The Equality of Theravada & Mahayana


Getting along doesn’t mean we’re the same, Buddhists get along with many Christians too.

And they aren’t the same on the level of ultimate reality, they don’t agree on what Nirvana is, which for many Mahayanists is a form of eternal spacious consciousness (albeit an empty one). Even Mahayanists don’t agree on the nature of ultimate reality, see for example the debates between the Gelugs and the other Tibetan schools. No Theravadins I know of accept that the Buddha is eternal or that various Buddhas will take you to a pure land if you pray to them. That’s pretty “ultimate reality” and yet they disagree there too.

The very idea of neyartha and nitartha as being ontological - “relative reality” and “ultimate reality” is actually a later development too, in the suttas these refer to hermeneutics AFAIK.


Well you can’t just wave away key differences by saying “it’s all just language” anyways.

That’s the same kind of hand waving that perennialists like Ken Wilber and his ilk like to do.

It’s funny because that kind of logic would get you laughed out of a Tibetan debating yard pretty quickly.


While Theravadins might speak of the “luminous mind,” Mahayanists might speak of “Buddha-nature” or “Dharmakaya.”

Since the Ultimate Truth of Nirvana is beyond conceptualization, it’s unsurprising that Mahayana and Theravada, at the level of conventional language, would use different terminology in an attempt to describe it.

It is interesting
and useful to remember here the Mahayana view of Nirvana
as not being different from Samsara,
The same thing is Samsara
or Nirvana according to the way you look at it—subjectively or
objectively. This Mahayana view was probably developed out of
the ideas found in the original Theravada Pali texts, to which we
have just referred in our brief discussion…

S II (PTS), p. 94. Some people think that Alayavijndna ‘Store-Consciousness’
(Tathagatagarbha) of Mahayana Buddhism is something like a self. But the
Lankavatara-siitra categorically says that it is not Atman (Lanka, p. 78-79.).


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…

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.āda_and_Mahāyāna


When it comes to seeing the essential unity, at the level of Ultimate Truth, between Mahayana and Theravada, I am standing on the shoulders of giants like Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Walpola Rahula, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ajahm Brahm, etc. I don’t have any special knowledge or insights to offer.


Well you’re just repeating yourself now and not engaging much so ok. You can keep thinking that it’s all the same if you want but you’ll have to do a lot of cognitive dissonance.

My point is that we can be different and friendly. We don’t have to force ourselves to be the same. Accepting our differences is in fact an important form of religious dialogue. You know, it’s a form of listening instead of shutting down dialogue with the usual perennialist non dual canards.


No one has suggested that we should force ourselves to be the same. We can appreciate and respect each other’s differences, while acknowledging that, at the level of Ultimate Truth, Mahayana and Theravada are beyond these differences, differences which are empty of inherent existence.

This is not the same as saying that all religions lead to the same mountaintop. This is speaking of different traditions within the same religion, ultimately leading to the same realization of enlightenment.


And yet, how do we know they’re the same at the "level of ultimate truth "?

Certainly no Mahayana scripture makes this point, since they see their Buddhahood as superior.

And in Theravada that kind distinction is not made.

So this is just an unsupported claim on your part.

Quoting that text over and over doesn’t prove the point you’re trying to make. The fact that Mahayana and Theravada descriptions of reality are different is quite telling in my opinion.

So I remain unconvinced.


Theravada monks and saints who’ve attained Nirvana are often referred to as Savaka-Buddhas:

The Pali suttas, as well as the Mahayana sutras, refer to the Buddha as an arahant, rather than just his disciples. And the enlightened disciple of the Buddha, at least in the Pali commentaries, is referred to as a Savaka-Buddha.

Not so ultimately different.


Time to drop some expectations friends! You’ll receive one and the same response to whatever you could possibly say, in whatever language, using whatever alphabet!


Thanks for the truckload of dung.


According to Ajahn Brahm, he uses the concept of Buddha-nature in order to see the inner goodness of others who’ve committed horrific crimes when he ministers to prisons. These Buddhist concepts only have value if they help us to, like Ajahn Brahm, cultivate and promote wisdom and compassion. They are a raft to the other shore, rather than ultimate truths in and of themselves.

He also says there is no ultimate difference between the arahant and the bodhisattva, because one cannot attain arahantship through being selfish in the first place. It’s just a sectarian misconception which sees one as superior to the other.


I find Mahayana descriptions of ultimate reality very confusing. They seem to refer to non-ultimate reality objects quite a lot, which adds to the confusion. Would you consider using EBT descriptions as it must be that others are also finding it equally confusing? The responses you are getting on this thread suggests this.

As a (aspiring?) bodhisattva your role cannot be to elicit a hostile response, but rather a receptive one.

Also as a teacher your concepts must be universally accepted, not rejected, and the latter is the case here. You might get a better response if you used theravada concepts here and Mahayana concepts elsewhere as they are both the same, as you say.

With metta


I have had quite a bit of duscussions with an acquintance Zen adherent (with myself being Theravada adherent), and almost in every case where there are differences between schools seen traditionally, we ultimately concluded that we were talking about the same thing but in different words of from different perspectives.
There’s only, probably, one thing that is not easy to overcome: the Bodhisattva ideal in its mahayana interpretation. It evolved too much from the original concept. Also, another thing (partially) would be treating the Nirvana question - he mostly views the Nirvana as what we see as sa-upadi-sesa-nibbana, i.e. “Nibbana with a remnant”, but I guess this is mostly because they took understanding of emptiness to a higher level than it is present in the Pali Canon.


That’s exactly the problem. There is no higher level of ‘emptiness’ according to EBTs.

With metta


I recommend reading Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations by Paul Williams. It’s very clear and concise in summarizing the full spectrum of Mahayana thought:

I personally don’t care what sect or school of Buddhism people choose or are attracted to. I am only hoping for mutual respect, appreciation, and understanding between different schools of Buddhism.

I’ve already named prominent teachers who feel the same way, from both Mahayana and Theravada, and I’ve also shared a unanimously approved ecumenical statement between the two traditions.

It’s not my job to convince others who aren’t ready yet to accept these things. May they be happy and well.


So… you reply me with more Mahayana ideas, instead of clarifying what I find confusing?

You need to speak from the strength of your ‘realization’… Not throw mere article quotes …or more article quotes at me.:hearts:

with metta


Erm… So what was the point of the OP in the first place?


To state some simple truths, for those with little sectarian dust in their eyes.


Yea no, you don’t get just lob the term “sectarian” around just because someone doesn’t agree with your perennialist views.

It’s just not that simple and just hammering on and on with appeals to authority is not really convincing.

It’s just not obvious that different views and practices will lead to the same result. Just ask a Dzogchen teacher how important view is.