Mahayana split

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.

Mahayana split

Postby greggorious » Thu Oct 27, 2011 3:58 pm

Could someone tell me the exact reason why the mahayana was invented and why it decided to split from theravada? Or is this too open to debate? Was Zen the first Mahayana tradition?
"The original heart/mind shines like pure, clear water with the sweetest taste. But if the heart is pure, is our practice over? No, we must not cling even to this purity. We must go beyond all duality, all concepts, all bad, all good, all pure, all impure. We must go beyond self and nonself, beyond birth and death. When we see with the eye of wisdom, we know that the true Buddha is timeless, unborn, unrelated to any body, any history, any image. Buddha is the ground of all being, the realization of the truth of the unmoving mind.” Ajahn Chah
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby Clarence » Thu Oct 27, 2011 4:25 pm

Define invented. :smile:
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby daverupa » Thu Oct 27, 2011 4:39 pm

Zen wasn't first, that much is certain. It comes much later, and starts as Ch'an via Bodhidharma sometime around the 5th or 6th centuries C.E.

As to the rest, scholarly work suggests it began as a monastic movement in India, perhaps as early as 100 B.C.E., iirc.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu Oct 27, 2011 4:40 pm

greggorious wrote:Could someone tell me the exact reason why the mahayana was invented and why it decided to split from theravada? Or is this too open to debate? Was Zen the first Mahayana tradition?


It's a HUGE topic, Gregorious -- one which could fill up hundreds of pages. And the bottom line is no one is really certain how it got started. The current thinking, as I understand it, is that Mahayana probably first developed as a sort of specialized focus among monastics during the centuries after the Buddha's parinibbana. Some of these monastics had deep samadhi (meditation) experiences which may have provided the basis for parts of the Mahayana scriptures.

Mahayana may also have a particuarly close connection with one of the early Buddhist schools, the Mahasamghika. A major schism took place at the Second Buddhist Council between these Buddhists and another group known as the Sthavirans. Theravadins traditionally have seen themselves as heirs to the latter group, and Mahayana has often been associated with the former (although the actual story may be more complex). It is not known for sure who precipitated the split, as the accounts conflict.

Here's a quick-and-dirty overview (i.e. Wikipedia) of the Mahasamghikas and their doctrines:

The Mahāsāṃghikas advocated the transcendental and supramundane nature of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the fallibility of arhats. They held that the teachings of the Buddha were to be understood as having two principle levels of truth: a relative or conventional (Skt. saṃvṛti) truth, and the absolute or ultimate (Skt. paramārtha) truth. For the Mahāsaṃghika branch of Buddhism, the final and ultimate meaning of the Buddha's teachings was "beyond words", and words were merely the conventional exposition of the Dharma.

A doctrine ascribed to the Mahāsāṃghikas is, "The power of the tathāgatas is unlimited, and the life of the buddhas is unlimited." According to Guang Xing, two main aspects of the Buddha can be seen in Mahāsāṃghika teachings: the true Buddha who is omniscient and omnipotent, and the manifested forms through which he liberates sentient beings through skillful means. For the Mahāsaṃghikas, the historical Gautama Buddha was one of these transformation bodies (Skt. nirmāṇakāya), while the essential real Buddha is equated with the Dharmakāya.


It may also be worth asking "how was Theravada invented"? My understanding is that as a distinct school it originated around the time of King Asoka, who not only sponsored and promoted Buddhism but sought to reform it -- in some cases, expelling monks who held what he deemed to be unorthodox teachings.

Zen was definitely not the first Mahayana school -- the "Way of the Bodhisattva" had already been going strong in parts of India and Central Asia for a long time before Bodhidharma arrived in China.

I'm sure every single assertion I made above (except for the one about Zen) is open to fierce debate!

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Re: Mahayana split

Postby Kare » Thu Oct 27, 2011 8:07 pm

Eric Cheetham has produced an interesting booklet called "The Pre-Mahayana Landscape", published by The Buddhist Society, London, in 1989. In this booklet he points out different Mahayana trends or doctrines that appeared in different early schools before Mahayana as such made an appearance. The book does not give the full and final answer on how Mahayana was created, but it shows that what later was known as Mahayana, can be seen as a collection of several different developments that arose at different times and in different places.
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby Paññāsikhara » Fri Oct 28, 2011 12:33 am

greggorious wrote:Could someone tell me the exact reason why the mahayana was invented and why it decided to split from theravada? Or is this too open to debate? Was Zen the first Mahayana tradition?


The Mahayana wasn't ever really "invented". Rather, it was a fairly natural development from the doctrines, practices and ideals of probably a number of the early schools that formed in Buddhism in the first few centuries after the Buddha's parinirvana. It never "split from the Theravada", but rather owes much more to other early schools, such as the Mahasamghika schools, the Dharmaguptaka, and the very popular Sarvastivadin and Vatsiputriya movements. It was only later that it then traveled to Sri Lanka where it probably first met the Theravada (= Mahavihara tradition).

While there is some debate on this matter among scholars, the basics are becoming more and more settled. You can check out people like Jan Nattier, Dan Boucher, Paul Harrison and the like.

Zen was definitely not the first, by a long, long way. Even if we refer to the Chinese predecessor, Chan, that is still considered one of the later Chinese traditions, let alone comparing it to the Indian situation.

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My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: Huifeng's Prajnacara Blog.
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby Bankei » Sat Oct 29, 2011 1:56 am

There are many different theories regarding the arising of the Mahayana.

It seems to have emerged by around the 1century, as evidenced by translations of Mahayana texts into Chinese. But Schopen points out the lack of inscriptions with Mahayana themes from this period. So it is unclear exactly when Mahayana arose, but probably first century BC or thereabouts.

Why it arose is another interesting question. Some, such as Hirakawa Akira, have argued that it was originally a lay movement that emerged in communities connected to Stupa worship. I think this theory is largely discredited now. A more recent theory, Florin, is that it was a monastic movement, mainly forest monks, who wanted to get back to the original teachings and away from the Abhidharmic style developments of over analysis.

Just remember that Mahayana is a philosophical movement and that the monks who were mahayanist would have had a nikayaic ordinaiton so someone could have been a Theravadin by ordination but a Mahayanist by belief - and this is what you will still find today. All Mahayana monks (not Japanese priests though) would be ordained under Dharmaguptaka or Mulasarvastivada vinayas.

Zen was a much later development, dating from 520 when Bodhidharma went to China - legend, actual formation probably much later.
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby alexbunardzic » Wed Nov 16, 2011 9:20 pm

greggorious wrote:Could someone tell me the exact reason why the mahayana was invented and why it decided to split from theravada? Or is this too open to debate? Was Zen the first Mahayana tradition?


The seeds of the Mahayana movement were apparently planted by the Buddha himself, who had repeatedly refused to provide definitive answers to the two most burning questions that people were constantly asking him:

1. Who is the Buddha's chosen heir (i.e. who will get appointed by the Buddha as a rightful successor to continue the teaching after the Buddha's death)?
2. What happens to the Buddha/Tathagata after he dies?

After the Buddha had perished, many/most of his followers apparently had serious difficulties making peace with the fact that the above two questions remained unanswered (and, according to the Buddha, unanswerable). That seemingly unbearable situation prodded many Buddhist practitioners to start embellishing the Buddha's original teaching by supplying variety of theories, some of which were wildly fantastic (e.g. the three-bodies theory, the Buddha Nature theory, the Pure Land theory, the Buddha's omniscience/omnipotence theory, etc.) All these theories, grouped under one umbrella, formed the Mahayana movement.
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Nov 16, 2011 9:42 pm

alexbunardzic wrote:
greggorious wrote:Could someone tell me the exact reason why the mahayana was invented and why it decided to split from theravada? Or is this too open to debate? Was Zen the first Mahayana tradition?


The seeds of the Mahayana movement were apparently planted by the Buddha himself, who had repeatedly refused to provide definitive answers to the two most burning questions that people were constantly asking him:

1. Who is the Buddha's chosen heir (i.e. who will get appointed by the Buddha as a rightful successor to continue the teaching after the Buddha's death)?
2. What happens to the Buddha/Tathagata after he dies?
Source for this?
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.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby alexbunardzic » Wed Nov 16, 2011 10:25 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
alexbunardzic wrote:
greggorious wrote:Could someone tell me the exact reason why the mahayana was invented and why it decided to split from theravada? Or is this too open to debate? Was Zen the first Mahayana tradition?


The seeds of the Mahayana movement were apparently planted by the Buddha himself, who had repeatedly refused to provide definitive answers to the two most burning questions that people were constantly asking him:

1. Who is the Buddha's chosen heir (i.e. who will get appointed by the Buddha as a rightful successor to continue the teaching after the Buddha's death)?
2. What happens to the Buddha/Tathagata after he dies?
Source for this?


The Buddha never appointed his successor, so naturally there is no source specifying who his successor was. Lack of source does not automatically imply that he did appoint his successor.
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Nov 16, 2011 10:29 pm

alexbunardzic wrote:
greggorious wrote:Could someone tell me the exact reason why the mahayana was invented and why it decided to split from theravada? Or is this too open to debate? Was Zen the first Mahayana tradition?


The seeds of the Mahayana movement were apparently planted by the Buddha himself, who had repeatedly refused to provide definitive answers to the two most burning questions that people were constantly asking him:

1. Who is the Buddha's chosen heir (i.e. who will get appointed by the Buddha as a rightful successor to continue the teaching after the Buddha's death)?
2. What happens to the Buddha/Tathagata after he dies?
To clarify: When I asked for your source, I was asking for your source for your claim that this is what drove the formation of the Mahayana.
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.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby alexbunardzic » Wed Nov 16, 2011 10:55 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
alexbunardzic wrote:
greggorious wrote:Could someone tell me the exact reason why the mahayana was invented and why it decided to split from theravada? Or is this too open to debate? Was Zen the first Mahayana tradition?


The seeds of the Mahayana movement were apparently planted by the Buddha himself, who had repeatedly refused to provide definitive answers to the two most burning questions that people were constantly asking him:

1. Who is the Buddha's chosen heir (i.e. who will get appointed by the Buddha as a rightful successor to continue the teaching after the Buddha's death)?
2. What happens to the Buddha/Tathagata after he dies?
To clarify: When I asked for your source, I was asking for your source for your claim that this is what drove the formation of the Mahayana.


Ah, gotcha! My source is some Gypsy woman (at least she looked like she could be Gypsy, but my sources on that are shaky, so let's just leave it at that for now). I ran into her many moons ago at a country fair and she ended up reading my palm (for a nominal fee, of course).
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Nov 16, 2011 11:04 pm

alexbunardzic wrote:Ah, gotcha! My source is some Gypsy woman (at least she looked like she could be Gypsy, but my sources on that are shaky, so let's just leave it at that for now). I ran into her many moons ago at a country fair and she ended up reading my palm (for a nominal fee, of course).
It was a serious question I asked, and your response and your 2 part claim seems to reflect a serious lack of understanding of early Buddhist history. So, it is seriousness all around.
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.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Nov 16, 2011 11:48 pm

alexbunardzic wrote:The Buddha never appointed his successor, so naturally there is no source specifying who his successor was. Lack of source does not automatically imply that he did appoint his successor.


The Buddha did specify his successor. It is the Dhamma.

“Remain with the Dhamma as an island, the Dhamma as your refuge, without anything else as a refuge.”
Samyutta Nikaya 47.13 and also at Digha Nikaya 26.
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby ground » Thu Nov 17, 2011 3:22 am

greggorious wrote:Could someone tell me the exact reason why the mahayana was invented and why it decided to split from theravada?

Mahayana cannot decide anything and decision occurs upon felt resistance. The experience of resistance may be shared by several individuals leading to collective intention (decision, volition).

Kind regards
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby sublime » Thu Nov 17, 2011 6:22 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
alexbunardzic wrote:The Buddha never appointed his successor, so naturally there is no source specifying who his successor was. Lack of source does not automatically imply that he did appoint his successor.


The Buddha did specify his successor. It is the Dhamma.

“Remain with the Dhamma as an island, the Dhamma as your refuge, without anything else as a refuge.”
Samyutta Nikaya 47.13 and also at Digha Nikaya 26.


So no Three Jewels, just One Jewel?
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Nov 17, 2011 6:56 pm

sublime wrote:So no Three Jewels, just One Jewel?


Three Jewels, one successor.

The Buddha had the Dhamma for Refuge.

Let me then honor and respect and dwell in dependence on this very Dhamma to which I have fully awakened.” Anguttara Nikaya 4.21

We have Three Jewels, but there is only one successor to the Buddha: the Dhamma.

(until Metteyya comes after the Dhamma has died out)
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Nov 18, 2011 1:41 am

:goodpost:
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: Mahayana split

Postby Sherab » Fri Nov 18, 2011 5:07 am

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Re: Mahayana split

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Nov 18, 2011 5:23 am

David N. Snyder wrote:Three Jewels, one successor.

The Buddha had the Dhamma for Refuge.

Let me then honor and respect and dwell in dependence on this very Dhamma to which I have fully awakened.” Anguttara Nikaya 4.21

We have Three Jewels, but there is only one successor to the Buddha: the Dhamma.

(until Metteyya comes after the Dhamma has died out)

There's an odd parallelism there to Sikh beliefs, "founded during the 16th century in the Punjab region, on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and ten successive Sikh Gurus (the last teaching being the holy scripture Guru Granth Sahib Ji)." (More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikhism)
Okay ... :focus:

:namaste:
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