Also See: Chittamatra vs Madhyamika
Sūtra of Definitive Meaning vs Sūtra of Provisional Meaning

Found an old e-mail dated 2012. I should add that the authorship does not concern me the slightest, as I find some of those Mahayana Sutras to be deeply profound in wisdom and very resonating irregardless of who wrote them.

Before this let me just quote something from Kyle Dixon,

level 3
3 points · 2 years ago
I thought that some of the sutras were by advanced practicioners those who became bodhisatvas after the death of the Buddha.
Sure, but in Mahāyāna the "Buddha" is not relegated to the historical figure, Śākyamuni, and in fact the Mahāyāna sūtras state that the "Buddha" should not be seen as name and form at all. Which means the definition of the Buddha is not limited to the historical figure.
For this reason "buddhavacana" or "the word of the Buddha" in Mahāyāna becomes whatever is "said well", meaning an exposition that accords with the fundamental principles of karma, rebirth, dependent origination, bodhicitta, etc.
This is because the Buddha is not name and form, meaning the Buddha is not the rūpakāya, but rather the Buddha is the nature of your mind, the dharmakāya.




Someone asked me,

"Hi,

Unfortunately we have not talked before. I was just surfing around until I
chanced upon this blog. I've been trying to study Buddhism for a long time
now. A lot of things have bothered me. When I do have a chance to approach
any reverend to ask questions, they usually see me as some sort of "evil
heretic". So I never get answers that I wished to get. To the reverends,
they just want to keep questions as simple as possible. So in my search for
knowledge, I've chanced upon your blog.

I don't really understand what you are writing because there are a lot of
Buddhist terms which I'm not sure of. For example, anatta.....e.t.c. Also,
your English is a bit "too chim" to understand.... I'm just seeking for
enlightenment...

Have you had a chance to look at 印顺法师's (Ven. Yin Shun) body of works? He always mentioned
that when you try to understand certain concepts, you must use that "certain
school of thought" to understand it. For example, if it is 唯识 (Yogacara) then u need
to use 唯识 (Yogacara) to understand it... If it is 中观 (Madhyamaka)then u need to use 中观 (Madhyamaka)I thought the
truth is the same? So if it is the truth, then it is possible to use 唯识 (Yogacara)to
understand 中观 (Madhyamaka)...

I'm just a poor confused soul... I hope to receive some guidance from you."


I replied, 

"First of all I'm just curious why are you seen as an evil heretic? Do you
hold views contrary to the reverends, what makes you be seen as 'heretic'?
Also, which temple do you frequent in your dharma studies?

I see that you are more into Chinese Buddhism. Anatta is 无我,which I think
you know, and there are some good articles that explains it well such as
- do take some time to read this I believe you will get something out of it.
Even though it is a bit lengthy.

I have not yet read 印顺法师's (Ven. Yin Shun) work, but intend to read it in future (I have a
list of to-read books but not enough time to go through all yet).

唯识 (Yogacara) deals more on how all manifestations are manifestation of consciousness.
中观 (Madhyamaka) deals more with emptiness. In certain schools like Tibetan Buddhism,
there is usually a 'picking out' of elements from wei-shi (consciousness
only, yogacara) and zhong guan (madhyamika) in their teachings. In other
words, they do teach elements from both systems. For example they may teach
the eight streams of consciousness in yogacara, and they also teach
emptiness of madhyamika. It all depends on each individual teacher. But I
think there are areas of yogacara and madhyamika that can complement each
other without contradiction.

However, most Tibetan systems consider Madhyamika a higher view. Why?
Because Yogacara can result in a slight reification of consciousness, in
Yogacara teaching they still consider consciousness as having some true
existence. In Madhyamika, even consciousness or mind is completely empty [of
inherent existence]. It does not subsume everything to be an inherently
existing consciousness, it merely removes the view of a reified inherent
existence of everything including consciousness. So Madhyamika is considered
a more thorough deconstruction of inherent view, more thorough in emptiness.

I believe 印顺法师 (Ven. Yin Shun) is also inclined towards Madhyamika or so I heard.

Now in China, in the beginning there were many schools of Mahayana but in
the later development of Buddhism in China, only Pure Land and Ch'an is left
as the prominent schools of Chinese Mahayana. Why? Because the Chinese are a
more practical bunch. Unlike the Tibetans, they do not like complex
philosophical systems like Yogacara and Madhyamika, so they founded a school
'not dependent on speech and words' - that is the Zen or Ch'an school of
Buddhism. This school emphasizes more on the direct realization of one's
true nature. You can say there are elements of influence especially of the
yogacara and tathagatagarbha doctrines on Zen teachings, but most of all it
has more emphasis on direct non-conceptual realization of one's Intrinsic
Awareness or Buddha-nature, rather than deeply going into the doctrines and
philosophies as taught in the scriptures (not saying however that Chinese
Mahayana don't read scriptures, it is just that their practice has a
different emphasis). Ch'an is somewhat (not completely) similar to the
Dzogchen and Mahamudra systems of Tibetan Buddhism.

p.s. if you're on Facebook you can join my group 'Dharma Connection', it's a
small discussion board."




He then asked me, 

"Hi,


I constantly question the validity of certain sutra. For example, in
《地藏菩薩本願經》, there are certain points which made me question whether this is a sutra that's spoken by the Buddha. First, it talks about expounding the Mahayana's sutra. At the time of the Buddha, there's no differentiation between Therevada, Mahayana, Vinayana, e.t.c So why did the Buddha talk about Mahayana in this sutra. So for me, I think this sutra is a late addition to the Buddhist text and was not the teaching of the Buddha. There are lots of other contradictions in it as well.... So I raised these questions to the Venerable and most of them said that it's "widely accepted". For me, I believe that all sutra have to fulfill the 3 dharma seals. This sutra, in my opinion, does not fulfill the 3 dharma seals. Then the venerable told me that some famous venerable cried after reading this sutra and wanted to dedicate his life to expound this sutra. TO me, just because a person cried, doesn't make this sutra a real sutra. Basically, I'm a heretic because I do not just accept it as it is....

I do not have facebook. I'm just a lost soul... I am so terribly lost that I think I don't even know what to ask and where to begin...."

I replied,

"Why do you feel that 地藏菩薩本願經 (Ksitigarbha Sutra) does not accord with the three dharma seals?

Anyway you should read this thread:
(I pasted the excerpts from above links below)
Of course, most Mahayana teachers generally do not accept this view or are not aware of the accepted view of the academic community. However generally most or almost all academics (such as Loppon Namdrol who is a trained academic/dharma teacher/practitioner from the Mahayana/Vajrayana tradition) do not treat Mahayana sutras as being necessarily the historical teachings of the physical dimension of Shakyamuni Buddha. We do not find evidence that it is the physical spoken words. The most we could say is that they can be teachings from the Buddhas in the spiritual dimensions within visions of enlightened masters, e.g. the Sambhogakaya.

I still find great wisdom from Mahayana sutras regardless of its origins. As Thusness (who had great respect for Mahayana sutras) commented on the Lankavatara Sutra - regardless of its origins, the words of this sutra must have come from the hands of an enlightened being. Why? If you are enlightened and you read those texts you will find that it experientially accords with your realization, it accords with Dharma. That to me is more important than its origins.

We should keep this in mind: "That is completely irrelevent to the quality of the teaching of this or that sutra. One's criteria ought not be authorship, but wisdom." - Loppon Namdrol

Mahayana and Vajrayana tradition emphasizes on the spirit of the words rather than necessarily teaching only the orthodox and original words of Buddha. That would be the Theravada tradition.

I personally find great wisdom in all three traditions Theravada Mahayana and Vajrayana, and we should not let authorship affect too much of our judgment of an ancient text.

...

(continued)

By the way after my telling you all these, it may not be wise to go challenging the venerables on the origins of Mahayana sutras, etc. Just let it be. It is enough that you know about it... it is not necessary to go telling the Mahayana community otherwise you will forever be considered heretical, haha. Personally I frequent a Mahayana center and I have never for once challenged them with regards to their orthodoxy even though I may have my own opinion. Why? It is not so important. Regardless of whether it is from physical dimension of Buddha or the late master's spiritual visions of Buddha etc, the essence of dharma is more important.

It is not so important who said what. It is more important that you grasp the essence of the Dharma and have correct practice, eventually get enlightened and realize your true nature. Then actualize that wisdom in your daily life.

As set forth by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyamtso, the four reliances are:

1. "Do not rely on the person but on the doctrine.
2. Then, with respect to the doctrine, rely not on the word [or words] but on the meaning.
3. Then, with respect to the meaning, rely not on the interpretable meaning but on the definitive meaning.
4. And with respect to the definitive meaning, rely not on ordinary consciousness but on an exalted wisdom consciousness." If one understands consciousness always to be dualistic and awareness to be non-dualistic, then this last reliance should read "exalted wisdom awareness.""



=============

Excerpts from sgforums:

  • Some things for your consideration. I found the clarifications by Loppon Namdrol (a very knowledgeable and experienced scholar/yogi/teacher who I and Thusness considers to be highly enlightened) to be enlightening.
    Note: the names here are display names of E-Sangha members.
    Sonam Wangchug:

    This has been bothering me lately so I figured i'd post a topic about it.

    Many people say that the historical Shakyamuni buddha did not teach mahayana sutras or vajrayana tantras.
    Jigme Phuntsok:
    Yes, there are no record of any Mahayana sutras until much later, but this is because the Mahayana sutras were passed on strictly orally at first and not written down until later.
    Namdrol:
    That's a nice fantasy, but that is all it is.
    Jigme Phuntsok:

    Then how do you account for the presence of Mahayana-like doctrines in the Mahasangikas who were present in large numbers at the time of the early councils?
    Namdrol:
    Which Mahayana like doctrines did you have in mind? Bodhicitta, great compassion, ten bodhisattva stages, three kayas, emptiness of persons and things and so on?
    Jigme Phuntsok:
    It is my understanding that the Mahasangikas taught a nascent form of the Buddha-nature doctrine which included teachings on the permanence of the Buddha, the primordial presence of countless qualities within the Buddha-nature; as well as the emptiness of all dharmas.
    Namdrol:

    Did you have a sutra in mind that they taught these things in? Or is this a speculation?
    xabir2005 (me):
    Just to clarify: in your understanding, all Mahayana and Vajrayana sutras/tantras come from realized masters other than Buddha?
    Namdrol:
    Yup.
    N
    Londro:
    Hi Namdrol,

    Did you not once threaten to ban a person on this forum for asserting that the Mahayana Sutras and the Pali Canon were not the actual words of the Buddha?

    Lodro
    Namdrol:
    Nope. Incidentally, a realized master is a Buddha. So they can represent the Buddha.

    N
    Paljor:
    As far as I know, only a fully enlighten Buddha (samyaksambuddha) endowed with the ten power, can turn the wheel of dharma. Enlighten masters like Nagarjuna, Tilopa, Naropa, Milarepa, Asanga... can elaborate and comment on the Buddha's words, their spoken words are in accord with the dharma yet not having the same status as "Sutra", which only reserved for the Buddha. Buddha Vajradhara, Vairochana, Samantabadhra are different manifestations of Sakyamuni Buddha in pure realm.

    P.
    Namdrol:

    By come from, Paljor, we mean in pure visions, etc. But we do not need to confuse pure visions with empirical history.

    N
    Paljor:
    The Buddha may not be around in nirmanakaya for us but he's always available to bodhisattvas (enlighten masters) in Sambogakaya (pure realm).

    P.
    Namdrol:
    Yes, that is correct, that is why we do not need to indulge in historical literalism to account for the origin of Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings.

    N
    Paljor:
    The nirmanakaya Buddha (historical Buddha) is as important as Sambogakaya Buddha, just as conventional reality is as important as ultimate reallity as declared by Nagarjuna.

    I know that Sakyapas tent to emphasize the important of Sambogakaya but there's no need to ignore the important of nirmanakaya Buddha, they are the same: for the benefit oa all sentient beings.

    P.
    Namdrol:
    Actually, this is not so. According to Gorampa for example, the Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya have the same relationship as an illusionist and his illusion.

    But that is really not so germane here. What is germane when considering history is the empirical record. And the empirical record simply does not support the notion that Mahayana was taught while Gotama Buddha walked this earth. This does not mean that Mahayana does not have a valid origin -- it does, as I have explained. It is in the pure visions of later masters who came after the Buddha and who wrote down their visions of Buddha teaching various teachings in various places.

    Now I don't know about what you think, but I am pretty sure that the number of monks who were said to be present on the summit of Vulture peak when the Buddha was teaching the Lotus Sutra, for example, cannot actually fit there. It is not a large place.

    user posted image

    N
    Paljor:
    If the house of Vimalakirti was big enough for 32 hundred thousands thrones, and these thrones each measured 42 hundred thousands league in height, and his house didn't increase in size, nor get crowded, then I think the vulture peak can be as vast as space to accomodate the number of monks, humans, non-humans, etc... Now why people who have "pure vision" should create something so "untrue" and "illogical", shouldn't that go against the dharma? Or is there something that is beyond intellectual elaboration?
    P.
    Namdrol:
    It does not go against the Dharma, it means that the author of the sutra who was describing the setting was making a didactic point.

    N
  • An Eternal Now
    Old posts by Namdrol:
    "The Mahayana sutras are recorded words of Buddha, the words of Buddha recorded from the visions of Indian masters from 100 BCE onwards, just as the Pali suttas are the words of Indian masters recorded when they saw the Buddha between roughly 460 BCE-400 BCE."
    .
    .
    Now with regards to Tantras (of Vajrayana):
    "Tantras in general have always had a revealed source, and for the most part have never sought authorship by the historical Buddha as a criteria for their validity-- the tantras come from Oddiyana, where they are kept by Dakini guardians. Indian Mahasiddhas would visit there, and recover texts to bring back to India, for example, Virupa recovered the Raktayamari cycle from there.

    Certainly some major tantras (Kalachakra, Guhyasamaja, Hevajra, lower tantra in general) have been thought to have been taught by the historical Buddha by some Tibetan exegetes, but there are whole classes of tantras considered to have never been taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, but rather by Samhogakaya manifestations. For this reason, tantras continue to be produced (albeit they are completely unoriginal in content) and sutras have not continued to be reproduced."

    More quotations from "Loppon Namdrol":
    "I take the position that tantric texts were gradually written down beginning in the sixth to seventh century based on the experiences of Buddhist masters. I don't see much difference between "created" and "revealed".

    One day these texts did not exist, the next day they did-- authorship is not an issue for me, that is whether they are the produce of a Buddha or a master putting words in a Buddha's mouth does not matter-- I think the system is highly effective whatever its origin. "

    "That is completely irrelevent to the quality of the teaching of this or that sutra. One's criteria ought not be authorship, but wisdom."

A nice summary on the development of teachings by Ven. Hui-Feng:


Before explaining how the sukha-tathagatagarbhikas ( tongue.gif ) explain the "apparent conflict", and Chan too, let's take a few steps back.

Even in the early sutras, there is the idea of certain teachings as being "fully drawn out" (nitartha), and others as "yet to be drawn out" (neyartha). We could say, "explicit" and "implicit". However, at first, which were which was not stated.

So, there were some "apparent conflicts" quite early on. The biggest by far was that of the "pudgala", which was kind of a synonym for "atman". In some sutras the Buddha says things like "the pudgala does this and that", "the pudgala is reborn in some place", and so forth; and in other sutras, the Buddha states that "there is no atman, no pudgala, no sattva..." and so forth.

Now, one school, the Pudgalavadins, tried to come up with a theory that kept all teachings on a similar "truth" level. They ended up with an "expressible pudgala", which was rather dubious. Still, they tended to fall towards the extreme of eternalism, rather than annihilism. So, although neither are correct, the former is better than the latter (see my signature).

The other schools, notably the Abhidharma groups, came up with the "dharma theory", which broke everything down into irreducible parts, each of which was impermanent, dissatisfactory and not self (and empty too). Now, based on a group of these irreducible dharmas, one could have a designation, but these desigations / names, etc. were not real per se. Classic example: The five aggregates are real, the "person" is a designation based on the aggregates.

They then used this theory to explain the apparent contradiction, ie. that teachings that spoke of a "pudgala", "atman", etc. were actually just "conventional designations" and thus "implicit" and "to be fully drawn out", whereas thos that taught in terms of "dharmas", were "ultimate teachings" and "already fully drawn out". (I've an essay in my Blog, see signature, on this one if you want more details.)

To seal this, the Abhidharma literature which is slightly later than the sutras almost always tries to use the "dharma" / "ultimate" terminology. Therefore, a bunch of later explanatory literature wins the day.

But, there were still some problems with this Abhidharma dharma-theory. In particular, the tendency towards explaining these irreducible dharmas as somehow substantial. In fact, even up to the point of the Sarvastivada considering dharmas as themselves little atman, etc. (Remember, the Sarvastivada is from a school closely related to the Pudgalavadins.) Again, a slight leaning towards eternalism.

Now, another body of literature starts to appear, ie. the Mahayana sutras. Once again, they have the advantage of being the latest texts, so they can make arguments against all the earlier material, and consolidate a complete systematic view. The emphasis is on the fact that even these so-called Dharmas are empty too, not just empty of an atman / pudgala, but empty of any sort of substantiality, eternality, and so forth.

But, again, this has the tendency towards nihilism in the eyes of some. So, yet another body of literature starts to appear. Well, two, actually. These are the Yogacara literature, stemming from the Sarvastivadins. And, the Tathagatagarbha literature.

Because they are now the newest stuff, they can explicity within the text themselves say things like "Oh, the XXX sutra is just a provisional teaching, this sutra that you are reading now is the real, true and ultimate teaching!!" And, of course, the XXX sutra doesn't say anything to the contrary - because this new Tathagatagarbha sutra didn't even exist at the time to be refuted!!

Every new batch of literature that came out stated that it (and usually, only it), was the "explicit" and ultimate teaching, etc. etc. and that everything that had come before was merely provisional.

In India, this was nitartha versus neyartha. But in China, slightly different. The Chinese for a start received a lot of their Buddhism "all at once", or, at least in a quite different order at first to the Indians. ie. they got Abhidharma stuff first, then some Mahayana stuff, and then the Agama sutras, and then mostly Mahayana stuff with some later commentaries of Abhidharma and Mahayana.

So, mainly starting from Tiantai Zhiyi, they started to make "doxographies", and try to put the various sutras in order - of time, and importance. Of course, they considered (almost) every text that had "Thus have I heard..." to be all taught during the Buddha's time. However, because the later texts claimed to be more ultimate, etc. they ended up being put later in the Buddha's career.

eg. whereas modern scholars would say that the range of sutras, early and Mahayana, took place over about 8 centuries, Zhiyi crammed them all within the life time of Sakyamuni. First, the Avatamsaka, then the Agamas, then the Prajnaparamita, then the Vaipulyas (other Mahayana sutras), then the Lotus Sutra and finally the Mahayana Parinirvana Sutra.

Actually, the Mahayana Parinirvana Sutra (not to be confused with the early Parinirvana Sutra) was a genius idea! If they set the sutra at the parinirvana of the Buddha, then obviously it would have to be the Buddhas last (and thus ultimate) teaching! And yes, this was a Tathagatagarbha text.

All these were already translated, and the Tiantai doxography already in place, by the time that Chan came on the scene. So, the Mahayana sutras, especially the Tathagatagarbha sutras, were supreme. For Chan at first, the Lankavatara Sutra was extremely important, but also the Parinirvana, etc. Lotus, etc.

During the first few generations of Chan, they mainly used these Mahayana sutras as the basis of their practice. Bodhidharma cites them, so do Daoxin, Hongren and Huineng. It's called "based on the scripture, realize the mind / truth". This later came to be called "Ruali Chan", "rulai" being the translation of "tathagata", referring to the Tathagatagarbha sutras.

Later, in the late Tang and Song, etc. there was a move towards "patriarch Chan". Though the Sutra content was there, it was less obvious, and there was usage of techniques like "silent illlumination", "word/thought watching", etc. Still, most of these were based around later Mahayana thought, especially Tathagatagarbha. There were some exceptions, but they were minor.

It was in this later period that Chan goes to Japan and we have Zen. Also, a lot of Zen in Japan is Tendai influenced, so the notion of the importance of the Lotus Sutra and Parinirvana Sutra is perhaps even stronger than in China.

These Chan and Zen boys and girls were largely not scholars by this stage. Thus, where the Indian pandits were quickly putting Tathagatagarbha at the bottom end of their doctrinal scale of "which teaching is ultimate", subsuming it under a Madhyamaka (and Yogacara) over-system, the Chinese (and Japanese) did not. Nobody was really going around noting that "Hey, these buddhists are talking like the Vedantins or Brahmins!?", because there weren't (m)any Brahmins in China! Everything Indian got subsumed into the Buddhist fold.

Also, around the late Tang, the routes to India were not as open, and so the latest Indian explanations did not make it to China. Unlike in Tibet, which is the time when Buddhism started there. Their Tathagatagarbha and Yogacara was already largely the later, pre-packaged in Madhyamaka outfit version, and so it stayed.

rantoff.gif

(If only I could usually write a 1000 word essay so quickly! hahahahaha!)

Huifeng namaste.gif


..........

Namdrol: In terms of the origin and evolution of Buddhist texts? No. N�g�rjuna did not recover the Prajñ�paramita Sūtras from sea monsters off of the coast of Andra Pradesh, as romantic as that might sound. Likewise, Buddha did not teach Abhidhamma pitika in one session to the gods in the thirty three heavens, as romantic as that sounds. One of the nice things about Buddhist texts, especially Mah�y�na texts is that one can study their evolution. Why? Becauase they were translated into different languages over the period of a thousand years. How is the possible? For two reasons -- we have the Chinese canon and the Tibetan canon. Buddhist sutras in the Chinese canon clearly show textual development over the many recensions of their translations. The Tibetan forms of these sutras are always in more mature forms than the earlier Chinese translations. And interestingly enough, the surviving Sanskrit copies of many sutras and tantras too show evidence of textual development subsequent to their translations into Tibetan. We can see this type of development even between translations from the Imperial period and the so called "later translation period" which begins with Rinchen Zangpo in the late tenth century. Another thing we notice with Bon texts is that their orthography is solely post Ralpachen i.e. post 840 or so. In other words, we do not find the kinds of archaic spellings in Bon canonical texts in general (such as the Zer mig, etc) that one would expect to find in ancient, pre-Buddhist texts. So you can speculate all you like about Ancient Buddhas in mythical kingdoms writing down all the Buddhist sutras in independent form and depositing them in Tibet in the some prehistorical period. But the simple fact of the matter is that texts are plastic culture, they are susceptible to evolution and emendation, and in the case of Buddhist texts, these emendations are trackable to a very large degree until the Chinese and Tibetans stopped translating Indic texts. Of course, even in Tibetan Buddhist treasure literature one can find clear evolution and consolidation of language and terminology and very little in the way of truly archaic spellings, etc., spellings we have actual evidence of from texts which clearly date to that time period. I think you ought to make yourself more useful, and go get a PhD in Tibetan studies somewhere, like Oslo - with Per Kvarne, who has a Bon studies program, university level. Then you can be really, truly insufferable as only academics can be. Otherwise, you should study Tibetan Medicine, since you stated you wanted to be a healer. There are a bunch of Bon doctors in Nepal. Go study with them. N ......... More: http://sgforums.com/forums/1728/topics/378306 - Are Mahayana Sutras Taught by Buddha?

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