dmattwads

Mahayana vs Theravada

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Just now, Apech said:

 

I read some Batchelor and John Peacock (?) - also a few books by Richard Gombridge - and I like what they say about the etymology of words like dukkha and so on - so there's a lot to be learned from them - and in a way being skeptical about a subject is quite healthy - but they let themselves down when they get selective in this way.

 

I agree I am currently reading Steven bachelor's book "After Buddhism" and I do like his explanation of the Pali words and some of the cultural context for sure. It's just I don't understand how you can read and understand dependent origination without a view of rebirth I feel like you have to deliberately ignore that. it does strike me though how he seems to really be enamored with the Buddha and his genius but then I think that the Buddha was intelligent enough to separate his thoughts from the cultural acceptance of karma and rebirth at the same time. Although I can't say that I do not have a certain amount of skepticism of my own or I probably wouldn't remain Christian.

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2 minutes ago, dmattwads said:

 

On the other hand to balance that out and to be fair one of the primary reasons that I left Christianity was because I did not feel that it lined up with the science. the primary reason was because of textual inconsistencies but nevertheless the lack of scientific evidence or the contradiction with science was a factor.

 

 

Some people argue that science is a Judeo-Christian project - or a legacy perhaps.

 

For me the key problem with Christianity is the emphasis on blind faith - or perhaps the superiority of faith over reason.

 

Mind you, these days I happily make mandala offerings knowing full well there's no Mount Meru - so maybe I've just gone ga ga :)

 

 

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Posted (edited)
3 minutes ago, Apech said:

 

 

Some people argue that science is a Judeo-Christian project - or a legacy perhaps.

 

For me the key problem with Christianity is the emphasis on blind faith - or perhaps the superiority of faith over reason.

 

Mind you, these days I happily make mandala offerings knowing full well there's no Mount Meru - so maybe I've just gone ga ga :)

 

 

 

Unless Mount Meru is a metaphor for some aspect of the mind or as I've often wondered if the seeming inaccurate Buddhist geography of the time was actually meant to be understood on more of a galactic since than terrestrial. Like are the continents planets? Solar systems? Galaxies?

Edited by dmattwads

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7 minutes ago, Apech said:

For me the key problem with Christianity is the emphasis on blind faith - or perhaps the superiority of faith over reason.

 

Although the argument that St Thomas Aquinas makes is that the things of God can be known through reason.

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12 minutes ago, dmattwads said:

 

Unless Mount Meru is a metaphor for some aspect of the mind or as I've often wondered if the seeming inaccurate Buddhist geography of the time was actually meant to be understood on more of a galactic since than terrestrial. Like are the continents planets? Solar systems? Galaxies?

 

 

It's an interesting question, because, based on the descriptions of the mountain, if we take it as a typical geographic feature it would be readily falsifiable even by people living ~ 500 BCE simply by looking at the sky around them.  The same is probably true of a lot of sacred cosmology. To work within these systems requires not just being a philosopher but a poet, for whom distinctions between "literal" and "metaphorical," "real" and "imaginary," are utterly rearranged if not obliterated altogether... and poetry is in short supply these days.

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2 minutes ago, SirPalomides said:

 

 

It's an interesting question, because, based on the descriptions of the mountain, if we take it as a typical geographic feature it would be readily falsifiable even by people living ~ 500 BCE simply by looking at the sky around them.  The same is probably true of a lot of sacred cosmology. To work within these systems requires not just being a philosopher but a poet, for whom distinctions between "literal" and "metaphorical," "real" and "imaginary," are utterly rearranged if not obliterated altogether... and poetry is in short supply these days.

 

Ah but we live in Jambudvipa where the sky is blue .... and the side of Mt. Meru pointing towards us (South) is exactly the same colour - so cannot be seen.  There's cunningness in the ancient mind :)

 

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24 minutes ago, dmattwads said:

 

Unless Mount Meru is a metaphor for some aspect of the mind or as I've often wondered if the seeming inaccurate Buddhist geography of the time was actually meant to be understood on more of a galactic since than terrestrial. Like are the continents planets? Solar systems? Galaxies?

 

All the Bronze Age/Early Iron Age cultures had cosmological models which are quite similar.  The sky is a vault supported by a mountain or mountains, the earth a disk surrounded by water, on top of something like a huge pillar, there are various continents/elemental structures or zones mapped in the four directions and so on.  They are not really geographical in the way we would understand more like a catalogue of all that exists with each element in relation to the other.  But they came to be thought of as geographical and literal - but became to be used in this way out of deference.  So the mandala is really saying - this is the universe as I understand it - and all that is in it.

 

 

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19 minutes ago, dmattwads said:

 

Although the argument that St Thomas Aquinas makes is that the things of God can be known through reason.

 

To a large extent it is normal in Christian theology to "prove" the heavenly realities with hints and analogies from the observable world, so I would not say blind faith is something the theologians would accept as a characterization. With even the strangest mysteries (e.g. the Trinity, the incarnation, the eucharist) there are attempts to prop up the doctrines with analogy and evidence from experience. While they might still defy reason, they are not supposed to insult it.  Where the system can break down is when the believer is asked to accept something that goes utterly against reason or moral sense- the usual response is, "Who are you to judge God?" or something like that- the problem here, of course, is that we have been asked thus far to accept a, b, c based on appeals to our reason and senses, and now we are asked to reject our reason and senses. This is most commonly encountered with regards to the teaching of eternal damnation. The theologian David Bentley Hart in his book That All Shall Be Saved does a brilliant job destroying this logic and argues (very successfully my opinion) for universal salvation on the basis of longstanding Christian tradition.

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20 minutes ago, Apech said:

 

Ah but we live in Jambudvipa where the sky is blue .... and the side of Mt. Meru pointing towards us (South) is exactly the same colour - so cannot be seen.  There's cunningness in the ancient mind :)

 

Ah for some reason I missed that key bit. I guess Mount Meru is real! :) 

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Posted (edited)
28 minutes ago, SirPalomides said:

 

To a large extent it is normal in Christian theology to "prove" the heavenly realities with hints and analogies from the observable world, so I would not say blind faith is something the theologians would accept as a characterization. With even the strangest mysteries (e.g. the Trinity, the incarnation, the eucharist) there are attempts to prop up the doctrines with analogy and evidence from experience. While they might still defy reason, they are not supposed to insult it.  Where the system can break down is when the believer is asked to accept something that goes utterly against reason or moral sense- the usual response is, "Who are you to judge God?" or something like that- the problem here, of course, is that we have been asked thus far to accept a, b, c based on appeals to our reason and senses, and now we are asked to reject our reason and senses. This is most commonly encountered with regards to the teaching of eternal damnation. The theologian David Bentley Hart in his book That All Shall Be Saved does a brilliant job destroying this logic and argues (very successfully my opinion) for universal salvation on the basis of longstanding Christian tradition.

 

Of course arguing for and against eternal damnation presupposes the Christian assumption that by default we are Damned, and therefore in need of a savior.

 To me it seems like creating a problem in order to market your solution.

Edited by dmattwads

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2 minutes ago, dmattwads said:

 

Of course arguing for and against eternal damnation presupposes the Christian assumption that by default we are Damned, and therefore in need of a savior.

 

That's the Augustinian way of looking at it, which came to utterly dominate Western Christian theology. Greek and Syriac theologians had a far less punitive way of thinking about it- Christ became human to mend the wounded human nature and save us all from death. They inherited an idea of Hades from Hellenistic thinking, which was a place where all the dead went to, and it was not necessarily one of active torment or punishment. In the church of the first millennium Augustine's theology was little known outside of Latin-speaking territories and the centers of Christian theology- Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem- all communicated in Greek.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Apech said:

 

All the Bronze Age/Early Iron Age cultures had cosmological models which are quite similar.  The sky is a vault supported by a mountain or mountains, the earth a disk surrounded by water, on top of something like a huge pillar, there are various continents/elemental structures or zones mapped in the four directions and so on.  They are not really geographical in the way we would understand more like a catalogue of all that exists with each element in relation to the other.  But they came to be thought of as geographical and literal - but became to be used in this way out of deference.  So the mandala is really saying - this is the universe as I understand it - and all that is in it.

 

 

 

Except the mountain in the case of Mt Meru in the centre of some of the earlier mandalas is inverted, like a pyramid, usually depicted with a lotus covering what was conventionally the base. Interestingly, the significance of the inversion is not merely to present an image of rightful placement of the base to indicate infinite vastness, enough to even support the sky, but simultaneously, the inverted summit at the centre symbolises that ascension is complete upon reaching the centre of the mandala. Some believe this debunks commonly held misconceptions about the spiritual path akin to a long and arduous journey of ascending a mountain, which tallies with the notion that Mantrayana (or Vajrayana), bypassing conventional approaches, is the swiftest path to enlightenment. 

 

 

 

image.png.01395d12bd62345c6fa83614ba3a2d09.png 

14th century Yuan dynasty silk tapestry mandala with Mt Meru at the centre. 

The dense floral border, with the four vases in the four corners, parallels the imagery of central Tibet,

particularly monasteries with ties to the Yuan court.

Edited by C T
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25 minutes ago, SirPalomides said:

 

That's the Augustinian way of looking at it, which came to utterly dominate Western Christian theology. Greek and Syriac theologians had a far less punitive way of thinking about it- Christ became human to mend the wounded human nature and save us all from death. They inherited an idea of Hades from Hellenistic thinking, which was a place where all the dead went to, and it was not necessarily one of active torment or punishment. In the church of the first millennium Augustine's theology was little known outside of Latin-speaking territories and the centers of Christian theology- Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem- all communicated in Greek.

 

That's a very interesting perspective. From my Protestant upbringing the basic view is that if you're born you're just the worst and your wicked and evil and there's nothing good about you whatsoever, and since you're the most horrible creature in the universe the only way it was possible for God to even look on you without barfing was to sacrifice his son to himself to somehow make him happy about the whole situation.

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37 minutes ago, dmattwads said:

 

That's a very interesting perspective. From my Protestant upbringing the basic view is that if you're born you're just the worst and your wicked and evil and there's nothing good about you whatsoever, and since you're the most horrible creature in the universe the only way it was possible for God to even look on you without barfing was to sacrifice his son to himself to somehow make him happy about the whole situation.

 

 

That's pretty much Augustine talking. As someone paraphrased it, "For God was so pissed off at the world that he had his only son tortured to death and now he feels much better." Augustine was a brilliant man but had some twisted views that can partly be blamed on bad Latin translations. I wonder, if Augustine had known how definitive his views would be for Latin Christendom, whether he would have been more cautious. There were some moderating voices in the Latin church- e.g. John Cassian, but Augustine was the giant in the kiddie pool of Latin theology.  Despite their claim to be returning to the pure font of scripture without reliance on human traditions, the Protestant reformers leaned hard on Augustine, more than any other church father, and Calvin and friends in particular took his worst ideas to their logical conclusion, declaring that God predetermines which souls will be damned or saved before they even exist, and the tiny minority of people who are thus arbitrarily saved should be effusively grateful that they won the lottery.

 

The Eastern churches never fell under Augustine's sway so these developments did not occur with them. Not that they are problem-free but their view of salvation is far less punitive and their vision of God does not come off like an abusive psychopath.

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3 minutes ago, SirPalomides said:

 

 

That's pretty much Augustine talking. As someone paraphrased it, "For God was so pissed off at the world that he had his only son tortured to death and now he feels much better." Augustine was a brilliant man but had some twisted views that can partly be blamed on bad Latin translations. I wonder, if Augustine had known how definitive his views would be for Latin Christendom, whether he would have been more cautious. There were some moderating voices in the Latin church- e.g. John Cassian, but Augustine was the giant in the kiddie pool of Latin theology.  Despite their claim to be returning to the pure font of scripture without reliance on human traditions, the Protestant reformers leaned hard on Augustine, more than any other church father, and Calvin and friends in particular took his worst ideas to their logical conclusion, declaring that God predetermines which souls will be damned or saved before they even exist, and the tiny minority of people who are thus arbitrarily saved should be effusively grateful that they won the lottery.

 

The Eastern churches never fell under Augustine's sway so these developments did not occur with them. Not that they are problem-free but their view of salvation is far less punitive and their vision of God does not come off like an abusive psychopath.

 

I've read a lot about calvinist theology and if you follow their reasoning it does make sense based on the sovereignty of God but then once you're done following their reasoning it still makes God seem pretty cruel in the end.

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5 minutes ago, dmattwads said:

 

I've read a lot about calvinist theology and if you follow their reasoning it does make sense based on the sovereignty of God but then once you're done following their reasoning it still makes God seem pretty cruel in the end.

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, Apech said:

 

 

There's one sutra (I think its called The Arrogant Brahmin (?) ) where Vajrapani appears out of the top of Buddhas head.  I suppose they can still discount this as being symbolic or whatever.

 

The other thing I find slightly weird is the clinging to atheism - as if the Buddha was Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris - when the Buddha didn't say there were no gods - just don't rely on them.  

 

The way bodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara/Guanyin/Chenrezig are being revered is Deism through the back door to me. And it is not purely a Mahayana thing either; e.g. Vajrapani is mentioned already in the Pali canon.

 

This is somehow reminiscent of the way the (allegedly) monotheistic Abrahamic religions in fact established a whole pantheon by introducing an extensive system of angels and sages. Which in the case of Christianity the Protestants took offence at, of course, which curiously brings us back to the OP...

 

Thus the distinction between monotheistic, polytheistic and indeed (in the case of Buddhism) a-theistic religions is more due to semantics (as seen from my perspective).

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16 minutes ago, Michael Sternbach said:

 

The way bodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara/Guanyin/Chenrezig are being revered is Deism through the back door to me. And it is not purely a Mahayana thing either; e.g. Vajrapani is mentioned already in the Pali canon.

 

This is somehow reminiscent of the way the (allegedly) monotheistic Abrahamic religions in fact established a whole pantheon by introducing an extensive system of angels and sages. Which in the case of Christianity the Protestants took offence at, of course, which curiously brings us back to the OP...

 

Thus the distinction between monotheistic, polytheistic and indeed (in the case of Buddhism) a-theistic religions is more due to semantics (as seen from my perspective).

 

 

To say its 'through the back door' is just part of the projection of western thinking - as if it's some kind of cheat or add-on.

 

 

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4 hours ago, Apech said:

 

 

Some people argue that science is a Judeo-Christian project - or a legacy perhaps.

 

I would agree to 'legacy'. Scientific thinking (of the kind we would recognize as such) was introduced in ancient Greece by 'master minds' like Plato and Aristotle and was passed on to Christian culture especially by Church fathers such as Augustinus and Thomas Aquinas.

 

That said, science's prehistory is inextricably interwoven also with Hermetism - many of its pioneers (like Kepler, Newton, and indeed even Boyle) clearly subscribed to the Hermetic view of the Universe. Notwithstanding the regretable fact that modern researchers have officially abandoned that view ever since the scientific revolution.

 

4 hours ago, Apech said:

For me the key problem with Christianity is the emphasis on blind faith - or perhaps the superiority of faith over reason.

 

Mind you, these days I happily make mandala offerings knowing full well there's no Mount Meru - so maybe I've just gone ga ga :)

 

 

 

Good for you! :)

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4 hours ago, dmattwads said:

 

Unless Mount Meru is a metaphor for some aspect of the mind or as I've often wondered if the seeming inaccurate Buddhist geography of the time was actually meant to be understood on more of a galactic since than terrestrial. Like are the continents planets? Solar systems? Galaxies?

 

 

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I think the mantra that caused me to begin questioning was Manjushri. It seems to have the effect of pulling one out of their preconceived assumptions, and leads to questioning.

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, Apech said:

 

 

To say its 'through the back door' is just part of the projection of western thinking - as if it's some kind of cheat or add-on.

 

 

 

Au contraire, monsieur! IMO, it's more like Buddhism - as a new born religion struggling to take root - initially differentiated itself especially from its Hindu forerunner by emphasizing such revolutionary features as not worshipping any deities, denying the existence of the self etc.

 

However, some of those missing aspects were reintroduced at different times and in various cultural contexts, although (as typically happens in such cases) in disguised form.

Edited by Michael Sternbach
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12 minutes ago, Michael Sternbach said:

 

En contraire, monsieur! IMO, it's more like Buddhism - as a new born religion struggling to take root - initially differentiated itself especially from its Hindu forerunner by emphasizing such revolutionary features as not worshipping any deities, denying the existence of the self etc.

 

However, some of those missing aspects were reintroduced at different times and in various cultural contexts, although (as typically happens in such cases) in disguised form.

 

Sorry old bean that is completely wrong.  There was no Hindu front runner.  There were two cultural areas in India in 500 BC - one in the East of Northern India and the other in the West.  The one in the west had the Sramana tradition which gave rise to Buddhism as well as Jainism and others.  The one in the East had traditional Vedic Brahmanism - which was not the same as Hinduism as we know it now.

 

The narrative you are using is exactly the same as Western academics of the 19th and 20th century used and is wrong.

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Posted (edited)

I once heard a dharma talk by John Peacock, "Buddhism before theravada" which you can find online with Google and that helped me a lot by pointing at some relevant information on how therevada came to be and especially how their meditation system - which has wisdom as a crown jewel- was adopted. 

 

As for the mantra practice, I think it's significant that it's not mentioned in the Suttas and it's present in the theravada tradition just as a personal contribution of some teachers (there are theravada practitioners who use the mantra "Buddho" for example). 

 

I would also like to know why mantras are not described as meditation objects in the visuddhimagga. 

 

They were developed/revealed later or just kept secret? 

 

Edited by Cheshire Cat

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