Tag Archives: text

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.

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.

Sikkhamana: The Two Years Training for Buddhist Nuns

The Buddhist monas­tic codes (Vinayas) in­clude a pro­vi­sion for a train­ing pe­riod of two years for can­di­dates for bhikkhuni or­di­na­tion. This is one of the few as­pects of bhikkhuni or­di­na­tion that has no par­al­lel in the or­di­na­tion for monks. The sikkhamana train­ing pe­riod is con­tro­ver­sial, and is of­ten not fol­lowed in mod­ern prac­tice. Santipada un­der­took a re­search project to bring to­gether, trans­late, and an­a­lyze the ma­jor pas­sages from all Vinayas that deal with the sikkhamana. While in­com­plete, this project still com­prises the largest re­source avail­able on this topic.

White Bones Red Rot Black Snakes

Enchanting, pow­er­ful, hor­rific, beau­ti­ful, wise, deadly, com­pas­sion­ate, se­duc­tive. Women in Buddhist story and im­age are all these things and more. She takes the signs of the an­cient god­dess – the lo­tus, the sa­cred grove, the ser­pent, the sac­ri­fice – and uses them in as­ton­ish­ing new ways. Her story is one of suf­fer­ing and great tri­als, and through it all an un­quench­able long­ing to be free. This beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated work is as lay­ered and sub­ver­sive as mythol­ogy it­self. Based di­rectly on au­then­tic Buddhist texts, and in­formed with in­sights from psy­chol­ogy and com­par­a­tive mythol­ogy, it takes a fresh look at how Buddhist women have been de­picted by men and how they have de­picted them­selves.

Just A Little Peace

The Buddha’s words ex­em­plify peace, teach us peace, and lead to the ul­ti­mate peace of Nibbana. It is a sad thing that in the com­plex­i­ties and con­tra­dic­tions of Buddhist his­tory, peace has some­times been sac­ri­ficed on the al­tar of Buddhist na­tion­al­ism. By ask­ing the hard ques­tions and ac­cept­ing the an­swers fear­lessly we can ar­rive at the es­sen­tial, the true state of peace, for the sake of which all Buddhist ethics, med­i­ta­tion, and wis­dom are taught.

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.

A Painful Ambiguity

The de­pic­tion of women in Buddhist texts is deeply am­bigu­ous. We are told that women can be­come fully awak­ened; and then in the next breath, that they will de­stroy Buddhism. This am­bi­gu­ity is deeply re­veal­ing. Even though we tra­di­tion­ally see our texts as the prod­ucts of pure awak­ened be­ings, the re­al­ity is far more com­plex, and hence, far more in­ter­est­ing.

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.

The First Chinese Bhikkhunis

Fifteen hun­dred years ago, Buddhist nuns from Sri Lanka braved the long sea voy­age to China in or­der to in­tro­duce the au­then­tic bhikkhuni or­di­na­tion lin­eage. Here are their sto­ries, trans­lated from the an­cient Chinese his­to­ries.