Why Theravada?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Anagarika
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Re: Why Theravada?

Post by Anagarika » Fri Oct 11, 2013 12:59 pm

Dan74 wrote:Most of people I know who practice Mahayana Buddhism don't practice it as a rejection of Theravada or the suttas but simply because it was what they were first exposed to and it works!
Dan, I hope my comments were not seen as being unnecessarily negative. I point to some of the articles that Prof. Rita Gross has written for Tricycle. She is a Buddhism scholar and university professor. She is also a Vajrayana practitioner. In one of her articles, she discusses presenting to one of her classes the theme of the historicity of Buddhist teaching, and lays out how many later Mahayana teachings are not derived from the Buddha's teachings and are sometimes inconsistent with what scholars accept as true or verifiable. She describes that her teaching upsets many of her students, who see this scholarship as being disruptive to their firmly held ideas about Buddhism. She describes some of her students get angry with her. She makes the point that even though she knows that many Mahayana teachings are not Buddhavacana, or were inconsistent fabrications from many centuries after the CE commenced, she practices in her tradition and accepts it for its own beauty and benefits.

My own view is that if we were discussing Einstein's theory of general relativity, and someone came along and said that they were teaching Eintein's theories and that spacetime was not actually curved but linear, would it be appropriate to correct them? The analogy is that some teachers, like Ven. Thanissaro, spend some time explaining how certain generally accepted notions in western Buddhism are simply not what the Buddha taught. His point is not to be unfairly critical, but to correct the record, and hopefully keep people on the right path. If someone in California stopped you and asked you how to get to New York, and you told them "just keep driving west," you'd send them into the ocean. That would be unkind and unfair. The Buddha created a roadmap that scholarship has identified and verified to a substantial degree. My only point is that it's OK to point out what is part of the roadmap, and what might be a detour to the goal of liberation.

Here's what else is creeping into western Buddhism: http://youtu.be/MIiCRGAZk0g Is it fair to comment about this? It it appropriate to suggest that this may not be what the Buddha intended? Is criticism of what is going on in the west with "Buddhism" appropriate?

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daverupa
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Re: Why Theravada?

Post by daverupa » Fri Oct 11, 2013 3:12 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:My own view is that if we were discussing Einstein's theory of general relativity, and someone came along and said that they were teaching Eintein's theories and that spacetime was not actually curved but linear, would it be appropriate to correct them?
I think so; but there is a delicate line to walk here, isn't there? With the following in play for Mahayana adherents generally:
Dan74 wrote:Also there is clearly a wealth of sublime liberating teachings in Mahayana
...we find that the statement "this was not taught by the Buddha", despite being perfectly objective, is at root antagonistic to the idea that liberating teachings occur elsewhere than via what the Buddha did teach.

---

I wrote a snippet about this during the Early Buddhism+ thread over on the other DW, so I'll put a few of those points here:

"The Buddhisms on offer all do this in various ways; certain texts are taken as authoritative, others are discarded or interpreted to align with the prior authority. Otherwise, differences are rendered altogether meaningless; distinguishing Buddhism does not occur in the first place and some sort of New Age amalgamation, etc., results.

"It's very important to demarcate what one is trying to understand. If trying to understand the Nikayas, reading those will impart a certain initial weltanschauung which can then be refined or discarded, etc. Or one reads other Buddhist (or other religious) texts... and if one did this, and noticed comparatively different things being said, there would be degrees of variance in terms of this or that point of view."

These degrees of variance seem to be taken as either sublime skillful means, or questionable deviance.

---

The idea that Mahayana offers liberative teachings is a claim that the liberation described in text-group A by the historical Buddha is not to be pursued according to text-group A, but instead according to text-group B, which post-dates the historical Buddha.

As time passes, we then find the claim that the liberation of text-group A is in fact simply one sort of liberation - emphasis on the 'sort of' - and that text-groups B and now C are the better bets, what with skillful means being what it is (as explained in text-group B...).

In fact, continuing on we find the claim that text-group C is a liberative shortcut, and while we're on the subject it seems that standalone text D is basically the teachers edition so you may as well read only that and, with the right infusings and empowerments, accomplish the goal.

You know, or, you could just chant the (non-historical) teacher's name with perfect faith and nevermind all that work described in text-group A, to say nothing of B-C.

---

Mahayana may be beneficial in wide-ranging ways, the same as Eastern Xianity and ancient Druidism and so forth. These things last because people find them beneficial.

But the Buddha described liberation and the practice for it in certain ways, and while I strive to avoid saying "only this is true, anything else is worthless" (which can be strong and recurrent problem for me), nevertheless, Mahayana is not one of those ways.

:broke:
  • "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]

santa100
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Re: Why Theravada?

Post by santa100 » Fri Oct 11, 2013 6:43 pm

daverupa wrote:You know, or, you could just chant the (non-historical) teacher's name with perfect faith and never mind all that work described in text-group A, to say nothing of B-C.
Actually the Mahayana Pure Land Buddho practice has its root from the Nikayas' Buddha Recollection practice (BuddhaNussati), a fully legit. method among the Ten Recollection trainings from the Pali Canon ( http://www.accesstoinsight.org/index-subject.html#r ). Its faith-based approach also comes straight from the SaddhaNusarin category as described in MN 70 ( http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html ). A lot of Mahayana teachings can be traced back to the Nikayas roots. And because of that:
daverupa wrote:But the Buddha described liberation and the practice for it in certain ways, and while I strive to avoid saying "only this is true, anything else is worthless" (which can be strong and recurrent problem for me), nevertheless, Mahayana is not one of those ways.
..there's no solid ground or evidence to support the conclusion highlighted above..

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Anagarika
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Re: Why Theravada?

Post by Anagarika » Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:10 pm

Santa:

I agree with you that many Mahayana practices are rooted in the Nikayas. I am unsure that the Amida Buddha nembutsu practices can be connected to the Recollections of the Buddha from the Nikayas. Perhaps the Nembutsu practices were inspired by the Ten Recollections?

I recall with interest the finding that the Lotus Sutra, in its earliest translation, had some root words that were closer to Ghandari or Pali than the later Sanskrit, the suggestion being that the root of this Sutra was in early Buddhist schools where 'Theravada' and 'Mahayana' monks lived and practiced together. I also understand that the Lotus was written and rewritten over time, and as we find it today it is vastly expanded and reflects a far more Mahayana tone.

Even when the scholarship reveals severe textual and chronological distinctions between the Nikayas/Agamas and the later sutras, I like to recall that at one time monks from both schools practiced together. I recall that the schools that were considered "Hinayana" disappeared, rendering this epithet very inaccurate when used currently by Mahayana.

I do feel that is is important, critical even, that the teachings and the intent of Gotama Buddha be understood and taught, and that teachings inconsistent with this Dhamma be understood to be not authoritative. Beneficial, perhaps, but not Buddha-vacana. At the same time, the earliest monks shared a roof with each other, and undoubtedly benefited greatly from the others' perspectives. It is in that spirit that I feel a discussion of the differences between Theravada and Mahayana is valuable.

santa100
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Re: Why Theravada?

Post by santa100 » Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:53 pm

Hi BuddhaSoup, it's in the same spirit that I feel a need to chime in. Claims like "Mahayana is not the Buddha's teaching" is going too far and is baseless. Let's look at a scenario, John Doe supposedly is a hard-core Theravadin while Jim Roe is a Mahayana practitioner. However, with all the "authentic" methods that John claims he is practicing, he's still subjected to:
...passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome
...while Jim Roe, who's practicing the "un-authentic" methods as John's been criticizing him for, is able to:
...lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome

If that's the case, any "hardcore" Theravadin who pays attention to AN 8.53 as quoted above ( http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html ) will have to heed the Great Teacher's instruction that Jim's practice is indeed:
'This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher's instruction.
Bottom line is: talk is cheap and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

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mikenz66
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Re: Why Theravada?

Post by mikenz66 » Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:37 pm

Dan74 wrote:Most of people I know who practice Mahayana Buddhism don't practice it as a rejection of Theravada or the suttas but simply because it was what they were first exposed to and it works!
Indeed, I practise Theravada because it's what I was first exposed to, it's what I had good access to, and it seems to work reasonably well (and would work a lot better if I were more diligent).

:anjali:
Mike

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Anagarika
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Re: Why Theravada?

Post by Anagarika » Fri Oct 11, 2013 9:28 pm

santa100 wrote:Hi BuddhaSoup, it's in the same spirit that I feel a need to chime in.
Bottom line is: talk is cheap and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Santa, your sentiment is a good one. These discussions are one reason I cite to Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, who is a terrific example of someone who talks the talk and walks the walk. As you likely know, he's a Pali scholar and a Vinaya monk. He lives in a Mahayana monastery. He exemplifies the Bodhisattva ideal, having formed Buddhist Global Relief and in doing so, has set a new standard for advocacy and action for the hungry and poor. To me, he illustrates the bridge between Dhamma and engagement in the world. I can imagine him reading this entire thread and suggesting that we all would do better to spend our time with less nuanced debate, and with more action off our cushions and zafus to help with food redistribution to a hungry community near us.

I'll stick to my guns with the idea that the path that is defined in the Suttas and Vinaya is the appropriate path, but I'd be the first to admit that if someone feels another path works best for them in achieving liberation, then they should follow that path. At the end of the day, we all have to ask ourselves if we are adhering to the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path as defined therein. All schools recognize this fundamental Buddha teaching, and it's not for me or anyone to judge what is working best for any individual.

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Dan74
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Re: Why Theravada?

Post by Dan74 » Sat Oct 12, 2013 3:32 am

Thank you for a varied discussion, folks.

For those who are interested in what some pre-eminent (mostly Theravada) teachers have to say on the matter, I started a thread here: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=18819
_/|\_

chownah
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Re: Why Theravada?

Post by chownah » Sat Oct 12, 2013 7:28 am

santa100 wrote:
daverupa wrote:You know, or, you could just chant the (non-historical) teacher's name with perfect faith and never mind all that work described in text-group A, to say nothing of B-C.
Actually the Mahayana Pure Land Buddho practice has its root from the Nikayas' Buddha Recollection practice (BuddhaNussati), a fully legit. method among the Ten Recollection trainings from the Pali Canon ( http://www.accesstoinsight.org/index-subject.html#r ). Its faith-based approach also comes straight from the SaddhaNusarin category as described in MN 70 ( http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html ). A lot of Mahayana teachings can be traced back to the Nikayas roots. And because of that:
daverupa wrote:But the Buddha described liberation and the practice for it in certain ways, and while I strive to avoid saying "only this is true, anything else is worthless" (which can be strong and recurrent problem for me), nevertheless, Mahayana is not one of those ways.
..there's no solid ground or evidence to support the conclusion highlighted above..
I'm just wanting to be sure that you are replying to daverupa's post. The highlighted portion is saying that Mahayana was not one of the ways the Buddha described liberation or practice. You are saying that there is no solid ground or evidence to support that. Is this correct? If one examined the Theravada scriptures and came to the conclusion that Mahayana was not described therein would this constitute evidence to support the conclusion?
chownah

rohana
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Re: Why Theravada?

Post by rohana » Sat Oct 12, 2013 8:35 am

"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
- It. p 43

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