beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

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beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

Postby sartre234 » Sat Mar 12, 2011 10:17 pm

Hello everybody!

Recently I have been thinking a little bit about buddhism. It looks much logical for me than religions which say that we've got one life and then what awaits for us is eternal hell or heaven. I cannot agree that our salvation must be based on faith in this or other God. However what I can fully agree with in christianity is the ideal of unconditioned love, the wish to help others avoid suffering and bring true happiness and so on.

This is why I was impressed and moved by mahayana teachings. But later, after reading more about buddhism, I came to conclusion that I cannot easily agree with those sacred texts of mahayana. They have been compiled many centuries after teachings of Sakyamuni and they look like some kind of later invention. I cannot agree with the fact that only beings in man's form are allowed to pure land of Buddha Amitabha. Those all teachings about three kayas of the Buddha also look very suspicious for me.

That's the reason why I've become interested in Pali canon Tipitaka. But then the other surprise came. For me it looks like it is all the time about getting rid of desires for sensual pleasures, becoming and non-becoming, about calming the mind, concentration, moral conduct (i.e. not to lie, steal, kill) but there is nothing about active help for the others. It looks very important for me and that's rather difficult (even if dependent arising and noble truths look logical for me) to accept that this kind of selfish, self-focused (even if there is no permanent self) spiritual growth is the real perfectness.

But again, it looks for me like mahayana is later invention, and not the teachings of Buddha. His teachings were rational, logical and those mystical traditions of e.g. Tibetan buddhism are full of mythical lifestories of bodhisattva and also not realiable stories of the previous lifes of Buddha. In other words, I feel lack of something important in buddhism based only on Tipitaka (which looks like original teachings of Buddha), I don't find mahayana teachings convincing and again, I cannot find better explanations of the existence than those given by Buddha in teachings about dependent arising.

So I have tried to find if it is possible to become a bodhisattva, according to Pali canon. By making researches I have found that there were some kings, if I remember properly, from Sri Lanka, who have made the vows that they will become fully enlightened Buddhas. I have also found that both Theravada and Mahayana agree that ideal of bodhisattva which leads to the state of samyaksambuddha is the greatest. And I also know that bodhisatta (instead of bodhisattva) is the term used in Tipitaka to speak about person on the way to buddhahood.

I have found some statement by Ven. Dr. W. Rahula which makes me confused: " But only a Buddha achieves the complete liberation from all the obstructions to the knowable, i.e., obstructions to knowledge (Jneyyavaranavisuddhi), not the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas" (http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebdha126.htm). Why is it so if nirvana is blowing out? The fire cannot be more blowed out than completely. There is no higher spiritual gain than parinirvana. However, mahayana point of view is somehow different if it says about those three kayas. For example some Buddhas like Amitabha have spent much time on accumulating the merit (if I understand it properly) in order to create those great purelands.

The other thing which is difficult for me to agree is that from Metta Sutta it looks like maitri is not so valuable. It says that a person developing the maitri (which means wishing the happiness for the others) will be reborn in Brahma world. But developing the wish for all the beings to be happy may also result in active help to beings (like Mother Teresa from Kalkula or others). So the kamma result is unfair (or, what is more probable, I don't understand it properly :p) - a person wants to help to beings but instead of having more abilities to help to the others in next life, he or she is reborn in the Brahma world. Then he or she waits there for a long time in pleasure, forgetting about spiritual growth, then is reborn on earth, hell or other place and the story begins again. In other words, maitri (metta) is useless to help to other beings. And metta is not needed at all to attain nirvana, because it is about blowing out the aggregates, kamma and so on, it doesn't have anyting in common with things like e.g. love in christianity.

What I don't quite understand why I should try to reach nirvana. I mean, I know that desire to reach nirvana is the other result of being involved in becoming, but that's not what I want to mention now. As far as I understand, nirvana is about end of suffering. But it is almost always explained in negative way. It is told that there is no suffering in nirvana. But is there any happiness in this experience? And also, the idea of heaven in christianity is much more inspiring. I don't mean that part about being unified in God, because I don't believe in such a God as in christianity, who is fully omnipotent, fully compassionate and creator of the universe at the same time. Dependent arising looks much more logical to me. However what I mean is that in heaven in christianity there is communion between all the saints. I think that wouldn't be so good to attain nirvana and then to be unable to help to the other beings. And why is this nirvana so great if there is no need for love at all to attain it? Only some kind of lack of craving and this kind of development, rather on getting rid of negative features, klesas, then on developing positive, immesurable qualities (which, again, lead only to useless Brahma world).

Please, clarify me the above things. I'm totally confused by this whole buddhism.

Regards!
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Re: beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Mar 12, 2011 10:50 pm

Hello, sartre234, and welcome to DW.
(You might like to visit 'Introductions' and tell us a little about yourself sometime.)
Your question is a good one and it has come up on DW before but I can't find the relevant threads - maybe someone else can?
To summarise them from memory: the idea that Theravada does not value altruism and compassion is just not true when you look at the Tipitaka. Rather, it seems to be something that (some) Mahayanists say about Theravada as a way of exaggerating the difference between the two paths.

What you say about Mahayana being later than Theravada is historically correct. Some of the other things you say about Mahayana teachings seem to confuse teachings of several different schools. I'm not an expert, however, and you may get better answers to those questions over on our Mahayana sibling site, Dharma Wheel (see link at bottom of page).

:namaste:
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Re: beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

Postby Ben » Sun Mar 13, 2011 6:02 am

sartre234 wrote:there is nothing about active help for the others.

While it is not explicitly mandated, as one progresses on the path, one cannot but develop the altruistic desire to help others. The accusation that the Theravada promotes a selfish path, is an old one and holds no water. Many Theravada teachers will tell you that it is impossible to help others until one has first seen to oneself's safety and wellbeing. In fact, many mahayanist and vajrayanist teachers mention "idiot compassion" - that is - the compassion of those who, like someone blind, attempting to lead someone else just as blind.

sartre234 wrote:So I have tried to find if it is possible to become a bodhisattva, according to Pali canon. By making researches I have found that there were some kings, if I remember properly, from Sri Lanka, who have made the vows that they will become fully enlightened Buddhas. I have also found that both Theravada and Mahayana agree that ideal of bodhisattva which leads to the state of samyaksambuddha is the greatest. And I also know that bodhisatta (instead of bodhisattva) is the term used in Tipitaka to speak about person on the way to buddhahood.

Ledi Sayadaw, pre-eminent Burmese scholar monk from the 19th Century, wrote a treatise on the career path of the buddhahood aspirant: Uttama Purisa Dīpanī: http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Ledi/Uttama/uttama.html


sartre234 wrote:I have found some statement by Ven. Dr. W. Rahula which makes me confused: " But only a Buddha achieves the complete liberation from all the obstructions to the knowable, i.e., obstructions to knowledge (Jneyyavaranavisuddhi), not the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas" (http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebdha126.htm). Why is it so if nirvana is blowing out? The fire cannot be more blowed out than completely. There is no higher spiritual gain than parinirvana. However, mahayana point of view is somehow different if it says about those three kayas. For example some Buddhas like Amitabha have spent much time on accumulating the merit (if I understand it properly) in order to create those great purelands.
What Dr Rahula is talking about are psychic powers which are the characteristics of Sammasambuddhas and Paccekabuddhas only. The liberative wisdom of a Buddha and a Paccekabuddha is attainable by anyone who becomes an arahant.

more later.
kind regards

Ben
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Re: beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Mar 13, 2011 7:15 am

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Mar 13, 2011 7:58 am


Thanks, Tilt. *That's* the one I was thinking of! :twothumbsup:
:namaste:
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Re: beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

Postby dhammapal » Tue Mar 15, 2011 9:16 am

Hi sartre234,

Here is a quote from a Theravadin Buddhist scholar on arahants and bodhisattvas:
Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote:Although the motivation and philosophical basis for followers of the bodhisattva vehicle differ from that of followers of the śrāvaka vehicle, the lifestyles of the two are not very different. The popular images of the withdrawn, solitary arahant, and the gregarious, super-active bodhisattva are fictions. In real life, the two resemble each other much more than one would think. The arahants, and those who seek to attain arahantship, often work assiduously for the spiritual and material improvement of their fellow human beings. The bodhisattvas, and bodhisattva aspirants, often must spend long periods in solitary meditation cultivating the meditative skills that will be necessary for them to attain Buddhahood. They will also have to study all the doctrines and the paths of the śrāvaka vehicle, yet without actualizing those paths. The bodhisattvas will have to learn to enter the meditative absorptions, practice them, and eventually master them. They will have to contemplate the three characteristics of impermanence, suffering, and non-self. They will have to acquire the insight-knowledges into the three characteristics. They differ from śrāvakas in so far as a śrāvaka aims to use the insight-knowledges to attain realization of nirvāna. A bodhisattva will link his or her practice of the path with the bodhicitta aspiration, the bodhisattva vows, and the spirit of great compassion. Sustained by these supports, a bodhisattva will be able to contemplate the nature of reality without attaining realization of nirvāna until he or she has matured all the qualities that come to perfection in Buddhahood. Among these is the perfection of giving and the conferring of benefits on sentient beings. But the greatest gift that one can give is the gift of the Dharma, and the kindest benefit one can confer on sentient beings is teaching them the Dharma and guiding them in the Dharma. Though a bodhisattva can certainly engage in social service as an expression of his or her compassion, to reach the higher stages of the bodhisattva path the aspirant will require a different range of skills than is exercised in social engagement, skills that are closer to those possessed by the arahant.
From: Arahants, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

As for heaven, I've tried in vain to get a Christian description of a heaven that doesn't involve eating food involving the suffering of other creatures. As for Brahma realms, they dwell in the Brahmaviharas the first of which is limitless metta. There is the Brahma realm called the Pure Abodes, only accessible to non-returners (anagami such as Brahma Sahampati) and I understand is a very long life-span in the company of other non-returner friends, eventually to attain final Nibbana.

As for whether it is selfish to leave samsara and attain nirvana, I found this quote:
Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:If samsara were a place, it might seem selfish for one person to look for an escape, leaving others behind. But when you realize that it's a process, there's nothing selfish about stopping it at all. It's like giving up an addiction or an abusive habit. When you learn the skills needed to stop creating your own worlds of suffering, you can share those skills with others so that they can stop creating theirs. At the same time, you'll never have to feed off the worlds of others, so to that extent you're lightening their load as well.

It's true that the Buddha likened the practice for stopping samsara to the act of going from one place to another: from this side of a river to the further shore. But the passages where he makes this comparison often end with a paradox: the further shore has no "here," no "there," no "in between." From that perspective, it's obvious that samsara's parameters of space and time were not the pre-existing context in which we wandered. They were the result of our wandering.

For someone addicted to world-building, the lack of familiar parameters sounds unsettling. But if you're tired of creating incessant, unnecessary suffering, you might want to give it a try. After all, you could always resume building if the lack of "here" or "there" turned out to be dull. But of those who have learned how to break the habit, no one has ever felt tempted to samsara again.
From: Samsara by Thanissaro Bhikkhu


With metta / dhammapal.
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Re: beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

Postby Dmytro » Wed Mar 16, 2011 7:36 am

Hello!

sartre234 wrote:So I have tried to find if it is possible to become a bodhisattva, according to Pali canon. By making researches I have found that there were some kings, if I remember properly, from Sri Lanka, who have made the vows that they will become fully enlightened Buddhas.


The full story is described here:
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 97#p106597

I have also found that both Theravada and Mahayana agree that ideal of bodhisattva which leads to the state of samyaksambuddha is the greatest.

I have found some statement by Ven. Dr. W. Rahula which makes me confused: " But only a Buddha achieves the complete liberation from all the obstructions to the knowable, i.e., obstructions to knowledge (Jneyyavaranavisuddhi), not the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas" (http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/ebdha126.htm).


I won't agree with these controversial statements by Walpola Rahula. He presents an old Mahayana attempt to downplay the Arahant ideal.

Best wishes, Dmytro
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Re: beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

Postby Dan74 » Wed Mar 16, 2011 10:01 am

Hi Sartre234!

Yes, everything you say is true - Theravada is really selfish. Go instead to Dharma Wheel or Zen Forum International which the Theravadins here have selfishly helped set up for their superior Mahayana brethren.

And yes, Mahayana is a later updated and improved version of Buddhism. Just think of Theravada as a trusty old Windows 98 and Mahayana as Vista!

OK, seriously the point I am trying to make (yes, there is a point) is that all such assertions and platitudes have very little if anything to do with the way people actually practice in whatever school of Buddhism. The best was to choose a school is, in my opinion, to visit some local temples/ centres (do some research on them beforehand to make sure they are not suss, no scandals or nasty controversies) and see what clicks.

---Edited for spelling (freudian?) slips.
Last edited by Dan74 on Wed Mar 16, 2011 10:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

Postby Bodhisurfer » Wed Mar 16, 2011 12:50 pm

Dan74 wrote:....

OK, seriously the point I am trying to make (yes, there is a point) is that all such assertions and platitudes have very little if anything to do with the way people actually practice in whatever school of Buddhism. The best was to choose a school is, in my opinion, to visit some local temples/ centres (do some research on them beforehand to make sure they are not suss, no sandals or nasty controversies) and see what clicks.



:clap: :thumbsup:
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Re: beginner's question about metta (maitri) and bodhisatta

Postby Nibbida » Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:58 am

Ben wrote:
sartre234 wrote:there is nothing about active help for the others.

While it is not explicitly mandated, as one progresses on the path, one cannot but develop the altruistic desire to help others. The accusation that the Theravada promotes a selfish path, is an old one and holds no water. Many Theravada teachers will tell you that it is impossible to help others until one has first seen to oneself's safety and wellbeing. In fact, many mahayanist and vajrayanist teachers mention "idiot compassion" - that is - the compassion of those who, like someone blind, attempting to lead someone else just as blind.



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