic tools that as social sciences necessarily generate speculative theories, meaning they may have real evidence and the theories themselves may work, but scientific theories in the sciences are understood as fallible and disposably replaced by the next best theory or new evidence. I think the Historical approach in classifying these texts is not only speculative and theoretical, even if it seems to work and is the best historical theory, but the use of the term by Buddhist practitioners is also divisive with the much larger Buddhist community who holds differing historical views from their various perspectives. Also I think taking a strong stance and clinging to a historical or anthropological theoretical method is not aligned with the practice of wholesome actions of body, speech, and mind as contained within this collection of text themselves.
I do agree and I think it is visible for all who look and compare that there are distinct textual differences between collections or even within collections, and that there are various Buddhist Teachers who teach from one or many of these various textual collections, but as dhamma practioners to label the textual collection that we are studying, practicing, and analyze as ‘EBT’ I think is not unifying nor does it bring concord to the larger community of practicers practicing the various practices contained within one or many of the various textual Buddhist collections. Yet we probably need to name the textual collection, we practice, as something for our own ability to distinctively communicate about it. I have played with terms like ‘Synoptic Buddhist Texts’ because the word ‘synoptic’ is the secular word the Christian community uses to refer to the three gospels that are textual similar in terms of content, language, and biography in comparison to the Gospel of John which has a different continuity and alternative set of teachings and sayings. It is important to note that the textual differences within these synoptic and non-synoptic gospels can not be disputed because they are directly visible, and Christian fundamentalists and more secular Christian scholars must articulate and theorize why there is this difference; which is aptly called the ‘Synoptic Problem.’ How various Christians or scholars go about understanding this Synoptic Problem is based in their own perceptions and views.
We could also call this collection of texts the ‘Common Buddhist Texts’ because the northern and southern Asian traditions share many discourses in common within the Nikayas and the Agamas. I am not trying to argue what the textual title should be, but with the example of the Christian community with its scholars and practitioners, they are able to use the term ‘synoptic gospels’ to refer to textual differences and similarities without mandatorally having to refer to a historical method that requires specialized academic training to be able to employ. Of course, most Christian Academics use the term ‘synoptic gospels’ to refer to the historical method and most Christian believers either don’t know about this term or explain the differences that the term is referring to in a way that does not contradict there faith, and of course there may always be a tension between the two, but the term itself is textually descriptive and not based in ‘view’ and also does not necessarily contradict one or the other position being more or less true. Naming and noticing a directly visible difference in texts does not mean that a fundamentalist Christians belief is wrong. Fundamental Christians will have their own theological reasons to describe their views of the textual differences. I worry that the term EBT itself creates a sort of new ‘Hinayana’ schism within the larger Buddhist community. I feel that words such as ‘Authentic’ and ‘Inauthentic,’ are speculative and based upon disposable theories, as long as they are based in the sciences, whereas direct practice and also the direct ability to compare texts side by side is not.
Of course all of you know that we live in the digital and internet age where many or most of the various Buddhist texts from all textual traditions are available in their native script or in translated English for any internet savvy person to be able to study and compare them side by side. Of course, there are still some texts which are still not translated and others which we can only buy in book form. However, any person can do this side by side comparison if they are inclined, whereas not every person has the vigorous academic training to be able to employ methodologies based on peer scrutiny to try and understand how the direct evidence fits into some sort of logical historical theory that any good scientist may champion but, as based in their training, any good scientist knows should not be clung to and probably will be proved inadequate or dated in the near future. In my understanding the practice of dhamma is ever applicable, direct, and the same in the past, the present, or the future. As a practitioner of these texts, I do not feel that the term ‘EBTs,’ as a predominate term used to refer to these texts, aligns with the ethics, principles, and practices found within whatever name we give this body of texts we are calling EBTs. And who knows, maybe we do need several different terms to describe this specific collection of texts. What are your thoughts?
Peace and metta,