Difference between the practice of Mahayana and the brahmavihārā

Continuing the discussion from Is full Stream Entry and/or full Nibbana considered Arhatship in Theravada Buddhism?:

Can someone points to me the difference between the practice of Mahayana and the brahmavihārā (which are the mettā, karuṇā, muditā, upekkhā)?

I already know that Mahayana people wants to become the next n-th Budda and brahmavihārā practitioner wants to reborn in the Brahma abodes. The names and the goals are different but I want to hear more about the difference in practice?

In Theravada the meditation practice involves focusing on individuals or groups, whereas the Mahayana would be more global. The contemporary practice by Analayo focuses on the spatial qualities of the brahmaviharas, as they are described in the suttas as boundless. Here the spatial quality of “compassion” and “emptiness” are synonymous, so in emphasis there is no connection with the Mahayana ideal.

“I tell you, monks, awareness-release through compassion has the sphere of the infinitude of space as its excellence — in the case of one who has penetrated to no higher release. [3]

—Samyutta Nikaya 46.54

[7] “There are these four perceptions. Which four? One perceives the limited [ordinary perceptions]. One perceives the enlarged [the mind in jhana]. One perceives the immeasurable [the mind in the Brahma attitudes]. One perceives the dimension of nothingness: ‘There is nothing.’ These are the four perceptions. Now, of these four perceptions, this is supreme: when one perceives the dimension of nothingness: ‘There is nothing.’ And there are beings who are percipient in this way. Yet even in the beings who are percipient in this way there is still aberration, there is change. Seeing this, the instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with that. Being disenchanted with that, he becomes dispassionate toward what is supreme, and even more so toward what is inferior.”

—Anguttara Nikaya 10.29

Manual of practice:

The basis is a spatial difference between the wholesome and unwholesome:

"“That disciple of the noble ones — thus devoid of covetousness, devoid of ill will, unbewildered, alert, mindful — keeps pervading the first direction with an awareness imbued with compassion… appreciation… equanimity, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth. Thus above, below, & all around, everywhere, in its entirety, he keeps pervading the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with equanimity — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, without hostility, without ill will. Just as a strong conch-trumpet blower can notify the four directions without any difficulty, in the same way, when the awareness-release through equanimity is thus developed, thus pursued, any deed done to a limited extent no longer remains there, no longer stays there.”

—Samyutta Nikaya 42.8

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In mahayana (but i believe also in EBTs), there is always a difference assumed between qualities that are grounded in habit, based upon disposition, part of ones inclinations. And those qualities connected with dispassion, with emptiness, not part of ones inclinations. The first one, one can practice and make strong and become part of ones mindstream. The second one cannot develop but this arises in a pure mind.

So, there is compassion that can be developed. That has become part of ones inclinations. But there is also compassion that is different, grounded in the deathless, it is not an beautiful inclination .

They speak about this as relative and absolute compassion, love etc.

The first one is also bright kamma with bright result. The last is the kind of kamma that leads to the end of kamma. Only the last is based upon the Noble Path, supra-mundane. Practicing Brahmavihara is not a Path out of this world and suffering, no supra mundane Noble Path.

While developing the Brahmavihara’s one accumulates bright kamma that may lead to birth in Brahma realms. This kind of compassion is not yet really pure, i.e. based upon dispassion. It arises differently then compassion that is based upon dispassion. In fact this kind of compassion, although meritorious, is still based upon defilement.

I see mahayana teaches that it is good to develop relative compassion, friendliness, patience, giving, ethical behaviour, concentration, wisdom etc. as part of ones inclinations because this is always safe, like the Buddha says. Although merit is a bond, one does not have to be afraid of it, he says somewhere. It is much better than the bond of demerit. But it is not like one can expact merit will lead to the end of suffering. It lead to relative welbeing in samsara.

Mahayana is just like theravada also about abandoning bad, doing only good and purifying the mind.

Brahmavihara’s are part of the mahayana practices but it is relative and it does never become the real compassion, love, friendliness that is based upon dispassation, cessation, emptiness.

Thank you @paul1 for your reply. As you said,

I am not sure I understand what you said above correctly. Here is my attempt to understand what you wrote:

On that aspect of boundless spatial being global, it seems to me that both Mahayana and contemporary practice by Ven. Analayo are following more closely to what the sutta (as you quoted references SN 46.54, AN 10.29, SN 42.8) said for the brahmavihārā than the Theravada practice.

On the other hand, you also seemed to point out the difference between the Mahayana and the EBT of brahmavihārā as “awareness-release through compassion has the sphere of the infinitude of space as its excellence”. It looks like to me what your pointed out is the difference in the goal (which I agree).

However, the part that you pointed out does not look like to me as “the difference in practice”. That’s the part that I am looking for.

Sorry if I totally misunderstood what you wrote. If that’s the case, please kindly have patience and explain to me again more slowly and more clearly. :pray:

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Are you saying that the Mahayana (and actually nobody either) can not and currently does not practice the way to develop this so-called absolute compassion?

So, are you saying that, when the Mahayana practitioner said something like the wish to liberate all the countless beings, they are not doing the practice of Mahayana but merely doing the brahmavihārā practice?

If that is the case, what is the truly Mahayana practice for the so-called “the real compassion, love, friendliness that is based upon dispassion, cessation, emptiness”?

Or, is there no practice, no training, no path, no method for that so-called “the real compassion, love, friendliness that is based upon dispassion, cessation, emptiness”?

Or, is there any practice, any training, any path, any method for that so-called “pure mind” that make arising the so-called “real compassion, etc…”?

Sorry for putting out many questions, please kindly explain more clearly what you wrote because it seems to me that you are coming from a different stand point.

It’s suggested you go to a Mahayana website and ask a question about their practice, then make a comparison with the information given here. In Theravada Analayo presents the developing modern version, an interpretation based on the spatial aspect, which in practice is recommended and supported by the suttas quoted. The orthodox method is described in the Visuddhimagga (IX).

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I believe the EBTs, mahayana, real life teaches that when something comes straight from your heart, it can be called pure, based upon dispassion, not strategical, not rooted in inclinations, not a result of kilesa, anusaya, asava, tanha.

Often even good deeds do not really come straight from the heart. They often have a strategical intent, some considerations are behind is, plans.
For example, if you develop loving kindness that can be a remedy for inclinations of hate you experience within yourself. Developing this kind of loving kindness is different from a loving kindness that is straight from the heart.

The Noble Path is the practice to arrive at a not fabricated and contrived form of compassion and love.
This is the Path connected to letting go, relinquishment, stilling of all formations, dispassion and not to disposition.

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I agree with what you said in the quote above. However, you didn’t answer directly any of the questions I asked, so let’s look instead at concrete examples when we discuss about differences in practice:

Below is directly from EBT SN 42.8 for the brahmavihārā:

Then that noble disciple is rid of desire, rid of ill will, unconfused, aware, and mindful. They meditate spreading a heart full of compassion … They meditate spreading a heart full of rejoicing … They meditate spreading a heart full of equanimity to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of equanimity to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.

Now look at the wish of a Mahayana practitioner for the so-called Bodhisattva vow:


which translates to something like: Sentient beings, limitless in number, I vow to save them all.

So, we have 2 practices on the table. But you also said in your post as:

The following is an essential question that I am expecting you to answer: Are above 2 practices “not coming from the heart”?

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I feel the only way to answer your question is to see this in own heart. For myself i can see that doing good does not always come straight from the heart, from goodness and purity.

I personally do not really feel comfortable with acting so strategically all the time. Always calculating.
That is also a point i find difficult in the teachings. If one becomes so calculation one becomes artificial, fake, even if ones intentions are good.

One can judge for oneself if something comes really from goodness and purity.

If one in wordly sense is strategical and also in spiritual sense, where is the end of all this?

Isn’t it difficult to really trust persons who are always strategical? Because they never say what they feel, think, etc. This is not good. I personally rather have someone who is open communicating of what he really thinks and believes. I find that more trustworthy than those persons who always are busy with me, my feelings, my welbeing etc. That is not sincere too. Really it is not. It is artificial.

It is not only violence or immoral behaviour which causes distrust but also being never really open, always strategical, calculating this and that.

I think you mistakenly thought that I was asking something like “Do you yourself (or anybody else) practice from the heart with the 2 above methods?” No, I did not ask that question.

Maybe you need to look again at my question in a straightforward manner as you yourself are saying below:

My question is straightforward. I presented in front of you, with references, with original quotes, 2 practices. Then, I asked a straightforward question, by your understanding, look at those 2 practices, are those 2 practices not coming from the heart?

Since you are too hesitant, I go first, I give you my answer from my understanding: From what I look, those 2 practices come from the heart.

You can agree or you can disagree, as you said many times, say it from your heart. Now, maybe it’s your turn? What is your answer from your understanding?

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Based upon a wordly discription of a practice it is for me impossible to judge if it comes straight from the heart. This must be felt while practicing. Have you never felt that practice can be boring, death, a routine?

For myself i have seen that becoming even more artificial and contrived is useless for me. It does not feel oke for me to have contact with people and have a hidden agenda of practicing this and that. I hope that people also do not want to relate with me that way. Just say what is on your heart. I feel that is oke, even when this is painful for me. I prefer this above being so strategical, so calculating, so didactical, so merciful etc. This is also because i often feel what is really on someones mind.

I often have felt and seen that what i practiced towards people, was not helpful at all. Sometimes i practiced patience while i really felt that i was being abused or treated badly. I still did not say a thing about is.

I have seen that such practices are worthless. It is much better to communicate in an open way also when one feels abused. If one is able to talk about this in an open not agressive manner, i feel that is the best way. One might think that one practices patience when one is abused or badly treated and does not say a thing about it, but i feel this is wrong.

I experienced similar things while practicing giving, compassion, love, kindness, help of whatever kind etc. Often I have seen that it works out in a wrong way. People get a wrong message. They only become more demanding, even more indecent, even more not sympathetic, even more egocentric etc

For myself i have concluded that is not easy to do good.

I have developed trust in a uncontrived state and abandoning all these tasks. Just relate to beings in an open way, without hidden agenda, communicate openly, subjective, personal. Always be personal.
Practise in being without agenda. Practise in being without goal. Practice in letting go.
Have trust in emptiness, in being without tasks. Ofcourse this is not a promotion of doing immoral things. But maybe you recognise something of this?

By the way, for me the Buddha is also a representant of a very, maybe ultimately, authentic person. Someone who has done away with all contrived and artificial behaviour and arrived at a pure goodness.

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Practice of the Brahmaviharas leads to Awakening if coupled with the Wisdom of Buddha Dharma.

Your reply is too concise. Are you saying that there is no difference between Mahayana practice in Bodhisattva vow and brahmavihārā in SN 42.8?
That’s why it needs to “coupled with the Wisdom of Buddha Dharma” to leads to Awakening?

Can you tell which practice that does this kind of coupling?

You are drifting this talk toward your own judgement about your own practice. Maybe you haven’t met a good enough teacher to guide you or maybe you are not compatible with that kind of practice or maybe you need to resolve your doubt first. I can’t say much about your own practice, this place is not meant for that.

On this thread specifically, I think I better stop talking about this question or that question with you and wait until you understand what I said more clearly. As you already sent me a PM and I have already replied you in PM, maybe it’s more appropriate channel for you than diluting this thread by drifting around.

The four Brahmaviharas: Metta, Karuna, Joy, Equanimity are even found in a Buddha.

I am waiting for more of what you want to say from that sentence “The four Brahmaviharas: Metta, Karuna, Joy, Equanimity are even found in a Buddha.

The Buddha Loves all beings, the Buddha is Compassionate towards all beings, the Buddha sees all beings with the vision of Equanimity, and the Buddha has great Joy in Enlightenment practices and overall a full life dedicated to Buddhism. What greater Joy is there than being a Buddha forever?

I think I should point out that this is a common misconception. That only ‘Metta,Karuna, Upekka, Mudita’ are brahmaviharas.
Brahmavihara means behaving as a ‘Brahma’ with no hatred and no craving except for the practice itself.
Ariyavihara means Noble behavior - no hatred, no craving and no delusion for anything(even practice).

I wish to continue this here.

I have tried to explain to you that developing the brahmavihara’s is part of practice of mayahana too.
Mahayana practice is about abandoning bad, developing good and purifying mind. It is not about being reborn in Brahma realms.

Also in EBTs higher realms are described as the bait of Mara. So, aiming at that, is a bit strange for a buddhist, because this allure of high rebirths can be seen as how Mara deceives practioners. One can argue if someone aiming at high rebirth is really practicing Buddha-Dhamma. One should aim, i think, at least on stream-entry.

The wish to be reborn again in mahayana is not like this. I have seen some describe it as the wish to be reborn wherever one will be of most assistence and be most helpful. It is very noble, i feel.
But ofcourse it must not be some kind of hidden bhava tanha.

I also tried to explain that whatever one is able to develop, is liable to weaken too.
Like muscles. Not trained they weaken. There is the feeding and the weakening of mental qualities too.
This is never part of the Noble Path that leads out of the world. This is the mundane noble path and all this is connected to merit.

The qualities of the Noble Path are not based upon development, tendency, inclinations but ground in the deathless, in what is free of inclination. They are always based upon dispassion here and now.
This is possible because passion is always of an adventitious nature and is not always present.

So, there is compassion that can weaken if not fed, not trained, and has the nature of merit, of bright kamma with bright result. But there is also compassion straight from the heart that is not like that.
That kind of compassion cannot weaken. One also does not possess this. It is the natural glow or mode of the purified mind, as it were.

I believe it is mistake to look at a Buddha as someone who possesses wisdom, compassion, love.
The point is, he does not possess anything, he has no sense of ownership, for him there is no self nor anything belonging to self, and exactely that is why wisdom, compassion, love can arise unhindered any moment.

It is not that a Buddha is rich, he is ultimately poor of mind(detached) and that ground is very rich.
Mahayana believes that all beings are the same in this aspect and this is refered to as buddha-nature.

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I will try to share what I think.

IMO, personally, I don’t think there is any particular difference in practicing of Brahma viharas as Mahayana practitioner or Theravada practitioner… except one thing. I believe only difference is that how you arrive there.

I will try to give analogy.

Suppose there is a village and everybody walks there with their legs. By ‘walk’, I mean that they live their life on very low scale. There is no bicycle, motorcycle or cars or any such vehicle(meaning they don’t know any other way of living other than living like animal) In other words let’s say these villagers are poor in every way, poor in wealth, poor in status, poor in moral/ethical cinduct. They do business barely enough to fill their stomachs. So one person of them earns more because of struggling …but barely enough to buy car. Meaning he learns a better way of living life where he don’t need to walk anymore. He found different and better happiness which is unknown to other villagers. So now we can say this person has found a way of living life which is unknown to others. Now he started using car instead of walking. Let’s name this person X who found a new way of living life and now this person X is using his car to live his life. Some of sensible villagers started worshipping him now. Let’s stop here.

In another village person Y found the similar way. But he had different desire. His attachment to his fellows was strong. It was stronger than the happiness he attained when he achieved car. So he wanted everybody from his village to have car like him. So in the early stages he couldnt enjoy the happiness of car. He had to walk again to demonstrate the harms of walking and benefits of using car. So he has to face many difficulties because villagers are harmful towards him, they are not just poor they are also rude and awful. So after facing many difficulties, he impressed them and he won their trust, hence now they started following him and worshipping him both now after winning their trust he taught them the benefits of having car and subsequently way of attaining car. The result is that, now, along with person Y, every villager has car. Person Y caused everyone to have car.

I see this person Y as Bodhisattva kind of being and person X as ‘not Bodhisattva’ kind of being.

Actually there is no Difference between achievements of person X and Y both of them are driving car now. It’s just that person X is alone and person Y is not alone. Because only one person can live in one car.(In other words each person has to struggle separately to have own car).

So fundamentally in terms of car owners there is no difference in person X and person Y. The difference is only how they arrived there in the car and the villagers from person Y’s village see him as their king.

Meaning of terms -

Achieving Car - means developing brahmaviharas.

Just as this I believe difference is only in how you arrive in brahmaviharas. I mean person X arrived there by himself; person Y arrived there also himself but he also caused others to come along with him.

So my direct answer to your question is that, only difference is in taking others with oneself to arrive at brahmaviharas. Mahayana would mean taking others along with oneself there instead of reaching only oneself there.

I also believe that this samsara is illusion and it’s just karmas working there way out. I mean there is said to be no self. ‘self’ is just fabrication and unreal thing so every being around us including all of us are just karmas working their way and with misunderstanding that there is ‘me’. So in my opinion walking Mahayana means causing this other illusions(other beings) also to be free from bondage.

Also…I don’t know if it’s necessary to mention… But I agree with all the things sir @Green said above.

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