Desiring liberation for oneself is the most selfless thing in this world

There is one argument from so called ‘mahayanist’ or ‘higher vehicle’ against so called ‘theraveda’ or ‘lesser vehicle’, that desiring liberation for oneself is selfish thing and walking the path of Mahayana is most selfless thing.

If we apply logic carefully, we will understand that this argument itself is false, wrong & blind argument. Saying that person who desires liberation is selfish, is same as saying that lord Buddha was selfish because he attained (maha)parinibbana because we are here still not free from suffering :expressionless:(it’s same as if blaming our own failure to attain liberation on others). As a dominantly selfish being afflicted with tanha and afflicted with 3 poisons of desire, ill will and ignorance, our actions usually denote that we want to suffer. So the most wise thing in this life and this world is to attain liberation. And one of the most stupid(non-dhamma) thing is to call such person selfish who desires liberation. Instead if you(anyone) really call yourself mahayanist, you should be the most happy person in the world if some one is desiring liberation by following Buddha’s teachings.

Such mahayanist who say that one should also work for other’s liberation instead of just one’s own(as its grand motivation), actually forget one thing that world(people around you)(the present world) does not need you to walk the path of Mahayana, instead it’s other way around, you are the one who wants to make everyone free from suffering, so it’s your own selfish thing(although grand but selfish), and not the requirement of world(it is definitely true for the world we are living atleast). As there were past Buddhas and there will be future Buddhas, you are one who wants to be one of them.

Another argument is that which path is easy and which path is hard. Some mahayanist say mahayana path is the hardest path, yes it is. But that’s not the complete truth. Theraveda is actually hardest path for those who want to be Bodhisattva as primary requirement is to renounce samsara, which is actually very very hard, tending to be impossible for those mahayanist who want to stay in touch with the samsara so that everyone around them can satisfy their desires properly (Another beautiful power of ignorance/mara which in some way continues samsara and prevents liberation). We can see this everywhere, that it is actually very hard to leave samsara(household, family, relatives, property and every thing/person that is close to oneself) and become monk who actually works to really attain nibbana(unlike many present day monks). It requires tremendous efforts, which is harder than trying to act like Bodhisattva and imparting dhamma knowledge and having some great spiritual attainments(typical nature of those who want to walk Bodhisattva path). They generally ignore one important thing, that even Lord Gautama Buddha said, he became Bodhisattva only after he attained capacity to become arhat and only after he received definite proclamation from Lord Dipamkara Buddha. So one thing is certain, you cannot become Bodhisattva until and unless you attain the capacity to become arhat. And even if one calls oneself Bodhisattva, one is actually not(amounting to wrong view)! One is just fulfilling perfections which are anyways required either to be Bodhisattva(in real sense) or to be arhat.

Lastly what’s the point of one being who is greatest and eldest in this samsara, who has attained sammasambodhi after fulfilling of perfections to greatest level possible as well as impossible, if others cannot easily attain freedom from suffering. It’s like today’s failure is tomorrow’s success, those who were distracted and did not attain liberation yesterday are the ones who attained liberation today. So wisest thing is to learn from seniors/elders, and eldest, greatest, most senior in this world is Lord buddha, so the most wisest and selfless thing one can do is to attain nibbana by following the teachings given by our great compassionate teacher. So theraveda is actually ‘perfectly’ selfless vehicle, while mahayana is ‘perfectly’ selfish vehicle(yes these are calculated words). And one cannot be perfectly selfish without being perfectly selfless…all the teachings teach us to be more selfless than we are. Selflessness should be revered above all…even before perfect selfishness.

I actually had these thoughts during meditation and wanted to jot them down as they seemed correct to me, I thought why not here…:pray:


This is true. When someone become Buddha, he will have disciples. And these disciples will be Arahat, Anagami, Sakadagami, Sotapanna. And minority will become Bodhisattva because it is more difficult. The most efficient way to liberate beings is to “make” them into Arahats, so yes Mahayanist should do that and be happy when other beings achieve that.

I think this is a shallow understanding of Mahayana path. But I get why you and some beginner mahayanist may have this misconception. The popular saying is “I will stay in samsara until all beings are liberated”. This create the conception that mahayanist want to stay in samsara and not renounce it.

The genuine wish to make other beings free from samsara must come from personal understanding that oneself is also trapped in samsara, and want to get free.
For example, suppose I and large number of people are jailed in a luxurious prison. First, I must recognize that it is actually a prison, despite the luxury. I must recognize the suffering and defect of the prison. I must wish for myself to be free and get out. I must reject the prison, renounce it in my mind, developing an urgency to get out.

After that, I looked at other people with me, who are still enjoying the luxurious prison. I saw that they are suffering, trapped, but sometimes not aware of their situation, and not knowing how to get out. Compassion arise. There arise a genuine wish to help other people.

Should I get out first and then come back to help? Or should I working to find a way to get out but at the same time also preaching to other people to get out? That’s another question.
But in both case, I still need to attempt to escape and working for my individual liberation first and foremost. Otherwise it is all just talk.

The genuine wish to help other be free from samsara is commonly called bodhicitta. It is the first and most important criteria to be the real Bodhisattva. (according to Mahayana teaching)

As explained above, this genuine bodhicitta must sprout from understanding of dukkha, and from true renunciation. Otherwise it just don’t make sense. Why would you want other people to get out, if you don’t want to get out yourself?

Why would you want to save other being, if they don’t suffer?
But to understand suffering, the best and only way is understand personal suffering.

Maybe this is why it is said that one must have the capacity to become Arahat, before he/ she enter the Bodhisattva path.

If someone has no real bodhicitta and just saying, parroting the doctrine, that he want to save all beings. Then he is the perfectly selfish one like you said. Because he is just saying it for his ego, his school, his view, or whatever.

To be honest, it’s hard to find these arguments in the old Mahayana texts. Generally, there’s respect for the entire Tripitaka, and it’d indeed a difficult thing to wish for the liberation of all beings while denigrating their practicing for liberation. Strictly speaking, just thinking of oneself as a bodhisattva was considered to be a sign one was not actually a bodhisattva according to many early Mahayana sutras. One gets the impression that they kept a low profile.

I think it’s best to set this sort of stuff aside and not think about it too much. Once the general patterns of rhetoric and propaganda are well known, it’s not hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s also like a contagious virus. One person criticizes another, and then that person feels the desire to do it, too. Then the three poisons stay firmly in the driver’s seat.


Yes exactly. What I said was actually not against true Bodhisattva way/great vehicle followers but it is against those who have shallow understanding of Mahayana path and in their ignorance believe themselves to be Bodhisattva. Actually what happens is that one can get easily drifted away from the path if one sees ‘shravakayana’ as selfish way. I understand what greater vehicle is(little bit only theoretically & not even completely, very very less than 1% but certainly more than 0%).
This argument is against those who call theraveda a selfish vehicle.

Wise words indeed. Thank you!


Very well said sir!

Now these are the words of wisdom…Wisely put. :pray::pray::pray:

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This issue certainly is a quandary, though I agree with @cdpatton that it probably only became so highly polemicizing later on in the tradition.

Here is a link to an Eric Greene article on a little known text which shows that Buddhists have been wrestling with questions regarding the bodhisatta vows for millennia.

An arahant or a person working seriously toward nibanna isn’t contributing to the problems of the world, or at least contributing much less.

The rest of us can achieve a close second to contributing much less to the world’s problems by choosing not to have kids and choosing not to eat animals.


The more you understand the psyche, the more apparent it becomes how most of the “good” things we do are actually quite selfish and are really just defilements in socailly acceptable disguise.

I think there is nothing contradicitonal in the pursuit of liberation being a selfish goal as 1) one would have to get rid of more selifsh desires to get there 2) not being born again means one can no longer do any evil in the future.

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