Could the Bodhisattva ideal have something to do with cultural differences between India and China? India has always had a tradition of holy wanderers, accepting the benefits to society of such a person as given and without need of outlining, whereas Chinese sages, e.g. Lao Tzu, Confucius, have always had to justify their existence and maintenance by reference to the needs of their community? So Mahayana became popular in China and the areas influenced by Chinese thought, since Mahayana Buddhism focuses on, for better or worse, how an enlightened person is useful to others. Whereas Theravada took root in those countries which were influenced by Indian thought; indeed, Thai Buddhism continues with the ideal of the forest dwelling, wandering contemplative, whereas Chan and Zen are more like Western church/monastic communities, with defined responsibilities to the laity.
We tend to characterise Western society as 'free' compared with other cultures, but actually, it is not so much that we are free as that the marketplace is free to assign us flexible roles. We are still expected to demonstrate measurable benefits to our community, hence the perceived threat that the influence of Indian culture posed to our society in the 1960s. This would explain the greater popularity of the Mahayana in the West.
The reason why India accepts the wandering monk as being useful without demanding spreadsheets and cost analysis, is perhaps because India historically has had so many contemplatives who did prove useful, so that confidence in the tradition has become ingrained and no longer requires justifying.
Last edited by Cafael Dust
on Fri Apr 13, 2012 10:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
Not twice, not three times, not once,
the wheel is turning.