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Dhamma Wheel • View topic - The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 15, 2010 6:59 am

Wizard in the Forest wrote:Tilt, maybe you have a clear understanding of the differences, so I would like to hear what you think they are if you don't mind.
I think, Alice, if you are intersted I can suggest a couple of books. Herbert Guenther's translation of Gompopa'sThe Jewel Ornament of Liberation gives a very classic view of the Mahayana and is worth a read. From that you should get some idea of where the Theravada and classical Indian Mahayana touch and where they separate.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:05 am

tiltbillings wrote:
"... even after its initial appearance in the public domain in the 2nd century
[Mahayana] appears to have remained an extremely limited minority movement - if
it remained at all - that attracted absolutely no documented public or popular
support for at least two more centuries. It is again a demonstrable fact that
anything even approaching popular support for the Mahayana cannot be documented
until 4th/5th century AD, and even then the support is overwhelmingly monastic,
not lay, donors ... although there was - as we know from Chinese translations - a large
and early Mahayana literature there was no early, organized, independent,
publicly supported movement that it could have belonged to."

-- G. Schopen "The Inscription on the Ku.san image of Amitabha and the
character of the early Mahayana in India." JIABS 10, 2 pgs 124-5

And this is why it is important to set the Mahāyāna in an accurate historical context. In all likelihood the monks who accepted some type of bodhisattvayāna (prior to the 5th or 6th centuries CE at least) would have been living alongside or in some sort of proximate relationship to their mainstream Nikāya brethren. They would have known the Āgama/Nikāya discourses, and the development of the bodhisattvayāna would have been embedded in this mainstream orthopraxy. Even Śāntideva's two texts on the bodhisattvamārga (~7th-8th century CE) are quite unremarkable and mainstream in terms of ethical conduct, renunciation, meditations on impurity, cemetery contemplations, impermanence, conditioned arising, etc.
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby Virgo » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:07 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Some other differences include that Mahayanists feel that it is perfectly OK to break your vows if it is done to help others. For example, if you know someone who drinks a lot, it is OK to have some drinks with them to befriend them and possibly bring them around to the path.
If you are going to criticize the Mahayana, try to do it accurately, rather than with such a caricature.

It was taught by my old Vajrayana teacher, who was a "Khenchen". From http://www.bodhitpath.org, "The Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakyapa schools use the title of Khenpo for those who have achieved the highest levels of mastery in Shedras. Why? The reason is that in Tibet, the teachers who achieved such mastery also were the ones who gave the monks vows."... "Khenpo is a term in the vinaya meaning "the one who gives the monks vows"—one who has demonstrated the highest vinaya conduct and has become very accomplished, a senior monk. Khenchen means "Senior Khenpo"." So you can see he was very well respected.

It was also a common example used in Vajrayana circles to demonstrate how your Bodhisattva vows supercede your, what they called "hinayana" vows.

tiltbillings wrote:
The difference in the understanding of emptiness is vast. Even among Mahayanists there is great debate about it and different schools that believe different things exist, yet they all think they have the right understanding of emptiness. There is a doctrine of "Two Truths" which basically says that there are two levels of reality. They are the conventional and the ultimate levels (this is borrowed from Theravada and other earlier sects) but they define these much differently than Theravada did. They say that on the conventional level, things are impermanent, dukkha, and so on and that actions have effects, but that on the ultimate level, all things are dream like, not real manifestations.
This is a distortion of the two truths. If there are Mahayanists who hold it as you say, they are not indicative of the Mahayana as a whole.

While there is much for which one might criticize the Mahayana, it is best to accurately portray that which you are criticizing. It is also worth keeping in mind there is also much within the Mahayana that worthy and of great value.


Simply read about the "two truths" and Madhyamaka. It is all contained therein. I have not inaccurately displayed how they approach emptiness.

Thanks,
Kevin
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby Wizard in the Forest » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:07 am

.....................................
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby ground » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:08 am

tiltbillings wrote:Herbert Guenther's translation of Gompopa'sThe Jewel Ornament of Liberation gives a very classic view of the Mahayana and is worth a read. From that you should get some idea of where the Theravada and classical Indian Mahayana touch and where they separate.


It is utterly wrong to refer to Vajrayana sources as "the Mahayana" or even "classical Indian Mahayana"


Kind regards
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby Wizard in the Forest » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:08 am

Okay.... this is weird. Upon reading this... :jumping: Ohh' kay Alice is out of the Poppy fields now... whooosh :woohoo:
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby Wizard in the Forest » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:12 am

TMingyur wrote:It is utterly wrong to refer to Vajrayana sources as "the Mahayana" or even "classical Indian Mahayana"
Kind regards


Can you clarify?
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:14 am

TMingyur wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Herbert Guenther's translation of Gompopa'sThe Jewel Ornament of Liberation gives a very classic view of the Mahayana and is worth a read. From that you should get some idea of where the Theravada and classical Indian Mahayana touch and where they separate.


It is utterly wrong to refer to Vajrayana sources as "the Mahayana" or even "classical Indian Mahayana"


Kind regards
First of all this hardly a Vajrayana text and secondly it present a classical Indian take on the Mahayana - okay - from a Tibetan standpoint.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby ground » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:18 am

tiltbillings wrote:
TMingyur wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Herbert Guenther's translation of Gompopa'sThe Jewel Ornament of Liberation gives a very classic view of the Mahayana and is worth a read. From that you should get some idea of where the Theravada and classical Indian Mahayana touch and where they separate.


It is utterly wrong to refer to Vajrayana sources as "the Mahayana" or even "classical Indian Mahayana"


Kind regards
First of all this hardly a Vajrayana text and secondly it present a classical Indian take on the Mahayana - okay - from a Tibetan standpoint.


You can hardly find any tibetan source that is not Vajrayana. And of course Gampopa and his Kagyu school "are" Vajrayana.

Kind regards
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:20 am

tiltbillings wrote:Herbert Guenther's translation of Gompopa'sThe Jewel Ornament of Liberation gives a very classic view of the Mahayana and is worth a read. From that you should get some idea of where the Theravada and classical Indian Mahayana touch and where they separate.

Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche's translation of The Jewel Ornament of Liberation is a more contemporary, accessible read.

An even better source of Indian Mahāyāna thought would be The Way of the Bodhisattva by Śāntideva.

Or Four Illusions: Candrakīrti's Advice for Travelers on the Bodhisattva Path by Candrakīrti.


:buddha1:
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:27 am

TMingyur wrote:You can hardly find any tibetan source that is not Vajrayana. And of course Gampopa and his Kagyu school "are" Vajrayana.
The Vajrayana in that book is, at best, minimal. The bulk of it is standard Mahayana foundation teachings.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:29 am

Ñāṇa wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Herbert Guenther's translation of Gompopa'sThe Jewel Ornament of Liberation gives a very classic view of the Mahayana and is worth a read. From that you should get some idea of where the Theravada and classical Indian Mahayana touch and where they separate.

Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche's translation of The Jewel Ornament of Liberation is a more contemporary, accessible read.
I prefer Guenther's book.

An even better source of Indian Mahāyāna thought would be The Way of the Bodhisattva by Śāntideva.
I would prefer his Compendium if it were in a better translation.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:31 am

Virgo wrote:Simply read about the "two truths" and Madhyamaka. It is all contained therein. I have not inaccurately displayed how they approach emptiness.
I have, which is why I do not find your accounting all that credible.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby Nyana » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:40 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:An even better source of Indian Mahāyāna thought would be The Way of the Bodhisattva by Śāntideva.

I would prefer his Compendium if it were in a better translation.

I've heard that Lozang Jamspal (Columbia University) has made or is in the process of making a new translation. Much needed and long, long overdue.
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby ground » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:45 am

tiltbillings wrote:
TMingyur wrote:You can hardly find any tibetan source that is not Vajrayana. And of course Gampopa and his Kagyu school "are" Vajrayana.
The Vajrayana in that book is, at best, minimal. The bulk of it is standard Mahayana foundation teachings.

That depends on what you prefer to label "Vajrayana". Actually "Vajrayana" is a view that pervades the rest. If you refer to "Vajrayana" solely in the sense of methods classically labelled as "Varjrayana practice" then you may be right. But the impression you then get is misleading.

tiltbillings wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Herbert Guenther's translation of Gompopa'sThe Jewel Ornament of Liberation gives a very classic view of the Mahayana and is worth a read. From that you should get some idea of where the Theravada and classical Indian Mahayana touch and where they separate.

Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche's translation of The Jewel Ornament of Liberation is a more contemporary, accessible read.
I prefer Guenther's book.

Because it supports your view of Mahayana in the first place, right? But this may be caused by "Vajrayana" view being acctually the view you can pin down as deviant very easily which may not be the case if you referred to classical Indian sutra Mahayana which actually teaches methods not differing from those in the Pali canon except the words and terminology applied may be different.

But of course the Mahayana attitude/motivation is prevalent also in sutra Mahayana and that and all the accompanying narratives ("bhumis" etc) may not be findable in the pali suttas.

Kind regards
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:53 am

TMingyur wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
TMingyur wrote:You can hardly find any tibetan source that is not Vajrayana. And of course Gampopa and his Kagyu school "are" Vajrayana.
The Vajrayana in that book is, at best, minimal. The bulk of it is standard Mahayana foundation teachings.

That depends on what you prefer to label "Vajrayana". Actually "Vajrayana" is a view that pervades the rest. If you refer to "Vajrayana" solely in the sense of methods classically labelled as "Varjrayana practice" then you may be right. But the impression you then get is misleading.
My Tibetan teacher, Lama Chime Rinpoche, characterized it so, and that is good enough for me.

Because it supports your view of Mahayana in the first place, right? But this may be caused by "Vajrayana" view being acctually the view you can pin down as deviant very easily which may not be the case if you referred to classical Indian sutra Mahayana which actually teaches methods not differing from those in the Pali canon except the words and terminology applied may be different.
I have not said anything, not a thing, about the Vajrayana being deviant or otherwise.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby ground » Wed Dec 15, 2010 7:58 am

tiltbillings wrote:My Tibetan teacher, Lama Chime Rinpoche, characterized it so, and that is good enough for me.

QED.
But with that I do not assert that he was wrong. I simply say that a Vajrayana teacher of course holds Vajrayana view.

tiltbillings wrote:I have not said anything, not a thing, about the Vajrayana being deviant or otherwise.

Okay. But then let me add that of course Vajrayana is not deviant as to Mahayana. Why? Because it is a branch of Mahayana. But it is neither "the Mahayana" nor "classical Indian Mahayana".


Kind regards
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 15, 2010 8:02 am

TMingyur wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:My Tibetan teacher, Lama Chime Rinpoche, characterized it so, and that is good enough for me.

QED.
But with that I do not assert that he was wrong. I simply say that a Vajrayana teacher of course holds Vajrayana view.

tiltbillings wrote:I have not said anything, not a thing, about the Vajrayana being deviant or otherwise.

Okay. But then let me add that of course Vajrayana is not deviant as to Mahayana. Why? Because it is a branch of Mahayana. But it is neither "the Mahayana" nor "classical Indian Mahayana".


Kind regards
Opinions vary. I happen to like mine, in the context of having studied Indian Buddhist history, better than I like yours, since I have no need to filter it through any particular point of view.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby ground » Wed Dec 15, 2010 8:05 am

Now to be honest ... after all that I am ending up with the question: Is it possible to "understand" Mahayana without Vajrayana?

And to be even more honest: Since I am very biased and conditioned I am answering my own question with "No". ;)

Kind regards
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Re: The specific differences between Mahayana and Theravada?

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Dec 15, 2010 8:10 am

BlackBird wrote:
Wizard in the Forest wrote:I have heard there's a difference on how emptiness is taught too, but I don't know how. I mentioned the Bodhisattva ideal.


According to Lama Ridzin Choepal, a monk I met in Sri Lanka: The Mahayana, especially the Vajrayana have a different conception of anatta than Theravada which is objectively more far reaching. In essence things (phenomena) are not as they appear to be, a common theme in all mystical religions. While Theravada confines anatta to the self, the Mahayana extends it to all phenomena so that while the Arahant may understand anatta in relation to the self, he does not understand the emptiness of all phenomena that the Bodhisattva does. Furthermore the Arahant still has a subtle self-view, and thus he will eventually take rebirth which will put him on the Bodhisattva path.


My husband was a Vajrayana student for a long period and that view of Lama Choepels corresponds exactly precisely to the view of the Theravada that he received from a number of teachers. It is the mainstream view of the Theravada among the Vajrayana . The Vajrayana is equally er....."challenging" about Zen btw. Meanwhile over on Zen Forum International Gregory Wonderwheel will be pleased to traduce the Theravada for you given the opportunity. The myth of Pan Buddhist ecumenicism is just that. Its a nice idea that only exists in the imaginations of some well meaning moderns and on Buddhist conference platforms. And that is not a negative thing.

Ajahn Chah was frequently coruscating in his expressed views of the Mahayana.....they leave those bits out of the books... ;)
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