[Buddha-l] Was Buddha a Buddhist

jkirk jkirk at spro.net
Wed May 24 16:58:05 MDT 2006

RE: [Buddha-l] Was Buddha a Buddhist"Perhaps the issue comes to a question of whether we are investigating doctrine or popular practice." James Blumenthal
These are at least two dimensions of approaching the issue of religious identity, when it becomes an issue. As you noted, James, it is not a big issue with the Newars of Nepal so far as worship is concerned. It may however be an issue for Newars so far as samskaras--life rituals--are concerned (although I'm not sure about it on that score.) 
We also see that among Thais and Burmans, both mainly Theravada Buddhist, Hindu gods and local spirits are also worshipped, along with the Buddha, who is usually treated as a god in popular practice despite what the monks and preceptors teach.  So among these populations the concept of anatta gets short shrift. Burmans believe in the butterfly soul, the entity that transmigrates from lifetime to lifetime. This doesn't correspond to anatta. Doctrine rarely converges with practice in popular religion. 

In the Pali suttas, the Buddha often debates with practicing Jains or members of various 
sampradayas who challenge him as to the efficacy or truth of his teachings. He wins these debates, of course. In this instance we can see that he, the Buddha, is making distinctions between what he teaches and what they teach--doctrinal distinctions. In that sense I'd say he is making exclusive claims about his teachings. The sutta stories reveal that some of the preceptors of the other sampradayas are insistent on the superiority of their views as against his. Thus, one could infer that there was a deal of exclusiveness going on in those days, probably also with some folks running around from teacher to teacher, seeking the best bets for salvation. 

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