We've just finished our intensive Pali course. My next stop is the Oxford Buddhist Vihar, where I will remain in a semi-lazy individual retreat for one week. I should have time then for more updates, book reviews, and all that jazz. But for now I'll just leave you with a pithy meta-realization I had over our time here discussing Buddhism, language, culture and the rest for two wonderful weeks. And that is that we might think of three kinds of "authenticity" in our discussions of Buddhism:
- Spiritual: which is not really a matter for scholars to think about.
- Historical: which asks if a text or practice really does come from where it is claimed to be from. Here scholars have plenty to say, much of it 'debunking' traditional views.
- Philosophical: which looks at the general 'coherence' of ideas or themes in Buddhism, perhaps in terms of the context of early Buddhism, or the development of the idea of emptiness. Here too, scholars can be extremely helpful in bridging traditional narratives and drawing on diverse disciplines to shed new light Buddhism.
You present a very nice breakdown here. Just as much as we talk about different types of “authenticity,” we often flip this rhetoric around to suggest different types of “inauthenticity.” So your post got me thinking about a separate question just now, perhaps the next step beyond inauthenticity—where do different people draw the lines of “heresy”?
James Roberts said...
I'm probably a little more extreme than most in asserting that history is not objective. The only thing that history has to say about authenticity is the subtext of your individual perspective on the narrative of the world. As far as things actually happening or not, well, a lot of people like to use history to make such statements, and all this really says is that the person making the statement wants to put forth some kind of authoritative ideology. This has happened as much in the history created by Buddhist traditions as it happens in modern scholarship, and as far as reality is concerned, the stories are just different stories. Which one is more authentic? Everyone has to choose their terms.
Pete Hoge said...
Yes I like the "breakdown" as well.
The 1st criteria of judgement
that I have for wisdom teachings
"Does it work"?
The last teacher/coordinator of
the sangha I had said:
"Does it cause suffering"?
Arun - Yea, I haven't thought much about "heresy" in Buddhism to be honest. I've always been taught that what you believe and say might be unskillful, but charges of heresy would seem to fit into broader philosophical polemics. I suppose monks having wildly differing views of what the Vinaya really means could be charged with "defeats" requiring expulsion along the lines of possibly causing a split in the sangha. That might be the closest actual case of "heresy" I can think of - back in the 1st/2nd Council days. I think also about the famous "Samye Debate" in Tibet, when Hoshen Mahayana was expelled from Tibet for teaching the doctrine of sudden enlightenment. No doubt similar cases abound in history. But importantly, the fatal flaw of both of those - and likely others - is that the wrong view is associated with wrong behavior. In the case of sudden enlightenment, Hoshen's opponent, Kamalashila, argued that without the gradual path, acts of morality and meditation would be useless.
James - yes, you're definitely in a bit of an extreme there. I would go so far as to say that history is always 'open' but that certain facts of history, such as the holocaust, are about as close to objectivity as we can get. Likewise with the history of Tibet as an independent nation. Well meaning people searching for the truth of the matter hopefully do not just create further ideologies, but rather evidence and understanding, plain and simple.
Pete - Yes, suffering and the path from suffering. If you get a grasp on these, you don't need much else.