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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
70 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2014 that the Mahayana teachings be hidden for hundreds of years, at which point his disciples would be better prepared to understand their meaning. That, so the story goes, is how it is that the his torical Buddha himself was involved in presenting the Heart Sutra, a quintes sential Mahayana text, on Vulture Peak at Rajgriha. I myself have been taught this ahistorical account many times. For historians of Buddhism, it has been common knowledge for more than a hundred years that no mat ter what Mahayana sutras may claim about themselves, they do not record historical events but rather belong to some other genre. They are not utter ances of the historical Buddha, despite their frame stories, which resemble those of the older suttas. When I have taught factual and non sectarian Buddhist history to Maha yana Buddhists, they, it seems, were the ones more prone to heart attacks. Discovering that the Heart Sutra does not narrate an historical event, that the Mahayana emerged at a certain point in Buddhist history, that the histori cal Buddha did not teach some of the most distinctive Mahayana ideas, and that other teachings that Mahayanists claim as their innovations were already taught in older forms of Buddhism is shattering to some people. The Bodhisattva Ideal is an edited book, which means that its various chapters, written by different authors, are not of equal quality or written in the same style. The first chapter, by the great Theravada scholar and transla tor Bhikkhu Bodhi, is very helpful and evenhanded in laying out some basic issues and is alone worth the price of the book. Bhikkhu Bodhi explains how it is that Buddhists who make such different claims can all attribute their teachings to the Buddha. He tells us that both the Pali Nikayas (the main texts of early and Theravada Bud dhisms) and the Mahayana sutras look to the Buddha as “the exemplary fig ure that a true follower of the dharma should emulate.” But these two sets of texts have very different ideas about who or what a Buddha is, and, there fore, two sets of ideals for the Buddhist practitioner. Bhikkhu Bodhi charac terizes these two perspectives as the “historicalrealistic” and the “cosmic metaphysical” perspectives. The historicalrealistic perspective emphasizes the historical events of Siddhartha Gautama’s life as a human being, his enlightenment experience, and his subsequent success as a teacher founding a new religious movement. According to this perspective, other people who follow the Buddha’s teach ings can attain the same enlightenment experience he had, with the same result: freedom from samsaric rebirth. This experience is the acme of spiritual prac tice, putting an end to further entangle ment in cyclic existence. If one is trying to emulate “the Buddha,” one would emulate this Buddha, according to the historicalrealistic perspective. This Buddha is “first among equals” and the “untaught teacher,” but he is not essentially different from the disciples who follow his example. REVIEWS Buddha on a lotus, a detail from a grotto painting, Afghanistan, sixth century BORROMEO|ARTRESOURCE,NEWYORK