Leo Rivers wrote:So, is the Buddha a guy who did good - really, really, really good, or is he a color out of space or 'never was a person just pretended to be?' [we are setting aside the "at the Ultimate level we are Buddha" model for this discussion]
Is a Better than Us Buddha necessary for us - or the practices that would make us Buddhas? How can we fools of flesh follow in the footsteps of a ghost and have it be meaningful, even if we are ourselves a whiter shade of pale?
To me the guy's more symbolic than anything, so yeah, I'd be in the "manifested normal traits as a teaching" camp.
Whatever the guy may have been historically, that part's pretty much lost, and what we have left is a metaphor used as a lesson imho.
That being said, the whole "better than us" thing I find more typical of the "he was just a man" crowd & the Theravadans - Mahayanists ultimately aspire to & strive for that exact level of attainment (even though there is no attainment
), so I would have to disagree with that premise.
Throughout the Agamas/Nikayas, the Buddha makes some pretty outrageous claims, the one quoted about him as a baby I've heard interpreted a couple ways. Theravadans will tell you that the Buddha was saying that about himself & his level of attainment, unmatched in the world, none higher than the Buddha, nobody should even try to compare. Perhaps more modern Theravada says that it's all the same level of attainment for Arahats, but that still doesn't explain the passage on Dana in the Nikayas that echoes the sutra in 42 parts that distinctly rates Buddhas above Pratekyabuddhas & Arahats. My Mahayana teacher has a different interpretation of that passage about the baby, his version is that the Buddha is not talking about himself as an individual, but instead that there is nothing higher than Buddha Nature. I tend to prefer my teacher's interpretation even if it's not the most traditional.
I don't really buy into the criticisms in the rest of this thread. I don't see how that quote about Pali grammar does anything to disprove the statement made in SoB's post. I don't see how the quotes in the MN that describe the Buddha's knowingly descending from Tushita heaven into his mother's womb and the Mahayana doctrines (similar to that of Mahasangika sects) based on manifestation do anything to introduce an Atman. Whether you accept them or not, the Jataka tales combined with the rest of the Agamas/Nikayas lay out most of the path to Buddha-hood, which was further fleshed out in the Mahayana.
I'm a bit surprised to be hearing some of these views on a Mahayana board.