Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Phra Chuntawongso » Sun May 16, 2010 7:42 am

I first came to Buddhism via the Mahayana tradition and am thankful to them for giving me an understanding of kamma and how it works.
Eventually I found myself moving closer to the Theravada tradition as I found it to be more practical(from a personal point of view).
However,although there seems to be less deity worship than the Mahayanan tradition and we tend not to lay out water and food offerings on the altar each day,we still see people praying to Buddha,celebrating and merit making on HOLY days and of course depending on which country you are in(I am talking in regards to Thailand)many superstitions are woven into their Buddhist beliefs.
Just look at all the spirit houses erected outside peoples homes and businesses(these do have food and water offerings,candles and incense).
Buddha just seems to have candles,incense and flowers.
I have seen nuns burning candles to appease spirits.
I guess religion creeps in everywhere.
No worries-Theravada is the way that I feel is best and I practice accordingly.
In regards to the claim that we are more selfish than Mahayana,seeking our own enlightenment,if you have an aspiration to put off your own enlightenment until we can all cross over then surely you must be pleased at all those people who have already achieved this or are actively working at it.
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby retrofuturist » Sun May 16, 2010 11:01 am

Greetings,

Note to members...

Please either respond to the topic in question, or don't.

Meta-discussion is disruptive at the best of times, but especially in the Discovering Theravada forum where the focus is to help answer the questions of newcomers.

Thanks.

:focus:

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If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Pannapetar » Sun May 16, 2010 12:17 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Meta-discussion is disruptive at the best of times, but especially in the Discovering Theravada forum where the focus is to help answer the questions of newcomers.


Well, by meta-discussing a question like this, newcomers might learn that phrasing a question correctly is half-way getting to the right answer. The OP did not explain the term "religious", so we must make some assumptions. If "religious" means devotional, ceremonial, or faith-driven, then there is plenty of that in both Theravada and Mahayana, primarily in the exoteric beliefs and practices of the lay communities of the respective countries. The point is: neither Theravada nor Mahayana have to be religions. Hence, a discussion about this is likely to be an exercise in emptiness. The OP also stated:

0pper wrote:My understanding is that Theravada Buddhism is closer to what the Buddha actually taught...


That appears to be the consensus within the group of Theravada adherents, but it is not always shared by Mahayana adherents. For example, within the Mahayana traditions there exists a concept of "hidden" teachings that have been "revealed" at a later time. There also exists the idea that the teachings of certain masters, such as Padmasambhava of India (who brought Buddhism to Tibet), are equivalent to those of the Shakyamuni Buddha on account of their great enlightenment. Theravadans find these ideas problematic. Perhaps both agree that the Theravada practice is closest to that of early Buddhism.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Tree » Sun May 16, 2010 12:23 pm

0pper wrote:I'm extremely intrigued by Buddhism and am well on my way to becoming Buddhist. I've been reading about it for a long time, but I'm close to making a commitment to becoming a Buddhist. I am now in the stage of choosing what specific path of Buddhism I want to follow.

My understanding is that Theravada Buddhism is closer to what the Buddha actually taught while Mahayana, although also very profound, seems to be influenced very much by others aside from the Buddha himself. Mahayana seems to have more cultural trappings. Things like dieties, divas and spirit worship... well frankly I have no interest in that whatsoever. I was a Christian in my early 20s for 4 years. Been there, done that.

I'm more interested in the practical aspects of Buddhism and less in the religious stuff.

Is Theravada a better fit for me?

What do those who are critical of the Theravada path have to say?


Opper,

From my experience it is no less religious than other traditions.

What you have here on these English Speaking forums is some sort of Westernized meeting of Buddhism. Buddhism is still largely a Culturally Asian Religion and many lay folks and monks/Nuns alike are no less irrational and superstitious than the average Christian.

Buddha founded a religion after all.

I will also caution, the type of Westerner that tends to be more attracted to the Therevadan can be somewhat athiestic and somewhat Fundamentalist in outlook. I've experienced some very disturbing experiences with people who feel the need to point people back to a book than express their own wisdom. You get that somewhat more with Westerner Therevadans.

But to their credit they tend to be more rational and focused on reality than the Western Mahayanan.

Don't think you will get a more rational/compassionate and realistic replacement for Christianity. You will experience all the same issues.

So get what you can out of fellowship here and reading the Sutras, but be less focused on debating what the passages mean and more focused on practice and living the journey to enlightenment.

I had to leave Buddhism a few years ago because I had become disillusioned with it. I was hanging/chatting with too many hardcore Western style Theravadans who were behaving no different than Fundamentalist Christians. I only realised this later on.

But it's all part of my journey.

Think about it. This tradition is focused on the original Sutras and the emphasis on the real teachings. Then combine that with a bunch of Westerners whose culture has been shaped by Christians - then you get some pretty disturbing behaviour.

All of us are humans, we all have equal value. Sometimes we need to drop the Religious BS and focus on the reality in front of our face.

Retro runs a good Forum here, and I think a lot of folks here have seen what I speak of. Not everyone is a Fundi, but it's something to watch out for.
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Pannapetar » Sun May 16, 2010 12:37 pm

Tree wrote:I had to leave Buddhism a few years ago because I had become disillusioned with it. I was hanging/chatting with too many hardcore Western style Theravadans who were behaving no different than Fundamentalist Christians.


Fascinating.

Though regrettable. I have made the discovery that virtually no field of thought, no philosophy, and certainly no religion is free of fundamentalists. Mind you, I even know some "fundamentalist" software engineers who think that procedural programming is evil and that only lambda calculus can save us. This just goes to show that even a supposedly rational field of thought has its fundies. But I am digressing. The important point is (it can't be stressed enough): neither Theravada nor Mahayana practice necessitates religion, and both do quite well without fundamentalism.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Tree » Sun May 16, 2010 1:20 pm

Pannapetar wrote:
Tree wrote:I had to leave Buddhism a few years ago because I had become disillusioned with it. I was hanging/chatting with too many hardcore Western style Theravadans who were behaving no different than Fundamentalist Christians.


Fascinating.

Though regrettable. I have made the discovery that virtually no field of thought, no philosophy, and certainly no religion is free of fundamentalists. Mind you, I even know some "fundamentalist" software engineers who think that procedural programming is evil and that only lambda calculus can save us. This just goes to show that even a supposedly rational field of thought has its fundies. But I am digressing. The important point is (it can't be stressed enough): neither Theravada nor Mahayana practice necessitates religion, and both do quite well without fundamentalism.

Cheers, Thomas



Yes. Fundamentalism is a Human trait. It's in all human endeavours.
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Zom » Sun May 16, 2010 1:47 pm

As Ven. Ratanasara Mahathera said - "Buddhism is like a tree. This tree has a pure core (those with deep practise and understanding), and a thick bark (those with all that religious ceremonies, superstitious beliefs and so on). Without a core this tree will rot. Without a thick bark it will wither. So for Buddhism to be alive both things are necessary".

So I think both branches are quite "religious", and this is good, because this provides that "thick bark". Drop away all that bark, and you will see how Buddha teachings quickly disappear. It is because of deep and may be even blind faith of buddhist lay-followers (including belief in all that cerenomies, spirits and so on) that Bhikkhu Sangha is alive even today, and it is this very Sangha that kept up Dhamma thoughout all these centuries.
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby jcsuperstar » Sun May 16, 2010 7:35 pm

the Buddha taught about the existence of many beings, he even asked his followers to show them respect (why monks cant kill plants, spirits may be living in them and he taught the practicing of metta to some monks to appease angry spirits at one time as well )

so if one was deeply apart of a culture where these other types of beings were intertwined with the world we all take as around us, it would shape the way we act in ways differently than the way a materialistic "western" mind would be shaped, and you would expect the people in this culture to act in slightly different ways.

one thing i can not recall the Buddha telling lay followers to abstain from was religion, be it asking deva, spirits or what have you for help, or sharing merit with them or whatever else gets constituted as "religious/superstitious", activity around here. now there are certain guidelines for the behavior of monks and nuns but not only do those not apply to laypersons they are not all even guides for how a layperson should act (i.e. there is no reason whatsoever that a layperson who is a businessman and a Buddhist who may have to be at certain places at specific times should have to forgo wearing a watch)

there are many things the buddha taught as not being fruitful to awakening, and there are many things the buddha taught as unwholesome, however many of the things people like to point at as lay people (especially our asian brothers and sisters) doing as somehow against or a corruption of buddhism simply havent IMO been shown via the suttas to be so. as layperson we are not asked nor required to be monastics.

so when you ask is theravada less religious than mahayana what do you mean? are Buddhists in Thailand less religious than buddhists in japan? probably not. are the theravada suttas less religious than the mahyana sutras? maybe, maybe not.
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Pannapetar » Mon May 17, 2010 3:08 am

Zom wrote:As Ven. Ratanasara Mahathera said - "Buddhism is like a tree. This tree has a pure core (those with deep practise and understanding), and a thick bark (those with all that religious ceremonies, superstitious beliefs and so on). Without a core this tree will rot. Without a thick bark it will wither. So for Buddhism to be alive both things are necessary".


This is a beautiful metaphor; thanks for sharing it. However, I kept wondering whether it is true. Let's assume that -by some miracle- all the bark people will suddenly become core people. That is, let's assume that everyone practicing ceremonies, superstitions, devotion, etc. suddenly arrives at a deep understanding of the teachings. Would that endanger the survival of Buddhism and the sangha? I doubt it. People would still build meditation halls; they would still give donations to the sangha and provide the monks with food; they would still ordain. All these actions make perfect pragmatic sense. Hence, I am not entirely sure about whether the sangha needs "bark" at all. But, let's do another thought experiment. Let's assume that -again by some miracle- all the bark people suddenly abandon Buddhism in favour of consumerism and materialism. In this case, the tree does indeed experience an existential crisis and it's survival is uncertain. The conclusion is that Buddhism depends simply on the total number of its supporters, rather than on its "bark".

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby alan » Mon May 17, 2010 5:27 am

I'm sorry but after reading that several times I still do not understand what you are trying to say.
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby alan » Mon May 17, 2010 5:51 am

Huh?
All I ask for is a simple explanation. Preferably in English.
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Anicca » Mon May 17, 2010 6:00 am

Pannapetar wrote:Hence, I am not entirely sure about whether the sangha needs "bark" at all.

Somehow the bark became the core but still functioned as the bark but it wasn't the bark - it was the core - so who needs the bark if you got the function of the bark that isn't the bark but is the core that functions the same as the core that used to be the bark but isn't anymore. Simple!

What's the matter Alan - are you really that thick? :tongue:
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby alan » Mon May 17, 2010 6:10 am

It's clear now Annica!
:smile:
Got to get back to my Koan practice. The bark is not the bark, unless you can realise the barkness inherent in the core...I get it now!
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby tiltbillings » Mon May 17, 2010 6:11 am

Anicca wrote:
Pannapetar wrote:Hence, I am not entirely sure about whether the sangha needs "bark" at all.

Somehow the bark became the core but still functioned as the bark but it wasn't the bark - it was the core - so who needs the bark if you got the function of the bark that isn't the bark but is the core that functions the same as the core that used to be the bark but isn't anymore. Simple!

What's the matter Alan - are you really that thick? :tongue:
Wow! Thanks for making the re-interpretation clearer, but then I may be barking up the wrong tree, or barking mad, or i may have barked my shins, or I may be adrift on the ocean in a barque, but i am keeping my eye out for bark-people.
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon May 17, 2010 6:11 am

Greetings,

Luckily Alan's bark is worse than his bite.

;)

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Ben » Mon May 17, 2010 6:16 am

Dear gawd!
I think I'll just go and meditate while you guys make each other giggle with these bad jokes.
Anyone else want to have a go at bark humour?
-- You've got five minutes!
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Anicca » Mon May 17, 2010 6:24 am

Ben wrote:Dear gawd!
I think I'll just go and meditate while you guys make each other giggle with these bad jokes.
Anyone else want to have a go at bark humour?
-- You've got five minutes!


:broke:
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Pannapetar » Mon May 17, 2010 6:28 am

Just one more, I promise.

You could drive this even further. Perhaps the metaphor has some validity after all, not because bark has a survival function, but because trees tend to develop bark as a consequence of some natural law, the bell curve distribution in dhamma understanding, or whatever. In this case, bark thickness would be an indicator of the size and health of the sangha and there would be a fixed relationship.

Have I sufficiently confused you now, Alan? My apologies.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby alan » Mon May 17, 2010 6:29 am

I've realized the core of the issue. We all have Bark nature. The tree is just as same as the all. To realize All, you must embrace the tree. Bark, core, all. there is no difference. To realize this is to be enlightened by the Tree-ness of all Things. I feel a wholeness with the unity of Bark nature.

Can I teach now?
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Re: Is Theravada Less "Religious" than Mahayana?

Postby Dan74 » Mon May 17, 2010 6:31 am

It'll all make sense (including koans) if you try this very Buddhist establishment, alan!

Coffee Bar K has a laundry list of high-class cocktail concoctions, all served up by Japanese bartenders trained in how-to-impress-the-ladies in their zen-like flair.

(boldface mine!)

Image

http://www.coffeebark.co.jp

PS Hugging the trees may indeed be one of the consequences!
_/|\_
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