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Mahayana vs Theravada Buddhism

Comments

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    “The key findings are that even though each system is different to the other, they have also taken ideas and concepts from each other and mixed them into their own systems of cultivation. They do though seem to all share one common denominator which is at their base and this is that they all follow some form of theory related to the concept of non-action.”

    Not entirely a surprise…

    morphius77
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    Just in general there are certainly similarities as well as differences. 40 pages of scholarly work is probably more than most people here will want to tackle though.

    I do have a superficial reaction to "non-action". It feels like a somewhat negative spin on an idea I'm assuming refers to stillness or tranquility. It may or may not reflect a bias the author has against certain tenets of Buddhism and if you are reading it yourself should be something you keep an eye out for.

    how
  • morphius77morphius77 Switzerland New

    Do you guys think the essence of Mahayana and Theravada differs?

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    @morphius77 said:
    Do you guys think the essence of Mahayana and Theravada differs?

    It seems like there is a difference in focus. As to essence I'm really not informed enough to say for sure. The goal of Mahayana is Buddhahood, the ability to turn the wheel of Dharma. Theravada is individual liberation. My understanding is Mahayana thinks there is a difference in the enlightenment of a Buddha and an Arhat but Theravada doesn't.

    I'd say I fall more in the Mahayana camp, and say at the very least Theravada acknowledges a difference in path between an Arhat and a Buddha.

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    I haven’t read the article but from my observations / generalisations:
    1. Mahayana Buddhists acknowledge the Pali Canon as the words of the Buddha. Theravadan Buddhists don’t do the same for Mahayana sutras.
    2. Mahayana Buddhists see the Theravadan path as lesser than their own. They believe Theravadan Buddhism is lower.

  • Shoshin1Shoshin1 Veteran

    @morphius77 said:

    Do you guys think the essence of Mahayana and Theravada differs?

    Personally no, not really, they are both pointing towards the Truth (the true nature of all things aka the Dharma), but from slightly different angles/approaches...

    Bunkslobster
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @morphius77 said:
    Do you guys think the essence of Mahayana and Theravada differs?

    This is how I understand it…

    In Theravada you tend to find an emphasis on the words and teachings of the Buddha. In Mahayana this is confused with a multitude of Buddha’s and emanations and bodhisattva’s, all of whom are held to be as important as Gautama Siddhartha.

    In Theravada there is a focus on the task of getting enlightened, it is difficult and few succeed. In Mahayana there are many streams that get caught up in the pure lands of one of its Buddha’s, or in clear view, or in just being.

    Bunks
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited March 22

    @Jeroen said:
    In Theravada there is a focus on the task of getting enlightened, it is difficult and few succeed. In Mahayana there are many streams that get caught up in the pure lands of one of its Buddha’s, or in clear view, or in just being.

    I'm not going to contradict this per se, after all it is your opinion and you've stated your opinion accurately, but I would like to offer what I believe to be some nuance with regards to the above sentiment.

    "Mahāyāna" is the "Great Vehicle," but it is also the "Large Vehicle" (大乘). Furthermore, it is the "Broad and Expansive" vehicle (大方廣). The audience of the EBTs are principally the Śrāvakas. They are consistent of Brahmin and non-Brahmin mendicant wanderers, members of the Saṃgha, and occasionally lay devotees. Gods and yakkhas, etc., also constitute the audience of some of these texts from the old dispensation.

    Instructions to upāsakas are less common than instructions to bhikṣus in this literature, and instructions to non-upāsakas (i.e. "the laity who do not observe the Buddha's teachings to the laity") are even less common. Oftentimes, they appear as mischief-makers, like Migasālā and Sati the Fisherman's Son, rather than as someone who receives a teaching. These are examples of persons who lacked the great merit and noble roots to be able to hear the Dharma while the Buddha was alive. The EBTs are, in general, not addressed to them. They are mostly addressed to the Saṃgha, the upāsakas, and the upāsikās.

    The Mahāyāna, being the large, broad, and expansive vehicle, has teachings addressed to those who are not yet even upāsakas. It also contains within it teachings for those who are not ready for the Buddhadharma quite yet. It has sūtras that teach "the true self" as a gateway for the non-Buddhist into the true "selfless" Dharma. It has sūtras and teachings addressed to those for whom the path of mendicant purification is far from them and/or impossible for them in this life (Pure Land comes to mind as but one example).

    The audience of the dispensation to the Śrāvaka is principally the Saṃgha, but also the historical Buddhist laity of ~500BC. The audience of the dispensation of the Mahāyāna is "all sentient beings." The Buddha even taught the animals during his Bodhisattva tenure. As such, there is a much wider expanse of teachings, since this includes both those who are far-advanced in the cultivation of the Dharma as well as those with no such roots at all. It has teachings for non-Buddhists to lead them to the Dharma as well as Buddhist teachings on anātman and pratītyasamutpāda, etc.

    The trouble is when the provisional is confounded with the ultimate. All of the teachings of the Mahāyāna were never originally meant to be considered equivalent. In the kind of Mahāyāna Buddhism that I am familiar with, for instance, those sūtras which speak of "the self" or "the true self" are provisional sūtras addressed to non-Buddhists. In contrast, those sūtras which speak of emptiness are definitive sūtras of ultimate meaning intended for the Bodhisattvas.

    howlobsterBunksFleaMarket
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    The whole discourse between Mahayana and Theravada is very old. But if you take a step back and you look at enlightenment as the concept originally came out of India, there were many who tried to teach it but with only miserly success. If you look at the teachers who taught Gautama the Buddha meditation, he was a stellar student but there were not many like him.

    So there is a question, can enlightenment be taught at all, or is it just luck when someone who is ready meets up with a teacher? There are cases in the literature, like Milarepa with Marpa, or more recently Papaji with Ramana, but these may be rare and gifted individuals. The Buddha is said to have had many arhat students, but that’s not something that has been said of anyone since then.

    Vimalajāti
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited March 22

    IMO, if we don't take the accounts in records like the Pāli texts (etc.) of numbers like "500 Arhats" as only pseudo-historical, the yes, the Buddhadharma has severely declined. There are likely not as much as 500 Arhats alive today, even with our much-augmented human population.

    However, personally, I take these numbers such as "500 Athats compiled the sūtras with Vens Mahākāśyapa, Ānanda, and Upāli" as mytho-historical numbers. The cultures that redacted the earliest Buddhist texts believed that there were 500+ Arhats present. Were they exactly right on the number? Who knows? It would surely be a shame if there were no Arhats present. It's possible though.

    Jeroen
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    I mean, we don’t really know what the universe looks like to an enlightened one. We don’t know if such a thing as the bodhisattva vow actually makes sense to such a being.

    I have heard it said that to an enlightened being because everything is one when they become enlightened it is as if the whole universe becomes enlightened too. If that’s the case they might hold the bodhisattva vow as immediately fulfilled.

    Bunks
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited March 24

    @Jeroen said:
    We don’t know if such a thing as the bodhisattva vow actually makes sense to such a being.

    The Buddha says that he who reaches the other shore discards his raft and does not cling to it. IMO, by my reading of the scriptures, he who fulfills his vow discards it and does not cling to it, much like the raft in the Raft Fable. In Tendai Buddhism, we speak of "saving beings with no notion of 'a being.'" Ultimately, there are no beings. Ultimately, there is no particular person to be enlightened, nor any particular person to be saved.

    BunkshowFleaMarketKotishka
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @morphius77 said:
    Do you guys think the essence of Mahayana and Theravada differs?

    No. There is just a different emphasis.

    BunksLionduck
  • KotishkaKotishka Veteran
    edited March 27

    Ajahn Sona mentions how the Bodhisattva plea is not something the Buddha actually taught people, nor incentivated. He says that not wanting enlightenment and continuing the rounds of re-birth is "wishful thinking" and points out the misery that exists in the world and the potential devastating births that could lie ahead if someone refused complete Enlightenment in the name of others.

    But after reading Vimalajati's previous comment, I'm not so sure. Also, a question arises, when a Bodhissatva reaches his ultimate state, how can he remain and practice without being deluded again when he experiences re-birth? If there is no self, what then becomes Enlightened and leaves the rest behind?

    Edit: I do not seek conflict. I'm myself a confused Earth.dweller between the Theravada and the Mahayana paths. I see both of them complementary to my practice but it is true that certain aspects are quite challenging to put together for the sake of harmony.

    lobsterShoshin1Bunks
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited March 27

    But after reading Vimalajati's previous comment, I'm not so sure. Also, a question arises, when a Bodhissatva reaches his ultimate state, how can he remain and practice without being deluded again when he experiences re-birth? If there is no self, what then becomes Enlightened and leaves the rest behind?

    In meditation we know that one thought comes after another and the past thought is gone and the future thought is yet to come. But awareness continues thought to thought. In the same sense some Buddhists feel that one life is gone and one life is yet to come but there is always awareness life to life. You could call that awareness a self but it would be an error to assign qualities to awareness that it doesn't have so it might be confusing to call it a self if that meant assigning qualities to awareness that it doesn't have. Awareness is ungraspable so it doesn't have qualities in a graspable sense.

    Death thought is the last thought of this life. The body dissolves and it reaches its end. The mind before death was encased in a wind of karma, while that karma is encased in the body. At death the mind is freed from that connection to the body. But I don't know for sure that the mind (not a self "mind you" ;) ceases with the body. I say I don't know for sure but many believe that just as the mind/awareness continues thought to thought some believe it continues body to body.

    So if one is a Boddhisattva could they continue in a body that doesn't have any of their qualities from the previous life? I think the argument is that if they realized the qualities of a Bodhisattva that they should sustain to their next life?

    lobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    So if one is a Boddhisattva could they continue in a body that doesn't have any of their qualities from the previous life? I think the argument is that if they realized the qualities of a Bodhisattva that they should sustain to their next life?

    Ah the easy questions first. <3
    I feel that we light candles for the future, much as the Buddha described.
    http://thatbuddhaguy.com/Reincarnation.html

    Whatever our status. Be a flame.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited March 30

    @Kotishka said:
    Also, a question arises, when a Bodhisattva reaches his ultimate state, how can he remain and practice without being deluded again when he experiences re-birth? If there is no self, what then becomes Enlightened and leaves the rest behind?

    One could also say, if there is no self, what then transmigrates and is reborn in saṃsāra? Your version of the question is, if there is no self, what then becomes enlightened and leaves saṃsāra?

    The only answer I have for you is an empty scholasticism. I don't know the secrets of dependent origination, anātman, and Nirvāṇa anymore than anyone else who listens to the monks teach and reads a lot. "What transmigrates," like "what feels," and "for whom are there saṃskāras" is a question that the Buddha often declines to answer. In the Avijjāpaccayasutta at SN12.35, the Buddha has a dialogue with a bhikṣu whose name has not been preserved in the current redactions of the Buddhist texts:

    “Venerable sir, what now are volitional formations, and for whom are there these volitional formations?”

    “Not a valid question,” the Blessed One replied. “Bhikkhu, whether one says, ‘What now are volitional formations, and for whom are there these volitional formations?’ or whether one says, ‘Volitional formations are one thing, the one for whom there are these volitional formations is another’—both these assertions are identical in meaning; they differ only in the phrasing. If there is the view, ‘The soul and the body are the same,’ there is no living of the holy life; and if there is the view, ‘The soul is one thing, the body is another,’ there is no living of the holy life.

    (from the translation by Venerable Bodhi)

    In the Mahāyāna, Nirvāṇa is said to be non-abiding. What "non-abiding" means here has to be unpacked however, because I'm going to be saying in a second that the Buddhas "abide" in Nirvāṇa, seemingly contradicting myself.

    Please keep in mind that this is all my own opinion, and that I am not speaking with the doctrinal weight of an established scholastic opinion behind me.

    In the teaching of the Mahāyāna, the Buddhas are not said to be destroyed by extinguishment, nor are they eternally existent in an all-encompassing realm of Nirvāṇa, as if gone to a mysterious abode. There are similes and metaphors that speak of "the city of Nirvāṇa," but these in my experience are not to be taken literally (i.e. as if there was a great Nirvāṇa-realm populated by the Buddhas that existed outside of time and space or something like that). Similarly, Nirvāṇa is extinguishment only because it is the extinguishment of the three fires of greed, ignorance, and hatred. It is for the sake of pointing out the extinction of these three things that it is called "extinguishment" and "extinction," nothing more nothing less.

    In "Śrāvaka Buddhism" (i.e. "non-Mahāyāna Buddhism") the Buddha disappears into Parinirvāṇa, never to engage with the world ever again. Now, that's quite a sweeping statement, and when we read it, we should remember that Mahāyāna Buddhism has a history of sectarian polemics with non-Theravādin continental schools of Indian Buddhism. Either way, accurately or not, the general Mahāyāna tradition has a tendency to understand the Śrāvaka as believing that he will enter into a kind of death with Parinirvāṇa. The Mahāyāna rejects this framing of things. Whether this is a strawman is an entirely different conversation.

    So what does it mean for Nirvāṇa to be "non-abiding?" Ironically, it means that Nirvāṇa is "always abiding" for the Buddhas. "Above, he holds on to the root of mysteries; [and] below, he reaches out to lift the weak and the forlorn" (Venerable Sēngzhào 肇論 Zhào's Essays T1858.158a4). It is a Mahāyāna teaching that the Buddhas always abide in Nirvāṇa, even when appearing to interact with and engage with the world. All of the mental activities that the Buddha manifests in order to teach the world are nothing more than the pure samādhis of the Āryans, but he makes a show of entering and exiting the dhyānas and the samāpattis for the sake of edifying living beings.

    KotishkaJeffreylobster
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited March 30

    Oops wrong thread. Posted about puzzle video games in wrong spot.

  • KotishkaKotishka Veteran
    edited March 30

    @Vimalajāti
    Thank you for your elaborate answer!

    Edit: If you mind sharing any further reading -I tend to enjoy these scholarly subjects- please do so. I've read very few Mahayana texts. The Heart Sutra, The Diamond Sutra and the Record of Linji and some bits and bobs of Dogen.

    I also sense here there's a difference between Nirvana according to Mahayana and Theravada. I mean, from what I understood, Theravada sees it in a much more dualistic way. You either in or not in Samsara, you either in or not in Nibbana. No other way around it.

    Good day!

    Vimalajāti
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited April 1

    @Jeffrey said:
    Oops wrong thread. Posted about puzzle video games in wrong spot.

    Talking of video games - who won the Theravada vs Maha-ha-ha-yana game?

    Shoshin1BunksFleaMarket
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @lobster said:

    @Jeffrey said:
    Oops wrong thread. Posted about puzzle video games in wrong spot.

    Talking of video games - who won the Theravada vs Maha-ha-ha-yana game?

    I think it was a draw.

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