Talk:Vimalakirti Sutra

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T 474.14.519-536 by Zhi Qian, not Lokaksema, the data from the DDB is wrong. Check here [1] --Xinstalker (talk) 23:07, 28 April 2009 (UTC)

Theravadin Vandalism[edit]

Apparently a Theravadin got into this page and basically rewrote the summary, stating that it's all "highly polemical", and was indignant because the Buddha's disciples don't show the most wisdom in the sutra. Of course, all terms are in Pali as well, which is a dead give-away. They bring their own language around with them everywhere, even when they are defacing Mahayana pages.

The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra basically reflects the standard world view of Mahayana Buddhism, and that is bound to offend some uptight individuals. When it was written, of course it was skillful means to demonstrate higher wisdom than what was conventional at the time. To do that, the Mahayana sutras always burn bridges, killing off not only conceptualization, but cutting down anything that we might be clinging to (including notions of holiness and greatness). Then, as well as now, there will be Buddhists who can't deal with this sort of thing.

An example of how the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra does this is when Vimalakirti tells Purna Maitreyaniputra not to put dirty food in clean bowls. In other words, not to give lesser teachings to people with open minds who can handle the higher wisdom. This is likening the teachings on suffering and liberation to dirty food. However, it is entirely in line with the rest of the Mahayana sutras, in which the Buddha always teaches the simplest higher routes first, and then lower routes when his students do not understand. To an outsider like a Theravadin, it's simply scary polemics, but what else can we expect from a person with such preconceptions? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Tengu800 (talkcontribs) 14:06, 15 January 2010 (UTC)

Your deletion of the quoted material was inappropriate. The scholars who have worked on this sutra and who are quoted--Watson, Garfield, McCrae and Mather--are all Mahayana specialists, and they all agree the sutra is polemical and say so clearly. Their work appears in reputable publications, all of which are entirely encyclopedic. There is no basis for deletion of this material.Sylvain1972 (talk) 19:39, 12 February 2010 (UTC)
Except that there's far too much of it. See the bullets under WP:QUOTEFARM, particularly: "quoteboxes should generally be avoided as they draw special attention to the opinion of one source, and present that opinion as though Wikipedia endorses it." The point of view that this sutra is polemical is a valid one, but that POV should be presented in a summary style with citations of references that support it, not in a litany of lengthy quotations of those references. Of course, opposing views should be similarly presented, to the degree that they are notable. /ninly(talk) 05:08, 2 January 2011 (UTC)
Wikipedia:Quotations is a project page, "not a Wikipedia policy or guideline," so it has no particular authority in this discussion, and I happen to think it is poorly worded and wrongheaded. Further, in this case, there are no opposing views, as far as I can see. Certainly none have been presented. To the contrary, a consensus of at least four scholars has been demonstrated showing agreement that the sutra is polemical and portrays Hinayana characters negatively. One could hardly expect otherwise, because this is straightforward and abundantly clear.Sylvain1972 (talk) 17:47, 26 May 2011 (UTC)

Issues with quotes[edit]

Throughout the sutra the Hinayanist viewpoint is represented by the disciple Śāriputra, whose pedestrian remarks are the target of many a good-natured jibe and create frequent situations of humor throughout the sutra, a fact which undoubtedly enhanced its charms in the eyes of the Chinese ... In the tradition of Indian Buddhism, the sutra clearly falls in the category of early Mahayana polemical works and is closely associated in China with the Prājnāpāramitā-sūtras, whose point of view ... it shares. This fresh, almost brash, quality was certainly one cause of its popularity in China. If Vimalakīrti could ridicule the cheerless asceticism of the śrāvakas and pulverize the desiccated scholasticism of their Abhidharma, he was endearing himself immediately to the Chinese intellectuals of the third and fourth centuries who were suspicious of both ... The passages which we find most often quoted bear out the impression that the first thing the Chinese found appealing was the universality and flexibility of the sutra's outlook.

Poor Śāriputra! ... When he tries to wriggle out of a dialectical corner into which she backs him with what looks like a profound manoeuvre, she calls his bluff and humiliates him. This should be a lesson to us all: never appear as a hinayāna character in a Mahāyāna sūtra! Śāriputra abandons speech too quickly, after all. He has been asked a question in a particular context ... to refuse to speak at such a point is neither an indication of wisdom, nor a means of imparting wisdom, but at best a refusal to make progress ... Language is not, according to any Mahāyāna school, to be abandoned at the outset; it is not, whatever its limitations, a useless or a wholly misleading cognitive vehicle. To adopt an aphasia or cognitive quietism from the start would be pointless, and, as the Goddess notes, contrary to the practice of the Buddha himself, who uttered an enormous number of words during his career. But of course the episode gets its point precisely from the fact that Buddhist literature is replete with a rhetoric of silence—with episodes of especially significant silence—and indeed, as we discover a mere two chapters later in this very sutra, Śāriputra's failed silence is but a contrastive prelude to Vimalakīrti's far more articulate silence.

As Ninly noted before from the guidelines regarding quotes, "quoteboxes should generally be avoided as they draw special attention to the opinion of one source, and present that opinion as though Wikipedia endorses it." These lengthy quotations definitely do include certain POV statements and scholarly interpretations and should be restated in summary style to the extent that they are factual, notable, and informative for the article. That is to say, views of scholars which are controversial or POV should not be given lengthy quotes in the article. Tengu800 22:47, 25 May 2011 (UTC)

Wikipedia:Quotations, which contains the section to which Ninly refers, is a project page, "not a Wikipedia policy or guideline," so it has no particular authority in this discussion, and I happen to think it is poorly worded and wrongheaded. Second, you seem not to understand the WP:NPOV policy. It does not state that articles may not contain POV statements. What is says is, "editing from a neutral point of view (NPOV) means representing fairly, proportionately, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources." The opinions of recognized authorities can most certainly be presented, provided that they are properly attributed, as they are here. It is the editorial voice of the article itself that must not endorse a particular viewpoint.
However, in this case you have not even shown that the remarks in question are disputed by other scholars. The fact that Hinayana characters are portrayed negatively in the Vimalakīrti sutra is not contested by anyone, and that information is certainly factual, notable, and informative for the article. You have not at all shown that there are relevant reliable sources that disagree with this characterization.Sylvain1972 (talk) 17:42, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
Quotations is an essay, and for our purposes it could be considered to have about as much authority as most any guideline – it is something posted for editors to review and refer to while determining consensus (which is far more binding than any policy). In this case, you might have a look at that essay's talk page – there has been long and somewhat complex discussion about whether to "promote" it to guideline status, and the disagreements about whether to promote it have had little to do with the concern here.
This concern, for my part, is not as much with the substantive content of those quotes, their authority, or their neutrality. Their length and abstruseness are what bothers me. In this case, I don't think direct quotation adds that much to the article. The idea of a "summary style" in the Quotations essay is closely related to the "editorial voice" you describe, and in the case of these long quotations, the author's style and voice make it hard to discern a neutral editorial voice for the article.
Backing up a bit, look at the McRae quotation. As far as I can tell, the gist is "in contrast to India and Tibet, the Vimalakirti Sutra is well-regarded in East Asia—but not as popular or influential as some other scriptures". In my view, that's (more or less) all the article needs to say there &ndsah; with a reference citation to the McRae source, of course. As for Mather, the point is a little more involved, but could be similarly summarized. Something like "Scholars, including Mather, regard the sutra as a polemical conviction of Hinayana views" would do it, preferably with reference to a few other scholars who agree. The existing 150–200 word quotes are far more difficult to parse and disrupt the editorial voice of the article.
The Garfield quote, to my mind, takes the issue another step. These are far more than simple "remarks". Garfield, as a philosophy teacher, is taking on a complex voice that's bound up with the voice of the text he's teaching ("Poor Sariputra!"). I don't question his scholarly authority, but as encyclopedia editors it's our job to tease out these arguments a bit, not just regurgitate difficult prose in all its complexity. Basically, that passage is not easy reading, and I find it inappropriate in the context. It doesn't make the point.
For our part, we need to discuss the main points you hope to get across by including quotations of this length, and determine whether there's a more concise way to express those points. If not, then maybe we leave them, but it needs to be discussed. On the Garfield quote, I would actually start by changing the title of that subsection from "Silence as wisdom" (which is interpretive rather than expository) to something more like "Relation to Zen Buddhism". /ninly(talk) 21:31, 26 May 2011 (UTC)
Well, it hasn't been promoted to guideline, but there is no point in belaboring that any further. However, the policy you mention is talking about quoteboxes-- for examples, see here:[2]--not block quotes, which are fine and not controversial. With regard to the McRae quotation, I think that your summary is accurate but overly reductive and does't at all encompass everything he says. McRae makes a number of valuable points there. Why would it be of interest to establish the historical position of the sutra so precisely? Well, the sutra has already been translated into English five times and seems to loom large in the contemporary imagination. It would be easy to get the impression that it was a major touchstone in all Mahayana countries. But we see that that is not the case. McCrae talks about the various uses to which major sutras in general were put in East Asia, two of the main ones being 1) as objects of devotion and 2) as bases of philosophical schools. He notes that curiously the Vilamalakirti sutra was neither despite the fact that it got a certain amount of lip service as an important sutra. Then the Mather quote rather nicely elaborates on what was appealing about it. With regard to Garfield, I can see how the point there is abstruse and perhaps could be treated differently. I will work on that. But I think it is a mistake to indict all of the block quotes based on that, or (as Tengu has done) assert POV issues where there are none. The suggestion that block quotes are always disruptive or inappropriate is one that I vigorously contest.Sylvain1972 (talk) 14:34, 27 May 2011 (UTC)
I mostly agree about the blockquote/quotebox distinction, but as you suggest our real concern here is improving the article at hand, not following guidelines or reflecting on essays. No need to belabor further.
I also agree that my reductions of the quotations leave out some good content – mostly I was taking a stab at it to give a sense of what I'm aiming for, and I still hold that wholesale reproduction of these quotations is an ineffective way to convey the relevant points. An encyclopedic style should be more careful about introducing and explaining the points being made. Just to be clear (I think you already understand this), I don't mean to indict the quotes or their content directly, just the way they're being deployed. I'm not sure Tengu agrees with me there, but if there are notable POVs opposed to the ones in these quotations, we will need to find refs and represent them also, as seamlessly as we can. /ninly(talk) 16:20, 27 May 2011 (UTC)
Our view on this is a bit different, but the concerns you are expressing are probably at the root of it. The main issue I see with these quotes is that they are sloppy. No normal encyclopedia would use quotes in this way, and it kills the encyclopedic style of Wikipedia by inserting so-and-so's views without a reason or a clear point being made in them. Then when someone attempts to change these to summary style in order to give more direction to the article, these changes are reverted, essentially because they are not verbatim repetition of the original quote. The question is really this: what is the purpose of these quotes in the article, that they are supposedly so important, and yet cannot be converted into summary style?
Worse is that these views can exaggerate or alter perception of the sutra's contents through their own use of language. For example, the repeated use of the word "Hinayana" in these quotations is completely out of proportion with the use of the term in the actual sutra. In the sutra, the sravakas are never referred to as Hinayana. Only a general doctrinal orientation is described as "Hinayana", and only at one time in the entire sutra (at the beginning), without a clear indication of what this means. In addition, Garfield writes, "never be a hinayana character in a Mahayana sutra!" This is exactly the sort of statement that should not be used indiscriminately in an encyclopedia article. This is just his own view of Mahayana sutras, and there is nothing of a verifiable nature here. It is also notable that so-called "Hinayana" characters fare quite well in many Mahayana sutras, such as the Diamond Sutra and Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra, in which they are the main figures. Tengu800 14:48, 28 May 2011 (UTC)
That is not the case. There are indeed encyclopedia entries that use longer quotes to illustrate points - it is not unusual at all in more comprehensive encyclopedias. Second, the fact that scholars use the term Hinayana despite the fact that you find it disagreeable is not a reason to exclude their voices. Again, you seem not to understand what the NPOV entails. The legitimacy of opinions expressed by scholars and quoted in wikipedia does not need to be verified or verifiable. As long as they are reliable sources with recognized credentials, as Garfield most certainly is, their opinions and POV are perfectly acceptable for inclusion provided that they are properly attributed.Sylvain1972 (talk) 20:25, 7 June 2011 (UTC)

So what is the specific purpose of each of these quotes? When we know that, then it will be possible to rewrite the relevant points in summary format. Tengu800 16:34, 5 June 2011 (UTC)

I have already addressed that above in some detail.Sylvain1972 (talk) 20:25, 7 June 2011 (UTC)
The issue from the beginning has been the excessive use of blockquotes for verbatim repetition of academic views, when they are unnecessary. This use of quotes draws attention to the view as though it is endorsed by Wikipedia, and separates the quote itself from any context or qualifications. When a view presented this way includes statements which tend to associate the work itself with use of controversial terms such as "Hinayana", then that does cause a problem. Tengu800 22:32, 7 June 2011 (UTC)
Never mind, there is probably enough information that has been gathered here to rewrite the quotes in summary style. You and Ninly have (mostly) mentioned the important points of the quotes. I will rewrite and reorganize these sections so other material can also be added without the page appearing like an ugly collection of excessively long quotes. Tengu800 23:11, 7 June 2011 (UTC)