The Equality of Theravada & Mahayana


Thanks for the link :grinning: Interesting reading.


I agree with Ajahn Brahm on this point. A genuine Arhat won’t be selfish. Even stream-winners are endowed with generosity, according to the EBTs.

However, I also like Analayo’s exploration of this topic in regards to the Bakula Sutta, a late Sutta which promotes the ideal of a hyper-OCD Arhat, who is obsessed with following the letter of the law of ascetic practice, but refuses to teach others. It would seem like, at some point in early Buddhist history, the Arhat ideal deteriorated, perhaps giving rise to the proto-mahayana idea that Arhats are “Selfish.”


I really don’t understand what the purpose of this thread is. If you want to point out the equality of Theravada and Mahayana to people who are sympathetic to this idea, it is very much preaching to the choir. If you are talking to people who tend to disagree with it, simply stating these things once again won’t help you change their mind.

If the Theravada enlightenment and Mahayana enlightenment are equal and basically the same, then there is no point in trying to convince the Theravadins that those two branches of Buddhism are equal. The Theravadins can be sure that they are not and still reach the arahantship, can’t they? At this stage, they will see the equality of Mahayana and Theravada for themselves.

The same thinking could be applied to many perennialists’ works. If all religions are equal and lead to the same truth, why should I do yoga and not stick to my Latin pre-Vatican II Catholic mass? Why did I convert to Buddhism and not stick to following the teachings of the Russian Orthodox church? I mean, if you consider those two enlightenments are equal, then the Theravadins have all the right to ignore Mahayana altogether, why not?


Ajahn Brahm is cool because in his own way, he allows for a sense of ecumenicism that creates goodwill and harmony.

Still, I just feel a bit bad for Buddhists that haven’t found the EBTs and/or Sutta Central. I do spend time with some Zen communities (yeah, I try to connect in my city, dominated by Zen, Shambhala et al…) , and there is always a Buddha in the corner on a shrine, but I do feel that there’s no appreciation of what the man taught and stood for, and how important his presence is in the world. The Early Texts? No idea. It’s a bit like being a modern physicist and having no idea of who Einstein or Max Planck were.


You’re welcome.


I’m sorry, that’s not even a fair comparison. Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism are different expressions of fundamentally the same religion. Pointing this out is not the same as saying “all paths lead to God” or whatever the perennialists might say.


As far as I’ve seen, modern Zen masters like Shunryu Suzuki and Sheng-Yen are concerned about what the historical Buddha taught and stood for.

I also believed that, out of all Mahayana schools, Zen is closest to what the Buddha originally taught.


I don’t know how it originated, but here is an oft-repeated and beautiful saying, “Just as there are 84,000 worldly passions, the Buddha taught 84,000 paths to enlightenment.”

Even in the Pali scriptures, the Buddha taught different things in different ways to different people in different situations and from different sets of circumstances.


However, despite our lack of understanding, I believe all these fall under the Four Noble Truths, and follow the Noble eightfold path.

with metta


Okay, let’s leave it out. Let us consider Theravada and Mahayana only. Most Theravadins believe Mahayana to be incorrect and irrelevant at best. If we accept that the Theravadin enlightenment is identical to the Mahayana enlightenment, then why not let the Theravadins mind their own business? I mean, why should we talk about the equality of Mahayana and Theravada if the end result is the same, whether we believe in this equality or not?


what unites us is greater than what separates us



Kensho, I have also appreciated many talks from Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh where he clearly integrates the EBTs with his own very positive approach to Dharma. I’d welcome seeing more of this approach with other modern Zen teachers, but sadly, this seems lacking. My sense is that Ven. Thay is a scholar of the early texts (Vietnamese Zen being closer to Asian Theravada than, I think, most other forms of Zen), and many current teachers in western Mahayana have little, in any, direct familiarity.


There was a thread about the Rousing of the Arhantaḥ, that narrative of shady-repute, a while ago, and on it I recall making essentially the same point in defence of the narrative, however problematic it may seem from a non-bodhisattvayāna POV.

If the best of Y is “somehow inexplicably” X despite all seeming surface Y-ness, then Y should be put in the position to be as best as it can be at being Y.

Inquiry: in the Arhat’s past lives the causes and conditions for being subject to embodiment necessarily ought to have been eradicated, [in light of this] they dwell where to perfect buddhahood?

答曰: 得阿羅漢時,三界諸漏因緣盡,更不復生三界。有淨佛土,
Response: when attaining Arhatship, the three realms’ myriad outflows’ causes and conditions are exhausted, there is no more birth again in the three realms. There is a pure buddha land,

出於三界,乃至無煩惱之名,於 是國土佛所,聞法華經,具足佛道。
beyond the three realms, where not even the word affliction has a name, in this kingdom of the Buddha, they hear the Dharma Flower Sūtra [i.e. the Lotus Sūtra], with this they perfect Buddhahood.

As in the Dharma Flower Sūtra’s words: "There are Arhantaḥ[,] for example[, who’ve] not heard the Dharma Flower Sūtra,

themselves they call [’]ones who have attained cessation[’]; I in another realm for them speak this matter, you all shall become Buddhas."

(pseudo-Āryanāgārjunasya Mahāprajñāpāramitōpadeśa @ 714a9)


The Pure Land being referred to is akaniṣṭagandavyūha, the highest and most refined saṃbhogakāya buddhakṣetra (Pure Land), even greater and more refined than Sukhāvatī.

It is presided over by Śivamaheśvara, called “Sustainer” here rather than “Destroyer”, who hosts Samantabhadrabuddha, who directly instructs the arhantaḥ in subtle dharma (saddharma).

Theravāda & EBT studies should reinvent itself as a New Kamakura School of Late Mahāyāna Buddhism based on the Mahāyāna scripture above, saying

“in this degenerate age, the dharma of the master yogis is no longer effective, only the pure practice set forth in the EBTs can lead to rebirth in the highest Pure Land and instruction from the Buddha himself!”


Here is a comparison between Mahayana Buddhism and early Buddhism:

Mahayana and ‘Early’ Buddhism

What appeared above might seem a far cry from ‘Early’ [what came before Mahayana] Buddhism. As innovative as they seem, yet all the important concepts can be traced back to Early Buddhism.

In Early Buddhism, the J?takas [stories of the Buddha’s former lives] give us inspiring examples of the trials and forbearance of the Bodhisattva. There are over 500 stories of the Buddha’s former lives in the J?takas, each provide a moving and inspiring moral lesson of how the power of good overcomes evil and the importance of integrity over fame and fortune. It is therefore not surprising that the Bodhisattva ideal came to be highly extolled.

Early Buddhism also extols the systemic cultivation of the Brahmavihar? [Divine Abiding] which entails developing loving kindness (mett?), compassion (karu??), sympathetic joy (mudit?), and equanimity (upekkh?). Developing these is seen to cultivate pleasant abiding here and now as well as a stepping stone to attain Deathlessness [Nirv??a]. Since it is compassion that causes the Buddha to appear and teach sentient beings, it is no surprise then that compassion becomes a key value in Mahayana Buddhism.

Again in Early Buddhism, there are examples of the skilful means, including magical feats, in which the Buddha used to help beings attain insight. Similarly, in the J?takas, the Bodhisattva employed many skilful means, often through various stratagems, to help others. In the Therav?da Canon, the Buddha sometimes refers to himself as the Tath?gata, a term also synonymous with Suchness, or reality. This suggests the transcendental and inconceivable nature of the Buddha, an idea which later became very important in Mahayana.

Emptiness (??nyat?), as expounded by the ingenious Mahayana Buddhist sage, N?g?rjuna, is no other than Dependent Arising (Paticca-samuppada, Sanskrit: prat?tya-samutp?da) in Early Buddhism. Also, Early Buddhism holds that ignorance is the cause of suffering and existence in Sa?s?ra, this is resounded in the La?k?vat?ra S?tra’s concept of false (dualistic) discrimination as being the cause of suffering. Finally, the intrinsically pure nature of the mind that the La?k?vat?ra S?tra refers to parallels with that of the subconscious continuity bhava?ga in Therav?da.

We can thus see that most important Mahayana concepts trace back to Early Buddhism. In fact, according toVen. Dr. W. Rahula, ‘there is hardly any difference between Therav?da [a form of Early Buddhism] and Mahayana with regard to the fundamental teachings’[2] . Thus, Therav?da and Mahayana:

Both accept Sh?kyamuni Buddha as the Teacher.
The Four Noble Truths are exactly the same in both schools.
The Eightfold Path is exactly the same in both schools.
The Pa?icca-samupp?da [Sanskrit prat?tya-samutp?da] or the Dependent Origination is the same in both schools.
Both rejected the idea of a supreme being who created and governed this world.
Both accept Anicca [impermanence], Dukkha [suffering], Anatt? [not-self] and S?la [morality], Sam?dhi [concentration], Paññ? [wisdom]without any difference (Ibid).
The Origin of Mahayana | Buddhistdoor

Please let me know if there are any inaccuracies in the above description. Thank you.


As does Mahayana Buddhism, if I may respectfully say so:

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


nasvāto nāpiparato nadvābhyāṃ nāpyahetutaḥ
Neither from self nor other neither both nor acausally

Nasvāto = asvayaṃkṛta. Not from self.
Nāpiparato = aparaṃkṛta. Not from other.
Nadvābhyāṃ = nasvāto nāpiparato
See SN 12.17, substitute dharma for duḥkha?

The Sanskrit SF parallel has an interesting compound: asvayaṃkāraparakārahetusamutpanna(ṃ).

Either way, as I’ve heard it explained, nāpyahetuta is supposed to correspond to postulatings of the eel-wrigglers.


It’s an honor to be the first one to give a heart to your post - may you be as happy as I



There’s no doubt in my mind that Mahayana and Theravada are equally valid paths to enlightenment. I am thankful for the contributions both traditions have made to the world.

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