I have been reading the Lotus Sutra recently and was doing some background research on it when I came across this blog post:
http://sujato.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/ ... authentic/
The part that really struck me was:
"That the Lotus Sutra and other Mahayana Sutras were not spoken by the Buddha is unanimously supported by modern scholarship. I don’t know of a single academic in the last 150 years who has argued otherwise."
Is there any weight to such a claim? My understanding was that both the Pali canon and Mahayana sutras were all written long after the Buddha's death, with the sutras being later than the Pali canon, and thus it is difficult to determine what can actually be attributed to the Buddha. However, it seems a big claim to say that scholars unanimously agree that the Mahayana sutras were not spoken by the Buddha.
I'd be interested in any comments on this or if anyone could direct me to further reading.
I can't tell if you're hinting at something I may be missing here lol.
My literal understanding would be that what is being argued is that the teachings were not actually spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha, but were created by others and then attributed to the Buddha ('shameless monks' according to the author of another article which takes a very dim view of the sutras).
It was a real question. I don't know very much about Buddhist scholarship, but based on my own work in the humanities I would be very interested to know how sutra scholars understand the rather thorny issue of "authenticity" when it comes to texts that were, by all accounts, written down by monks dozens or hundreds of years after the Buddha was available to check them for "authenticity."
These are basic human problems that are built in to any endeavor like this. I can't find it on the internet, but I believe that Shunryu Suzuki, upon reading a manuscript of "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," said something along the lines of, "Yes, that sounds about like what you probably thought I said."
My understanding is that the Mahayana sutras were "spoken" by later bodhisattvas who were inspired to speak by the Buddha. In those days, people were inspired to speak sutras based upon their insights, and their belief that those insights came from direct transmission from the Buddha. What/who/how they understood the Buddha to be was larger than the historical Shakyamuni Buddha.
The early Suttas were transmitted orally for a long time before they were written down ... and there are/were various versions as well. Whether they are correct records of what Shakyamuni Buddha said probably doesn't matter much. Some are probably pretty close, others may not be.
Practitioners who cultivate the personal realization of buddha knowledge dwell in the bliss of whatever is present and do not abandon their practice.
The one Chinese sutra, The Platform Sutra of Hui Neng, is the only Chinese-language sutra in the entire Buddhist canon. It contains no words attributed to the historical Buddha. Is the Sutra of Hui Neng authentic? Why, Yes.
"The abundance of Nature is not a matter of its 'providing' ". -- William James, c. 1901.
Huineng is definitely an authentic good friend in my book.
And now once again in "my" book, too: the copy of the Red Pine arrived here from Amazon on Good Friday. Haven't cracked it yet. Also, his Lankavatara in the same order.
(I've read them both before in other translations, and still have those copies here. But I'll make a new start with Red Pine).
I really appreciate your contacting him, and his replies, and for your ( both of you! ) sharing them here.
His little red ...BODHIDHARMA (1987) was the first "Red Pine" I found, in 1996. Very fine. Another "friend". Bodhidharma, I mean. And Red.
"The abundance of Nature is not a matter of its 'providing' ". -- William James, c. 1901.
I have not read the Lankavatara yet and I plan to read it soon, so which translation you and the folks here recommend and why, Pine, Suzuki or Cleary?
"There is no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end" - James Hutton
I don't know very definitely which to recommend. But I can state a difference that I see which might make it advisable or preferable to read one of them first. The Suzuki translation (1932) appears to be the more "academic" and scholarly translation. I'd read this one first, because it will echo all the academic and scholarly words which we know from other readings, which have also been influenced by early academics and scholars.
Now, Red Pine (2012) has come along at a later time, and has produced a more colloquial LANKAVATARA translation, which is a little "softer" than an academic or scholar who's writing for an academic or scholarly readership would produce. Red Pine is writing for practitioners, it seems to me.
So, I'd suggest reading BOTH translations: the Suzuki, because he uses technical terms that will echo what you've read in other writings; and, the Red Pine, because it is rendered more like common speech. The Chapter divisions are the same in both, so comparing becomes very easy, and it is fun to read a chapter in both, with the two books side-by-side, once you know both translations individually.
Bodhidharma legendarily carried the LANKAVATARA to China, where it was apparently the first Mahayana sutra to arrive there. Its main subject is what amounts to a "doctrine" of Awakening, or Realization.
But the LANKAVATARA also goes into detail about what some people call "Buddhist Psychology", really more of a "theory-of-Mind" as we would call it in western philosophical parlance. The Eight Consciousnesses are therein expounded-upon. But all of this, as Suzuki says, is to show just how it is, or how it becomes, that Awakening and Realization are actually possible. So, the sutra has become very important in the Ch'an and Zen Buddhist tradition, in which Awakening and Realization are highly valued and "encouraged".
But because of the presence of the Theory of Mind brought out in the sutra, it is also important to the "Mind-Only" School, or Yogacara or Vijnavada philosophy, expounded by the two brothers Asangha and Vasubandhu while Buddhism was still a vital tradition in the mainland of India.
Wishing you a good study!,
ps By the way, it's in the LANKAVATARA, LXIII, where we first find words to the effect that Bodhidharma used in his famous four-line verse defining Ch'an (or Zen) as a tradition of practice. In the Sutra, the Buddha is given to say to Mahamati: "...by the realization itself is meant that it is the realm of inner attainment; its characteristic features are that it has nothing to do with words, discriminations, and letters; that it leads one up to the realm of non-outflows; that it is the state of an inner experience; [etc.]." (Suzuki; p. 128).
Bodhidharma said that the Ch'an (Zen) tradition is "not dependent on words and letters" (or words to that effect). -J.
Thank you for the elaborate answer Joe.
I did not know that it was the first Mahayana sutra carried to China, though I knew that Boddhidharma and the other early Chan masters were called Lanka masters.
Since you said that Suzuki translation is more "academic" I am inclined to go with that one first.
"There is no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end" - James Hutton
Getting back to the original post, why would it matter? If Francis Bacon secretly wrote Shakespeare how would this affect the plays? Robert Aitken once asked, if we discovered the Buddha never lived, how would this affect our practice? I would think very slightly, if at all.
Rember too that there was quite a different definition of authorship in those day, much like the early European tradition of writing history by creating dramatic scenes where the famous speak eloquently in complete paragraphs without grammatical errors or pauses. It is not an attempt to trick readers, but to get at the essence. I don't think the people who put together the sutras were trying to fool people. If something was true, useful and beautiful and expresses Buddhism it makes sense to say that Buddha said it, because in a sense he did.
Last edited by Caodemarte on Mon Sep 07, 2015 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
What would be the best sutra written in the 20th or 21st century?
Definitely, definitely!, the one that Robert Aitken Roshi read on one of his audio (cassette) tapes, distributed to many of the (21 or so) Diamond Sangha affiliate sanghas, worldwide.
It is called the "Brothers and Sisters Sutra", and is a bit mysterious in origin. But totally wonderful, and completely in the Dharma.
I don't notice that it's been transcribed to ASCII text (nor etc.). Too bad!
I have a copy of the tape. Did I mention, "Wonderful!"?
It's the best.
Oh, not at all. And not elaborate. Just talking!
Best to you in Macedonia, from here in the slightly-cooling desert of Arizona.
Again, good study.
Has it been transcribed to any other text format?
One that leads a person to awakening
(sorry for being so wordy).
I've not yet found it anywhere converted to any form of text, no.
All I have is the audio of the spoken words of Aitken Roshi reciting the entire sutra. I think the tape is either 60 minutes or 90 minutes long. So, to transcribe this would be a major (-minor) "project". Perhaps I could convert the analog audio cassette to a digital file (of course I can). I'd need to post it somewhere for downloading, though. I don't know about any "permissions", or intellectual-property rights, and I ought to look into these before I post anything, ...IF I post. I'll contact the Diamond sangha in Hawai'i about legalities, etc., and will chew all this over... .
Thank you for this post. In my view this raises an important question – “important” because by pursuing it through to resolution can greatly enhance our understanding as well as our capacity to accurately appreciate Zen/Buddhist expressions.
Concerning your particular question, the truth is that not only were the sutras written after the Buddhas death (most centuries after his death), some were written better than others, some were lost, some denounced (even by other sutras), many appeared in various ‘revised’ versions, etc., etc. This is also the case with many of the great Zen records (the record of Ma-tzu, Huang-po, Tung-shan, and Lin-chi, for example). A number of studies have demonstrated how certain Zen/Buddhist records were created and revised over many decades with the aid of many earlier and various sources (for a good, accessible example check out the revelations concerning the production of the “Huang-Po” in “Philosophical Meditations on Zen Buddhism” [Cambridge Studies in Religious Traditions] by Dale S. Wright).
Fortunately, for the Zen practitioner (in contrast to the historian or academic scholar) it makes no difference who expressed it or when it was expressed – the only thing that matters is authenticity.
To clarify, any authentic Zen/Buddhist expression only qualifies as such if and when a particular sentient being (you, me, him, her) personally, and experientially verifies it as an “expression of truth.” In Zen, whether it is Buddhist sutra, Zen record, koan, gatha, poem, sermon, or any other form of expression, it can only be considered “authentic” (or refuted for that matter) by each individual practitioner. Even if all our fellow students have verified it, or our teacher has assured us – even if the Buddha appeared in person and proclaimed it – we each must experientially verify it before we can consider it authentic. This is the significance of the Zen tradition of mushi dokugo (“enlightenment by oneself without a teacher”). Corollary with this, of course, is the fact that if we do experientially verify the authenticity of an expression of truth – whether it comes from a Buddhist sutra or a comic book – we will have realized an authentic instance of Zen practice-enlightenment (hence, universal liberation).
For a more traditional account of the nature of Zen expressions and how to approach them, here is some remarkably clear guidance from the Zen master Eihei Dogen. The following fascicle (Tenborin) is unusually brief, hence I reproduce it here in full – adding emphasis particularly relevant to the OP in “bold.”
Tenbōrin – “Turning the Dharma Wheel” (fascicle 74 in the Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross translation of Shobogenzo)
(Numbers in text refer to translators notes – these, as well as the whole Shobogenzo can be found online here: http://www.bdk.or.jp/bdk/digitaldl.html )
My late master Tendō, the eternal buddha, in formal preaching in the Dharma hall, quotes:
The World-honored One said, “When a person exhibits the truth and returns to the origin, space in the ten directions totally disappears.”
The master comments: “This is just the preaching of the World-honored One, but everyone has been unable to avoid producing odd interpretations of it. Tendō is not like that. When a person exhibits the truth and returns to the origin, a beggar boy breaks his almsbowl.”1
Master Hōen2 of Gosozan said, “When a person exhibits the truth and returns to the origin, space in the ten directions is jostling.”3
Master Busshō Hōtai4 said, “When a person exhibits the truth and returns to the origin, space in the ten directions is just space in the ten directions.”
Zen Master Engo Kokugon6 of Kassan Mountain said, “When a person exhibits the truth and returns to the origin, space in the ten directions puts on flowers over brocade.”7
Daibutsu8 says, “When a person exhibits the truth and returns to the origin, space in the ten directions exhibits the truth and returns to the origin.”
The expression quoted now, that “When a person exhibits the truth and returns to the origin, space in the ten directions totally disappears,” is an expression in the Śūraṃgama-sūtra.9 This same phrase has been discussed by several Buddhist patriarchs. Consequently, this phrase is truly the bones and marrow of Buddhist patriarchs, and the eyes of Buddhist patriarchs.
My intention in saying so is as follows: Some insist that the ten-fascicle version of the Śūraṃgama-sūtra is a forged sutra10 while others insist that it is not a forged sutra. The two arguments have persisted from the distant past until today. There is the older translation11 and there is the new translation;12 the version that is doubted is [not these but] a translation produced during the Shinryū era.13
However, Master Goso [Hō]en, Master Busshō [Hō]tai, and my late master Tendō, the eternal buddha, have each quoted the above phrase already. So this phrase has already been turned in the Dharma wheel of Buddhist patriarchs; it is the Buddhist Patriarch’s Dharma wheel turning. Thus, this phrase has already turned Buddhist patriarchs and this phrase has already preached Buddhist patriarchs. By reason of being preached by Buddhist patriarchs and preaching Buddhist patriarchs, even if a sutra is forged, once Buddhist patriarchs have preached and quoted it, it is truly a sutra of buddhas and a sutra of patriarchs, and it is the intimately experienced Dharma wheel of the Buddhist Patriarch. Even tiles and pebbles, even yellow leaves, even an uḍumbara flower, and even a robe of golden brocade14 are, once picked up by Buddhist patriarchs, the Buddha’s Dharma wheel and the Buddha’s right Dharma-eye treasury. Remember, when living beings transcend their realization of the right state of truth, they are Buddhist patriarchs, they are the teachers and students of Buddhist patriarchs, and they are the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of Buddhist patriarchs. They no longer see as their brothers the living beings who were formerly their brothers, for Buddhist patriarchs are their brothers. In the same way, even if every sentence of the ten fascicles is forged, the present phrase is a transcendent phrase, a phrase of buddhas and a phrase of patriarchs—one that should never be classed with other sentences and other phrases. Although this phrase is a transcendent phrase, we should not imagine that every sentence in the whole volume is, in essence and form, a saying of the Buddha or the words of a patriarch; we should not see [every sentence] as the eye of learning in practice.
There are many reasons not to compare the present phrase and other phrases; I would like to take up one among them. What has been called “turning the Dharma wheel” is the behavior of Buddhist patriarchs. No Buddhist patriarch has ever gone without turning the Dharma wheel. In the real situation of turning the Dharma wheel [Buddhist patriarchs] use sound and form to get rid of sound and form; or they turn the Dharma wheel springing free of sound and form; or they turn the Dharma wheel scooping out the Eye; or they turn the Dharma wheel holding up a fist. This, at a place where nostrils are grasped or at a place where space is grasped,15 is the Dharma wheel naturally turning itself. To grasp the present phrase is, here and now, just to grasp the bright star, to grasp a nose, to grasp peach blossoms, or to grasp space: they are one. [To grasp the present phrase] is to grasp the Buddhist Patriarch and to grasp the Dharma wheel: they are one. This principle is definitely the turning of the Dharma wheel. Turning the Dharma wheel means striving to learn in practice throughout a life without leaving the temple grounds; it means requesting the benevolence of the teaching and pursuing the truth upon long platforms.
Preached to the assembly at Kippō Temple in Etsu-u on the twenty-seventh day of the second lunar month in the second year of Kangen.16
Please treasure yourself.
Do not misunderstand Buddhism by believing the erroneous principle ‘a special tradition outside the scriptures.’ Zen Master Dogen, Shobogenzo, Bukkyo (trans. Hee-Jin Kim)
Ted Biringer Author The Flatbed Sutra
I've gotten a little further.
The "sutra", apparently (as I thought, really) is indeed a writing of Robert Aitken, Roshi. It was published in print form in MIND MOON CIRCLE, Winter 1986, Pp. 2-9. This quarterly journal is published by Sydney Zen Centre, Australia, The title of the work (by Aitken Roshi) is: "Sisters and Brothers Sutra -- A Zen Buddhist Invention".
I have not seen it in print, but have Aitken Roshi reading it on cassette tape, here.
I'll contact Nelson Foster, Aitken Roshi's first Dharma successor -- who operates and teaches at Gary Snyder's "Ring of Bone" Zendo in California -- about whether there may be a text-file available, and what permissions may pertain to it, etc.
One step closer.
I hope we can bring this to a larger readership.
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