Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

A forum for beginners and members of other Buddhist traditions to ask questions about Theravāda (The Way of the Elders). Responses require moderator approval before they are visible.
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Post by alan » Mon May 17, 2010 7:14 am

Cool place. I'l meet you there!
But I'm a Zen Master now--I've realized the tree-ness of the tree. And I also am hip to the all-ness of the all. I'm enlightened by the ten thousand things. What ever I do from now on, you have to trust it, because I'm Roshi Alan! If you don't believe me well then just sit there for no reason. And after that I'll give you a nonsense riddle to solve. It's good to be a Roshi!

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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Post by Ben » Mon May 17, 2010 7:51 am

I'm glad you guys could get it all out of your system.
Time now to return to the topic, keeping in mind the forum context of this thread: Discovering Theravada
kind regards

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Post by Zom » Mon May 17, 2010 8:04 am

However, I kept wondering whether it is true. Let's assume that -by some miracle- all the bark people will suddenly become core people. That is, let's assume that everyone practicing ceremonies, superstitions, devotion, etc. suddenly arrives at a deep understanding of the teachings. Would that endanger the survival of Buddhism and the sangha? I doubt it. People would still build meditation halls; they would still give donations to the sangha and provide the monks with food; they would still ordain. All these actions make perfect pragmatic sense. Hence, I am not entirely sure about whether the sangha needs "bark" at all. But, let's do another thought experiment. Let's assume that -again by some miracle- all the bark people suddenly abandon Buddhism in favour of consumerism and materialism. In this case, the tree does indeed experience an existential crisis and it's survival is uncertain. The conclusion is that Buddhism depends simply on the total number of its supporters, rather than on its "bark".
First, it's just impossible that everyone has a deep understanding. It is always natural that only few people have deep understanding of their religion. That's why a religion can't survive for any long time or spread widely if it has only "core members with deep understanding" - because of this small number of its adherents. Very soon it will just die out. What is more, if everyone will only meditate and learn deep Dhamma, who will provide those meditators and scholars with everyday food and other needed things? Who will build and maintain monasteries, halls, kutis..? No one will - because to earn money for such support you have to work a lot and live normal lay life. And there must be *a lot* of such lay people to support at least one monastery. If everyone has deep understanding, who will choose to be a supporter instead of a practitioner? We calculated that here in Russia we generally need about 20 active supporters for 1 monk. So imagine that all of them are buddhists with deep understanding. Everyone wants to be a monk or a nun. Quite obvious, no one will be a supporter. Instead of this all 20 will go probably to Thailand to ordain there themsleves to live in a monkhood without any problems. Why? Because in Thailand there are a lot of highly religious people with blind beliefs and without a deep understanding, who are ready to spend money on monasteries and monks.

Just think about the situation in ancient India ~2500 years ago. Common people were very religious, as we know, and they blindly believed that supporting different ascetics, gurus, priests is good. This was that "bark" already, at that time when Buddha appeared in the world. If there were no such a bark, there would be no buddhism. Ancient Sangha could survive only because ancient indians generally supported all "spiritual persons". The same attitude we can see now in Thailand - people believe in ceremonies, sacred amulets, in offerings and so on - and monks do this for them. That's why Thai Sangha lives on and you can be a monk in Thailand without any problems. Imagine the situation when all monks will declare that all ceremonies, pujas, amulets, blessings are empty and will stop doing this for thai lay people. Just give us your support, and we will lock ourselves in monasteries to learn deep Dhamma and to meditate. You will see how quickly buddhism will disappear. I heard the same situation was in India, when muslims attacked Nalanda University. Buddhist monks became "too scholastic", they were drown in the philosophy and were "too far apart from people". That's why when muslim armies stood near Nalanda, locals didn't even notified them about this danger. So thousands of monks were killed, tons of scriptures were burning for months. Buddhism disappeared in India.

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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Post by Pannapetar » Mon May 17, 2010 8:40 am

Zom wrote:It is always natural that only few people have deep understanding of their religion.
That might very well be. Perhaps we could to phrase this in terms of the distribution curve of dhamma penetration. The bark hypothesis then poses some sort of asymptotic curve. Very few enlightened beings. Small core. Most people end up as bark. Slightly elitist, but not totally unreasonable. :tongue:
Zom wrote:So imagine that all of them are buddhists with deep understanding. Everyone wants to be a monk or a nun.
I am not sure about this, but let's assume it this is the case. Are there any models for a self-sufficient sangha without or with minimal need for external support? This does perhaps merit a new thread, as it leads away from the original topic.

As you mentioned, monastic Buddhist communities in Western societies generally don't find the sort of support network that is readily available in many Asian countries. Perhaps there is already some experience with self-sufficient models in isolated places? I don't know. I've never looked into that.

If anyone has interest/information about this topic, perhaps we could start a new thread.

Cheers, Thomas

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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Post by tiltbillings » Mon May 17, 2010 9:50 am

In reviewing this thread it really has become a tail chaser. Time to close it.
tail chase.jpg
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>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723


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