Goal of Theravada

When I say Theravada Im using it as conventual speech, no need to argue about Theravada vs EBT. So… I was looking up the goal of Theravada and the first pop up was this.
Theravada Buddhism emphasises attaining self-liberation through one’s own efforts
Is this correct?? I thought the Buddha taught suffering and the end of suffering.


This is because it is usually contrasted with Mahayana, whose goal is liberation of oneself and all sentient beings.

The Theravadin recognizes suffering on a preliminary level (i.e., saṃvega) and starts to make efforts in order to attain self-liberation and thereby ending suffering.

You have recognized the difference between conventional and ultimate realities, there is also a difference between doctrine (first noble truth) and practice (one’s own efforts). Some suttas such as the Anapanasati and Satipatthana form the foundation for the practice theme. The teaching cannot be verified by talking only by practice (and the goal is vipassana or insight, as it removes ignorance):

“While in a literate culture in which systematic thought is highly prized the lack of such a text with a unifying function might be viewed as a defect, in an entirely oral culture—as was the culture in which the Buddha lived and moved—the lack of a descriptive key to the Dhamma would hardly be considered significant. Within this culture neither teacher nor student aimed at conceptual completeness. The teacher did not intend to present a complete system of ideas; his pupils did not aspire to learn a complete system of ideas. The aim that united them in the process of learning—the process of transmission—was that of practical training, self-transformation, the realization of truth, and unshakable liberation of the mind.”—“In the Buddha’s Words”—Bikkhu Bodhi

In terms of the sheer amount of information leading one to arahanthood in Theravada, it’s not an inaccurate statement.

There’s no pure land concept there, so other power of Amitabha Buddha is not there, whereas be an island/lamp upon yourself is in the Pali canon. Thus self effort.

Emphasizes is also correct, as there’s also the Bodhisatta path in Theravada, which has very little information, mostly on the 10 paramis, getting prediction by a living Buddha that one will become a Buddha one day, etc…

Sometimes contrast can be helpful:

I just read a book about the solution to heartache/suffering in a christian context. Heartache is for example: hate, bitterness, darkness, depression, despair, sadness, grief, shyness, despondency, fear. Those are mentioned in the book. The auther says that life is not meant that way. It is meant to be joyful.

His view is that one cannot really cure ones heartache or sufferings self. Based on own effort. It will get worse. In the core the heart of a human is sinfull and self-destroying, the auther says. One needs a socalled other-power (God, Jesus). It has to do with surrender and let the other power work with you in stead using ones own will-power.

This 'other-power; is also a (later) buddhist view. I do not know details about these schools.

The christian authorr (lester sumrall) says: the two wrong views about relying on self-effort in curing oneself are:

  • one is wise enough to see what is wrong and how you manage to get it oke
  • that one has enough will-power to do that

I think later buddhist masters also started to belief that to get enlightend one needs the other-power.

In early buddhism i think there is very much the sphere that we have the capacity to end all heartache, sufferings. Or we can develop those capacities. But what if we can’t ? Are we lost for enlightment in this life if we cannot? I think masters have always searched for ways to bring enlightment to people with very different capacitities. Are those means wrong because the Buddha did not teach them? I do not think so.

I can feel the use of asking help, blessings from the other-power although i have no idea what that really means, and if there is really a seperation in own power and other-power, me and other. But sometimes it just helps to open myself that way. It is about opening oneself and becoming receptive, i feel.

I am still a passionate and emotional person, in a way, sometimes very devout too. What i like about buddhism is that also this can be used as a talent, a capacity. Buddhism is not rigid but we can be.

This could be skillful means.
(They are promoting something in this way, but it actually work another way)

For example, “Rely on Buddha Amitabha’s power. You just need to recite his name mindfully 10 times, and you will be reborn in Pure Land Sukhavati, where you will be guaranteed enlightenment there”

And then, after you recite them 10 times,
“Aiyo! Why are you reciting carelessly without any focus? Mindful! Mindful!”

And then, after you recite for a month
“Aiyo, you have doubt about this method? Have faith! And recite an hour in morning and an hour in the evening”

A year later
“The sutra said to recite with one mind. Why are you not reciting 24 hour a day? Even when you work, eat, and having fun. You should recite even in your dream.”

Some time later, when you achieve this ‘one mind’
“Who is reciting Buddha’s name? You? Your mouth? Your mind? Are you your mouth, are you your mind, are you both, but you cant be both - right? Who is really reciting Buddha’s name?”

That above is just illustration. But you get it, right? Even “other-power” method still used the basic formula of Ethics - Samadhi - Wisdom.


Got it. I like the idea of skillfull means for people with different qualities/dispositions/abilities.

Buddha taught suffering and the end of suffering, then each one has to walk on the path himself/herself, following his footsteps. right?

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Isn’t the Mahayana way is to get everyone else liberated, before liberating themselves? Or did I get that wrong?

There are different school of thought about the sequence.

The popular saying is like you said, “I will not reach enlightenment before everyone else liberated”
But most masters pointed out that one can’t help others before one is fully enlightened. So the vow read: “I will immediately reach enlightenment for the sake of saving all beings”

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Oh right I didn’t know that, thank you :anjal: