Friday, May 15, 2009

Think I'll do some sutras

One of the things that I've noticed about the blogosphere of American Buddhists is that they don't seem enormously well-versed in Buddhist literature; particularly the sutras.

There's a lot of folks out there who quote and analyze Dogen; you'd think Dogen invented Zen Buddhism. But of course he didn't. Not that there's anything wrong with Dogen per se (though I think others have opinions which I do not share). And most people (including me) get these things second or third hand. I don't know Pali for squat (other than the interesting word-root Indo-European things I get from the Rinzai chants). And I certainly don't know any Chinese to be useful in deciphering any texts written in that language (and that would, if memory serves me, include Dogen, who wrote in Chinese for the same reason that Aquinas wrote in Latin.)

So I wonder if anyone out there's ever wondered: just how much is the stuff being practiced out there comport with the sutras?

I myself am no expert in this field either, but I can tell you what I do know. I have some familiarity with the Lotus Sutra, (as well as the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, and the Meditation on the Boddhisattva of Universal Virtue - get this book).

I have read the Lankavatara Sutra, thanks to that on-line translation from D.T. Suzuki. And the Sutra of Forty-Two Sections.

I've also got familiarity with the The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (from which the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom chant is taken), and the Diamond Cutter Sutra. And I've passing familiarity with some of the sutras at the Access to Insight website.

And there is the Mindfulness of Breath sutra in at least one of Thich Nhat Hanh's books.

Finally, there's the Dhammapada, which I've read quite a few times.

I think it would be useful, for me at any rate, in my capacity as a layman with no authority of course, start to examine some of these on-line, from a critical perspective, and by critical I mean examining how they relate to our lives as we live them, how they relate to the state of Buddhist practice amongst westerners, and how they relate to themselves as scripture, as religious literature, and how we relate to them as such literature. But yeah I also mean critical as in what are we, as westerners to make of text like this?

Thus have I heard. Once upon a time the Lord was staying at Râgagriha, on the Gridhrakuta mountain, with a numerous assemblage of monks, twelve hundred monks, all of them Arhats, stainless, free from depravity, self-controlled, thoroughly emancipated in thought and knowledge, of noble breed, (like unto) great elephants, having done their task, done their duty, acquitted their charge, reached the goal; in whom the ties which bound them to existence were wholly destroyed, whose minds were thoroughly emancipated by perfect knowledge, who had reached the utmost perfection in subduing all their thoughts; who were possessed of the transcendent faculties; eminent disciples, such as the venerable Agñâta-Kaundinya, the venerable Asvagit, the venerable Vâshpa, the venerable Mahânâman, the venerable Bhadrikal, the venerable Mahâ-Kâsyapa, the venerable Kâsyapa of Uruvilvâ, the venerable Kâsyapa of Nadi, the venerable Kâsyapa of Gayâ, the venerable Sâriputra, the venerable Mahâ-Maudgalyâyana, the venerable Mahâ-Kâtyâyana, the venerable Aniruddha, the venerable Revata, the venerable Kapphina, the venerable Gavâmpati, the venerable Pilindavatsa, the venerable Vakula, the venerable Bhâradvâga, the venerable Mahâ-Kaushthila, the venerable Nanda (alias Mahânanda), the venerable Upananda, the venerable Sundara-Nanda, the venerable Pûrna Maitrâyanîputra, the venerable Subhûti, the venerable Râhula; with them yet other great disciples, as the venerable Ananda, still under training, and two thousand other monks, some of whom still under training, the others masters; with six thousand nuns having at their head Mahâpragâpatî, and the nun Yasodharâ, the mother of Râhula, along with her train; (further) with eighty thousand Bodhisattvas, all unable to slide back, endowed with the spells of supreme, perfect enlightenment, firmly standing in wisdom; who moved onward the never deviating wheel of the law; who had propitiated many hundred thousands of Buddhas; who under many hundred thousands of Buddhas had planted the roots of goodness, had been intimate with many hundred thousands of Buddhas, were in body and mind fully penetrated with the feeling of charity; able in communicating the wisdom of the Tathâgatas; very wise, having reached the perfection of wisdom; renowned in many hundred thousands of worlds; having saved many hundred thousand myriads of kotis of beings; such as the Bodhisattva Mahâsattva Mañgusrî, as prince royal; ...

Evidently the authors of the Mahayana texts were not well schooled in how not to write a run-on sentence...

I've not seen it done elsewhere, and as a Zen practitioner (I think I'm stealing this line from The Zennist/Zenmar) how can you know what's outside the Scriptures if you don't know what's in 'em?

And this isn't to go all fundamentalist on anyone, of course; we take the Pali translation of atta dipa as you are the light.

But we shouldn't be allergic to the Buddhist canon either, and I think it might be of use to examine how modern Buddhist practice (yeah, including those Asian folks) comports with what was taken as Buddhist literature for decades.

I hope the tens of readers who visit this blog each day will stick around, because this could get interesting, especially if folks who know more than I show up & comment on it.

And if they don't, well, ...atta dipa... as they chant.

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