Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

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FiveSkandhas
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Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by FiveSkandhas »

Good evening.

It can be a fine line to walk between in incisive academic critiques, historical searches for truth using scholarly methods, and maintaining one's committment not to slander the dharma.

I would be very interested in hearing from those who consider themselves practicing Buddhists and also take a scholarly, evidence-based approach to the historical and academic study of Buddhism. Do you ever feel conflicted in your loyalty to the Dharma and your loyalty to what your investigations suggest is the objective truth? If so, how do you resolve such tensions?

It's a big question so wide-ranging answers would all be appreciated.

:namaste:
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

I don’t find any contradiction.
It’s been my experience that the problem isn’t about conflicting answers to “life’s mysteries” (or whatever you want to call it)
But rather, the problems occur from not asking the right questions.
For example, people often ask whether buddhist Deities and protectors, the whole pantheon of enlightened beings, are they real or not. And science says there is no evidence that suggests they are. Buddhism says to examine your own thoughts and held concepts. Are you real? In what sense are you real? So the question whether buddhist deities are real becomes the wrong question. The question becomes, “are the Buddhist deities any more real than the person imagining them?”

Science says that there is nothing to suggest rebirth is possible. But, what is life? What exactly is reborn? what exactly lives? What regenerates? There are two aspects to what we call life. First, is awareness and second, a physical support that arises with that awareness. But within even a single lifetime, that awareness changes constantly. the physical support changes constantly. Therefore, for the experience of a self (even if is just a mistaken illusion) to happen, in order to occur, such that we call “life” doesn’t depend on a continuous mind or body, but simply (or not so simply) the constant stream of causes and results.

I have yet to encounter a conflict between Buddhist spirituality and material experience, which cannot be resolved by reconsidering the question, by really pinpointing what concepts are actually being probed.

During the time of the Buddha, he was constantly confronted with such doubts and skepticism. The bulk of the sutras are recollections of him fielding questions from rajas and yogis and followers of other schools. I think, if one has doubts that need to be resolved, and one suppresses them out of “loyalty” then one is really insulting the Buddha. He wouldn’t have appreciated it. And, you will never reach enlightenment if you lie to yourself.
Be kindness
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FiveSkandhas
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by FiveSkandhas »

A well-thought-out post as usual.

Personally the question of "existence" of this or that being has never troubled me. Nor has karma, transmigration, or Buddhist Cosmology, which to me simply involves a shift in perspective. A different kind of perception and a deeper understanding of Karma, how delusion impacts perception based on causes and conditions, and what Prof. Akira Sadakata has called an "experiential universe." Hungry Ghosts see rivers of water as rivers of fire; there is plenty of room for more than one perspective on something as vast as samsaric time and space, as well as its denizens.

What I find somewhat challenging is the question of "apocryphal" texts and certain texts that could pose challenges to other texts. There is also the postmodern scholar's tendency to view doctrine as the child of economics or power politics. Too much Foucault gets tossed around.

Nevertheless I maintain your optimism that no challenge is insurmountable and that scholarship and belief can always be resolved in the end. It's the nuts and bolts of getting there that can be somewhat slippery at times.
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Soma999 »

There are many layers of understanding in sacred texts. The historical part is not of big importance. The deep meaning which enter in resonance with the core of your beings is what matter.

Sacred text Is like a house and in the center of the house you find your own heart shining.

Switch from the surface to the deepness where nectar abounds.

To open the doors you need some keys : teachers, boddicita, faith, patience and quality of intention in general.
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

FiveSkandhas wrote: Sun Oct 18, 2020 5:17 am
What I find somewhat challenging is the question of "apocryphal" texts and certain texts that could pose challenges to other texts. There is also the postmodern scholar's tendency to view doctrine as the child of economics or power politics. Too much Foucault gets tossed around.
It’s import to kept in mind that most of what the Buddha taught was in the form of an answer to a particular question.
If (hypothetically) two people ask the Buddha what to do because their roof leaks water when it rains, and the Buddha tells one person to go out and buy a hammer, and tells the other person to buy a bucket, this doesn’t mean that there is a conflict between what the Buddha really said, and it doesn’t mean that a bucket and a hammer are the same thing. It merely suggests thd buddha understands that one person can probably perform some carpentry and the other cannot.
The Buddha is quoted as saying that one must test out the teachings for oneself to know if they are true. At the same time, many sutras refer to heavens and hells and pure realms and so on, which there is absolutely no way to verify.
...or is there?
We assume, for example, that we can neither prove nor disprove the existence of Amitabha’s pure realm of Sukhavati. Yet, as I take a walk on this October morning, I see the ground covered in bright gold where others only see a mess of leaves to be raked. I see glittering jewels hanging from the teees where others only see morning dew clinging to spider webs.
If the purpose of the dharma is not to transform our minds, to eradicate our usual projections and upturn our sense perceptions, then we will never experience realization within this lifetime. As long as we demand that the Buddha’s teaching take us back to a samsaric experience, then of course we can never validate to ourselves the truth of the teachings, because that’s not what the teachings are supposed to do!
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Malcolm
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Malcolm »

FiveSkandhas wrote: Sun Oct 18, 2020 5:17 am

What I find somewhat challenging is the question of "apocryphal" texts...
All Buddhist sūtras and tantras are apocryphal, all of them, including the Pali Canon, etc., from a western scholastic point of view.
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Astus
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Astus »

FiveSkandhas wrote: Sun Oct 18, 2020 5:17 amWhat I find somewhat challenging is the question of "apocryphal" texts and certain texts that could pose challenges to other texts. There is also the postmodern scholar's tendency to view doctrine as the child of economics or power politics. Too much Foucault gets tossed around.
Although there has been a significant growth of studies during the last few decades that showed how most of the important elements of Chan/Zen self-presentation as a "special transmission" is fabricated (and worse, fabricated with ill intentions), I have not seen anyone trying to answer that challenge, but rather things seem to continue as if such academic works did not exist at all. Although it might be that some in Japanese/Korean/Chinese academics try to work out a response. Not that it's anything new, after all, attacking the validity of the lineage was the tactics of both Tiantai and the various Chan factions.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Astus »

Malcolm wrote: Mon Oct 19, 2020 6:42 pmAll Buddhist sūtras and tantras are apocryphal, all of them, including the Pali Canon, etc., from a western scholastic point of view.
If the scriptures are viewed in a historical perspective, then there is still the matter of earlier and later materials. Furthermore, what are often called the Early Buddhist Texts necessarily form the fundamental doctrines, therefore anything of a later date is measured against those to see where they accord or diverge from them. It should also be recognised that the early texts do show a mostly coherent set of views and practices, so it's not like that just because there is no direct record of the Buddha talking then anything goes. While valid reasoning and direct perception should be the first points of reference, it is the harmony with the early texts that any later work can be called buddhavacana, as advised by the four great references.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
Malcolm
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Malcolm »

Astus wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 8:48 am
Malcolm wrote: Mon Oct 19, 2020 6:42 pmAll Buddhist sūtras and tantras are apocryphal, all of them, including the Pali Canon, etc., from a western scholastic point of view.
If the scriptures are viewed in a
Western, settler-colonialist, historical perspective... I prefer the indigenous perspectives, which are many, varied, and don’t necessarily accept this idea of “earlier“ and “later” texts.
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Astus
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Astus »

Malcolm wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 12:21 pmWestern, settler-colonialist, historical perspective... I prefer the indigenous perspectives, which are many, varied, and don’t necessarily accept this idea of “earlier“ and “later” texts.
Wouldn't that result in an unnecessary isolation from the reasoning and arguments of modern scholarship in favour of other arguments that also claim to be based on reason? Just as it's been the practice of past teachers to address and respond to the views and doctrines of their own times, shouldn't that be followed today as well, especially in the field of Buddhist studies? Of course, this is not to say that everyone should occupy themselves with such matters, but at least some level of recognition of the need to be able to communicate Buddhism on the highest levels of human intellectual culture of our times would be beneficial.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
Malcolm
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Malcolm »

Astus wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 12:49 pm
Malcolm wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 12:21 pmWestern, settler-colonialist, historical perspective... I prefer the indigenous perspectives, which are many, varied, and don’t necessarily accept this idea of “earlier“ and “later” texts.
Wouldn't that result in an unnecessary isolation from the reasoning and arguments of modern scholarship in favour of other arguments that also claim to be based on reason? Just as it's been the practice of past teachers to address and respond to the views and doctrines of their own times, shouldn't that be followed today as well, especially in the field of Buddhist studies? Of course, this is not to say that everyone should occupy themselves with such matters, but at least some level of recognition of the need to be able to communicate Buddhism on the highest levels of human intellectual culture of our times would be beneficial.
What do the reasoning and arguments of buddhologists have to with buddhahood or the accounts of our own tradition? Why is it necessary to adopt a settler-colonialist perspective, which is foreign to Buddhadharma as a whole, as the measure by which we take stock of our own schools?
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Astus »

Malcolm wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 2:52 pmWhat do the reasoning and arguments of buddhologists have to with buddhahood or the accounts of our own tradition? Why is it necessary to adopt a settler-colonialist perspective, which is foreign to Buddhadharma as a whole, as the measure by which we take stock of our own schools?
There is a shared field in the accounts of past events, where the traditional story says one thing, and historical documents say another, like in the case of Moheyan. Furthermore, the very concept that one relies on a tradition - i.e. something transmitted to the present through past generations - invokes the assumption of validation through history. Only when authenticity is independent of the reliability of one's perception of history could it be said that verification of past events is irrelevant. Such freedom from historical constrains is said to be the quality of the Dharma, that it is readily visible (saṃdṛṣṭika) and timeless (akālika). The words of the Buddha are necessarily from the past transmitted to the present, therefore not free from historical circumstances, but the meaning delivered through them is immaterial, so while it is the meaning that matters more, it cannot be wholly removed from the words themselves.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
Malcolm
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Malcolm »

Astus wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 3:44 pm
Malcolm wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 2:52 pmWhat do the reasoning and arguments of buddhologists have to with buddhahood or the accounts of our own tradition? Why is it necessary to adopt a settler-colonialist perspective, which is foreign to Buddhadharma as a whole, as the measure by which we take stock of our own schools?
There is a shared field in the accounts of past events, where the traditional story says one thing, and historical documents say another, like in the case of Moheyan. Furthermore, the very concept that one relies on a tradition - i.e. something transmitted to the present through past generations - invokes the assumption of validation through history. Only when authenticity is independent of the reliability of one's perception of history could it be said that verification of past events is irrelevant. Such freedom from historical constrains is said to be the quality of the Dharma, that it is readily visible (saṃdṛṣṭika) and timeless (akālika). The words of the Buddha are necessarily from the past transmitted to the present, therefore not free from historical circumstances, but the meaning delivered through them is immaterial, so while it is the meaning that matters more, it cannot be wholly removed from the words themselves.
If you wish to measure the validity of your practice through the erasures necessitated by adopting a settler colonialist perspective on Buddhist history, go ahead. But I think you will find that such histories are mainly concerned with coercion and the assertion of dominance and power over their subjects, and not really "facts." The very way you posed the question shows this, "but at least some level of recognition of the need to be able to communicate Buddhism on the highest levels of human intellectual culture of our times would be beneficial."
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Genjo Conan »

Astus wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 8:14 am
Although there has been a significant growth of studies during the last few decades that showed how most of the important elements of Chan/Zen self-presentation as a "special transmission" is fabricated (and worse, fabricated with ill intentions), I have not seen anyone trying to answer that challenge, but rather things seem to continue as if such academic works did not exist at all. Although it might be that some in Japanese/Korean/Chinese academics try to work out a response. Not that it's anything new, after all, attacking the validity of the lineage was the tactics of both Tiantai and the various Chan factions.
What would an "answer to that challenge" look like, for you? I'm a Soto Zen practitioner; assuming the scholarship is right, do I, what, pack it in and become an Episcopalian? I have a graduate degree in history, so it's not like I'm against the practice, but I don't believe that scholarship ought to dictate faith. They're separate spheres.
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

Astus wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 12:49 pm
Malcolm wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 12:21 pmWestern, settler-colonialist, historical perspective... I prefer the indigenous perspectives, which are many, varied, and don’t necessarily accept this idea of “earlier“ and “later” texts.
Wouldn't that result in an unnecessary isolation from the reasoning and arguments of modern scholarship in favour of other arguments that also claim to be based on reason? Just as it's been the practice of past teachers to address and respond to the views and doctrines of their own times, shouldn't that be followed today as well, especially in the field of Buddhist studies? Of course, this is not to say that everyone should occupy themselves with such matters, but at least some level of recognition of the need to be able to communicate Buddhism on the highest levels of human intellectual culture of our times would be beneficial.
I strongly disagree that the academy is the highest level of intellectual culture of our time, at least not in any uniform sense...though I know academia loves to view itself that way.

At any rate, there are different kinds of intelligence and IMO the kind it takes to produce academic criticism of Buddhist texts is of a different order than the kind needed to actually understand them.

For that, you go to the traditions themselves.

You can just look at the world of textual criticism of this sort ("Early Buddhism" is one of the best examples) to see that it quickly becomes a treasure hunt of sorts, and rarely brings people to actually practicing. To me, that is evidence enough that this approach is one that is only peripherally valuable to Dharma practice. Peripheral value like that has it's place, but once it becomes central it ceases to be Dharma practice.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Malcolm »

Genjo Conan wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 6:16 pm
Astus wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 8:14 am
Although there has been a significant growth of studies during the last few decades that showed how most of the important elements of Chan/Zen self-presentation as a "special transmission" is fabricated (and worse, fabricated with ill intentions), I have not seen anyone trying to answer that challenge, but rather things seem to continue as if such academic works did not exist at all. Although it might be that some in Japanese/Korean/Chinese academics try to work out a response. Not that it's anything new, after all, attacking the validity of the lineage was the tactics of both Tiantai and the various Chan factions.
What would an "answer to that challenge" look like, for you? I'm a Soto Zen practitioner; assuming the scholarship is right, do I, what, pack it in and become an Episcopalian? I have a graduate degree in history, so it's not like I'm against the practice, but I don't believe that scholarship ought to dictate faith. They're separate spheres.
Moreover, notions of "history" are quite fluid.
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Astus
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Astus »

Genjo Conan wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 6:16 pmWhat would an "answer to that challenge" look like, for you?
Looking at the history of Chan, there were times of growth and times of decline. For instance, the current state of Soto Zen is a result of reforms that happened in the 18th (as a summary: Zen Buddhism during the Tokugawa Period by Michel Mohr) and 19th (Meiji reforms) centuries. What might be a way to avoid the issue of lineage histories being fictional is a return to a more open view of Zen that is not apart from the sutras and other texts but rather co-existent with them.
I have a graduate degree in history, so it's not like I'm against the practice, but I don't believe that scholarship ought to dictate faith. They're separate spheres.
You might like this one: Zen Buddhism and Western Scholarship: Will the Twain Ever Meet? by Charles Muller
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
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Astus
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Astus »

Johnny Dangerous wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 6:22 pmYou can just look at the world of textual criticism of this sort ("Early Buddhism" is one of the best examples) to see that it quickly becomes a treasure hunt of sorts, and rarely brings people to actually practicing. To me, that is evidence enough that this approach is one that is only peripherally valuable to Dharma practice. Peripheral value like that has it's place, but once it becomes central it ceases to be Dharma practice.
I find Bhikkhu Analayo a great example of being both a scholar and practitioner, and actually using both areas to support the other.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Malcolm »

Astus wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 8:16 pm What might be a way to avoid the issue of lineage histories being fictional is a return to a more open view of Zen that is not apart from the sutras and other texts but rather co-existent with them.
Who says they are fictional? On what basis are these claims for the fictionality of Chan lineages made? What assumptions drive such claims of inauthenticity?
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Re: Academic critiques and slandering the dharma

Post by Malcolm »

Astus wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 8:20 pm
Johnny Dangerous wrote: Tue Oct 20, 2020 6:22 pmYou can just look at the world of textual criticism of this sort ("Early Buddhism" is one of the best examples) to see that it quickly becomes a treasure hunt of sorts, and rarely brings people to actually practicing. To me, that is evidence enough that this approach is one that is only peripherally valuable to Dharma practice. Peripheral value like that has it's place, but once it becomes central it ceases to be Dharma practice.
I find Bhikkhu Analayo a great example of being both a scholar and practitioner, and actually using both areas to support the other.
One can be a Dharma scholar without adopting a Western-colonialist historical worldview.
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