Anyone familiar with candana bhikkhu. Just found his channel, enjoying his through the suttas series
I like to point out that the Platform Sutra doesn’t claim to be the words of the Buddha, and likely does record the teachings of the Chan Patriarchs as it claims. You know: credit where credit is due
Hi Bhikkhu Sujato,
Thank you so much. My work would not be possible without you and your work. I am indebted to the great work the team has done on SuttaCentral. I have an article on textual criticism coming out soon.
About dates, let me explain. My argument is like this. If a document claimed to be by George Washington but was composed last year, it clearly isn’t a document by George Washington. In the same way, the Mahayana documents were composed 500 years after the Buddha passed. There is much more to the argument though. They teach different teachings. They were written compositions not oral, which again it means they were composed hundreds of years after the Buddha passed. This rest on the assumption that the person no longer has access to the Buddha after the Buddha passed.
I agree that “Authenticity is about whether it is what it says it is…” But how do you prove that? By showing that they were later inventions. Date matters because if they were composed during the Buddha’s lifetime, then how do you really know if text A or text B actually represents the authentic teachings of the Buddha. So date of composition matters because it tells us whether you had access to the author. If you didn’t have access to the author then your claims don’t hold water.
My fuller argument is: The Mahayana Sutras are Forgeries - Studies in Early Buddhism
Here is my article on textual criticism:
As Andy Ferguson in Tracking Bodhidharma states, “the Platform Sutra was composed as a forgery many decades after Huineng died.” Which makes it inauthentic.
I agree that “if it is later and it claims to be earlier, then it is inauthentic”. I just don’t think that’s what the word “inauthentic” means. Anyway, it’s just a minor point of semantics.
Thanks, I’ll read it!
Update, I read it!
Sometimes I wish that the academic terminology were different. I think the word “criticism” conveys to people the idea that we’re trying to criticize. Perhaps “historically aware reading” would be better.
You mention the idea of a critical edition, which has been somewhat of a unicorn for modern Pali studies. Basically, the problem is that all our modern manuscript witnesses are recent, so making a “critical edition” takes us no further than the 18th century. I don’t think we’re going to learn anything interesting from this.
Rather, we should focus on creating “diplomatic editions”, i.e. exact digital replicas of specific manuscripts, without editorial intervention. Focus on the earliest extant manuscripts. Then we can start to analyze stylistic variations between the 18th and around the 14th centuries. At least that’s a start.
Hi Bhikkhu Sujato,
As I said,
I agree that “Authenticity is about whether it is what it says it is…”
So we agree on what inauthentic means. I was not defining inauthentic, I was offering an argument or reason why they are inauthentic.
Sometimes I wish that the academic terminology were different.
It does give the wrong impression. I kind of like “textual discernment.”
You mention the idea of a critical edition, which has been somewhat of a unicorn for modern Pali studies.
My thought is to take the Chinese, Gandhara, Sanskrit, and Tibetan manuscripts and translate them all into Pali so that we can work in one language rather than five. It would make comparing variants much easier. This would include readings from commentaries, sub-commentaries, and other sources. If you look at the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece you will see that this is how advanced they are. There have been minor changes between the 3rd and 4th editions. That means that the text has been determined with a fair degree of probability.
Buddhist textual work is in its infancy comparatively. All variants everywhere need to be collected, compared, weighed, and a final critical edition produced. We are making headway through Sitta Central, but there is a long way to go. We really need more qualified and funded scholars to do this work.
I think your “diplomatic editions” is a good beginning. We have to have access to exact digital replicas in order to the work. And this needs to be accessible to scholars who want to do their own textual criticism, which is as much an art as a science.
Again, I want to thank you for empowering researchers like myself. Sutta Central is a wonderful source of texts, translations, and encouragement.
No doubt, in Dhammasukkha Meditation Center, in Missouri, USA, they study and practice only from the Suttas.
You can visit their website: https://www.dhammasukha.org/
While Dhammasukkha describes itself as “suttavadan” and certainly doesn’t teach from e.g. commentaries or Abhidhamma, I think its worth pointing out that they teach many positions that critical scholars of the EBTs would wholely reject, particularly their teaching of extremely light jhanas.
Hi @1hullofaguy! Would be nice if can explain with more details what do you mean about “extremely light jhanas”.
In fact, they provide a very clear and yet profound explanation of the Jhanas and how to access them in a calm, gentle and real way.
Hi @gustavo, see this post:
Thank you @mikenz66!
Well, that’s ambitious.
On a smaller scale, the reconstruction of some Sanskrit works have been done with a high degree of success by great scholars like Waldschmidt, relying on partial manuscripts, with Tibetan, Chinese, and sometimes Pali to aid.
One of the basic problems is the translation from Indic to Chinese is fairly lossy. This is by contrast with Tibetan, which preserves much more of the grammatical structure; hence Waldschmidt when making the above reconstructions would rely primarily on Tibetan to correct and complete the manuscript. Often we don’t even really know what language the Indic original was in.
Anyway, step by step. We have to determine what can actually be achieved.
I think it’s important to focus on getting all the EBTs translated into English (and other modern languages). Then we can get people reading them, and that will draw more people into the field. One of the big problems of academic studies is that students arrive saying, “sure, I’d like to learn about Buddhism”, and their basic knowledge of fundamental concepts like the existence of suttas is just not there. If we raise the overall level of education and understanding of the Buddhist community, there will be a bigger pool of interested students. I would love to be able to offer scholarships to students, get them trained up, and offer them full time work translating and working on suttas.
The other corollary of this is, as you say, money. In the Bible world, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year. In Buddhism, it’s not even a single percent of that. Honestly, the scope of the work that SuttaCentral does would, in the Christian world, be done by an institution with an annual budget in the tens of millions.
Put it in perspective: in the southern US, there is a firm that specializes in proofreading of Bibles in English. They employ a full time staff of 25 trained professionals.
Meanwhile, there’s not a single person anywhere in the world who is actually paid to proofread the Tipitaka. Thus, while the printed edition of the Buddha Jayanthi, officially sponsored by the Sri Lankan state, is one of the best available editions, the digitized version has languished for a quarter of a century in an essentially unusable condition, because it is just riddled with typos. The digitized PTS edition is not as bad, but still is uncorrected. The Mahasangiti edition, used by SC, is the only digital edition that has been carefully proofed. The VRI text, which is already fairly good, was used as a basis, and the whole text was then gone over three times visually and three times orally.
Traditionally, we rely on the Sangha to do this work. And while individual Sangha members have indeed contributed much, it would seem that the major institutions have become too sclerotic to achieve anything worthwhile. The only real exception to this is the CBETA project by Dharma Drum in Taiwan, which is excellent.
Anyway, getting off the point here!
One of the things is that if the digitization is handled correctly, a diplomatic edition obviates much of the need for a critical edition. Why? Because there is no need to manually note every difference when computers are really super-good at doing that. Like, amazingly good.
Without getting too much into the technicalities, the system Git, which underlies SC, was designed for resolving differences in programs. This is basically the same problem we face: massive corpora of complex, difficult material, with a need to specify with absolute precision the most minute of differences. If properly prepared, diplomatic editions can be compared, evaluated, and resolved digitally, while still preserving the manuscript integrity.
We’re currently developing a diplomatic edition of the oldest Pali manuscript, and hope to demonstrate this in practice. But see above re funding and resources!
We can talk all we like about creating critical editions, but I can tell you this: I don’t trust anyone to make those decisions. I want to see what the manuscript says, to read the discussions by scholars and editors, and then make up my own mind.
Very well said. All I can say is thank you for all you do
I wanted to touch on this a bit.
- I’ve brought it up before- but I think that a critical part of EBT that I haven’t noticed being used a whole lot yet is research into oral literature that has never been written down! Or has been written down only very recently. I think getting more studies into oral lit would be incredibly illuminating on mahayana sutras.
I think there is a strong possibility that some (not all) but some of the mahayana sutras may have a historical lineage through oral literature. Especially the older ones that are in essence, advocating a kind of forest tradition.
- I think it’s also important here to remember that in mahayana circles, especially tibetan, the argument is not always about the later texts coming from the historical buddha. But rather, they were things taught by the Dharmakaya Buddha (Meaning they were learned in deep samadhi).
I would say that point two here shows where historicity also would not fit in, if the claim is not about the historic Buddha, but the ‘spiritual’ one. I imagine this same thing would apply implicitly to abhidhamma, which itself is tied to the spiritual Buddha more than the historical one (IE; it being first taught to his mother during a journey into the heavenly realms).
I wanted to add I loved your work sects and sectarianism!! It’s nothing less than amazing to see my gut feeling that the separations people claimed in the sangha are not as apparent as the fundamentalists made them seem.
I bring this up because I feel we will see even more of this as we narrow down EBT studies.
Much metta Bhante :o)
Many of the Mahayana sutras talk about written texts, a lot, and the origins of the movement would seem to be associated with writing. But the dating of the texts is based on a very broad range of criteria, and there is no doubt that, even if some of them had an oral history before being written down, that oral history begins hundreds of years after the Buddha.
I mean, if you say so, but frankly, citation required. Yes, the (much later) tantric texts might be explained this way, but I’ve never heard of a Tibetan Buddhist, except modern reformists, who doesn’t think that the Mahayana sutras were spoken by the Buddha.
This just isn’t the case. It is absolutely believed by traditional Theravadins that the Buddha himself personally taught the Abhidhamma to his mother in heaven. He then conveyed this teaching to Sariputta, who created the texts as we know them.
I appreciate that you’re trying to bridge divides. But if we are to do so, it has to be on the basis of facts. We’re not tilting at windmills. We live in these communities, we know what people believe and say.
What we do not know is the motivation of those who created these texts, and how they came to be considered the words of the Buddha. Personally, I regard all of them as genuine and sincere spiritual literature with deep meaning for those with faith in them. I wouldn’t call them forgeries. Someone creating a forgery would make an attempt to make it like the original. But these texts are effusively creative and utterly unlike the original texts in every way. I find it difficult to believe that, at the time, this was not obvious to any learned person who read them.
That makes sense! You bring up a lot of good points, thank you Bhante. I’ll be chewing on this
Hello everyone! I’m new here and just finished reading the forum guidelines. I’ve highlighted one example of “extremist views” listed in these guidelines:
“Anyone advocating extremist or conspiracy theory views will be warned, and if they persist, banned. Examples of such views include ‘The Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’, ‘Anicca doesn’t mean impermanence’, ‘The original Pali manuscripts at Aluvihara exist’, ‘Chinese texts are all Mahayana’, ‘Mahayana texts are fake’ etc.”
This example surprised me, considering that it’s pretty common knowledge that Mahayana sutras don’t represent the teachings of the historical Buddha and in that respect can justifiably be considered “fake”.
Then I stumbled across this topic and noticed that bhante @sujato himself describe the Mahayana sutras as basically fake, although without using that exact word:
I completely agree with these statements, but as a new member here I’m a bit confused about why saying that Mahayana sutras are fake is considered an “extremist view” or a “conspiracy theory” on this forum, while saying that Mahayana sutras are inauthentic isn’t.
Grateful for clarification.
imo, “fake” can point to:
Plagiarism – but no one believes that the Mahayana texts attempt to do this. For example, they are not forgeries that claim to be newly discovered Pāli Canon texts, and they do not replicate/duplicate the Pāli texts and then profess to be the original texts.
Utterly devoid of Buddhist doctrine, but claiming to be so.
Not true. While there are significant differences in some doctrinal areas and interpretations that differ from many Theravadin practitioners, they are still imbued with Dhamma teachings. In other words, they are not texts of religion A that deceptively claim to be the texts of religion B, (though, admittedly, some practitioners of the EBTs claim this is so, given the significant doctrinal differences that are present).
Also, I know of no serious scholars who claim the Mahayana texts were written by people who did not consider themselves Buddhist. So not fake in this way, either.
Inauthentic, yes. As Ven. Sujato has explained.
The following previous postings may be relevant to your interests on Master YinShun (and his follower Ven. Choong Mun-keat’s works on Samyutta/Samyukta comparative studies):
EBTs (such as the principal source, the four Nikayas/Agamas) are just texts, some compiled/edited early, some later. EBTs were gradually developed and expanded. EBTs were not entirely established at once at the first council in complete form (structure) and content. The extant EBTs are sectarian texts. One can seek an understanding of early Buddhist teachings by studying them comparatively.
It’s a good point, but the guidelines don’t say this? Can you give me a link to where you’re looking?
Examples of non-hateful extremist views include:
- The Buddha was born in Sri Lanka.
- Anicca doesn’t mean impermanence.
- The original Pali manuscripts at Aluvihara exist.
- Pali fundamentalism (Chinese texts are all Mahayana, etc.).
Like I said above, the Mahayana texts are clearly “inauthentic” in the sense that they (at least nominally) claim to be spoken by the Buddha when they are obviously not. At the same time, I also believe that they are genuine, and often wise and insightful, scriptures that are the outcome of a serious spiritual and philosophical inquiry. The historical problematic is: how is it that both of these things can be true? It’s an interesting question!
I believe that in at least some cases, the Mahayana sutras were the product of a meditative insight: the Buddha spoke to monks in samadhi. Other texts appear to be the product of philosophical systematics like the Abhidhamma, or else they address practical problems that arose in the tradition. There’s probably not a simple answer.