[Buddha-l] Is this true?

Piya Tan dharmafarer at gmail.com
Wed Aug 25 02:36:19 MDT 2010

I have not been receiving any postings from Buddha-L since my last response
(to Richard). This was redirected to be from a forwarded message.

Piya Tan

On Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 3:12 PM, Dan Lusthaus <vasubandhu at earthlink.net>wrote:

> Dear Justin,
> Thanks for emphasizing that Gombrich has more to say on the subject than
> just that passage.
> The passage that Shen Shi'an passed on to us is online at
> http://tinyurl.com/3xuclqa
> but no attribution is provided.
> In fact, it comes from Gombrich's How Buddhism began: the conditioned
> genesis of the early teachings, Cambridge U Press, 1996, pp 8-9. So this is
> something he did indeed write, albeit roughly fifteen years ago.
> http://tinyurl.com/32jkro7
> I did read What the Buddha Thought a little while back, and my impression
> is
> that what you say, viz. that he also embraces the idea of Buddha himself as
> the origin for much of what is in the Pali canon, etc., is indeed the case;
> but he utilizes an uncomfortable shifting of registers to do so. These were
> originally lectures, yes? Latitude is allowed in oral presentations, since
> documentation can be tedious and ineffective in front of a live audience,
> while some rhetorical flourishes can keep an audience alert.
> He does, for instance, almost as an article of faith, confidently assert
> that "the Pali version of the suttas and Vinaya stand unrivaled as our
> oldest evidence..." (99) And he does point out that "In Burma in the twefth
> century grammarians systematized Pali grammar and prosody, thus exercising
> considerable influence on how the language was written thereafter, both in
> Burma and elsewhere." (ibid) As I suggested, I think this likely happened
> numerous times, including during Buddhaghosa's day, a good seven or so
> centuries earlier. On the same page he complains -- rightly -- that current
> scholarship has not done enough rudimentary philological work on the texts
> (e.g., determining stemma, etc.) to advance an answer on how "modern" (his
> word) the received versions are (and he even wonders if they ever will be
> able to decide that). He then largely reiterates the traditional account of
> the canon formation (Buddha or monks speak, the "councils" or recitations
> recite, eventually put down in writing, etc.). He offers the possibility of
> accurate oral transmission, citing what others have said about the Vedas,
> and so on.
> He then discusses K.R. Norman's piece on the first sermon, Norman
> demonstrating that it could not have been an introductory sermon at all
> since (1) it rhetorically presupposes that the audience is already familiar
> with the main topics, and (2) is presented in a style that "reeks of the
> systematizers who produced the abhidhamma and before that certain
> doxographical texts like the last two suttas of the Digha Nikaya." (p. 103)
> Here is how Gombrich resolves this for himself: "In my view, it was
> remembered [by the Buddhist redactors -- DL] that the Buddha began his
> preaching with the Middle Way, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble
> Eightfold
> Path; this can never be certain, but it is perfectly plausible. However,
> what he said about them on that occasion was not clearly remembered, for
> surely no one at that stage made a 'text' of it. Moreover, the 'first
> sermon' that has come down to us is chock full of metaphors and technical
> terms which the Buddha at that stage has not yet explained." (ibid)
> That, I guess, is his own middle way -- between admitting it is a later
> constructed fiction and accepting it as an historical transcript. But other
> scenarios and explanations are also "plausible". (e.g., Middle Way, Four
> Noble Truths, etc. had BECOME, at some point, central teachings for the
> community of redactors but have nothing to do with whatever might have been
> Buddha's initial teachings, long forgotten, since it would be years before
> Ananda, Sariputta, Moggalana, etc. would join up and listen, and the last
> two mentioned died before he did, so they would have had no input into the
> "council" recitations, but I digress...).
> He makes some further assertions (that the received version is from the
> time
> of the Second Council), but the curious can read this for themselves. (p.
> 104) What he says about the Lotus Sutra in contrast to the Pali texts can
> be
> found on p. 165.
> He offers as one of his arguments for accepting the early authenticity of
> the canon the fact that commentaries reiterate the root texts. But if, as
> pointed out above, the commentators were the redactors, tweaking and
> updating the texts as they went along writing their commentaries, this
> would
> hardly constitute convincing evidence.
> I think the passage in question could have been expressed in a more prudent
> fashion.
> Dan
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