What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Dharma Flower » Wed May 24, 2017 9:57 am

Anders wrote:
Anonymous X wrote:
Nicholas Weeks wrote:The Avatamsaka's first lines of Shikshananda's translation, via Cleary:
The Avatamsaka sutra is considered an apochryphal teaching and not one of the earlier ones. This did go on to become one of the main sutras in East Asian Buddhism.
It is as apochryphal as any other Mahayana sutra.
When a Mahayana sutra is referred to as apocryphal, that usually means there was no Sanskrit original.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by ItsRaining » Wed May 24, 2017 11:27 am

Anonymous X wrote:
Nicholas Weeks wrote:
Anonymous X wrote: The Avatamsaka sutra is considered an apocryphal teaching and not one of the earlier ones. This did go on to become one of the main sutras in East Asian Buddhism.
Chapters 26 and 39 are two of "the earlier ones", and thus there is nothing 'apocryphal' about the Avatamsaka Sutra collection.
Yes, apologies. For some reason I was mixing it up with the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment. It's hard to keep all these straight in my head.
Sutra of Perfcect Enlightenment is still Buddhavacana to most Mahayana Buddhists.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Anders » Wed May 24, 2017 3:44 pm

Dharma Flower wrote:
Anders wrote:
Anonymous X wrote: The Avatamsaka sutra is considered an apochryphal teaching and not one of the earlier ones. This did go on to become one of the main sutras in East Asian Buddhism.
It is as apochryphal as any other Mahayana sutra.
When a Mahayana sutra is referred to as apocryphal, that usually means there was no Sanskrit original.
I know. And this is not true.
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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Dharma Flower » Wed May 24, 2017 3:48 pm

Anders wrote:
Dharma Flower wrote:
Anders wrote: It is as apochryphal as any other Mahayana sutra.
When a Mahayana sutra is referred to as apocryphal, that usually means there was no Sanskrit original.
I know. And this is not true.
I guess a case could be made that, from the perspective of pre-sectarian Buddhism, the nikayas/agamas are like the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, while the Mahayana sutras are more like the extra-canonical Gnostic Gospels.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Anonymous X » Wed May 24, 2017 4:44 pm

ItsRaining wrote:
Anonymous X wrote:
Nicholas Weeks wrote:
Chapters 26 and 39 are two of "the earlier ones", and thus there is nothing 'apocryphal' about the Avatamsaka Sutra collection.
Yes, apologies. For some reason I was mixing it up with the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment. It's hard to keep all these straight in my head.
Sutra of Perfcect Enlightenment is still Buddhavacana to most Mahayana Buddhists.
According to Muller, the translator of this sutra with Kihwa's commentary, " In the field of East Asian Buddhist studies, the term has been applied to those texts which were actually written in China (and possibly other East Asian regions), for which claims of authenticity were made by offering the appearance of being Indian creations. These claims were made in the form of colophons attached to the texts, which indicated translatorship (and sometimes authorship) as well as time and place of attributed provenance."

Muller says the term apochrypha is derived from the Greek 'apokruphos , referring to writings as secret.

BDK lists this under Apochryphal Scriptures

In Wikipedia, it is one of 10 sutras listed as apochryphal.

The term is not meant to be interpreted as something fake, but of unknown source. In Christianity, the well known Gospel of St. Thomas is considered apochryphal. Perhaps it's not the best word to use.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Queequeg » Wed May 24, 2017 5:28 pm

Anon, you might do well to familiarize yourself with the term Buddhavacana and what this means for Buddhists.

Look, the Buddha wrote none of the Sutta or Sutra. None of them were set to writing for several centuries after the parinirvana, with the Mahayana sutras probably reduced to writing long before the Pali suttas. The authorship of all sutras/suttas is unknown. That is the nature of this genre of literature - if its a sutra, the author has to resign themselves to anonymity.

The question of "oldest Mahayana Sutra" is not a question of which are "apocryphal" and which are not. The label is rather arbitrary and only expresses judgment about where the line between authentic and inauthentic should be drawn.

The terminology that Buddhism scholars in the academy use is of only glancing relevance to Buddhists.

Point is, apocrypha is loaded term that is abusive when used ignorantly.
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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Anonymous X » Wed May 24, 2017 6:18 pm

Queequeg wrote:Anon, you might do well to familiarize yourself with the term Buddhavacana and what this means for Buddhists.

Look, the Buddha wrote none of the Sutta or Sutra. None of them were set to writing for several centuries after the parinirvana, with the Mahayana sutras probably reduced to writing long before the Pali suttas. The authorship of all sutras/suttas is unknown. That is the nature of this genre of literature - if its a sutra, the author has to resign themselves to anonymity.

The question of "oldest Mahayana Sutra" is not a question of which are "apocryphal" and which are not. The label is rather arbitrary and only expresses judgment about where the line between authentic and inauthentic should be drawn.

The terminology that Buddhism scholars in the academy use is of only glancing relevance to Buddhists.

Point is, apocrypha is loaded term that is abusive when used ignorantly.
I don't think I was using the term abusively or dismissively. When I read the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, I have no problem with its content. It is very much in line with what I have come to experience in my life and has helped settle certain issues for me. The original question of this thread is 'oldest' Mahayana sutras. Avatamsaka and SPE, I believe, are not the oldest. I am very aware of the place of importance of these in Chan tradition.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Queequeg » Wed May 24, 2017 7:20 pm

Anonymous X wrote: I don't think I was using the term abusively or dismissively.
Maybe. You were definitely using it in a loose, inaccurate way.
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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed May 24, 2017 8:34 pm

Anonymous X wrote:Muller says the term apochrypha is derived from the Greek 'apokruphos , referring to writings as secret.
A more common definition of "apocrypha" is
Apocrypha: 1) biblical or related writings not forming part of the accepted canon of Scripture.
2) writings or reports not considered genuine.
並畢竟空。並如來藏。並實相。非三 而三三而不三。非合非散而合而散。非非合非非散。不可一異而一異。
All three truths are ultimately empty, all are tathāgatagarbha, all are true aspect. Not three, they are three; three, they are not three. Neither combined nor separated, neither uncombined nor unseparated. Neither same nor different, yet in a sense same, and in a sense different.

夫三諦者。 天然之性徳也。 中諦者。 統一切法。 眞諦者。 泯一切法。 俗諦者。 立一切法。
The three truths. Heaven-sent natural characteristics. The middle truth unifies all dharmas. The ultimate truth demolishes all dharmas. The conventional truth establishes all dharmas.

摩訶止観始終心要Móhēzhǐguān, Shǐzhōngxīnyào.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Admin_PC » Wed May 24, 2017 8:36 pm

Anonymous X wrote: The original question of this thread is 'oldest' Mahayana sutras. Avatamsaka and SPE, I believe, are not the oldest. I am very aware of the place of importance of these in Chan tradition.
Well just to point out that you're wrong here. The Daśabhūmikasūtra is Chapter 26 of the Avatamsaka. Vasubandhu wrote a commentary on it (the Daśabhūmikasūtra-śāstra - one of his more famous works). Nagarjuna is credited with writing a commentary on it as well (Nagarjuna's Discourse on the Ten Stages Daśabhūmikasūtra-vibhāṣā-śāstra = 十住毘婆沙論). One of the chapters of the Avatamsaka was translated into Chinese in 147 CE (making it one of the first). That all makes it fairly early.
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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by tingdzin » Thu May 25, 2017 2:03 am

If I'm not mistaken, only two chapters of the Avatamsaka have been found in Sanskrit, and there exist, I think, three different Chinese versions of it, based on three translations. Really it's also careless to say that there is such a thing as the Avatamsaka Sutra, without saying more.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Admin_PC » Thu May 25, 2017 3:49 am

Well I think this is indicative of the case behind people saying that texts show more changes over time than oral traditions. There are a number of sutras and commentaries that have multiple versions. I can only talk to what I know, so sorry if my knowledge on this topic isn't exhaustive. I know the Shorter Sukhavati sutra in Chinese shows some slight differences than the extant version in Sanskrit. There are a ton of versions of the Larger Sukhavati Sutra, with the extant Sanskrit version being significantly different from most (if not all) of the versions preserved in Chinese. The situation with both of these cases is that the extant Sanskrit versions are later than their Chinese versions. I've been reading the Bodhisattva Way of Life and it seems that the extant Sanskrit version shows differences from the version translated into Tibetan. There's no reason to believe in any of these cases that the Sanskrit editions are the pristine originals. The idea of a pristine text with no later editorial changes seems to be a later idea, that's clearly not the case of the schools that preserved & copied out sutras for later generations.
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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Anonymous X » Thu May 25, 2017 4:36 am

Coëmgenu wrote:
Anonymous X wrote:Muller says the term apochrypha is derived from the Greek 'apokruphos , referring to writings as secret.
A more common definition of "apocrypha" is
Apocrypha: 1) biblical or related writings not forming part of the accepted canon of Scripture.
2) writings or reports not considered genuine.
Maybe if you are a Christian, the above applies more. What is genuine? From the mouth of the Buddha? From the mouth of an awakened one? I don't think Muller is making a moral judgement when he applies the term to the SPE. There is a lot of scholarly controversy regarding dating and authorship to the sutras. For me, I'm not very hung up on this aspect.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Admin_PC » Thu May 25, 2017 5:05 am

You talking Max Muller from the 1800s or AC Muller from the second half of the 20th century?
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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Anonymous X » Thu May 25, 2017 11:11 am

Admin_PC wrote:You talking Max Muller from the 1800s or AC Muller from the second half of the 20th century?
AC.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Coëmgenu » Thu May 25, 2017 1:15 pm

Dharma Flower wrote:Were the Prajñāpāramitā sutras the most influential sutras in explaining the Bodhisattva path?
They are able to be confirmed by perspectives rooted in modern science and history to be the oldest sūtras that expound bodhisattvayāna, although this perspective only takes into account the material history of manuscripts that are still available for study today.

To contextualize the period when the prajñāpāramitā sūtras are dated to: it is sometimes called "Early Sectarian Buddhism" by scholars of Buddhist history, because at this point, Buddhists have schismed or fractured into many, often numbered 18, disparate schools of Buddhism, all of whom disagreed to varying extents on the proper interpretation of Buddhavacana. This is a period in which the Sarvāstivāda, Sautrāntika, & Vibhajjavāda (the school that some believe later developed into modern Theravāda), to name a few, are actually living traditions, and not museum pieces preserved in otherwise Mahāyāna tripitakas. It is also loosely speaking the period when the historical Nāgārjuna is believed to have lived, and he and Madhyamaka are most closely tied to the prajñāpāramitā literature, largely because the prajñāpāramitā literature is the only Mahāyāna literature cited in what scholars believe to be works most readily attributable to a "historical" Nāgārjuna as opposed to a mythohistorical Nāgārjuna.

So they are the first sūtras to do so, from one perspective, but they are not necessarily the most influential. Sūtras that are only dateable to later in history are of greater importance, I believe, specifically regarding "outlining" a bodhisattva path.

As a side note of interest (off-topic, but, I hope, forgivable): all "early Buddhist texts" (called EBTs in abbreviations) stem from this period of sectarian Buddhism. Buddhism is provable to have existed well before this (the Ashoka edicts, etc), but this is the earliest period from which we have any Buddhist texts at all, which are preserved in their earliest forms, in the āgamas. The Pāli nikāyas that constitute the Theravāda Pāli Canon are also believed to have stemmed from this date, due to their similarity to the historical āgamas, but no manuscript evidence survives that is dateable to the same time period as these very early āgamas.

In contrast the earliest Pāli fragments date from the 5th-9th century CE. The oldest sutta-fragments in larger pieces from the 1500s, and the oldest complete extant Pāli Canons from the 1700s. This is not to say that the Pāli Canon is an "invention" of any of these times, but simply that the climate of Southeast Asia is not as conducive to the survival of manuscripts as, say, Korea, from which we have our oldest extant complete tripitaka, the Palman Daejanggyeong (or the "Goryeo (Koreana) Tripiṭaka"), 팔만 대장경, from the 1300s, which I know for a matter of fact contains at least two ancient āgamas (雜阿含經 & 別譯雜阿含經), but there is no reason to believe it does not have more of them.
並畢竟空。並如來藏。並實相。非三 而三三而不三。非合非散而合而散。非非合非非散。不可一異而一異。
All three truths are ultimately empty, all are tathāgatagarbha, all are true aspect. Not three, they are three; three, they are not three. Neither combined nor separated, neither uncombined nor unseparated. Neither same nor different, yet in a sense same, and in a sense different.

夫三諦者。 天然之性徳也。 中諦者。 統一切法。 眞諦者。 泯一切法。 俗諦者。 立一切法。
The three truths. Heaven-sent natural characteristics. The middle truth unifies all dharmas. The ultimate truth demolishes all dharmas. The conventional truth establishes all dharmas.

摩訶止観始終心要Móhēzhǐguān, Shǐzhōngxīnyào.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Dharma Flower » Thu May 25, 2017 9:25 pm

Coëmgenu wrote:
Dharma Flower wrote:Were the Prajñāpāramitā sutras the most influential sutras in explaining the Bodhisattva path?
They are able to be confirmed by perspectives rooted in modern science and history to be the oldest sūtras that expound bodhisattvayāna, although this perspective only takes into account the material history of manuscripts that are still available for study today.
Thank you for your response. There are so many pages in the Prajñāpāramitā sutras. Could you please tell me which parts specifically focus on the steps taken in the Bodhisattva path?

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Thomas Amundsen » Thu May 25, 2017 10:07 pm

Dharma Flower wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:
Dharma Flower wrote:Were the Prajñāpāramitā sutras the most influential sutras in explaining the Bodhisattva path?
They are able to be confirmed by perspectives rooted in modern science and history to be the oldest sūtras that expound bodhisattvayāna, although this perspective only takes into account the material history of manuscripts that are still available for study today.
Thank you for your response. There are so many pages in the Prajñāpāramitā sutras. Could you please tell me which parts specifically focus on the steps taken in the Bodhisattva path?
Abhisamayalamkara is a revealed shastra that essentially summarizes the prajnaparamita sutras and the path of bodhisattvas. I don't know the relevant sutras titles, but hopefully OP does :)

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Coëmgenu » Fri May 26, 2017 12:32 am

Dharma Flower wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:They are able to be confirmed by perspectives rooted in modern science and history to be the oldest sūtras that expound bodhisattvayāna, although this perspective only takes into account the material history of manuscripts that are still available for study today.
Thank you for your response. There are so many pages in the Prajñāpāramitā sutras. Could you please tell me which parts specifically focus on the steps taken in the Bodhisattva path?
I believe that if you consult the Maháprajñápáramitásútra in Eight Thousand Lines, in Chapter 20 it gives some form of address concerning bodhisattvayána, I think.

The prajñápáramitá sútras directly address the various páramitás, which strikes me as a defining feature of bodhisattvayána.
並畢竟空。並如來藏。並實相。非三 而三三而不三。非合非散而合而散。非非合非非散。不可一異而一異。
All three truths are ultimately empty, all are tathāgatagarbha, all are true aspect. Not three, they are three; three, they are not three. Neither combined nor separated, neither uncombined nor unseparated. Neither same nor different, yet in a sense same, and in a sense different.

夫三諦者。 天然之性徳也。 中諦者。 統一切法。 眞諦者。 泯一切法。 俗諦者。 立一切法。
The three truths. Heaven-sent natural characteristics. The middle truth unifies all dharmas. The ultimate truth demolishes all dharmas. The conventional truth establishes all dharmas.

摩訶止観始終心要Móhēzhǐguān, Shǐzhōngxīnyào.

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Re: What are the oldest Mahayana sutras?

Post by Dharma Flower » Fri May 26, 2017 12:33 am

Coëmgenu wrote: I believe that if you consult the Maháprajñápáramitásútra in Eight Thousand Lines, in Chapter 20 it gives some form of address concerning bodhisattvayána, I think.
Thank you.

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