Filed in History

Whose Buddhism is Truest?

No one’s—and everyone’s, it turns out.
Long-lost scrolls shed some surprising light.
Linda Heuman

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Two thousand years ago, Buddhist monks rolled up sutras written on birch bark, stuffed them into earthen pots, and buried them in a desert. We don’t know why. They might have been disposing of sacred trash. Maybe they were consecrating a stupa. If they meant to leave a gift for future members of the Buddhist community—a wisdom time capsule, so to speak—they succeeded; and they could never have imagined how great that gift would turn out to be.

Fragments of those manuscripts, recently surfaced, are today stoking a revolution in scholars’ understanding of early Buddhist history, shattering false premises that have shaped Buddhism’s development for millennia and undermining the historical bases for Buddhist sectarianism. As the implications of these findings ripple out from academia into the Buddhist community, they may well blow away outdated, parochial barriers between traditions and help bring Buddhism into line with the pluralistic climate of our times.

Sometime probably around 1994, looters unearthed 29 birch bark scrolls somewhere in eastern Afghanistan or northwest Pakistan, an area once known as Gandhara—a Buddhist cultural hotspot during the early Christian era. The scrolls appeared on the antiquities market in Peshawar, having weathered the same turbulent political climate that would lead to the Taliban’s demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas. The British Library acquired them in 1994.

The scrolls arrived rolled up, flattened, folded, and disintegrating. Curators carefully unpacked and examined them. They found the script indecipherable, the language unusual. Suspecting that they might in fact be written in the forgotten language of Gandhari, they immediately sent a photograph to Richard Salomon, a professor of Sanskrit and Buddhist studies at the University of Washington, one of a handful of early Buddhist language experts worldwide who could read Gandhari.

The news soon came that the birch bark scrolls were the oldest Buddhist manuscripts known. (Now called the British Library Collection, these scrolls are in the process of being translated by the Early Buddhist Manuscript Project, a team of scholars under Salomon’s direction.) The initial find was followed by several others throughout the following decade. Today there are at least five collections worldwide, comprising roughly a hundred texts and several hundred text fragments dating from the first century B.C.E. to the third century C.E. The Gandharan collections are not only the oldest extant Buddhist manuscripts but also the oldest surviving manuscripts of South Asia, period. They reach back into an era when the oral tradition of Buddhism probably first began to be written down.

Preliminary inventories and initial translations reveal that many texts are Gandhari versions of previously known Buddhist material, but most are new—including never-before-seen Abhidharma (Buddhist philosophy) treatises and commentaries, and stories set in contemporary Gandhara. The collections contain the earliest known Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) texts and the earliest textual references to the Mahayana school, both first century C.E. Taken together, these scrolls and scroll fragments are a stunning find: an entirely new strand of Buddhist literature.

According to experts in Gandhari, the new material is unlikely to reveal earth-shattering facts about the Buddha. And don’t expect big surprises in terms of new doctrine either—no fifth noble truth is likely to be found. But the discovery of a new member in the Buddhist canonical family has profound implications for practitioners. It settles the principal justification for long-standing sibling rivalries among Buddhist traditions, and it does so not by revealing a winner but by upending the cornerstone—a false paradigm of history—on which such rivalries are based.

Buddhist tradition maintains that after his awakening, the Buddha taught for some 45 years throughout eastern India. Among his disciples were a few, including his attendant Ananda, who had highly trained memories and could repeat his words verbatim. It is said that after the Buddha’s death, his disciples gathered at what we now call the First Council, and these memorizers recited what they had heard. Then all the monks repeated it, and the single and definitive record of the “words of the Buddha” [buddhavacana] was established. Thus was the Buddhist canon born.

Or was it?

Every school of Buddhism stakes its authority, and indeed its very identity, on its historical connection to this original first canon. Buddhists of all traditions have imagined that our texts tumble from the First Council into our own hands whole and complete—pristine—unshaped by human agency in their journey through time. This sense of the past is deeply ingrained and compelling. If our texts don’t faithfully preserve the actual words of the Buddha in this way, we might think, how could they be reliable? Isn’t that what we base our faith on?

But as we’re about to see, history works otherwise. And having a view more in line with the facts here frees us from chauvinist views and gives us grounds for respecting differences between and within diverse Buddhist schools. As for undermining our basis for faith, not to worry. To get in line with the facts, we’re not going to abandon Manjushri’s sword of wisdom. We’re going to use it.

I first heard about the Gandharan manuscripts while living in Germany in 2009, when I attended a lecture on early Buddhism by Professor Salomon, who was visiting from Seattle. The complex details of the talk he delivered left me mystified—at that point the technicalities of early Indian philology stood as a dense forest I hadn’t yet entered. But I was curious about those scrolls. I wanted to understand what this new literary tradition meant for Buddhist practitioners like me.

While searching online, I found a 2006 talk by Salomon in which he first unveiled for a general audience the importance of translators’ findings. Toward the end of that talk, my attention became riveted. As Salomon was explaining, scholars had traditionally expected that if they traced the various branches of the tree of Buddhist textual history back far enough, they would arrive at the single ancestral root. To illustrate this model, he pointed to a chart projected on the screen behind him. The chart showed the Gandhari canon as the potential missing link along an evolutionary ladder—the hypothetical antecedent of all other Buddhist canons. “This is how someone who began to study this [Gandharan] material might have thought the pattern worked.”

As scholars scrutinized the Gandhari texts, however, they saw that history didn’t work that way at all, Salomon said. It was a mistake to assume that the foundation of Buddhist textual tradition was singular, that if you followed the genealogical branches back far enough into the past they would eventually converge. Traced back in time, the genealogical branches diverged and intertwined in such complex relationships that the model of a tree broke down completely. The picture looked more like a tangled bush, he reported.

Here is where I clicked Rewind: these newly found manuscripts, he declared, strike the coup de grâce to a traditional conception of Buddhism’s past that has been disintegrating for decades. It is now clear that none of the existing Buddhist collections of early Indian scriptures—not the Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, nor even the Gandhari—“can be privileged as the most authentic or original words of the Buddha.”

It is odd how matters enacted on the wide stage of history can sometimes present themselves immediately in the close corners of personal life. I am a Mahayana practitioner; my partner practices in the Theravada tradition. The challenge of accommodating differences in the Buddhist family is an occasional cloud that hovers over our dinner table. What Salomon was saying seemed to indicate a new way of viewing and working with sectarian clashes at whatever level they might occur.

Puzzling out whether (and how) the discovery of a new Buddhist literary tradition could undermine sectarian sparring would lead me deep into the foreign terrain of academic Buddhism. In the months to come, I would follow a trail from one expert to another across college campuses from Seattle to Palo Alto. I pored over stacks of papers looking for insights. In the end, when it all came clear, I understood why the process had been so difficult. I had to assimilate new facts. I had to let go of some cherished beliefs. But what really made it hard was that also I had to identify and change a fundamental background picture I had about the nature of Buddhist history within which I construed those beliefs and assimilated those facts. I had to cut down the genealogical tree. And that was not easy, because I was sitting in it.

Actually, it isn’t just historians of Buddhism who are finding flaws in convergence-to-a-single-root pictures of the past. The evolutionary tree model of origins is also under the axe in biology and other scholastic fields. For some time there has been a broad trend of thinking away from tree models of history, Salomon later told me. In the academic study of early Buddhist history, Salomon says, this model had been gradually being discredited. But, he says, these scrolls were “the clincher.”

Because early Buddhism was an oral tradition, tracking any Buddhist text back in time is like following a trail of bread crumbs that ends abruptly. So for us looking to the past, a critical moment in history occurred when Buddhists started writing down their texts rather than transmitting them orally. That is when the Buddha’s words moved into a more enduring form.

Pali tradition reports that Buddhist monks in the Theravada tradition started writing down texts in about the first century B.C.E. The manuscript record in Pali, however, doesn’t begin until about 800 C.E. But the Gandhari manuscripts date from as early as the first century B.C.E. If monks were writing in one part of India, they could likely have been writing in other parts of India as well—so this would seem to add credence to the Pali claims.

If we were looking for a single ancestral root of all Buddhist canons, the moment the teachings got written down would be the first possible point in time we could find their physical record. So when these Gandhari scrolls appeared, dating to the earliest written era of Buddhism, scholars hoped they might turn out to be that missing link. They zeroed in on the Gandhari literature that had known versions in Pali, Sanskrit, and Chinese to see how texts preserved in Gandhari related to other early Buddhist texts. Comparing individual texts across canons, they noticed something startling and surprising, “although in retrospect,” Salomon admitted in his lecture, “it should have been expected, and it makes perfect sense.”

Salomon described what happened when he compared the Gandhari version of one well-known Buddhist poem, the Rhinoceros Sutra, to its Pali and Sanskrit versions. He found that the sequence of verses and their arrangement were similar to the Pali. The specific wording of the poem, however, was much closer to the Sanskrit. Salomon couldn’t say whether the Gandhari was more closely related to one or the other version (as it would have to be if one were the parent). It was closely related to both, but in different ways. In other words, the texts were parallel—and different.

This kind of complex linking showed up again and again when scholars compared Gandhari texts with their versions in Pali, Sanskrit, and Chinese. Texts had close parallels to one, two, and sometimes all three of the other language versions. Looking then at the group as a whole, they ascertained that this new corpus of Gandhari material was a parallel to, and not an antecedent of, the other canons—not the missing parent, but a long-lost sibling.

We now know that if there ever was a point of convergence in the Buddhist family tree—the missing link, the single original and authentic Buddhist canon—it is physically lost in the era of oral transmission. We have not yet found, and probably will not ever find, evidence for it.

But even more significant is what we have found: that is, difference. These scrolls are incontrovertible proof that as early as the first century B.C.E., there was another significant living Buddhist tradition in a separate region of India and in an entirely different language from the tradition preserved in Pali.

“And where there are two, we are now on very solid ground in suggesting there were many more than two,” says Collett Cox, a professor of Sanskrit and Buddhist studies at the University of Washington and the co-director of the Early Buddhist Manuscript Project. A single partial Gandhari Buddhist manuscript predated these modern finds—a version of the Dharmapada discovered in 1892. The fact of one extant manuscript in the Gandhari language suggested, but couldn’t prove, that Gandhara had once had a rich literary tradition. In the same way, there are other indicators—such as monuments and inscriptions—in other parts of India suggesting other potentially literate early Buddhist cultures. “We don’t have any texts from them,” Cox says. “But we now are on very solid ground in saying they probably had texts too. Where there are two [traditions], there are probably five. And where there are five, there may have been fifteen or twenty-five.”

Cox suggests that “rather than asking the question what single language did the Buddha use and what represents the earliest version of his teachings, we might have to accept that from the very beginning there were various accounts of his teachings, different sutras, and different versions of sutras transmitted in different areas. At the very beginning we might have a number of different sources, all of whom represent or claim to represent the teaching of the Buddha.” Cox emphasizes that the Gandharan Buddhism is clearly not a “rebel offshoot” of the Pali canon but its own entirely localized strand—unique, but not unrelated. Early Buddhists in different regions shared many texts in common. Clearly, Buddhist monks of different language traditions in early India were in contact, and they traded ideas and influenced each other in complex ways.

If a multiplicity of traditions is what we have now, and as far as the record goes back in time, multiplicity is what we’ve always had, maybe we’re not finding a single root of Buddhism because there wasn’t one in the first place. Sometimes not-finding is, after all, the supreme finding.

“Nobody holds the view of an original canon anymore,” Oskar von Hinüber, one of the world’s leading scholars of Pali, told me.

Consider why scholars might think this. First of all, there are certain practical difficulties of oral transmission in a time before digital recording. How could 500 monks have agreed on 45 years of the Buddha’s words?

Von Hinüber also points out that the sutras themselves record a deep and persistent quarrel between the Buddha’s attendant, Ananda, and Mahakasyapa, who presided over the Council and was the principal disciple at the time of the Buddha’s death. He suggests that it would be Pollyannaish to imagine that the Council (if it even occurred) was politic-free and harmonious.

“There are many indications that [the stories of the First Council] are not correct in the way of a historical report. But they tell us something that is interesting and important,” says von Hinüber. “Buddhists themselves were aware of the fact that at some point in history their texts must have been shaped by somebody into the standard form they now have, beginning Thus have I heard. Who this was, we don’t know.”

Interestingly, built into the traditional account of the First Council is the story of one monk who arrived late. He asked the others what he had missed. When they told him how they had formalized the Buddha’s teachings, he objected. He insisted that he himself had heard the Buddha’s discourses and would continue to remember them as he had heard them.

“This is a very important story,” says von Hinüber, “because it shows that Buddhists themselves were aware of the fact of diverging traditions.”

Religious orthodoxy wants to claim that one’s own tradition is the best. To do that, one needs to point to something unique to make it so. Having the sole true version of a singular truth is just such a foothold. And not only for Buddhists. Elaine Pagels, the scholar of religion who brought to light the Gnostic gospels, told Tricycle in 2005:

The Church father Tertullian said,
Christ taught one single thing, and that’s what we teach, and that is what is in the creed. But he’s writing this in the year 180 in North Africa, and what he says Christ taught would never fit in the mouth of a rabbi, such as Jesus, in first-century Judea. For a historically-based tradition—like Christianity, and as you say, Buddhism—there’s a huge stake in the claim that what it teaches goes back to a specific revelation, person, or event, and there is a strong tendency to deny the reality of constant innovation, choice, and change.

The Buddhist canons as they exist today are the products of historical contingencies. They resound with the many voices that have shaped them through time. But orthodoxy requires the opposite, a wall you can’t put your fist through: singular, unchanging, findable truth. Buddhism’s textual root wasn’t singular, and it wasn’t unchanging. As it turns out, it wasn’t so findable, either.

“That’s the further step that we’re taking, to dispense with the idea of the original because that is a kind of pipe dream or figment of the imagination,” says Paul Harrison, a professor of religious studies at Stanford University and a member of the editorial board for the Schøyen Collection (another recently discovered collection of ancient Buddhist manuscripts). Harrison is also a translator. As such, he gives us a hands-on report of how texts weather the practicalities of translation. To the extent that we are still holding onto that tree model, Harrison is about to pull the last leaves from our hands. Translators used to be guided by the notion, he explains, that if you put enough different versions of a sutra together, kept the overlap, and eliminated all the variance, eventually you could reconstruct the prototype. “According to that model,” he says, “it’ll all narrow to a point. But basically what we are finding is that it doesn’t narrow to a point. The more we know, the more varied and indeterminate it is right at the beginning.” Trying to reconstruct the original version of any early sutra—the one that is unmediated, accurate, and complete—is now generally considered, in principle, futile. Indeed, Harrison asks, “What are you aiming at?” Looking for such an original is ingrained, essentialist thinking, he says.

He points out, “We often say, ‘Tibetan translation, Chinese translation, Sanskrit original. As soon as you say Sanskrit original, you drop back into that sloppy but entirely natural way of thinking, that this is the original so we can throw away the copies. But in fact, that Sanskrit original of whatever sutra is just again another version. So the idea that one of them is the original and all the others are more or less imperfect shadows of it has to be given up. But it is very hard to give it up. It’s almost impossible to give it up.” And the irony is not lost on Harrison, who adds, “This is what the teaching of the Buddha is all about.”

One problem with the traditional model of textual transmission, according to Harrison, is that it doesn’t take into account cross-influences—the very real cases of text conflation when scribes or translators might have (for example, when standardizing) copied features from multiple differing versions, thus producing a new version. He continues: “If everything just proceeds in its own vertical line, and there is no crossways influence, that is fine; you know where you are. But once things start flowing horizontally, you get a real mess. Having something old, of course, is valuable because you are more likely to be closer to an earlier form. But notice I’m careful to say now ‘an earlier form’ and not ‘the earliest form.’ A first-century B.C.E. [Gandhari] manuscript is going to give you a better guide to an earlier form than an 18th-century Sri Lankan copy will. But that’s not an absolute guarantee, just a slightly better one.”

Harrison says that not only is it physically unlikely that we could find an original Buddhist canon (because the teachings predated writing), but also it is theoretically impossible, according to the Buddha’s own teachings on the nature of reality. “It is pure anatmavada [the doctrine of nonself, non-essentialism]. We expect it [the original buddhavacana] to be the same—invariable and unchanging, kind of crisp and sharp at the sides all around.” That is, after all, the kind of canon that Buddhists who make historical claims to authenticity—and all Buddhist schools have traditionally made such claims and based their authority on them—believe their tradition possesses or other traditions lack: not a “one-of-many-versions” canon but “the real one.”

“It’s just not going to be like that,” Harrison says.

What would it mean to have “all the Buddha’s teachings?” Would it be every word he said? What about meaningful silences? Well, would it be what he meant then? When he said what to whom? About what? We can’t pin down the complete content of the Buddha’s teachings, nor can we isolate the teachings from their context. We can’t draw a hard line around them.

Neither can we draw a solid line around different schools. Harrison reports that looking backward in time, already by the first century C.E. boundaries between the Mahayana and non-Mahayana begin to blur. The Gandhari manuscripts probably reflect content of early monastic libraries, and the texts seem to have been intentionally buried. Mahayana and mainstream Buddhist sutras were recovered together and presumably buried together. Harrison believes that the monks who engaged in Mahayana practices were most likely Vinaya-observing; they likely lived in monasteries side by side practitioners of more mainstream Buddhism.

These first-century Mahayana texts in the new collections are already highly developed in terms of narrative complexity and Mahayana doctrine. They couldn’t be the first Mahayana sutras, Harrison says. “The earlier stages of the Mahayana go far back. The Mahayana has longer roots and older roots than we thought before.” (Not roots all the way back to the Buddha, though—Harrison agrees with the general scholarly consensus that the Mahayana developed after the Buddha.) Nonetheless, he says, “Probably lying behind these Mahayana texts there are others with much stronger mainstream coloration, where it is not so easy to tell whether it’s Mahayana or Shravakayana.” [Shravakayana means literally ‘the way of the hearers’; those who follow the path with arahantship as its goal.]

During this period of early Buddhism there were many different strands of practice and trends of thought that were not yet linked. “We could have the Perfection of Wisdom strand and a Pure Land strand and a worship of the Buddha strand, and all sorts of things going on,” Harrison remarks. Only later did these threads coalesce into what we now consider “the Mahayana.”

Harrison suggested we consider a braided river as a better metaphor than a tree for the historical development of Buddhist traditions. A braided river has a number of strands that fan out and reunite. “Its origin is not one spring, but a marsh or a network of small feeder streams,” he told me. According to this model, the Mahayana and Vajrayana “are merely downstream in the onward flow of creativity. They are activities similar in nature to early Buddhism—not radically different. And a lot of current in their channels has come all the way from the headwaters,” he says. “Whether it all has the single taste of liberation is another question.”

In such a picture of textual transmission—fluid, dynamic, and intermingled—where and how could one stake a territorial claim? Sectarian posturing is based on having the actual words of the Buddha—complete, stable, unmediated, and self-contained. Once all one can have is a complex of versions of the Buddha’s words—partial, changing, shaped, and commingled with other versions—in what sense would it be authoritative if one’s own version was bottled upstream or down?

But I still wanted to drink my water bottled upstream even though I knew that kind of thinking no longer made sense. I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me. Finally, I looked inside my glass. What did I assume was in it? What do we imagine we have when we have the Buddha’s words?

We think that if we have the Buddha’s actual words we have his true intent. The whole edifice of sectarian claims based on history remained teetering on this.

Somehow we picture the Buddha’s true, single, unambiguous meaning encapsulated in his words like jewels inside a box, passed from one generation to the next like Grandmother’s heirlooms. But that’s not the way meanings or words work. Consider the following from the well-known scholar of religion Robert Bellah:

Zen Buddhism began in Japan at a time when strong social structures hemmed in individuals on every side. The family you were born to determined most of your life-chances. Buddhism was a way to step outside these constricting structures. Becoming a monk was called
shukke, literally, “leaving the family.” We live in an almost completely opposite kind of society, where all institutions are weak and the family is in shambles. You don’t need Buddhism to “leave the family.” To emphasize primarily the individualistic side of Buddhism (especially Zen) in America is only to contribute to our pathology, not ameliorate it.

In India, “leaving the family” means “getting married.” To my Jewish grandmother, it meant “changing religions.” In the household where I was raised, it meant “going to college.” The very same words, spoken in a different context, have different meanings. The meaning of words is their use in context. A set of words stripped of their context is like playing pieces stripped of their board game. What would we have? Certainly it would be good to know what the Buddha said. To the extent that we share the conventions of 5th-century B.C.E. Indians, we might understand some of what he meant. If we increased the conventions we shared with them (say, by learning early Indian languages or by studying history), obviously we would understand more. But context is vast—an unbounded, interdependent web of connections. And it is dynamic, shifting moment to moment. Context is finished the moment it happens; then it is a new context. We really can’t recreate it. And even if we could, we still wouldn’t know exactly how the Buddha was using his words within that context, so we wouldn’t know exactly what he meant.

Just as our search for an original set of Buddha’s definitive words failed, and all we were left with were provisional versions, in the same way a search for the Buddha’s definitive meaning fails too. What we have are traditions of interpretation. But that’s not the kind of authority we imagine when we claim sectarian primacy. Sectarian authority claims assume solid essentialist ground. That type of ground is just not there.

When it comes right down to it, sectarian posturing contradicts the Buddha’s message as all traditions understand it. Those false pictures of history and language within which sectarianism finds a foothold are in turn rooted in another false picture—a picture even more pervasive and pernicious. That picture is an essentialist view of the nature of reality, which according to the Buddha’s doctrine of selflessness is the source of not just this but all our suffering—the wrong view that is the very point of Buddhism to refute.

The siblings in my family don’t have a single, same, enduring, essential feature in common that connects us to each other (or to our ancestors), nor do we need one. Anyone could pick us out of a crowd as related. I have my father’s nose and my aunt’s height; my sister has my grandmother’s hair and my father’s fast walk; my brother looks like my father and me. The traditions of the Buddhist family can dress, think, and practice differently and still be recognizable family members in exactly the same way in which the members of our own family are recognizably related to us.

All the siblings in my family are authentic members of my family. Because our identity doesn’t depend on our possessing some unchanging “common thing,” we don’t have to argue over who has more of it. If we understand identity in this way, all Buddhists are 100 percent Buddhist.

Letting go of our old assumptions about history and language shouldn’t make us uneasy. The views we’re challenging as we assimilate these new archaeological discoveries were never Buddhist to begin with. We’re not abandoning the basis for our faith; we’re confirming it. And in so doing, we open up the possibility to truly appreciate different Buddhist traditions as equal members of our Buddhist family.

Linda Heuman is a freelance journalist based in Providence, Rhode Island.

Photographs courtesy of The British Library © The British Library Board

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hemantha's picture

The way of Dhamma
Dhamma is not something to talk about, it’s something to do, and the teacher only encourages the disciple to discover the truth for themselves through constant reflection and meditation. This truth is not found in India, China, Tibet or Japan or in any monastery or Dhamma hall, any more than it is found in your own bedroom at home. Our journey is always an internal journey voyaging deeper and deeper to the source of our unhappiness.
So the instruction is always simple: Just make the practice, but don’t get lost!
Don’t hold on to anything, and don’t push anything away. Be with things as they are and allow everything to show you the truth. The true teachers are not outside you, they are arising in every moment. These thoughts, moods, feelings and emotions, arising and passing away. Let their impermanence and their emptiness lead you to true understanding and peace.
May all beings be happy.

sschroll's picture

I bow in deep gratitude to your heart and wisdom. This article doesn't only address Buddhism, but also Christian beliefs, our actual whole human way of dealing with reality, our obsession with certainties and fears of the ambiguous nature of our reality.
Thank you for this quantum lip!!!!

sschroll's picture

I bow in deep gratitude to your heart and wisdom. This article doesn't only address Buddhism, but also Christian beliefs, our actual whole human way of dealing with reality, our obsession with certainties and fears of the ambiguous nature of our reality.
Thank you for this quantum lip!!!!

John Sterritt's picture

To me this is a happy message that says it's within all of us, working together. Find a teacher you respect, listen carefully to what the teacher says, watch carefully what the teacher does, test what is said and done to discover what has been there from the beginning, sit regularly, especially when you don't want to, work with others, and see what happens. I read very little about Buddhism these days, say even less about it, and jump to it when I know what I must do. I came late in life to the practice and find that more and more I do what must be done without internal discussion. The Three Jewels within my own mind. All the rest is so much talk.

Marpa's picture

Fascinating article, but I think the concern over the historical origins and development of Buddhism are misplaced. Buddhism does not rely on "faith" in the scriptures or in the person of Gautama and his particular instructions. Buddhism is about "buddh", the awakened intelligence of the individual practitioner, and our own ability to directly understand the nature of reality. Any scripture or teaching that helps us in that quest is authentic, regardless of its historical origin. And any that does not, can be set aside without any sense of betraying some body of dogma called "Buddhism". This is not Christianity or Islam. It is a way of dealing with reality, not revelation.

Sanki's picture

Some of this discussion has gone far afield I think. Buddha wisely chose to ask his disciples not to make a written record of his teachings. Words are provisional/incomplete/perishable, a product of the conditioned or constructed world. Shakyamuni's teachings aren't words, they are beacons pointing out a way to leave suffering behind and be free. The place to find Buddha isn't in the Sutras, it is in your own heart. I applaud the author for her eloquent and heartfelt exposition. Thank you Linda! May you be well, and know peace.'s picture

The more you talk and think about it,
the further astray you wander from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking,
and there is nothing you will not be able to know.
To return to the root is to find the meaning,
but to pursue appearances is to miss the source.
At the moment of inner enlightenment
there is a going beyond appearance and emptiness.
The changes that appear to occur in the empty world
we call real only because of our ignorance.
Do not search for the truth;
only cease to cherish opinions.
----from the Xin Xin Ming

John Haspel's picture

There is nothing new in this article or in these scrolls. There has always been a strong need to preserve views and adapt the Buddha’s dhamma to fit those views. This occurred during the Buddha’s life and immediately upon his death some “monks” were overjoyed because they would have the freedom to claim to be “Buddhist” while adapting the Buddha’s teachings to fit their views. That ancient texts reveal this need for preservation of individual and cultural views within contradictory “Buddhist” doctrines does not bring authenticity but only shows the underlying cause for the contradictory dharmas.

When actually engaging in the Buddha’s direct teachings as preserved in the Pali Canon what becomes quickly apparent is the consistency of the teachings throughout the entire Sutta Pitaka. When it is understood that every teaching the Buddha gave was presented in the context of Dependent Origination and The Four Noble Truths it becomes clear that the Buddha taught suffering and the cessation of suffering through understanding and ending continued conceit, or continued “I-making.”

Ms. Heuman’s misunderstanding of continued I-making and the singular difference between the Buddha’s teaching on anatta and the later adaptations of “selflessness” show the problem with insisting that there is no reliable authentic record of the Buddha’s direct teachings.

Of course we can all practice any form of modern Buddhism and claim some form of doctrinal authority. What is most important is to remember that a human being awakened and left a clear path to awakening for others to develop. The contradictory thicket of views that have their roots during the Buddha’s time does not have to continue to diminish and confuse a simple and direct path to the cessation of I-making and continued delusion.

John Haspel

dave95694's picture's not what Buddha's what he meant. The words are less important, the practice more


ThomasKent's picture

I was always taught by my Pali professor that there are multiple different 'original' traditions. The Buddha spoke a number of different dialects. There are texts in the Pali canon that were once presumed to be corrupt because they are ungrammatical in Pali - then someone noticed that they are grammatical in Magadhi and that they were preached in Maghada.

How can you have one original tradition when the Buddha preached in very different ways to different people, and furthermore, refused to identify some traditions as his words and others as not his words? As the article says, when the First Council was held, some monks who arrived late were told 'This is what we have decided' and they said 'That's not the way we remember it at all' and went down the road and held another Council.

In 'Buddhist Scriptures' by Mizuno, we find that the Japanese have spent centuries comparing different 'original' versions. One thing that they found was that some texts such as the First Sermon and the Fire Sermon are only found in the Theravada tradition (which as Govinda points out is a Mahayana tradition). It appears therefore that these two sermons are of later origin. The earlier a text seems to be, such as the Sutta-Nipata, the more varied it is. Also, the more supernatural content it has.

russmitchellcsp's picture

I am new to Triangle and to Buddhism. No offense meant to anyone posting thus far but I was struck by an odd sense of humor and had to share this phrase with respect to comments on the article: "much ado about ... nothing?"

Traditions of oral transmission may be more utilitarian than we writers of words can embrace. What is real is what is important, our perceptions of reality today, are influenced by written word everywhere we look, oral transmission is not bothered by such static markers. The meanings of words evolve over time; their subtle distinctions change hue with the sun of just a few years, but the written word is stuck in the ink fettered to the page, unable to adjust to the new language being spoken, unable to adapt to the new meanings being carried by the same old words. Written words cannot be mindful and cannot capture meanings, they are simply words, oral tradition can be mindfully shared with each emergent Buddha cleansing itself of stories. Are the words more important than the message? Is it not so, that the most important of understandings come without words? Convey understanding, open the eyes, and see.


rajbodepudi's picture

When the genuinely "curious", and also the clever and the confused, approached the Buddha seeking answers to their intellectual queries the Buddha often advised them to join him in Dharma practice (in silence) for a year after which he promised to answer their queries. According to Sariputra, there would be no unanswered queries by then-as reportedly happened in his own case. This method is as relevant today, perhaps even more, as was during the Buddha's time. If we have the discipline and the pure intent, we will find answers to most of our questions-simply by practising. We will then have all of the practitioners, with no single exception, validating the Buddha's Four Noble Truths and His mapping of the Path- if they were genuinely seeking solutions to end their suffering.

Last night, I attended a Dharma Talk given by a Himalayan Yogi and a scholar, Swami Vidyadhishaitaitda, in Chicago, and the topic was on "Reincarnation in Spiritual Lineages". His theme was that based on experiences of many yogis, reincarnations have been happening (to all of us, until we are fully liberated) to Yogis in order to propagate the respective spiritual lineages and that the Guru selects the right disciples who can carry their lineages into the future-. That is how, accoring to him, many yogis can recall their oral traditions, running into volumes, without the benefit of any schooling.
-Why I do not question certain Vajrayana practices & their methods

daito's picture

Well said. _/|\_

avalmez's picture

I, for one, don't expect that medititation answers all questions, but then i'm a novice, confused explorer, whatever. that said, i'm certain i would not be alone in saying meditation answers many of the questions that really matter, but it won't answer everything. it won't answer the question of cosmology. it won't answer the question about the existence of God. it won't even answer all of the questions that matter. how do i justify my position? many buddhists are just as cock sure as fundamentalists of any faith are about their faith, and just as sectarian on many fundamental buddhist issues as the other guys. meditation makes buddhists, well, buddhists and there's of course much good implied with that. meditation makes anyone a better person, no matter what your theology/ideology may be. meditation makes humans better humans. theist, atheist, agnostic, socialist, capitalist, intellectual, explorer - whatever brand you may place on yourself or the other guy, meditation improves the branding. gains beyond that have to be taken as a matters of faith. no one of us is enlightened, the buddha supposedly was. and the enlightened buddha instructed that even his teachings should be questioned. while he stood firm on certain "jewels" as the only way, and forsaking them as the only "unforgivable sin", some of us are inclined to question even that. exclusivity is as certainly an unforgivable sin as forsaking the jewels. God bless you guys.

katemack's picture

Amen... I'm not 'officially a Buddhist" because I have little patience for sectarianism. Translation: I will drink from all streams with gusto and relish!!! And then dive in for the pure joy of it. But then again, I've been accused of being a pragmatist on more than one occasion.

All that counts for me is that when I listen to the teachings of the Buddha, regardless of WHO presented them, when they click inside my brain, I become a better mother, a better wife, a better colleague, employee, supervisor, neighbour, citizen. The teachings of the Buddha have helped me becoem the kind of person I want to be. The teachings of the Buddha have helped heal me from the wounds of anger and jealousy and insecurity.

I don't care if the teachings came from little green men from the far side of Mars. What I do care about is that when practiced, they improve the quality of my life and the quality of the lives I connect with -- which is a much wider circle than I understand.

Interesting article. Thanks for sharing it!!


Dominic Gomez's picture

Hi Avalmez. I'm meditating on your post. Well thought out and written. Cuts to the dharmic chase. In the final analysis it's our behavior as human beings that really matters, regardless of religion.

Christopher Budd's picture

I actually read this in my hard copy and loved it. I've got a huge interest in Buddhism, the history of religions, and the history of Central Asia, so thank you so much for giving me an article that speaks to multiple interests.

Also, as someone who has studied comparative religion, I thought this was a solid article from a scholarly point of view, while being quite readable indeed.

I did have one piece of feedback: it would be great if there were captions with the pictures in the online article. I would love to know what that vase at the beginning of this is. Also, making the images "click thru for more detail" images would be great. The graphic of the two different models of transmission isn't very readable in its current size and resolution.

plounts's picture

except in the matter of faith..... the same problem in Chrisitanity, Islam and Buddhism. The temporal acceptance of the "root" has more metaphorical and symbolic meaning and is implied and suffused in the "lineage" . I find mini-essays such as the one above very interesting and quite amusing. All those words and pronouncements necessary to "MAKE THE POINT" or to change a perceived ignorance into some kind of final fact. very funny. the historical Buddha was is and will be THE root. even a marsh eventually runs into a single flowing stream if not into the single moving ocean. All this talk about the multibranched tradition is just that talk defining a portion of a tree a section of "bush" like branches or even veins of sap or roots entangled around the essence of the seed..... In this world we had the one emanation of the Buddha Shakyamuni....... 2500 years ago..... his insights are more like outsights aimed outwardly at us in the mundane world. Any Buddhist who worries about the temporal arguments surrounding the "different" schools of thought isn't much of a Buddhist. In my humble opinion. Interesting archeological find and great for creating jobs for such academicians and LOL writers of informative articles...... in Tricycle.....hee heee......

melcher's picture

A statement like: "Any Buddhist who worries about the temporal arguments surrounding the 'different' schools of thought isn't much of a Buddhist..." hardly reflects a "humble" opinion.

sanghadass's picture

If somebody tells me that the Buddha would have been pleased if I spend my days chanting 'bah bah black sheep' then I think it would be wise to question this? It might make me feel good if I believe the Buddha would have approved - that's not the point! Did the historical Buddha teach his students to repeat magical mantra's to liberate them from suffering? Does anyone actually believe this - and why? Does anyone actually believe that this kind of teaching is a sign of 'progress' - moving with the times - to bring Buddhism into line with modern sensibilities? Forget about all that ancient outdated nonsense as found in the early strata of the teachings - whether it be rendered in 'Gandhari' or, some other language. Just say 'Buddha Buddha Buddha' whenever you get a chance and all will be well! I think a historical perspective on the teachings is important.

Richard Fidler's picture

Your reply reflects the Buddhist perspective, revering Buddha and making him perfect, attributing any shortfalls to the misinterpretations of later believers. "Buddha is the root..." you say, and yet the historical Buddha was only one of many vehicles for conveying insight into being human.

It is one thing to revere the Buddha and another to honor him. Reverence implies perfection: "In this world we had the one emanation of Buddha Shakyamuni..." From the point of view of a seeker, that statement does not carry water. I would not graft onto the Buddha's teachings the insights of Galileo, Einstein, Darwin, Marx, or other Western thinkers. They deserve to be considered separately on their own merits. That means that important understandings concerning humanity and the world come from a variety of places. Buddhism does not answer all questions.

plounts's picture

yes Buddhism answers all questions. LOL haha your a riot. sir. best wishes

plounts's picture

okay you win what you think is typically Western . I don't recall saying any of those dudes were not relevant... I just said that the Buddha already new all that they new..... Just because he didn't tell anyone doesn't mean he didn't know it. IF one is truly involved in a Bodhisattva Way of Life one is very welcome to graft whatever one wants to on to Buddha Shakyamuni's emanation..... within the understandings of primal wisdom which in reality appears as inner offerin and individual offering and it works to create the distinctive bliss-void wisdom in the fields of the six senses, outer, inner and secret clouds of offerings totally filling earth, sky, an all space with inconceivable visions and sacred substances....... .The only thing that should be carrying water is perhaps you from your individual well back and forth to your pillow. Important understandings? such as the Atom Bomb, the death of God, Russia and China, Dualistic thinking and extemism to the extreme in Nihilistic foolishness resulting in the 20th Century??? And the idiotic ideas circulating around the "Singularity"??? Buddhism does answer all questions quite simply. What was it that the Blessed One said about obtainments and the Wisdom of PERFECTION???? Too bad for Seekers. LOL

plounts's picture

Knew and / or the Perfection of Wisdom
Heart Sutra .
best wishes

Hey Is this a Zen Publication? maybe I should bug out .. Zen's a great way for Westerners to "think" they are Buddhists.....and thats funny and interesting at the same time! Best wishes Steven. And really what kind of work is that "Seeker"? it sounds so Kandinsky and Madame Blatvanwhatever she called herself back in the "failed Day"
love always me.

avalmez's picture

Not only is it right not to graft onto the Buddha's teachings the insights of others, the Buddha was not interested in certain topics (cosmology, "God", to my understanding e.g.). And on those topics the Buddha was interested in and did teach about, the Buddha explicitly stated his was not the last word. As an explorer, what I have learned about the Buddha and what sustains my interest in his teachings is that he left room for, in keeping with topical analogies, growth. Thus, the analogy of a Law that flows into the same ocean is apt. And, in my mind, it would offend the Buddha to hear someone speak of "silly Christians". If the problem with Christianity is Christians (acceptable), the problem with Buddhism is Buddhists (equally acceptable). Now as for the analogy of a tree versus network, lets add a fractal...

wtompepper's picture

The existence of God is not one of the "unanswerable questions." It is not something Buddha was uninterested in. He is explicit on this point: taking refuge in a God is a source of delusion. Buddha would probably just say "deluded Christians."

Mikehume's picture

I think that what we mean by God here is important. To my understanding he was referring to worldly gods, gods within samsara. The Christian God is a (the) creator God and if he existed would necessarily be outside of samsara (if he created it).

avalmez's picture

Yes. That the Buddha thought belief in the gods he was familiar with was unhealthy is certainly documented. The Buddha did not know of (of course, could not have known of) Christianity or doubtless for that matter of YHWH whatsoever. Also, as you know wtom, whether the gods he was familiar with or the Judeo-Christian god he wasn't familiar with, some authorities claim he never unequivocally claimed there is no god(s). Not having read every word attributed to the Buddha, I can only point to what others have said. Hence, I would not presume to put words into the Buddha's mouth as to what he might have called Christians or any people of other faiths.

plounts's picture

The Buddha new about Jesus Mohammed Savonarola and all the rest dudes. Get real.

wtompepper's picture

If I may quote someone more learned than I am, Nyanaponika Thera:

“In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world; as, for instance, world-soul, time, nature, etc. God-belief, however, is placed in the same category as those morally destructive wrong views which deny the kammic results of action, assume a fortuitous origin of man and nature, or teach absolute determinism. These views are said to be altogether pernicious, having definite bad results due to their effect on ethical conduct.
Although belief in God does not exclude a favorable rebirth, it is a variety of eternalism, a false affirmation of permanence rooted in the craving for existence, and as such an obstacle to final deliverance.”

I just wanted to point out that many westerners are too quick to claim “unanswerable question” whenever a Buddhist teaching seems to disagree with their existing belief. As Nyanaponika Thera suggests in this essay, if your belief in God is important to you, and it does not produce suffering for others, then Buddhists would not try to argue you out of it. Belief in an a creator God, or worshipping any gods, however, is not compatible with Buddhist practice, because it is a source of delusion.

daito's picture

Most excellent. _/|\_

Dominic Gomez's picture

One metaphor is that the Law is the ocean towards which all ideologies flow and is comprised of, rather than the root of later insights and teachings.

Richard Fidler's picture

What if the dharma is not correct according to insights we have from science? In accordance with beliefs of his time he believed that what we call "reality" is illusion, chopped up and organized into categories imposed by our minds. That is only partially right, because now we know that the universe has structure apart from our minds: water is made up of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen (more or less): it does not consist of three parts hydrogen to one part oxygen. Buddha's teaching was built upon understandings current at the time he lived.

The dharma evolves through the incorporation of new knowledge and through the assimilation of new cultures. It, like science, should be self-correcting: when inconsistencies or lack of clarity are discovered, they need to be addressed. Looking back at original teachings has value in so far as learning about the earliest Buddhism, but it does not necessarily make a vibrant, flexible religion people of all historical ages can accept.

sanghadass's picture

Dear Richard, tell us - precisely - where the Buddha's insights are directly opposed or mutually incompatible with scientific findings? I don't see how evolutionary science, Marx's analyses of capital and various other modern insights are incompatible with the Buddha's teachings. It might be the case that you have a few of your own pet theories about the nature of consciousness etc. that are not affirmed in the Buddha's teachings? So you reject them, because of your attachment to your own belief system? I have not seen any scientific evidence that has demonstrated that the Buddha's teachings on the nature of the mind and consciousness is patently false! You need to be specific about the archaic ideas you are refuting? It may be the case that you are a final authority on the nature of reality - as a person who has some personal involvement in science. We should forget about the archaic visions of the awakened one - when they don't conform to your educated opinions. Should we pay closer attention to you instead? Good luck with that! xxoo

Mikehume's picture

Hi Richard. Buddha was omniscient. He taught the path to liberation and never talked of the chemical structure of matter. If the path to liberation was valid then, it is valid now and doesn't need updating according to "new" discoveries. To assume that we would need to alter the teachings would be to assume they are fallible and this undermines the basis of Buddhist refuge. As a Buddhist I believe that disciples at the time of Buddha attained enlightenment. 500 years later followers attained enlightenment. Nowadays people can attain enlightenment. We don't need to alter the teachings in light of new discoveries.
The teachings on emptiness can just as easily be applied to the self and the body as they can to the atom and quark. Everything is merely imputed by mind, however large or however small.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Buddhism accords with the times. The gods, goddesses, demons, etc. believed 3,000 years ago to aid or torment human beings have been explained by science as naturally occuring phenomena (e.g. thunderstorms, pestillence, famine, etc.)
What has not changed is how these affect people's lives, i.e. samsara. In that regard, the Law and how it is put to use by the people is perennial as well as universal.

wtompepper's picture

>>he believed that what we call "reality" is illusion<<
This is an interesting problem, because it isn't really clear that Buddha was an idealist. I would argue that he was a realist, and that what Buddha says is "chopped up and organized into categories" is our perception of the world, our conceptual categories. Buddha wants us to question whether what "we now know" about the universe is any more final than the "physics" of his time. Our construal of the world is infinitely corrigible, but such "evolution" doesn't change the world that exists outside our minds.

This insight, that we need to remain skeptical of the finality of all our concepts, could never possibly be at odds with new scientific knowledge. We need to take the insights into cognition and human abilities as the truth of the Dharma, not the culturally specific content of the sutras.

Richard Fidler's picture

Nice post. I am arguing for an openness with regard to Buddhist teachings, an openness that draws upon understandings of humans and the world we have gained over the past two millennia. In Christianity there is an attempt to use the Bible as a basis for all decisions--and this is a terrible mistake. I do not want Buddhism to follow the same path; it must take the Truth for its goal, not the reconstruction (and reinterpretation) of ancient Buddhist texts. Certainly we honor the Buddha for the insights he has given us, but we don't stop there. We discover the Truth for ourselves using every tool available to us.

plounts's picture

here is another idea that occurred to me while reading today and why I feel that the concept of tree should not be discounted in any way and that many of the ideas presented and the pronouncements made in the above essay by the author as well as the subjects (individuals quoted in the essay) and it is simply this.

"As soon as we start tryin to transcend any of our defilements, we become noticeably more contented......The Tree..... the small seed has developed into a strong trunk, with branches and leaves that give energy to others. The tree analogy MUST NOT BE IGNORED. Trees are extremely important in the life of Buddha. Right from the first event of his life, which was birth, up to his death, all most important events occurred under trees. He abandoned big palaces to sit under a tree. Trees have a cooling influence. They are also a very revealing expression of impermanence."
Lama Choedak. T. Yuthok.

for me also the tree is rooted. and the essence of the seed the rebirth of the tree as an individual condition is very metaphorical for the condition of the human individual free being..... this most not be over ridden or disguised by these new technological suffusions of 'net' and 'network' which are only the tip of the seeded rooted branching that is the emblem and reality of a tree. that suchness should not be taken lightly by any Buddhist practitioner particularly in light of the global environmental crises that is upon us. best wishes steven

Richard Fidler's picture

Why do people care what the "original" teachings of Buddha were? The assumption is that his understanding was perfect and that those who came after were somehow flawed in certain ways.

I can't agree with the first part or the second. Buddha was a product of 2500 years ago; he knew nothing about the position of women in society, modern psychology, cosmology, or science. He achieved an extraordinary insight into human beings but that does not mean he had all the answers. Similarly, modern thinkers and practitioners can take advantage of 2500 years of evolution of human thought and knowledge. Their insights are equally as powerful as Gautama's; it is foolish to imagine they are less than him.

Mikehume's picture

Hello again Richard. You are clearly a learned man and a scientist. Are you familiar with the sutra (can't remember it's name I'm afraid), in which Buddha held up a handful of leaves and asked, "which are more numerous, the leaves in my hand or the leaves in the forest?" He went on to say that what he taught was like the leaves in his hand and what he knew were like the leaves in the forest.
One definition of Buddha is one who knows all objects of knowledge, past, present and future, directly and simultaneously. That takes some getting your head around. I don't believe that I am foolish in believing that modern day "thinkers" are less than Buddha Shakyamuni. The mind of a Buddha is inconceivable.
If I had read the words I have just written 30 years ago I would have thought, "poppycock!" Or maybe something a little more vernacular. But studying Dharma has made me change my mind, and many of the outrageous statements made in the scriptures I now see as much more credible.

wtompepper's picture

I would suggest there are many different reasons people might be interested in the “original” teachings of Buddha. One, of course, is to argue that “my Buddhism is more authentic than your Buddhism.” Another, that I find more interesting, is because only by understanding to the best of our ability the original teachings can we understand how exactly they have been changed to respond to different social demands. If we know what Buddha did think about the position of women in society, cosmology, scientific explanation of the world, etc., then we can better understand how his teachings helped to reduce suffering. For some scholars, this does not mean considering him to be all knowing, nor does it mean considering him to be limited by his “immature” knowledge of the world. It is more a matter of correctly historicizing his concepts, placing them in the context of other, contemporary concepts, so that we can correctly see what his insights actually were. There is still debate over wether he had any insights that are unique to Buddhism.

To my mind, he did, and this is why Buddhism is worth studying and practicing.

plounts's picture

Yes I agree. I would say that ummm ....I agree on the ordinary level. thanks alot . Best wishes Steven

plounts's picture

Actually Richard Buddha Gautama Shakyamuni, the Blessed One KNEW everything.......ABsouLUTEly everything! he knew you and the position of women in society (then, now and forever), modern psychology, cosmology, evolution, and all scientific knowledge possible for the tiny human meat brain to wrap its fleshy coils about! He had all the answers that is the base root of his being at all. All of the past 2500 years is nothing to him.....he has read all the books you have , he knows what you know and what you think....if you think at all. LOL. He was the teacher of humans AND gods . including all the Gods of Humans that everyone argues over so foolishly. best wishes steven.

groucho27's picture

While my basic stance is to completely avoid arguments regarding the "true" anything--here, you miss the fundamental distinction between "knowledge" and "wisdom," which is the distinction giving rise to the path of the bodhisatva that marks the most mahayana traditions. Please--just an informed comment no need here for an argument.

Keith McLachlan's picture

How do you know that the Buddha knew everything"......ABsouLUTEly everything!"?

Yes there are stories that posit that and of a virgin birth by immaculate conception. But these are very likely just stories and metaphors. If Buddhists aren't careful they will end up like Christians and believe, because they need to believe in something.

Remember, the Buddha said, "Be a light unto oneself." He didn't say believe legends and folklore.


plounts's picture

Its not legend or folklore its fact. Your skepticism is noted and your comparison to the fundamentalism that is enveloping us at this time by both Christian and Muslim religions is warranted . The problem is not the myths and legends which always serve a purpose in any religious or educational system. the problem is delusion and not understanding the empty quality of those stories and metaphors. this is caused by a very low level and difficult to eradicate mental affliction. One could if one was tremendously argumentative say, "How do you know that he said that? Perhaps that is nothing more than a legend and myth and a metaphor?" If during your meditation you focus on the Buddha Shakyamuni you will hook into the net of the Buddha and realize that YES! he knew everything and knows it. He didn't create it. He is not a God. He denied that too. The one solid proof that one can look to to understand that he KNEW everything is his take on evolution 2500 years before Darwin.... So Funny......the West is sooooo far behind and just barely catching up.....So why would a Buddhist intellect and mind spirit--- any Buddhist have to be careful of that wisdom when it is combined with the fellow wing of compassion and the nectar of the Dharma??. History proves me right in this instance I conclude. Think about it. He is omniscient a completely evolved and sublime being unlike anything we can comprehend except through meditation practice and our root guru....and with hard work we may be able to have dinner or a brief meeting with him right now in this instance today!! LOL . best wishes Steven

Keith McLachlan's picture

Sorry, but you're stretching my credulity to the limit. You say that the Buddha's take on evolution is anywhere near to being equivalent to Darwin's; yet you provide no evidence.

If you meet the Buddha during meditation, it is makyo.


matthewoconnell's picture

This type of debate is a no win situation Keith. Best to leave this chap to his delusional Buddhist fantasy theories. The idea of the Buddha as some sort of super know-it-all is really not the slightest bit helpful as far as practice is concerned, so nowhere to go with such nonsensical blabbering. If we acknowledge the Buddha was a human being too, then we can actually achieve what his teachings laid out for us. The Buddha is dead, long live the buddha; but not the super-powered, omniscient god like super-hero.

plounts's picture

makyo is crack YO! Buddhaz take on Evolution was completely in line and far beyond what Darwin ever could possibly come up with despite his great meat intelligence and studies and the culmination of his life's work which was decent at most. Devils cave so Plato;s cave. caves are caves..... LOL

“ I am sorry to shake up the materialist scientis’ts sense of history and “progress” but long before Darwin and company, the Buddha and his contemporaries had already “discovered” evolution. He clearly saw that the life-form of the human being was not sui generis and was not the creation of a “God,” but was evolutionarily connected with all other life-forms, had developed out of them and could also regress back into them. Only he went even further than the materialist scientists. He made evolution a personal matter; he acknowledged that it involves the subjective agencies of beings, intentions, and minds. It is not merely an impersonal biological process of atoms and molecules and cells. He saw that living beings do evolve—progess and regress—in a more than strictly physical sense. He taught that we are not merely passive inheritors of genetic codes. We also personally and intentionally evolve ourselves toward higher states of awareness and more wretched embodiements. We don so not just in this life, or in a few lives, but over the course of billions of lives, just as it takes billions of lives for a paramecium to become a butterfly.

Why is this so hard to believe? After all, you and I and Darwin and Shakyamuni Buddha were all in the primordial soup together, little slimy creatures with no brains or eyes. And now wer are here. Isn’t it realistic that our continutity of mental awareness is also here with us, in the same radically transformed and transforming sense that oure physical genetic codes are here with us? Why should mind be the one element of reality that is arbitrreaily selecte to be more nin existent than matter” of course, mind cannot be foun by means of scientivic analysis. But no one has ever foun even one atom that can withstand analysis either! There is not thing that anyone has ever found that stands individsible as a thing in itself. All things, material as well as mental, have only relational, ascribed reality. So it is sheer dogmatism, predjudice, unscientific arbitrariness to insist that matter does exist and mind does not. So an evolutionary biology that excludes the agency and continutity of beings’ minds is higly unscientific, philosophically naïve and pragmatically inaccurate.”