Tag Archives: Nikāyas

The Ironic Assumptions of Gregory Schopen

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.

Saṅghabheda and Nikāyabheda

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 […]

Why Devadatta Was No Saint

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.

A Swift Pair of Messengers

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.

Rebirth and the In-between State in Early Buddhism

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?

Satipaṭṭhāna and the Evolution of the Dhamma Theory

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.

Without Delay

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

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.

What the Buddha Really Taught

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.