SuttaCentral

The Equality of Theravada & Mahayana


#1

From an ultimate perspective, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism are essentially the same, despite their external appearances:

The Basic Points Unifying the Theravāda and the Mahāyāna is an important Buddhist ecumenical statement created in 1967 during the First Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council (WBSC), where its founder Secretary-General, the late Venerable Pandita Pimbure Sorata Thera, requested the Ven. Walpola Rahula to present a concise formula for the unification of all the different Buddhist traditions. This text was then unanimously approved by the Council.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_points_unifying_Theravāda_and_Mahāyāna

The Eightfold Path of Theravada Buddhism is equivalent to the Six Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism:

  1. Generosity (Skt. Dāna, Jp. fuse 布施)
  2. Moral conduct, upholding precepts (Skt. Śīla, Jp. jikai 持戒)
    Corresponding elements of the Eightfold Path: Right Speech, Right Conduct, and Right Livelihood
  3. Forbearance (Skt. Kṣānti, Jp. ninniku忍辱)
    Corresponding element of the Eightfold Path: Right Effort with regard one’s state of mind.
  4. Diligence (Skt. Vīrya, Jp. shōjin 精進)
    Corresponding element of the Eightfold Path: Right Effort with regard one’s words and actions.
  5. Contemplation (Skt. Dhyāna, Jp. zenjō 禪定)
    Corresponding elements of the Eightfold Path: Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.
  6. Wisdom (Skt. Prajñā, Jp. chie 智慧)
    Corresponding elements of the Eightfold Path: Right View and Right Thought.
    http://www.oxnardbuddhisttemple.org/welcome/jodo-shinshu-buddhism

While it’s often claimed that Mahayana Buddhists seek after Buddhahood, while Theravadins settle for mere arahantship, this is not the case:

Sāvaka-buddha (Pāli) is a rarely used term in Theravada Buddhism, identifying enlightened ‘disciples of a Buddha’ as Buddhas. These disciples are those enlightened individuals who gain Nibbana by hearing the Dhamma as initially taught by a Sammasambuddha.
https://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Savaka-buddha

The Upasaka-janalankara, a Pali treatise dealing with the ethics for the lay Buddhist written in the 12th century by a Thera called Ananda in the Theravada tradition of the Mahavihara at Anuradhpura, Sri Lanka, says that there are three Bodhis: Savakabodhi (Skt: Sravakabodhi), Paccekabodhi (Skt: Fratyekabodhi) and Sammasambodhi (Skt: Samyaksambodhi). A whole chapter of this book is devoted to the discussion of these three Bodhis in great detail. It says further that when a disciple attains the Bodhi (Enlightenment), he is called Savaka-Buddha (Skt: Sravaka-Buddha).
https://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha126.htm

It’s also often claimed that Mahayana Buddhists postpone personal enlightenment until all other beings are enlightened, which would be absurd if sentient beings are infinite. The Bodhisattva vows to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible, to then lead all other beings to enlightenment.

What differentiates the Mahayana understanding of enlightenment is its belief in non-abiding Nirvana, that the enlightened being remains active in the world after passing away. In Theravada Buddhism, it’s left an unanswered question what happens to the enlightened being after death.

It just so happens that, as a Mahayana Buddhist, my favorite Western converts to Buddhism are Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ajahn Brahm.


#2

Isn’t this the key point that carves a big chasm between the two traditions ?


#3

I will give you credit for such a remarkably rare succession of words! :slight_smile:

But aside from that, I must say that you may have unfortunately misrepresented both traditions at once! For the enlightenment of an arahant is not one and the same as that of a bodhisattva. And the idea is heart breaking, to say the least, that an arahant can be reborn in a womb to help others (only that we Theravadins are too dumb to know it).

Even Mahayanists don’t declare anything like that! Understanding that Nibbana is a transcendental state which precludes any return to any form of conditioned existence (& for whatever noble goal), they actually train themselves to prevent desire for it. And though they do believe in a higher goal or further emancipatory reality, their history still shows respect and reverence to those among them who have failed in holding back their progress to that, mere, arahantship!


#4

Whatever form the enlightened being has after death, whether continually present in this world or not, is indescribable and ineffable:

Nagarjuna
The Madhyamaka school of Nagarjuna includes the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā text which includes:

To say “it is” is to grasp for permanence. To say “it is not” is to adopt the view of nihilism. Therefore a wise person does not say “exists” or “does not exist.” (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 15.10)

Nagarjuna attempts to explain how the answer does not lie in any of the four possibilities listed above. The language we use frames our conventional reality. Beneath that there is an ultimate reality, such as the condition of the enlightened dead person. One can experience this directly in certain meditative states, but one cannot describe it. To say anything about it would merely succeed in making it part of our conventional reality; it is, therefore, ineffable. In particular, one cannot describe it by using any of the four possibilities furnished by the catuskoti (four possibilities). (Graham Priest, 2014)

A fifth alternative?
Nagarjuna’s ineffable position may have support from the Pali Canon too. A potentially fifth alternative to the standard four explanations of exist, non-existence, both, neither; is: inexpressible (which may also fit with some of the subtle forms of existence views shown above). From the Digha Nikaya, Maha Nidana Sutta:

If anyone were to say with regard to a monk whose mind is thus released that ‘The Tathagata exists after death,’ is his view, that would be mistaken; that ‘The Tathagata does not exist after death’ that would be mistaken; ‘The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death’ that would be mistaken; ‘The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death’ is his view, that would be mistaken. Why? Having directly known the extent of designation and the extent of the objects of designation, the extent of expression and the extent of the objects of expression, the extent of description and the extent of the objects of description, the extent of discernment and the extent of the objects of discernment, the extent to which the cycle revolves: Having directly known that, the monk is released. [To say that,] ‘The monk released, having directly known that, does not see, does not know is his opinion,’ that would be mistaken.
https://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Nibbana#Nagarjuna

The Bodhisattva, rather than postponing personal enlightenment, instead vows to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible, to then lead all other beings to enlightenment. This is explained in texts like The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva.

Rather than getting into debates over things that unenlightened beings such as ourselves might be unable to understand, I’d rather look at the similarities between Mahayana and Theravada:

The Buddha is our only Master (teacher and guide)
We take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Saṅgha (the Three Jewels)
We do not believe that this world is created and ruled by a God.
We consider that the purpose of life is to develop compassion for all living beings without discrimination and to work for their good, happiness, and peace; and to develop wisdom (prajñā) leading to the realization of Ultimate Truth
We accept the Four Noble Truths, namely duḥkha, the arising of duḥkha, the cessation of duḥkha, and the path leading to the cessation of duḥkha; and the law of cause and effect (pratītyasamutpāda)
All conditioned things (saṃskāra) are impermanent (anitya) and duḥkha, and that all conditioned and unconditioned things (dharma) are without self (anātma) (see trilaksana).
We accept the thirty-seven qualities conducive to enlightenment (bodhipakṣadharma) as different aspects of the Path taught by the Buddha leading to Enlightenment.
There are three ways of attaining bodhi or Enlightenment: namely as a disciple (śrāvaka), as a pratyekabuddha and as a samyaksambuddha (perfectly and fully enlightened Buddha). We accept it as the highest, noblest, and most heroic to follow the career of a Bodhisattva and to become a samyaksambuddha in order to save others.
We admit that in different countries there are differences regarding Buddhist beliefs and practices. These external forms and expressions should not be confused with the essential teachings of the Buddha.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_points_unifying_Theravāda_and_Mahāyāna#Text_of_the_original_document


#5

That would have worked only if you had opened a discussion about similarities other than those of enlightenment (which is precisely the thing most dissimilar between the two traditions!). I’m only responding to what you have said about enlightenment! :wink:

But yes …

:peace_symbol:


#6

The Pali suttas, if I’m not mistaken, refer to the Buddha as an arahant, rather than just his disciples. And the enlightened disciple of the Buddha, at least in the commentaries, is referred to as a Savaka-Buddha.

Anyone who seeks enlightenment out of a desire to help others, whether Mahayana or Theravada, is a Bodhisattva. From an ultimate perspective, the Mahayana and Theravada understanding of enlightenment is not so different.


#7

Ajahn Brahm talks about different sects of Buddhism, how it all came to be this way and what it means. Ultimately it’s all the same cake, just different icing on top.


#8

I haven’t seen the video but I don’t agree that Theravada and Mahayana are “the same”. And I don’t think they cannot respect and learn from each other unless they are the same! Perhaps that’s why I’m completely comfortable to see and talk about their irreconcilable differences, which are known to all, and able to go to bed at night with no dreadful thought that something is wrong with the world!
:notes: :sleeping_bed:


#9

Mahayana and Theravada are the same from an ultimate perspective, from the perspective of non-duality. On the level of conventional reality, they might be very different. If Mahayana and Theravada both lead to the attainment of enlightenment, then they ultimately are the same.


#10

This seems to be your opinion since you have repeated it many times in most of your threads. But repeating it again here, or quoting the same excerpts or videos (again) doesn’t make it any more valid, true, or helpful.


#11

The Basic Points Unifying the Theravāda and the Mahāyāna is an important Buddhist ecumenical statement created in 1967 during the First Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council (WBSC), where its founder Secretary-General, the late Venerable Pandita Pimbure Sorata Thera, requested the Ven. Walpola Rahula to present a concise formula for the unification of all the different Buddhist traditions. This text was then unanimously approved by the Council.[1]

The Buddha is our only Master (teacher and guide)
We take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Saṅgha (the Three Jewels)
We do not believe that this world is created and ruled by a God.
We consider that the purpose of life is to develop compassion for all living beings without discrimination and to work for their good, happiness, and peace; and to develop wisdom (prajñā) leading to the realization of Ultimate Truth
We accept the Four Noble Truths, namely duḥkha, the arising of duḥkha, the cessation of duḥkha, and the path leading to the cessation of duḥkha; and the law of cause and effect (pratītyasamutpāda)
All conditioned things (saṃskāra) are impermanent (anitya) and duḥkha, and that all conditioned and unconditioned things (dharma) are without self (anātma) (see trilaksana).
We accept the thirty-seven qualities conducive to enlightenment (bodhipakṣadharma) as different aspects of the Path taught by the Buddha leading to Enlightenment.
There are three ways of attaining bodhi or Enlightenment: namely as a disciple (śrāvaka), as a pratyekabuddha and as a samyaksambuddha (perfectly and fully enlightened Buddha). We accept it as the highest, noblest, and most heroic to follow the career of a Bodhisattva and to become a samyaksambuddha in order to save others.
We admit that in different countries there are differences regarding Buddhist beliefs and practices. These external forms and expressions should not be confused with the essential teachings of the Buddha.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_points_unifying_Theravāda_and_Mahāyāna


#12

Are you responding to my criticism of your using the same excerpts and quotes with a excerpt or quote? :open_mouth: lol

Sounds like either this is high satire beyond my understanding or you prefer to pontificate on your agenda, not discuss the EBTs in a serious way.


#13

Whatever agenda Bhikkhu Bodhi, Walpola Rahula, Ajahn Brahm, etc. have, please count me in.


#14

But in that case, friend Kensho, you needn’t even bother specifying Theravada and Mahayana any more! Because we already know that, “from an ultimate perspective and from the perspective of non-duality”, EVERYTHING is the same!

Boiled eggs are similar to hair.
Clock is similar to mushroom.
River is similar to bamboo.
Green is similar to commercials.
Bad is similar to teeth.
Loftiness is similar to the letter “T”.
And hat is similar to rice.

I mean if I have to repeatedly present that tedious list of all things in the world that are “similar from an ultimate perspective”, say to one of those impassioned and fervent Zen masters, fully enlightened and all; I have no doubt that soon I will find his shoe flung into my face as he says: “My shoe is similar to your brains! And not only from an ultimate perspective!”

The point I’m trying to make is that, there is no point “discoursing and discussing” over how everything is everything!


#15

That’s not the point made here:


#16

The Buddha is our only Master (teacher and guide)

What this means to a Mahayanist (eternal Buddha, dharmakaya, Buddha nature, etc) is actually quite different, than what it means to a Theravadin.

The thing is, that list can be agreed on by everyone because of its vagueness. If you had Theravadins and Mahayanists write essays on what the core teaching is or to elaborate on any of those points, you’d get very different answers.

That list was a nice effort, but it doesn’t change the differences between the traditions.


#18


#19

Differences on the level of conventional, rather than ultimate, reality.

In studying and speaking the Dharma, we especially need to be aware of the conventional (or worldly or cultural) level and the ultimate (param’attha) or spiritual or Dharma) level of teaching. The conventional language is only useful and wholesome when they point, even remotely, to the true Dharma. And at the proper time, this reference should be clarified to the follower or practitioner. The point is that the spiritual should in due course transcend the worldly and cultural.

1.2 The Neyy’attha Nīt’attha Sutta (A 2.3.5-6) records an important reminder by the Buddha on how we should approach every sutta and text, that is, we must carefully consider whether the language is conventional (based on everyday language describing causes and conditions) or ultimate (that is, Dharma language, pointing to the fact that things have no intrinsic nature or abiding essence).

Those suttas or teachings that tell stories, describe ritual acts, or that talk of “beings,” “gods,” etc, need to have their meaning drawn out (neyy’attha), as they do not directly refer to true reality. They use language and words in the form of a story or images to talk about true reality. Their meaning is indirect.
They are provisional (pariyāya) teachings, unlike say some Abhidhamma doctrines, which are said to be explicit (nippariyāyena).1
http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/2.6b_Neyyattha_Nitattha_S_a2.3.5-6_piya.pdf

We need not abandon our differences in order to recognize the essential similarities.


#20

@Pasanna
HAHAHAHAHA


#21

Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama seem to get along very well with Theravadins:

Bhikkhu Bodhi lives in a Mahayana monastery:
http://bodhimonastery.org/ven-bhikkhu-bodhi.html

Ajahn Brahm approved of Mahayana nuns restoring the Theravada lineage of nuns:

Somebody call the Dharma police…