When did the gods become literate?

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 8 20:40:37 EST 1999


Stephen Hodge writes :

>Yes, it seems as if Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka was fairly
>isolated from northern India although people like Buddhaghosa have
>borrowed a fair amount from Mahayana materials.

I'd like some examples of this. For I understood that the reason
Buddhaghosa made the trip to Ceylon and translated the original
texts from SinhAlese to PAli was that he tried to resurrect the
arhat ideal. It may be that he felt that both the HinayAnist and
the MahAyAnist schools had totally departed from the original
ideals and philosophy and thus his effort.

I think the fundemantal difference between PAli Buddhism and
Samskrutic Buddhism is that while the first deriving its inspiration
from the PAli canon and Abhidhamma, refuses to speculate about
Reality after the cessation of consciousness, the latter had
no such reluctance and identified Reality either with anu (atom)
or vijnAnam (consciousness) or shUnyam.

And the more I think about it, stronger do I think it's wrong to judge
the development of Indian Buddhism based on Ceylonese Buddhism.

>1.    It is considered "bad manners" these days to refer to Theravada
>as Hinayana.  Though Mahayana witers mention Hinayana, their clearest
>doctrinal adversaries were the Sarvastivadins.  We just do not know
>enough about the origins of Mahayana but it seems that they were
>originally merely a liberal wing of the basic Sangha, i.e. mahayana
>with a small "m", if you like.  There were many other Hinayana groups
>in India at the time when Mahayana emerged who are never mentioned in
>Mahayana polemics -- indeed many of the great Mahayana teachers were
>monks of Hinayana sanghas.  People like Asanga are interesting because
>they belonged to the Mahishasaka school -- they are regarded as the
>mainland counterparts to the Theravadins.  Maybe the gap was smaller
>between their doctrinal views and the later Mahayana.  Others such as
>the Sautrantika found favour (in part) with avowed Mahayanists such as
>Dignaga and Dharamkirti.

If TheravAda is synonymous with the PAli canon, then it's not so easy
to build a bridge between it and later Samskrutic schools, even HinayAna, in
terms of philosophy. Though the Samskrutic schools too derived their
inspiration from the PAli canon, they did what the Buddha specifically
condemned - speculate about Reality. So it would be better if we considered
Buddhism in its three different categories - TheravAda, HinayAna and
MahAyAna. And the gap between the last two is much more easily bridged than
either from the first, because both didn't hesitate to speculate about
Reality. So it's not strange that VAsubandhu the SarvAstivAdin wrote
VijnAnavAda works and
DignAga and his disciple Dharmakirti, though VijnAnavAdins had an
inclination towards SautrAntika.

>2.    There are references to the Mahayana people in Pali sources --
>they are referred to as "vetulla-vada".

I was looking for more than mere "reference". Anyway this might be a point
against my argument itself : Maybe the PAli authors since they anyway
refused to speculate about Reality, had anyway nothing
to fight about and might have just ignored the Samskrutic schools and their
speculations. Any reference if so, might have just been to condemn the
Samskrutic schools.

>3.    I am sorry but I can't grasp the point you are trying to make
>here.

My point is that :
Even if the TheravAdins ignored the Samskrutic schools, it's indeed
strange that the latter, especially the MahAyAnists, would have left them
alone - for they with the Bodhisattva ideal, wanted to save everybody. So
that's what I find strange - that the MahAyAnists do not engage in serious
dialectic against the TheravAdins.

Maybe this is the way it happened :

5th - 3rd century BC - The Buddha and PAli Buddhism

2nd century BC - the MahAyAna and Samskrutic Buddhism makes their appearance

2nd century BC
to 2nd century AD - Ashvaghosa, NAgArjuna and early HinayAna Samskrutic
schools (SarvAstivAda) - speculation galore!
                    PAli Buddhism on the wane

3rd-4th century AD - Rise of VaibhAshika and YogAcAra (probably in
preference to the logically weaker SautrAntika and negativist ShUnyavAda).

4th century AD - Buddhaghosa dismayed by the many contradicting forms
of Budddhism, makes a trip to Ceylon to get the original canon and
tries to resurrect the arhat ideal.

> From now on, call me "speculation galore" too :-)

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