Episode 167 :: Bhikkhu Sujato :: Bhikkhuni Sangha and The Authenticity Project

| May 4, 2013 | 25 Comments

bhikkhu_sujato

Bhikkhu Sujato

Bhikkhu Sujato joins us to speak about the ordination of women in the Theravada tradition, and his work with canonical veracity in The Authenticity Project.

How do we know for sure what Gotama said? We probably can’t, and we can further muddy the waters with unsupportable assertions about the perfection of the Pali canon as the True Word of The Buddha. Or, we can use the fine minds we have, apply some reason, and have some engaging conjecture about consistent messages showing through the various texts that have come to us through the ages. Of course there are going to be differences of opinion and valid acceptance criteria, that’s expected; we’re not measuring the rate of a falling object in a vacuum, and can’t expect that kind of accuracy. That doesn’t mean we can’t ask the questions, and it doesn’t mean we can’t be enthusiastic participants in companionable dialogue.

Ajahn Sujato is an Australian Buddhist Monk. In 1994 he left his music career to take higher ordination in Thailand in the forest lineage of Ajahn Chah. As well as living for several years in forest monasteries and remote hermitages in Thailand, he spent three years in Bodhinyana Monastery (Perth) as secretary of Ajahn Brahmavamso, and over a year in a cave in Malaysia.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Twinings Australian Afternoon Tea.

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Yes, that is a pre-ordination Bhante Sujato playing guitar.

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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “Chaniwa” from his CD, Shakuhachi Meditations.

Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (25)

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  1. mufi says:

    I enjoyed this interview, Ted, although I’m now left wondering “What’s a neuroscience atheist?”

  2. Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

    Thanks very much to Sujato and Ted. This was an excellent discussion. I particularly enjoyed the material about textual authenticity in the Canon: Sujato is on the right track. I recall similar “denialist” discussions arising from time to time in the skeptical community about the existence of Jesus. In that context, these sorts of denialists are known as “mythicists”. Fortunately in that context there has been very good recent work done by Prof. Bart Ehrman, demonstrating the depth and consistency of the evidence for Jesus’s existence. NB: this is sometimes confused in skeptical circles with some claim about the authenticity of the supposed miracles, which it is not. Ehrman in fact is an agnostic, ex-Christian.

    The problem in all this is being able to separate one’s emotional desires and wishes from an ability to look with some dispassion on the evidence. These emotions famously come up among believers, with their own desires to take miraculous events as true and accurate, but they also can come up among some skeptics, who can have desires to find the whole thing a kind of fraud. In all cases, the question is how best to interpret the evidence, in the light of what we know to be the case, e.g., from background knowledge of history and the other sciences.

    It was also nice to hear the shoutout to Anālayo, a very fine scholar whose work (along with Sujato’s) I referred to in my most recent blog post.

  3. Mark Knickelbine says:

    I look forward to seeing this conversation joined by scholars of other views. I am not such, but I note some major holes in Sujato’s arguments. To begin with, it is a false dichotomy to suggest that the Pali texts are either “authentic” or “inauthentic.” It is obvious, as Sujato admits, that not everything in the Pali canon originated with Gotama. Further, we see many examples where similar stories are collected in different versions; or where simple verse forms are reset in elaborate, pericope-packed texts. If we can agree that Gotama didn’t behave or speak in the sterotypical manner of the formulas and pericopes of MN and DN, then these elements must have been added by someone at a later point. And as Sujato also points out, Pali was probably not a prakrit that Gotama would have spoken. Finally, the suttas in SN that record events after Gotama’s death also could not have originated with him. So the Pali texts are evidently not strictly authentic. The best they could be would be a blend of material that might have originated with Gotama that was consciously revised by someone at a later date. The likelihood is that most of the suttas are a blend of preserved stories and teachings with material that was added at a later time.

    Secondly, the fact that historical or political details are preserved is no guarantee that the doctrine contained in a particular sutta is “authentic.” To say “Well if they got all this minor historical stuff right, how could they mess up the doctrine?” is to turn the question on its head. The stories of King Pasenedi, rival teachers, locations of Gotama’s headquarters, etc, would have been known material that would have reassured listeners that they were hearing an old, familiar story. It is the doctrine that would have been revised, because the point of the suttas is to transmit doctrine. If you needed to convince people that, say, Gotama prescribed how to get into various heavens by giving to the monks and didn’t have a sutta that supported you, you could come up with a familiar sounding setting (Anathapindika’s Park, anyone?), throw in some familiar pericopes, and compose the rest as necessary. If you really believed that’s what Gotama taught, and perhaps had similar material to base your work on, why wouldn’t you? Before one points to the slavish desire to preserve the teachings, remember that we have already documented instances of obvious post-Gotama composition. If you’re going to claim that we can trust these texts as “authentic” because of the zeal of the monks to preserve them, you have to explain how that zeal was unable to prevent the composition of original material that passed itself off as authentic.

    Circumstantial evidence won’t cut it. If we’re applying Occam’s Razor, these texts are much more easily explained has being the product of decades or perhaps centuries of compositional and doctrinal evolution. That the Agamas are very similar(and how would I know how similar they are?)only demonstrates that the canon was closed at some point before they were translated, and we already know that. We know from modern religious movements that doctrinal change can happen quite rapidly after the death of the charismatic founder. That, and the obvious stylistic evolution of the suttas, makes the notion that all or most of these texts originated with one author highly suspect.

    Are these arguments “ludicrous”? Am I the equivalent of a 9/11 truther or a Holocaust denier? Hyperbolic denunciations of one’s opponents don’t make one particularly convincing.

  4. Linda Linda says:

    Mark, I didn’t actually hear Sujato defending the teachings in the texts as entirely “authentic”. In fact I seem to remember him specifically making the point that there were certainly things in them that got added later. I understood his argument to be that (1) we do find historical consistency for a set time period within the works and this is an indication that most of them were composed around the same time and that (2) when folks tried to add something with a bit of history in it they did such a bad job of it that it was obvious that they had and that (3) therefore the vast bulk of them had to have been composed very close to the time period we have for the Buddha’s life.

    I don’t think the loss of context for a sutta (“in Savatthi” being the generic opening when background was lost) serves as any kind of basis for dismissing them as in authentic, and I don’t think that he was suggesting we should take every word in the suttas as authentic because some of them have good historical context. Obviously we have to compare what’s in the suttas to others, which is exactly what the Buddha himself suggested that we do since he knew full well there would be confusion after he died.

    As I was listening it occurred to me, too, that the concept of those caring for the texts caring about the content of the sermons, not the background stories meant that when they dared to mess with the texts they would mess with the sermons and leave history alone. But I didn’t hear Sujato saying that it would be otherwise (I think he just didn’t address the point).

    The difference between Sujato’s take, and mine, and yours, is a matter of “what and how much” rather than any radical difference in understanding of the process overall.

    Sujato seems to feel most is authentic and the Theravadan interpretation of the texts is accurate (I get the latter from reading what he writes, not from the interview).

    Mine is that most of the texts are authentic (that by the end of the Buddha’s life he will have developed pericopes for their usefulness in conveying his teachings accurately, as a multi-sutta cross-checking device). Though bits are confused, some intentionally corrupted, later additions of whole suttas, and likely quite a bit lost, the confusions and corruptions are pretty easily picked out as being out-of-tune with the rest. And I differ from both of you (I think) in seeing that we have misinterpreted his reasons for talking about rebirth as he did — a new view of them which results in the texts being read as incredibly consistent (though not perfectly consistent due to corruptions) as a way of looking at the world.

    Yours seems to be that only a small portion is authentic, and the vast majority either corrupted or added later. I am still unclear on whether you feel the Buddha originally didn’t teach rebirth and all that got added later, or if you suspect he did teach it, in which case I’m not sure why you’d think there were corruptions (since on the surface that seems to be the major thing he talks about).

    Overall, though, really pleased with the interview and with The Authenticity Project taking on the job of showing that the texts are very likely to have originated in one period that fits with the time we have for the Buddha’s life and shortly thereafter. Kudos to his team for separating that task (as my impression is they have) from statements about the authenticity of any particular take on what’s in the texts. (Perhaps that project is for a later date?)

  5. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Linda, the “sutras” Sujato is refering to as having bungled the history are the Mahayana sutras that we know were composed centuries later. But even they could throw in references to Vulture’s Peak, etc. If things like place names, the names of kings and teachers, etc, were part of the original story material that grew out of Gotama’s life and work, then of course they would be preserved, and would be available as markers of authenticity to those who composed suttas well after Gotama’s death. You can’t claim both that the material was meticulously preserved AND that details of the social milieu would be unavailable to later generations.

    Also, it’s been some time since I listened to the podcast but I believe Sujato at least implies that the authenticity of the background detail indicates that the teachings “originated with him [the Buddha]” Because of course it’s the teaching, and not King Pasenedi or Anathapindika’s Park we care about. This is not a solid logical connection, especially since we appear to see a shift in doctrinal evidence between the simple verse suttas (which I think are earlier) and the highly formulaic, pericope-laden suttas (which I think are later). Furthermore, since we see snippets of certain texts embedded in other texts, it seems likely that most of the suttas are probably a mixture of material that may have originated from Gotama’s time with other material that probably didn’t. So does this make them authentic?

    Finally, as I’ve said before, I don’t think discussions about “authenticity” or “corruption” are particularly useful. What is more important is the consistency of ideas and how those ideas appear to have changed over time. Scholars of of pre-literate European culture long ago gave up the search for the “original” versions of texts; if it weren’t for the religious impulse to find out “what the Buddha really taught” I think we’d have to give it up for the Pali texts too. Sujato is highly invested in the idea that the monastic life presented in the canon is authentic (even though he seems to know that modern Theravadin practice was invented in Thailand in the 19th Century); the reason he says he prefers Theravada is for its authenticity. I have no such investment. I find the 4 truths, the 8fold path, conditioned arising and the Three Marks, along with the general prescription of using mindfulness to cultivate equanimity and compassion, to be a consistent and meaningful message that is richly presented in many Pali texts, and I have little concern about whether or not they originated with the historical Gotama, or with reconciling them with other texts that contradict them in content and tone.

  6. Linda Linda says:

    “You can’t claim both that the material was meticulously preserved AND that details of the social milieu would be unavailable to later generations.” Well yes, you can, because those composing the later texts would not necessarily have had access to enough of the old canon to be able to get a grasp of the history of the Buddha’s times. It’s hard enough for us now, with access to the whole thing. I’m sure you must know from reading the texts yourself that the vast bulk is doctrine, not history. And (if I recall correctly) Sujato points out that when later folks tried to insert “authentic details” they got it so wrong it sticks out like a sore thumb (he didn’t cite examples in the interview or I’d provide them). And that *is* consistent with having access to texts in which the Buddha is speaking doctrine over and over and over and over and rarely saying anything about history.

    And anyway, your example of simply sticking “Vulture’s Peak” into a story is not what Sujato was talking about. I’m not aware of Mahayana sutras containing complex references to places or historical events that are consistent with the history of the Buddha’s times, are you?

    “I believe Sujato at least implies that the authenticity of the background detail indicates that the teachings ‘originated with him [the Buddha]'”

    Here’s what he says (at 34:43) “…our basic thesis is that those early Buddhist scriptures are in fact spoken by the Buddha or at the very least are a product of that early time, of the early generation.”

    I don’t disagree with that — at least as far as the early texts containing a fair rendition of what the Buddha said.

    Some human came up with a bright idea. Either it’s the guy in the story (which is the simplest explanation for what we have) or someone went to a whole lot of trouble to make up a story to cover up that some other person or persons came up with a brilliant idea. Applying Occam’s Razor, the first is far more logical.

    When looking at how “ideas appear to have changed over time” does an investigator into that history not keep looking farther back and farther back getting closer to whatever was the original idea? Even people who study ancient languages don’t hold out any hope of documenting “the first language” but their efforts are still directed at getting as close to an understanding of what it contained and where it developed and by what sorts of persons and the whys. It’s a red herring when people say that because we can’t ever get to the original we should give up on it, or (as you seem to imply) that it’s only because there’s a conviction around the importance of the man originating this set of ideas that drives people to do it. We’re not trying to get as close as we can to a “first language” because we think the inventor was particularly important, and people’s ideas of the importance of the Buddha isn’t the only reason for trying to get closer to the original there, either. Maybe it’s Sujato’s motivation, but that doesn’t make it the only motivation in the world, or mean that his are the best or the strongest reasons.

    I agree that the consistency of the ideas, and their usefulness, is what is important, and — not coincidentally — I’m pretty sure that it’s by getting closer to the original that we find greater consistency and usefulness. The two — research that gets us closer to the original, and efforts towards discovering greater usefuleness — aren’t mutually incompatible.

  7. Mark Knickelbine says:

    So where is all this very detailed historical information in the suttas? I see references to a ruler or teacher here, a place there, perhaps at most a conflict among Gotama’s clan or the posthumous struggle between Kassapa and Ananda. If you had any of this information you could use it pretty convincingly in the same shallow way, especially if you did so within a century or so of the paranibbana. This kind of material doesn’t appear all that often in the suttas and as we agree is no indication that doctrine is “authentic” anyway.

    The reason why scholars of European pre-literate culture have given up the chase for the “original” texts of stuff like the Anglo-Saxon classics is that one will never know for sure and in the end it doesn’t matter. The analogous search for “what the Buddha really taught” can only be driven by the faith that the man had something unique to say and unless we know what he really said our dharma practice might be based on “corrupted” doctrine. Gotama is quoted several times — the Kalama Sutta and the Mahaparanibbana Sutta come to mind — telling us not to base our practice on scripture and to become independent of others in the teaching. No matter how long you study these texts, the dharma is not there. It is in your own heart and mind and after you understand that any time you spend looking elsewhere for it may have some value but it does not promote awakening.

    • mufi says:

      No matter how long you study these texts, the dharma is not there. It is in your own heart and mind and after you understand that any time you spend looking elsewhere for it may have some value but it does not promote awakening.

      Oh, I don’t know if I’d go that far. The Pali Canon may indeed capture multiple voices from centuries’ worth of oral tradition (as opposed to its being an inerrant record of Gotama’s oral teachings). But (as John Peacock alludes in this dharma talk) at least since it became a literary canon, it’s served as a valid way to check how the various dharma traditions either adhere to or part ways with those early voices. Whether those changes qualify as enhancements or corruptions is up to each practitioner to decide.

      • Mark Knickelbine says:

        Mufi, I didn’t mean to imply that reading the texts was a waste of time; if it were, this blog certainly documents my own prodigious waste in that regard. But the Nikayas are just one more finger (or probably a swollen thumb) pointing at the moon — they are not the moon. They are valuable (when they are) because they steer us toward truths that were true before Gotama and would have been true without him.

        • mufi says:

          OK, although I feel obliged to add that these references to “the dharma” can drift off pretty quickly into incoherence, unless we have some ground to which we can anchor them. For me, at least, the Canon (and the historical scholarship that surrounds it) serves as that ground (not that it does me all that much good on the cushion).

          • Mark Knickelbine says:

            Part of that has to do with the polyvalent nature of the Pali word to begin with. The grounding, however, is in dependent arising, the Three Marks, and the Four Noble Truths, all of which are descriptions of how the human organism relates to its existential condition — so the dharma is ultimately rooted in the human capacity to awaken.

          • mufi says:

            Mark: “The dharma” only has meaning within this cultural tradition and area of study that we now call “Buddhism.”

            Is it insightful? I think so. (That’s partly why I’m here.) But I’m not prepared to say that it’s insightful to a degree that no other description of the human condition can possibly match or supercede – especially given the growing contributions of modern science & philosophy to that effort.

            Besides, the dharma is at least as prescriptive as it is descriptive. Whether its prescriptions “work” depends upon how effective they are at meeting one’s goals in life.

          • Mark Knickelbine says:

            “I’m not prepared to say that it’s insightful to a degree that no other description of the human condition can possibly match or supercede – especially given the growing contributions of modern science & philosophy to that effort.

            Besides, the dharma is at least as prescriptive as it is descriptive. Whether its prescriptions “work” depends upon how effective they are at meeting one’s goals in life.

            Mufi, I’m not prepared to say that either. In fact, if Gotama’s teachings are valuable based on the accuracy of their description and the effectiveness of their prescription, we should expect to see that wisdom reflected throughout human culture, and for the sciences to confirm and enrich our understanding into it. And I think that’s what we do see.

          • mufi says:

            Mark: In fact, if Gotama’s teachings are valuable based on the accuracy of their description and the effectiveness of their prescription, we should expect to see that wisdom reflected throughout human culture, and for the sciences to confirm and enrich our understanding into it. And I think that’s what we do see.

            What the sciences suggest is that meditation practice delivers some salutary effects (most of which fall into the affective/emotional category, but also some that fall more into the cognitive or physiological categories, as modern researchers and clinicians use those terms nowadays).

            You can interpret those conclusions as validation of Gotama’s teachings if you like, but then what if the meditative technique in question is rooted in a different religious tradition – say, Christian or Hindu (e.g. TM) – and yet delivers similar effects? What would that say about the truth or “accuracy” of Christian or Hindu doctrine? Very little, I think.

            That said, I feel obliged to add that I’m quite biased towards Gotama’s teachings (relative to those others, which are harder to reconcile with my secular/naturalist predisposition). But like all forms of bias, mine is quite subjective and not so easy to explain – that is, without crafting some story that may or may not be true.

          • Mark Knickelbine says:

            “What would that say about the truth or “accuracy” of Christian or Hindu doctrine?”

            Not much, but it does say quite a bit about the accuracy of Gotama’s mindfulness teachings, because he says that practice is intended to cultivate mental clarity and stability — not union with the Godhead or the presence of Jesus in our hearts. Because we can find dharma wisdom in many traditions doesn’t mean that all aspects of those traditions represent wisdom.

          • mufi says:

            …it does say quite a bit about the accuracy of Gotama’s mindfulness teachings, because he says that practice is intended to cultivate mental clarity and stability — not union with the Godhead. Because we can find dharma wisdom in many traditions doesn’t mean that all aspects of those traditions represent wisdom.

            Gotama’s teachings (care of the Pali Canon, let alone the Mahayana texts) are also riddled with (what we nowadays call) supernaturalism. That less work is required to “naturalize” them (relative to Christian or Hindu doctrines) I grant you. (BTW, that’s also why I generally prefer to compare Gotama with more secular thinkers of the Western canon, like Plato, Aristotle, and Hume.) But, as much as we might like to forget our cherry-picking efforts to breathe 21st-Century relevance into the dharma, “less work” doesn’t mean “no work.”

            Besides, if we’re interested in the kinds of health outcomes that modern medical & psychological researchers are interested in, then who says that an object of meditation has to be natural in order to be effective?

            Granted, I’d rather focus on my breath or other body sensations than on a deity that I don’t believe in. But, in principle, that doesn’t mean that the latter won’t achieve comparable effects – especially in an individual who’s less skeptical of deities than I am. After all, science is often statistical.

          • Mark Knickelbine says:

            That is why I was careful to specify his “mindfulness teachings” as opposed to the whole bundle of woo. We don’t need to naturalize Gotama’s teachings on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, nor on the practices of cultivating loving kindness, joy, compassion and equanimity. This is our indication that they are based in observation of the human animal and not supernatural dogma. And I think there was sufficient research evidence back in the ’70s that any object of meditation could elicit the Relaxation Response, even nonsense. The fact that we don’t need to believe in religious tenets to benefit from the core dharma teachings is what makes them relevant to a naturalistic ethos — no work required there either. What does take work is to posit that everything in the Pali canon represents some kind of unified and naturalistic teaching that originated with one guy. I don’t know that that kind of work is valuable or necessary. Paying attention to what works and makes sense and setting aside everything else is a useful hermeneutic for the Pali texts — maybe the only one that is useful.

          • mufi says:

            The fact that we don’t need to believe in religious tenets to benefit from the core dharma teachings is what makes them relevant to a naturalistic ethos — no work required there either.

            I suspect that your take on what qualifies as the “core dharma teachings” is already somewhat naturalized, but I should probably leave that argument for others to make (e.g. those who are either more orthodox or more academic than I).

            So suffice it to say that Gotama’s theory on karma/rebirth/liberation seems pretty “core” to me. Of course, one can always reinterpret it in naturalistic, metaphorical terms, but that does take some work.

    • Linda Linda says:

      “So where is all this very detailed historical information in the suttas?”

      The most recent writing I’ve seen on the subject is in Batchelor’s “Confessions” — he seems to compile a lot of it (though I don’t recall if he gives citations to actual suttas).

      “If you had any of this information you could use it pretty convincingly … especially if you did so within a century or so of the parinibbana.”

      Yes, and I’d say that most of the material we have has as its basis texts from the Buddha’s life or within a century or so of his parinibbana — far more of the former than the latter. Unimportant framing material gets changed, dropped, or occasionally mixed up, and the grammar/choice of language gets updated but what I see is that huge effort was put towards preserving the teachings as accurately as possible. And I argue more from a consistency of what’s in the bulk of the texts *as teachings* than I do from the pieces of the stories thrown in as background. But the fact that we do have consistent historical bits adds evidence to what we have being very early, rather than a compilation written by a committee over centuries. All the stuff we hear about “it wasn’t written down till 400 years later” as an argument for the texts lacking value is foolishness.

      So even if the historical bits are only a tiny percentage, they’re valuable as evidence that we have something that’s quite likely a relatively accurate representation of what was said and done. (note that I say “evidence” not “proof”)

      “This kind of material doesn’t appear all that often in the suttas and as we agree is no indication that doctrine is “authentic” anyway.”

      I don’t think we do agree.

      “The analogous search for “what the Buddha really taught” can only be driven by the faith that the man had something unique to say…”

      Faith, Mark? Really? Only by faith? I think not. I think it’s driven by evidence that those texts have something unique to say — I’ve put what I read in those texts into action in my life and I have the evidence of my experience that gaining a better understanding of those texts improves my practice which improves my life (and, not incidentally, the lives of those affected by me). If the package some man put together in those texts isn’t unique, please tell me who else taught exactly the same thing as crisply — I’ll start reading now. Even dharma books written by others who are trying to restate what the Buddha said “in modern terms” haven’t helped me as much as reading and understanding the suttas.

      “… and unless we know what he really said our dharma practice might be based on “corrupted” doctrine. Gotama is quoted several times — the Kalama Sutta and the Mahaparinibbana Sutta come to mind — telling us not to base our practice on scripture and to become independent of others in the teaching. No matter how long you study these texts, the dharma is not there. It is in your own heart and mind and after you understand that any time you spend looking elsewhere for it may have some value but it does not promote awakening.”

      Once you’ve understood the dharma, you shouldn’t bother with the texts anymore, it’s all practice? Well, I suppose that’s cool, you Hinayanist, you. Go thou to the forest and meditate for your enlightenment.* I’d rather keep working on helping to clarify those texts so that those who haven’t yet discovered the message have an easier time than I did of figuring out why the man said what he said in the way he said it (which isn’t, I admit, an easy thing to come to understand due to the subtlety of the message and the distance in time and culture between us and them).

      * This said with the understanding that I know Mark well enough to know how very much effort — quite a lot of effort — he puts into sharing the dharma with others. We simply have different approaches. Mark leads the Practice Circle and meets locally with fellow secular Buddhist types — his approach is to work directly with people. Mine is more distant and theoretical than that — my emphasis is working on the texts. I believe that both approaches have equal value.

      In debates elsewhere, the concept keeps coming up that if I understand Buddhism to be something different from what the Traditions teach, and this modified Buddhism works for me, then I should go ahead and spread it around but just not call it Buddhism since (in the minds of the Traditionalists I’m talking to) it isn’t Buddhism if such critical bits as literal karma and rebirth get left out. Secular types get accused of just wanting to ride on the Buddha’s coat-tails, using his name to promote something that isn’t actually Buddhism.

      And much as I/we protest this argument, there is a valid point in there about using the Buddha’s name. I hope that anyone who sees the work I put out describing why the Buddha said what he said in the way he said it — anyone who recognizes, through study and putting it into effect in their lives, just how powerful a way of looking at the world it is — will be very clear on the concept that this is not a way of looking at the world that I constructed (I’m not that kind of smart to come up with something that insightful, useful, and elegant). But if I divorce what I have found from the man who said it — if I claim it as my own — who’s going to listen? (setting aside that it would be wrong for me to claim as my own the brilliance of someone else’s work)

      What we are trying to share here *is* the unique work of some brilliant mind from long ago, and people are drawn to that, to the authority of the fellow. Whether they are drawn to it because it seems Mystical, or thinking during those Ancient Times there were Wise Men we no longer have in our age, or just that if his teachings lasted 2K+ years there must be something in it — whatever the reasons — it is The Buddha As Authority that first draws people in, and even if, in the end, it’s each of us that is the ultimate authority, most people don’t start from there.

      Maybe the difference in our understanding, Mark, is that in some sense, you did, being introduced to meditation shorn of its overtly Buddhist context, but I don’t think yours is the most common path to Buddhism.

      • Mark Knickelbine says:

        It may very well be that it was my love of the dharma that drove me to the texts, rather than the other way on, that informs my perspective on such matters. The suttas that are important to me are so because I recognized in them a truth I had already confirmed in my experience. That may also be why I have little difficulty leaving aside the mythology and have next to no angst about the historicity of the Buddha — I know people whose feet are firmly on the path who probably have never read the Nikayas, and so I know that Buddhism has no monopoly on wisdom.

  8. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Something to consider is that, though Mark’s start was through non-traditional means may be uncommon today, it could be changing. As mindfulness as a secular practice becomes available more widely, lacking any explicit reference to Buddhism, we may see a shift, or at the very least an increase in secular exposure as the first exposure.

    • Linda Linda says:

      Indeed, and may a thousand new paths to the front door bloom.

      If you were to be wildly speculative, how long do you think it will be until secular practices based on what was once called Buddhism become so familiar that the suttas become totally unimportant, perhaps even forgotten?

      • mufi says:

        Linda: From what I’ve gathered in this forum over the past year, many of us read suttas precisely because of their historical relationship to those secular mindfulness practices. (Oh, and Stephen Batchelor’s works didn’t hurt, either. :-)) Of course, that’s not necessarily a permanent trend, but then what is?

      • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

        Perhaps we should start by saying that I don’t expect availability to diminish; with the advent of digital technology, it is likely they will continue to be around as long as any other texts. Until civilization crumbles during the inevitable zombie apocalypse, that is 🙂

        The “importance” question is an excellent one, though, Linda. I expect they will always be important simply for their clarity and brilliance, just as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species will always be important to evolution. There will be ongoing discoveries and new ways of looking at the information, but the core concepts remain sound, that is not just their initial but their ongoing value.

        If someone else puts it so much more clear than what we find in the Canon, maybe they would fade, but I just don’t see that happening anytime soon.

        • Linda Linda says:

          I agree, Ted. And that’s one of the reasons I feel it’s worth trying to get a better understanding, both of what’s in the canon, and of how much evidence there is towards “authenticity”. A better understanding of how much came from what periods is also helpful just from a historical perspective, putting the beginnings of Buddhism into the context of its place and time, which can in turn shed light on other-than-Buddhism.

          So, all-in-all, I support and applaud Sujato’s and Brahmali’s efforts.

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