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Apocryphal works are works that are considered by present day scholars to be doubtful in their authorship. This is usually because no original exists of them, they vary from other similar works, or there is a historical record of when they appeared and a probable author. In the case of modern works the motive is usually money, but in the case of older works the motives for the "forgeries" are not so clear. This is because many apocryphon also represent "mystical," oral, and or visionary experiences. And for that reason the author often sincerely believed that (usually he) he was "channelling" or passing on ancient wisdom directly from it's source.
Often apocryphon represent works passed on orally and finally committed to writing. Sometimes they represent works written anonymously and later attributed to some high-status author. Sometimes they are works written by later disciples or teachers and attributed to an earlier teacher because the author felt they actually came from that source. These kinds of writings occur in every oral or mystical tradition at some point. From the "apocryphon" of the Bible to most of the Buddhist Canon, to modern works such as the Book of Mormon. Rabbis, Shonin, "Saints", Mullahs, all have produced their share of "pious forgeries." And sometimes these are the most entertaining and edifying of religious works.
- For more on these subjects:
- "Kechimyaku"with that later teacher. Apocryphal works consists of
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From ancient times people have loved telling stories. The word "history" comes from the word for "story". They told stories based on real events and stories based on things in their environment. From the stars came astrology and myths about sky kings (gods) and their doings. People felt "resonances" with the land, it's layout, it's creatures, it's plants. These "resonances" found their way into myths and stories. From real events "legends" were created about the exploits of father(s) (Abram) or mothers, and often these legends have been reworked into stories that bear only passing resemblance to the events they were originally based on. This is a process as old as human beings. Ancient examples exist in popular mythology such as the Epic of Gilgamesh or in more modern mythology such as the tall tales of Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyon. And of course Gilgamesh exists in multiple versions with multiple variations. It reflects an oral record written down centuries after the first "Gilgamesh" story was told around some ancient hearth.
Apocryphal" documents may sometimes arise from mendaciousness at work, but more often such works are simply the product of "traditions" or schools seeking to transmit, to memorialize, copy, or write down teachings they already have. Prior to the general spread of education in this world, most people were "unlettered." They depended on their teachers to share with them written works. At one time writing was reserved for heads of state, some religious purposes, and affairs of commerce and law. "Scribes" were often sacred priests whose writing wasn't for entertainment but for the sake of great noble purposes. Reading for enjoyment was often a secret pleasure, often reserved for the rich and well off. Rather most tales were oral, and most languages and cultures spent considerable time seeking to preserve what they thought was important through oral tradition. Few traditions valued what we'd call literal historicity. For them the content, purport, or intent of a story was more important than it's literal meaning. Stories would be handed down from generation to generation, and often modified in the process.
Sometimes an error in "transmission is simply a matter of works being attributed to the wrong person after years of being handed down and elaborated on orally -- or of works that were in fact orally handed down -- changing over time. There are numerous works that are attributed to various masters such as "Saicho"(Ch'i Hi/T'ien-t'ai) or Nichiren that, in fact, were probably the work of later authors. Often, oral teachings were handed down side by side with written ones, and later teachers would write down these "oral teachings" either as oral teachings such as Nichiren Daishonin's "Ongi Kuden"(A href="nst.html">NST) or the Homon Kuden (Nichiren Shu) or as works authored by religious authority in the name of a high status founder or original teacher. For more on this follow this link to: http://www.gosho.net/Nichiren/OngiKuden/source.htm
There are other examples. For instance it is almost certain that neither Moses didn't write the five books of the Torah, that Jesus's first generation disciples probably didn't write the testimonials handed down in their name (or at least didn't write the final versions), that Paul didn't write New Testament Hebrews, that the "apocryphon" of the Old Testament are literary works rather than historical, that the Koran was written down years after the Prophets death, and that the "Zohar" was written by Moses De Leon. All of these are documents that were either authored by someone else in the name of their purported authors or were edited by (often many) someone else from material handed them orally until finalized into a canon which then was considered sacred. The same is true with Buddhist scriptures.
Related to the above are what are referred to as "hagiographies." Which are often works that begin as oral biographies and are written down as if autobiographical or actually witnessed by the authors. Many of the books of the Bible, certain Gosho of Nichiren, and other canonical writings with legendary qualities similar to the above fit in this category. They represent the process of "mythologizing" of founders. In the process these people are idealized and turned into archetypes or "paragons" of the values that their group idealizes.
For examples see this article: http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/jjrs/pdf/555.pdf
These myths and legends, stories and tales, originating in free form as the stories of various "folks" were used and sometimes modified by teachers seeking to help people understand life in it's context. As religion, and the society religious people lived in, evolved these stories were formed into "canon". Wanting to regulate the tales of a people is a natural wish and often an expression of the rise of "authority" in peoples seeking to control the wild impulses of their neighbors and brethren. (See this page esoteric.html for more on this process, which I call the "esoteric process"). People seeking to memorialize and preserve the teachings they deem specially important would form them into "canon." At this point the various "legends" "myths" and teachings of preferred teachers, Kings, or "prophets" would be organized, edited, and published. I discuss this in greater detail on the page literal.html as well.
Groups without a canon are forced to rely, either on previously "canonized" works, or on the oral transmissions and good behavior of their teachers, so people's with a desire to establish some sort of authority had an incentive to either create or appropriate "canon" to attach their own authority and teachings to. The earliest religious works work to establish the legitimacy and authority of a particular line of rulers (kings) and a particular place. For example Babylon or Jerusalem. Whether a work is Actually true or not becomes irrelevent in such a situation.
Various sets of work have been "canonized over time." In the West there is the "bible" which is the canonized works of Christians and also borrows the canon of the Torah, which is the "canonized" works of Jews. In the East, Buddhism was "canonized" in to the "Pali Canon" in the Pali language, the Mahayana Canon, and other forms. In more modern times, 19th century Spain sought to "canonize" it's literature, with the result that Spanish Literature "forgot" about some of it's writers until they were "rediscovered" in more recent times. This effort to "canonize" works transfered issues of authenticity to the decision of committees, or even individuals. The result is that things that were "canonized" changed their status from apocryphal or legendary to "authentic", regardless of their actual authenticity. Based on the authority of those "fathers" who made the decision to deem them canonical.
You can see this process at work even today. The school of Buddhism that I once was very loyal to recently decided that it was going to ignore issues of literal authenticity in deciding what it's canon is and based the authority for it's canon on the opinions of the Chief Priests of it's lineage. For more on this see Question and Answer Fifty Six.
The "Tale of Genji" has apparantly been rewritten over the years. One reason for changes is that many "transcribers" treat original texts as if they have editorial rights over them. Taking it on themselves to "improve the original." For an example of the results of that see this page:
Few works, oral or written, are ever transmitted exactly as received. Rather subsequent "editors" or "transmittors" have a strong tendancy to change the contents, make minor corrections or "glosses" that add up over time. Sometimes these "glosses" would wind up in the original works. And even to invent new works. Most of the time the changes were made by well meaning "scribes" who would "correct a work" based on their own understanding, or add or modify stories to "spice them up." Examples of this are found in the works of Marco Polo or Chaucer High Status teachers would often gloss an original text. Sometimes these "glosses" would end up in a copy as original text. > There are at least 50 versions of Marco Polo's travels, and there are many versions of some works of writers from Chaucer to Nichiren Daishonin.
In the case of Marco Polo, the modifications started with the man who recorded the tales. He may have elaborated on or even invented the stories he purportedly heard in Jail with Marco Polo. Thus we cannot be sure how faithful the tales attributed to Marco Polo are to the original tale told to Rustichello and how much of it was the product of various of these "editors" or Rustichello's immagination. Add to that some 50 main sets of variations and you can get a real mess. Other early modern or medieval works show the same fate. Even after the invention of the printing press.
- For more on Marco polo:
- Nice summary:http://darter.ocps.k12.fl.us/classroom/who/darter1/polo.htm
- Marco Polo writing on Tatars
An example of such an exercise of editorial rights occured in the immediate aftermath of Nichiren's passing when the disciple of Nichiren, Nissho feeling that he represented the "sense" of the school as its senior priest rewrote the Rissho Ankoku Ron to include critiques of Tendai and Shingon. In that case the result was disaster. But you see examples of such feeling in many religions and religious groups, and one school of Nichirenism, Nichiren Shoshu, still claims that the chief priest of the sect exercises editorial rights over the Canon of his school.
Indeed, even before Nikko Shonin died, part of the dialogue between the Nikko schools, then centered at Omosu Seminary, and their rivals, had to do with this notion of a legitimate heritage. Nichijun Sammi (a direct disciple of Nikko Shonin) seems to have authored works which were directly opposed to works authored by his opposite number within the Nakayama school founded by Toki Jonin.
And this works the other way as well. Nichiren Shoshu, for example, claims that some of the Gosho it has were written jointly by Nichiren and Nikko, and also has evidence of such cooperative works between Nikko and Nichimoku, or other disciples. And they are not alone, nor probably incorrect on this, Nichiji Shonin wrote most of the Gosho's: "Ji Myohokke Monto Sho (Questions and Answers Regarding the Embracing of Faith in the Lotus Sutra) and the Seigu Monto Sho (Questions and Answers between a Sage and a Fool)"(see http://www6.ocn.ne.jp/~nichiren/NichijiShoninE.html or Nichiji page). So the issue of "editorial authority" is as important in understanding medieval works in the East as it is in the West. "Authenticity" issues were caught up in but were not as important to monks of those days as "authority" issues. As long as no one disagreed everything was fine.
- For more examples see
- More on Forged Gosho
Carved in Stone/Canonization
Groups in the past thus sought to "canonize" writers or a set of works, as much to establish the authority of those writings and to halt the process of variation and modification as to protect those works. The idea was to "set in stone" the writings of original authors. And since this was often done years later, the writings set in stone were not always the ones the author actually wrote. This was true with the New Testament, and it is also true with teachings of other schools. Monks of a school are often also seeking to advance a particular "doctrine" of their school. For this reason competing sets of canon can be ascribed to the same author that say diametrically opposed things. Such authorities often modify subtly (or grossly) the works that they inherit and then claim that their works are authentic by fiat. Subsequently they often label such works as "sacred" and claim that rather than having the authority of the "fathers" of their church or school, those works were composed by "God himself." This explains the great variation and style of works supposedly by the same author. The authorship is itself a fiction.
The process of "canonizing" texts and giving them a sacred or mythic "wrapping" is one of the ways that a cult or religion is institutionalized and preserved. It tends to limit later generations but not as much as the authorities like, because subsequent teachers are then always free to interpret the works as they wish. Unfortunately they may not be able to change them. While this process is usually undertaken in the understanding that the teachers of a school have the "correct" "faith" and right answers to every question. Sometimes that is proved with time to either be a lie, or the teachings involved to be "anachronisms." Thus works like "Hebrews" attributed to Paul but showing gross lack of understanding of Pharisaic "law" and tradition and probably written later, cause untold misery for later generations. And when doctrines are too rigid, like Moslem Hadith, and can no longer evolve or change with time, they can actually cause misery.
Setting lies into stone is a cause for untold misery over many years until works become antique enough that new generations can interpret them differently. Thus Canon usually either represents the arrogance and presumptuousness of otherwise sage persons or the arrogance and hubris of their disciples.
Those insisting that a work was written by God or a particular author should also remember that the version that they are reading is usually translated from some other language. If they make the effort to learn that language, even then the context that they understand a written work may be quite different from the context of it's authors. That can work both to cause sufferings and for people's benefit if they but understand that it is an unavoidable fact. For Jews the bible is only to be understood if one can read it in Hebrew. Aramaic and Greek translations (much less Latin, which was translated from Greek), contain built in biases coming as much from the lineage of the "receiving culture" as from the beliefs and mindset of the translators. Translation changes the meaning of texts even when it is literally true to the text. Thus the authors of the King James Bible sought to "canonize" it for their own purposes. Thus Kumarajiva's translation is deemed true, not because it is literally fidel to the Sanskrit or prakrit original but because his "tongue didn't burn" and those who studied it have had 1800 years of benefit from embracing, copying and studying it.
Pagan and particular roots
The context of Judeo-Christianity and Buddhism is in the pagan roots of the people who first embraced the beliefs that found their way into those "streams" or communities. These roots are in the language itself and in the cultures that spoke those languages. The Early Christians may have rejected paganism on paper, but they kept their Gods as Saints or as Jesus and Mary themselves. The spread of religion has inevitably either involved the indigineous beliefs, conflicted with them, and accommodated them. In the case of Christianity these pagan roots were based around myths and their interpretation in the hands of teachers and transmission from generation to generation. When the nascent Jewish Religion encountered the mystery religions and beliefs of the people around them, it was only natural that those beliefs found their way into their own beliefs. In the realm of mysticism and mystical expression this approach entered as the early Christian heresy of Gnosticism and the later Jewish Esotericism of the Kaballah.
Paganism was the context on which the bible was written in the first place. The Legends in Genesis include some that have very pagan roots. They were written as "refutations" of other myths that reflected the inchoate myths of the societies of Babylon, Ninevah and Egypt. Gnosticism and Kaballah reflected the adoption of the more sophisticated wisdom of the later mystery religions. We are not being heretical or foolish to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe to those roots. Christianity expecially is indebted to the mystery religions of Osirus or Dionysius that informed the stories of Jesus. If we are to "authenticate" the works of our various traditions, we have to bear in mind that works were hand copied, and that ancient teachers often felt inspired to alter original stories as they transmitted them to each other or to paper. Indeed many ancients distrusted paper and insisted on creating memorizational forms of teachings and stories so that they would be transmitted intact. We see this in both the Vedas of India and the Eddas of the Norse. Stories were told in such a way that students could be entertained by them, and that those initiated into their mysteries could learn their mystical or allegorical meaning. If cannon both accepts and rejects the teachings of it's environments that is only to be understood by us, the heirs of those traditions.
The next category of forged works, had it's first example in the epic of Gilgamesh, which was written down hundreds of years after the events it purports to describe. Oral heritages lead to a tricky category of religious literature as they have a "literary" meaning that is meant to be taken seriously but is often couched in highly figurative language.
Example in Maimonides
The great teacher Maimonides for example, pointed out how parts of the five books of Moses, could not possibly have been written down until the time of King David. They were even written in the voice of a person living in that time. If one is to truly develop wisdom one must get past a literal-minded conception of what religious teachings teach. Otherwise revelations of such tampering by human beings with divine inspiration can be harmful to ones faith. For more on his teachings (at least from one view) follow this link:http://www.emory.edu/UDR/BLUMENTHAL/MaimMyst.html.
Polemics and "pious forgeries," Daniel and Queen Ester
Scholars have shown how the book of Daniel was probably written as a polemic of the Maccibean Revolt. Rather than being a literally true account of Daniel's miracles and exploits it was, in fact a "polemic" designed to inspire later followers to resist the Greeks.
Polemical works would often originate in communities, under pressure of outside attack or debate with other religious traditions. In these situations, capable, and usually high ranking teachers would often author and then attribute a teaching to the founder of their school, even if that teaching -- in fact -- originated with them or a teacher further down the line. In my own tradition there were several episodes where "Gosho" were suddenly "discovered" during important debates on some subject. One incident is recounted in Jacqueline Stone's Book "Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Tendai" in which a Gosho attacking the notion of "shikan is supreme over the written Dharma" of the "fourfold rise and fall" teaching of Tendai. When this document was produced the opponants of the debate, naturally cried foul. Other controversies have been related to sectarian conflicts, such as those over the transfer documents that Nichiren Shoshu claims transferred Nichiren's "true lineage" to Nikko Shonin. These kind of works are often the most blatent of forgeries, often containing tell-tale mistakes (almost as if the author wants to be identified despite claiming someone else wrote the work).
The book of Ester, about Purim, and the conflict between the Good Mordecai, and the evil Haman, is an example of a tale that was told as a legend, and that never was meant to be taken as a "true story." Scholars now believe that the King Achashverosh is probably Cyrus, and that "Mordecai" literally means Man of Marduk, and so the story may even be derived from a pagan legend. This book was written as a tale for the entertainment and encouragement of Jews suffering under the diaspora and a memory that the world is full of nasty folks like Haman who, for no apparent reason, wish to do them harm. (We know anyone like that in this day?)
Many other works have been written by later teachers, convinced that they either had an insight into the mind of God or Buddha, enlightenment, or were teaching things that, they justify, as having been "what the founder would have said." In addition later followers would tell tales (or write them down) detailing the physical or magical prowess of a teacher in order to bolster the sanctity or the apparant wisdom of a teacher. For example the teacher "Kobo Daishi" (founder of Japanese Shingon) was built up as a living Buddha by his followers subsequent to his death. These lies, perpetuated by his followers, only confused later generations as to how to practice Buddhism and what it's teachings are. He wouldn't be the first person built up into a saint in ancient or Medieval times. Stories of miraculous works have been the hallmark of each of the traditions of Modern Religion. (See this reference for more on the subject: http://www.geocities.com/chris_holte/Buddhism/Gosho/hoonsho.htm#lies.
Unfortunately, the consequences of believing lies are often grim. The consequences of writing a document taken as a "scripture" by later days, is that often that document is treated as a sacred teaching, and people believe that it is "the word of God" or Buddha himself and cannot see the very human specific hand behind the writing. Even prophets are ultimately human beings, and they are filtering what they "receive" from divine or inspired sources, through their own understanding.
So, as shown in some of the above examples, Most Midrash/ allegory and other mysterious literature has the property that the authors often didn't claim original authorship. And the purported authorship cannot be verified exactly.
Uncertainty and Upaya
Fortunately, there is a way to deal with uncertainty in religious texts, and that way is to realize that religious texts were meant to be part of transmissions and part of a context of teachings, and were never meant to be taken literally. All religious teachings have allegorical, interpreted, or even mythical content. If we try to take them literally, we may be not understanding them the way their authors intended to understand them! Every religion has had a "gnostic" or "wisdom" componant. Indeed, this is the message of the Lotus Sutra in it's first 8 chapters which teach the importance and meaning of "upaya" or "skillful teaching". All the tales of all the religions are tales meant to guide people, edify them, and lead them to ever higher levels of wisdom and understanding.
For example Midrash started out as works of the "Rabbinic" tradition of Judaism, as various scholars and Rabbis sought to interpret parts of the "Torah" or (Law) that confused them. This process continues to this day in the Jewish Community, and just makes sense. It is also followed, although not so rationally in Christian Circles as "allegory." It is the duty of later generations to "bring to life" spiritual and human understandings, and those understandings can only change with time. The idea that any previous "authors" are more (or less) in touch with the divine sources of inspiration is not consonant with reality. The insight of "midrash" is that we can be "transmittors" of truth and "fill in the gaps" or "fix" the errors of the past. The danger of such things is that those who engage in them need to be seekers (and finders) of Wisdom or they can fall into the same kind of error as Nichiren elaborates that Kobo Daishi fell into. Part of that is to realize that any writings about the past, even past works themselves, will always have a fictional componant. And that focusing on "wisdom" means focusing in on the things that help one live a valient, and improving, life in one's own present day. The purpose of religion has to be "enlightenment" or that religion becomes a thing of darkness. Thus it is entirely appropriate that modern Jews should fill in the Gaps of the experience of Sarah or Leah, from their own perspective. Or that people should write stories based on the lives of Japanese like Shijo Kingo. What is not appropriate is to pass off these fictional accounts as real accounts. If a person really achieved enlightenment, the signs of that will be real and won't need to be faked. This is the age of Thomas. Indeed, the Gospel of Thomas was supressed because the "gnostic" teachings were subversive to the literalists of Christianity.
Problems with the Gosho
This section will be moved to the page on Gosho
The key documents for people practicing Nichiren's teachings are the Gosho. There are hundreds of them that are indisputably authentic. For more on these please see: http://www.geocities.com/chris_holte/Buddhism/Gosho/index.html When one can argue, citing these documents, it is difficult for someone to dispute one. As long as one isn't arguing in the Jehovah Witness style of selectively quoting and interpreting things arbitrarilly.
The problem comes in because during the development of the various lineages of Buddhism, the followers of Nichiren saw fit to pay these sort of "apocryphal homages" to the founder of our schools. The result is that, with the Fuji School, for instance, is that many of it's core docrinal works are alleged to be apocryphal. Sometimes because they seem obviously forged, sometimes because they refer to "hongaku" (original enlightenment) notions that the teacher "Asai Yorin" felt were not teachings of Nichiren himself. Examples of Gosho in dispute are The Sandai Hiho Sho, the "Shoho Jisso Sho" and the "Risshokan Jo." AS well as the "Hon'nim myo sho" (See this link: 548.pdf for more and also my discussion of literary proof at literal.html). In Jacqueline Stone's book "Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Tendai Buddhism" she points out the direct similarity between the Hyaku Rokka soju (106-article transmission) and a Tendai work, also probably apocryphal, named the Sandai Shosho Shichimen soju Kuketsu(Verbal decisions on the seven-article transmission). These documents apparantly trace to at least 100 years after Nichiren's death.
- For more see:
- Disputed Gosho
Fuji School Attitude
Nichiren Shoshu seems to be aware of this subject but not willing to be direct about it. Some of them would like to make their dogmas into writings with the degree of authority enjoyed by Christian or Moslem texts, but that is just not the correct way to teach any form of Buddhism. Even Nichirenism. They place such a reliance on their lineage and their oral traditions that they discount any issues that might arise on the account of mistransmissions, discrepancies, or even outright deceit, between what they say Nichiren said and what Nichiren said in authentic Gosho. They take this to rather extremes, inventing hidden meanings in his work for instance, and interpreting him as saying "Shakyamuni" but "meaning" himself. For more visit this page q56comm.html and truebuddha.html.
Unfortunately, the same habit of mind is also present in some people belonging to the Sokagakkai. Textual authority is often a property of people lacking confidence in the very inward truths of their traditions. If a tradition is actually true, then it will find consonance with other traditions coming from the minds of other people. Likewise if individual teachings are false, they will fail. The idea that any group of people are the "chosen ones" of "God", irrespective of their actions, was first demonstrated as false among the Isrealis back when they challenged Babylon and as a result went into exhile. The prophets who preached this doctrine were demonstrated to be "false prophets" these "prophets" were punished along with their nation. Jeremiah preached the truth on these subjects and his truth was born out by events. Jeremiah was seen as a "traitor" to Isreal on account of his preachings.
A scholarly opinion:
Mizuno defines as spurious those texts"which either fail to encompass the true spirit of Buddhism or include statements patently inconsistent with the Buddhist teaching,"
- categorizing these spurious texts into four groups:
- (1) sutras expounded by someone in the throes of some sort of fanatic possession claiming to reveal the word of the Buddha;
- (2) sutras expounded in order to take advantage of Buddhism for some purpose;
- (3) sutras created in order to palm folk beliefs off as the word of the Buddha and
- (4) sutras that were mere abridgments of more complex, repetitive Indic sutras.
Among the genuine texts, Mizuno lists the Sutra of Brahma s Net (Fan-wang ching), the Sutra of the Original Acts Which Adorn Bodhisattvas (P'u-sa ying-lo pen-yeh ching), the Sutra of Contemplation of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Kuan wu-liang-shou ching), the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings (Wu-liang-i ching), the Sutra of Adamantine Absorption (Kumgang sammaegyong), the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment (Yüan chüeh ching) and the Sutra of the Heroic March (Shou-leng-yen ching).(see further readings for source)
In my opinion, Buddhism teaches the identity of ultimate spirituality/spirit with Dharma or law, and is thus more consonant with this hard won insight than with the dual notions of Christianity or the notions that have crystalized as fundamentalist Islam. For Buddhists Iconclasm wasn't necessary because any "Gods" or "God" are in service to the same truths and subject to the same laws as anyone else. The Buddhist concept of "Buddha" is simply as a consciousness of truth that is a reservoir in everyone. Thus what people are seeking when they seek "God" is enlightenment or Buddhahood. In a sense "God" must have an identity with Buddha if he is to be a "true God."
- For more on these subjects visit my page
- or visit these scholarly works:
- Nichiren's Problematical Works", By Sueki Fumihito
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