Great thread, great contributions. I'm here using Sanghamitta's thoughtful posts as a springboard for my own thoughts, not necessarily directing my comments solely at Sanghamitta.
Sanghamitta wrote:... I don't doubt the motivation of those who would have us examine the claims of various traditions, I do wonder if for some people at least it isn't more attractive to pursue these attempts at inclusion rather than getting down to the nitty gritty of following one to its conclusion. There is endless distraction to be found in comparing and contrasting. It feels more dhammic than does shopping. I'm not sure it is though.
Speaking only for myself, the endless distraction of comparing and contrasting is exhausting and not fun: it's work. I am amused by the fact that Buddhism is pushing me to study a great many things I avoided in school: comparative religion, debating techniques, philosophy, even physics! I have never liked “arguing” even when it's just mild-mannered debate, but the process here in these forums, illuminates so much that it's worth doing. And, taking a point of yours I quote below, understanding what's actually in the Pitakas as opposed to what we think is there, or an outgrowth of those beliefs, seems important to me, because I believe (and more and more, see) that the Buddha's teaching is whole and complete, and misunderstandings tend to detract from it.
Sanghamitta wrote:To pursue the practises described by the Buddha including perhaps vipassana and samatha, dilegently to their conclusion, would lead to a condition where one be an examplar and therefore an includer, in a much more effective way imo than simply holding endless discussion which compare and contrast traditions. We have all the tools we need.
Which is really the point of the whole practice of Buddhism, isn't it. And I understand that slicing and dicing words and ideas isn't the point, and a lot of the discussion may be more about the “face of Buddhism” than its heart – though surely both are being examined, and the heart further revealed or obscured in the process. The face is actually quite important to getting those who would seek and do need what the Buddha taught to “Come and see.” A divisive front is not useful. Having all fronts dressed in what appear to be superstitious practices and beliefs will exclude many who are specifically seeking the ground-contacting, uncluttered dhamma.
Sanghamitta wrote:... If you wish to see the concept of Bodhicitta as a natural development arising from the Buddhas teaching then that is of course your view and you are entitled to it. I see no reason to believe that such a concept was ever part of the Buddhas teachings as found in the Pitakas.
Surely compassion for others is in the Pitakas, and the Buddha's sangha is charged with the responsibility to go out and teach, for the benefit of others. Bodhicitta may take this concept much further, but the practice of the path taught in the Pitakas brings us quite naturally to the same sort of place, doesn't it, where we want to help others see things as they really are?
A blending of the two stereotypical views that one has to work on one's own path and enlightenment, or one should work on others just seems like logic, to me, something that follows naturally from what the Buddha taught. As well, actual practice tells us that the two are for the most part inseparable: first, one has to work for one's own enlightenment to have any direct experience to speak *from*; and second, since compassion for others is an outgrowth of the development of insight and wisdom (and speaking purely on a practical level – since the Buddha was a very pragmatic man – silent and withdrawn monasticism cannot be the only way or the dhamma will be lost) efforts to bring the teaching to others are part of the path, too. Why should the emphasis be so much more on one than the other? Most of us may start with the one and move towards the other, but it seems as though continued growth in one's practice is best served by developing both one's own practice and outreach to others simultaneously. And, perhaps not coincidentally, this fuses with Western views on the place of religion in our lives quite well.