The Equality of Theravada & Mahayana


Let’s take an example :

For Theravada ,

  1. Nibbana - is a state
    Then there is a possible similarity to mahayana buddha nature or emptiness .

  2. Nibbana - is not a state
    Then of course both ultimately not Same .
    Because emptiness to mahayana is a state .


You don’t know better than the above Buddhist teachers and leaders or I sincerely doubt that you do.


You are just speaking at the level of concepts, at the level of conventional language.

The Ultimate Truth is beyond conceptualization, yet explained in provisional human terms for unenlightened beings such as ourselves. It’s not surprising, then, that different traditions would attempt to explain the same ultimate truths using different terminologies.

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

When Nagarijuna wrote that metaphysical concepts are ultimately empty of inherent existence, he got that idea from the early Buddhist scriptures.


Are we not all at the conventional level ?
So, what is the ultimate truth ? How do you know for sure ? If ultimate truth is beyond conceptualization , how would you know at this relative level ?
Let’s forget about it , if you happen to attain the ultimate state , and find it the same , that’s good . Until then we have no way of knowing the ultimate truth .


You have named and skewed quotes of a few teachers of the theravada school, and used it to impress upon us theravadins that mahayana is “equal” or “legitimate”.

And yes, you cherrypicked and misinterpreted those teachers and others. Numerous people have tried to explain this to you, even monastics have tried to very kindly explain this with no change or consideration on your part. Leaves us wondering what your true motivation is being here, to be honest. I’m sure you will say you are merely sharing theravada teachings.

Lastly, please respond to this with quotes of more theravada teachers if you could, or in lieu of that, quotes of your own posts. :slight_smile:


You have achieved your goal. Maybe it is time to stop posting in the thread, since we all obviously have quite a large amount of sectarian dust in our eyes?


Gassho. _/_


Saying that Mahayana and Theravada are equally valid expressions of Buddhism, as paths leading to enlightenment, does not mean that Mahayana and Theravada are the same.

Men and women are very different, and yet they are equal and deserve equal treatment. People of different races and cultures are very different, and yet they are equal and deserve equal treatment.

Similarly, Mahayana and Theravada are equally valid, yet different, expressions of the same religion.


But there’s no iherent contradiction, you see :slight_smile:

Still, some concepts are contradictory, plus, for some reason Nagarjuna and the later guys instst that newly invented sutras (by them) were spoken by the Buddha Gautama himself (which is not true). Besides, Mahayana is a very diverse field. Zen, for instance, is quite different from the Pure Lands Buddhism, for what I know.

The issues is, “path to Nibbana/Nirvana” is not something like “path to God” in any other religion, which can vary, but still be valid. Even in Chinese Agamas there’s a notion that the Teaching is fully opened and complete. In Buddhism, there can be only one path to Nibbana, not many.

The conceptual differences between schools, however, are not as vast. But due to different “language” of Mahayana ideas, you won’t see that until you study both interpretations closely and thoughtfully. (I am mostly talking about Zen/Chan vs. Theravada)


While Mahayana Buddhism sees the path of the Bodhisattva and the path of the Arahant as separate paths, it nonetheless respects those who’ve attained arahantship:

Mahayana Buddhism has viewed the śrāvaka path culminating in arhatship as a lesser accomplishment than complete enlightenment, but still accords due respect to arhats for their respective achievements. Therefore, buddha-realms are depicted as populated by both śrāvakas and bodhisattvas.[32] Far from being completely disregarded, the accomplishments of arhats are viewed as impressive, essentially because they have transcended the mundane world.[33] Chinese Buddhism and other East Asian traditions have historically accepted this perspective, and specific groups of arhats are venerated as well, such as the Sixteen Arhats, the Eighteen Arhats, and the Five Hundred Arhats.[34] The first famous portraits of these arhats were painted by the Chinese monk Guanxiu (Chinese: 貫休; pinyin: Guànxiū) in 891 CE. He donated these portraits to Shengyin Temple in Qiantang (modern Hangzhou), where they are preserved with great care and ceremonious respect.[35]


PS: after writing this, I re-read the post of yours that I was quoting, and saw that I misinterpreted you. You said “separate path”, and I interpreted that as “seperate goal/shore”. Please read the following in light of “as if you had said” seperate goal/shore" not seperate path.

Well, some Mahāyāna Buddhisms say this, and, as a result, claim that the arhat pracitioner of śrāvakayāna is forever cut-off, severed, and denied, ultimate liberation. This is the ‘seed of bodhi’ theory that Anders talks about on DharmaWheel. The idea being that arhats cut themselves off from the world in a sort of ‘dead end’ state that they remain in forever, forever short of anuttarāsamyaksaṃbodhi (‘nothing-higher-complete-awakening’, a Mahāyāna term for the enlightenment of Śākyamuni Buddha, vs the enlightenment of an arhat or a bodhisattva).

Some Mahāyāna Buddhisms, I am thinking particularly of Tiāntāi (a sect of Chinese Buddhism) and the Gelugpa (a sect of Tibetan Buddhism), argue that highest liberation is not denied to the arhat, and that śrāvakayāna Buddhahood and bodhisattvayāna Buddhahood are one and the same: identical. Their difference being an expedient means to bring more people to Buddhism in general, that the dharma may meet people of all persuasions and karmic conditions. This is all a part of ‘ekayāna’, or ‘ekabuddhayāna’, the ‘one Buddha vehicle’ of Tiāntāi interpretation of the Lotus Sūtra.


And this marks something of an inconsistency in Mahāyāna’s relations with what it calls ‘Śrāvakayāna’.

These inconsistencies, however, are part and parcel in Mahāyāna, and Mahāyānists must decide on themselves which teaching to consider provisional and what to consider ultimate.

The Lotus Sūtra says (actually, it only ‘heavily implies’) that all women must be reborn as men before anuttarāsamyaksaṃbodhi.

How one navigates these disagreements, is part of how one decide what is the dharma and what is not the dharma.

(Edited by the moderators at the author’s request)


If you read the story of the naga princess in the Lotus Sutra carefully, you will see that she already attained enlightenment in female form. It’s only when the Buddha’s disciples doubt her attainment that she then transforms into a man, as an act of skillful means for those who couldn’t accept a woman’s attainment.


Nor is there in Mahāyāna! Emptiness is emptiness. Its empty. You can’t get “emptier” than “empty”!


I was actually referring to the woman referred to in chapter 23

Constellation King Flower, if there is a person who hears this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King, he too will gain immeasurable and boundless benefits. If there is a woman who hears this chapter on the Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King and is able to accept and uphold it, that will be her last appearance in a woman’s body and she will never be born in that form again. If in the last five-hundred-year period after the thus come one has entered extinction there is a woman who hears this sutra and carries out its practices as the sutra directs, when her life here on earth comes to an end she will immediately go to the world of Peace and Delight where the buddha Amitayus dwells surrounded by the assembly of great bodhisattvas, and there will be born seated on a jeweled seat in the center of a lotus blossom.

He [remember the heavenly gender-change the Buddha’s mother is also subject to in commentarial literature!? Clearly heavens in Buddhism oft have a “no ladies” policy, it seems!] will no longer know the torments of greed, desire, anger, rage, foolishness, or ignorance, or the torments brought about by arrogance, envy, or other defilements. He will gain the bodhisattva’s transcendental powers and the truth of the birthlessness of all phenomena. Having gained this truth, his faculty of sight will be clear and pure, and with this clear pure faculty of sight he will see the buddhas, the thus come ones, equal in number to the sands of seven hundred twelve thousand million nayutas of Ganges Rivers.

(Watson translation)


What is your definition of emptiness here? Sounds like grasping on extreme.


My definition of empty is empty. You can’t get emptier than empty. There are no gradations to emptiness that I can think of.

Empty of “what” is the important thing. “Emptiness” for me is 法空/dharmanairātmyatā, “dharma-selflessness” or “phenomenal selflessness”.

I’m sure I’m not entirely alone in that definition.


As a Mahayana Buddhist, I don’t differentiate between the attainment of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist masters.

While the goal of attainment in Theravada Buddhism is widely considered a lesser goal than in Mahayana Buddhism, this is not fundamentally the case:

Samma Sambuddha is a self-enlightened Buddha. That is, a Buddha who realises the Truth (Nibbana) by himself, without the assistance of a teacher…
The last Buddha was of this catergory.

Pacceka Buddha also attains Nibbana without the assistance of a teacher, but unlike theSamma Sambuddha he cannot teach the Dhamma.

Savaka Buddha or Arahat attains Nibbana by following the teachings given by a Samma Sambuddha.

In terms of their Enlightenment, all three Buddhas are identical, but they reach this state by different means (with or without a teacher), and may or may not be able to teach.

If a living person in the Theravada tradition is widely believed to have attained Nirvana, I take that seriously.

If the Buddha taught 84,000 paths to enlightenment, as is widely taught in Mahayana Buddhism, then Theravada Buddhism is included among those paths:

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…
Basic points unifying Theravāda and Mahāyāna - Wikipedia


I think this is a Mahayana concept.


Above being Mahayana or Theravada, the idea of 84,000 paths is more likely to be about how a mix of Chinese whispers and eastern idiomatic uses of numbers caused (and still causes) misunderstandings in established traditions of Buddhism.

The figure was probably originally used to refer to the massive number of discourses the Buddha gave across the 45 years of his spiritual career, and which Venerable Ananda was able to recollect or confirm in the first times the early Sangha met to compile the Dhamma-vinaya left by the Blessed One.

We have already addressed this in previous threads: