Serenity and insight are the two great wings of Buddhist meditation. They each have a special role to play in the path to Awakening. While some modern approaches seek to marginalize serenity in favor of ‘dry’ insight, the Buddha’s own discourses place serenity right at the center of the path. This book collects virtually all the significant passages on this topic that are found in the early discourses, carefully elucidated for the modern reader.
Generations of scholars, from the inception of the modern study of Buddhism, have established a long-lasting and relatively stable consensus regarding the texts and history of early Buddhism. While inevitably subject to the usual kinds of uncertainty, incompleteness, and evolution, this consensus has provided a framework for the positive development of our understanding of the Buddha, his teachings, and his community. This consensus has been challenged by the prominent Amercian academic, Gregory Schopen. His essays have been the most influential reassessment in the history of Buddhist studies. Many of his ideas are regarded as virtually canonical in modern academia, and have permeated far beyond the normal reach of Buddhist academic work. However, his arguments are far better regarded among non-specialists than among those who actually study early Buddhism. This essay shows a number of flaws and problems with Schopen’s work on early Buddhism, by implication supporting the traditional consensus.
Devadatta is depicted as the archetypal villain in all Buddhist traditions. Reginald Ray has argued for a radical reassessment of Devadatta as a forest saint who was unfairly maligned in later monastic Buddhism. His work has been influential, but it relies on omissions and mistaken readings of the sources. Ray’s claim that ‘there is no overlap between the Mahāsaṅghika treatment [of Devadatta] and that of the five [Sthavira] schools’ is untrue. On the contrary, the manner in which Devadatta is depicted in the Mahāsaṅghika is broadly similar to the Sthavira accounts. Such differences as do exist are literary rather than doctrinal. The stories of Devadatta’s depravity became increasingly lurid in later Buddhism, but this is a normal feature of the mythologizing process, and has nothing to do with any antagonism against forest ascetics. In any case, the early sources are unanimous in condemning Devadatta as the instigator of the first schism in the Buddhist community.
Does Early Buddhism categorically reject or, on the contrary, tacitly admit the possibility of an intermediate state between two adjacent lives? How can these descriptions and views be used to make sense of research findings on ‘Near Death Experiences’ bring us closer to a more accurate understanding of death and beyond?
While the Satipaṭṭhana Sutta is often claimed to be the most important of the Buddha’s teachings, close textual analysis reveals that it is a composite text, with substantial differences between the many existing versions. The use of the fundamental term dhamma in fact reveals the text to be part of the early Abhidhamma movement.
The term akālika, ‘timeless’, is one of the most familiar in the whole Dhamma. It is recited as part of the daily chanting as a fundamental aspect of the Dhamma. And yet its meaning is far from clear, and so it has attracted many interpretations. Rather than being a philosophical notion, it seems that is a call to action: if you practice, you can see the results for yourself.
It’s time. We need a new paradigm. For 2500 years Buddhism has been constantly changing, adapting, evolving; yet the myths of the schools insist that the Dhamma remains the same.
Through careful attention to the earliest Buddhist teachings, preserved in scriptures in Pali, Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit, we can not only come closer to the Buddha’s original message, but can discern the teachings shared among all Buddhist traditions.
When writing Sects & Sectarianism, I tried to account for the modern critical assessments of the evidence as best I could. However, since this is a part-time project done amid a busy schedule, it’s difficult to keep up with everything. Just recently I came across an article by Heinz Bechert dealing with Aśoka’s ‘so-called’ schism edict. (Heinz Bechert, ‘The Importance …