Criticism of Wikipedia article on Buddhism/Featured Article

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The article on Buddhism in Wikipedia was once a "Featured Article". That is, it was supposed to be one of their best. It's interesting to examine that version.

The version approved as FA can be found at [1]. The discussion leading to approval can be found at [2].

Here are some criticisms. As a general point, it's interesting to note that not a single source is cited for any of the statements in the article.

The lead

Buddhism is the religion and philosophy or 'way of life' based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Sanskrit; in Pali, Siddhattha Gotama), who lived between approximately 563 and 483 BCE.

For "religion" and "philosophy" see Criticism of Wikipedia article on Buddhism#The lead. Does "'way of life'" add anything? All religions sometimes say It's not a religion, it's a way of life.

Is there any evidence that ancient Indians placed the personal name before the surname like modern Westerners?

In 1988, long before this article was approved, a specialist scholarly conference was held to discuss the date of the Buddha. The majority of those who gave fairly definite dates placed his death around 400 BC. This remains the consensus among specialists.[1]

Buddhism is characterized by morality, self-discipline and mental training; (and in some traditions, various ritual or mystical practices).

In fact ritual practices are virtually universal.[2] And what's the difference between "mental training" and "mystical practices"?

Buddhists frequently use formal sitting meditation. Some sects also use chanting and walking meditation.

The first statement is misleading. Until recent times, lay meditation was rare.[3] As to the second, chanting is practised by all premodern "sects" (see above; not the usual term anyway).

Origins

Legend has it that the Buddha to be, Siddhartha Gautama, was born around the 6th century BCE.

Theravada legend dates his birth to the 7th century BC, most Tibetan legends to the 9th and most Chinese ones to the 10th. The 6th century date is the one estimated by some 19th century scholars and still repeated by many non-specialists. Most specialists now say 5th (see above).

His birthplace is said to be Lumbini, which is in present day Nepal, although in ancient India, it was part of the Kingdom of Magadha. His father was a king ... Historically speaking, there are questions about this story. ... we know from other sources that the country of Magadha where he was born was a oligarchic republic at that time, so there was no royal family.

Magadha wasn't a republic, though the Buddha's homeland of Sakya probably was.

What is a Buddha?

A Buddha is a human being who has awakened to the true nature of universal reality, whose insight into the true nature of reality has totally transformed him or her beyond birth, death, and subsequent rebirth.

If "Buddha" is being used in its usual sense here, then Theravada believes Buddhas are always male, while Mahayana traditionally believes they are not human beings at all, and neither male or female. If it's being used in a broader sense, equivalent to "arahant", the article should say so. In this broader sense, Theravada holds that buddhas are not necessarily human beings, but may be gods.

... Buddhism makes no claims about God in the western sense or about ultimate issues of the creation of the universe

Actually it does. Theravada rejects such an idea. One Mahayana text,[4] on the other hand, says the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara created the world, the gods and the Buddhas.

Principles of Buddhism

The Five Precepts

4 I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech (lying, harsh language, slander, idle chit-chat).

The interpretation given in brackets is wrong. The fourth precept refers to lying only.

The Four Noble Truths

The Buddha's teaching at his first sermon was that of the four noble truths.

These truths were not to be taken as accepted truths, but as truths that could be understood to be truths after careful investigation and reflection.

A "reliable source"[5] had already presented an alternative interpretation, that the so-called truths are things, not statements. Since then, a number of other scholars have supported this view.

The three marks of conditioned existence

According to the Buddhist tradition all phenomena (dharmas) are marked by three characteristics, sometimes referred to as the Dharma Seals:

Wrong. Only conditioned dharmas are anicca and dukkha, and some Mahayana authorities would say the same of anatta. Nirvana is unconditioned.

The Three Vehicles

A common misunderstanding of the term "Hinayana" is that it means "inferior", and was intended to be derisory, which it was not ...

This alleged "misunderstanding" is shared by standard scholarly authorities.[6] Wikipedia articles are supposed to be based on such authorities, not on the personal opinions of Wikipedia editors that the authorities' views are "misunderstanding"s.

History of the Schools

Three months after the passing of Gautama Buddha, The First Council was held by the Sangha.

Scholars regard this as greatly exaggerated (just a small gathering) if not entirely fictitious.

... the teachings were divided into various parts and each was assigned to an elder and his pupils to commit to memory. These groups of people often cross-checked with each other to ensure that no omissions or additions were made.

The earliest source for the first statement is centuries later, and the second appears to be pure speculation.

By the Second Council, one hundred years later, it was not the dharma that had been called into question but the monks' code of rules or vinaya. This resulted in the formation of the Sthaviravādin and Mahāsanghika schools.

It's not at all clear in fact whether the council played any role in causing the schism.

Scriptures

The Buddhist canon is distinguished from that of many other major religions in the fact that it is, in principle, an open canon. Since it is a basic tenet of the tradition that anyone may become enlightened, it is also possible for new authoritative sermons to be delivered and recorded.

This is certainly true for Mahayana, but scholars are not agreed on whether this is also the Theravada view. Most likely Theravadins themselves disagree.[7]

The Buddhist canon of scripture is known in Pali as the Tipitaka and in Sanskrit as the Tripitaka. These terms literally mean "three baskets" and refers to the three main divisions of the canon, which are:

In fact this only really applies to the Pali Canon. The Chinese and Tibetan canons, though nominally divided thus, are in fact arranged quite differently.

... the Pali Canon, ... The sutras it contains are also part of the canon of every other Buddhist sect.

True only theoretically. Most of them were never translated into Tibetan, and the Chinese and Japanese take little notice of them.[8]

Full versions of the original text and English translations are now readily available on the internet.

Ambiguous phrasing. Full original and partial translation.

Notes

  1. Gethin, Sayings of the Buddha, Oxford World Classics, 2008, page xv
  2. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 139
  3. Routledge Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2007, pages 502f; Lopez, Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics, 2004, page xxxii
  4. the Karandavyuha
  5. Gethin, Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 1998, page 60
  6. Harvey, Introduction to Buddhism, Cambridge University Press, 1990, page 92; Penguin Handbook of the World's Living Religions, 3rd ed, 2010, page 389; Gethin, Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 1998, page 224; Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Volume One), page 328; Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism, 2002, page 107
  7. See History of the Pali Canon#The future
  8. Eliot, Japanese Buddhism, page 16

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