Theravada and Mahayana

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Theravada and Mahayana

Postby Epimetheus » Sun Jun 10, 2012 4:01 pm

I'm looking to practice Buddhism, but i have some concerns on where to start. I'm wondering if anyone can help me with these beginner questions

What are the differences between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism?

If the Buddha only taught one dharma, why are there these two vehicles to choose from?

Perhaps most important: In choosing a path, how to find the best one for me?

Sorry if these question have been addressed elsewhere, please direct me there.
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby reflection » Sun Jun 10, 2012 7:06 pm

Hi dear Epimetheus,

Welcome to the board.

When I started to get more serious about Buddhism, I faced the same question. It is an often asked questions and opinions vary. Some will say the differences are very big, some will say they are virtually the same. There is something to say for both points of view, but over time I found myself mostly agreeing with the latter. Of course, there are differences, but they are far outweighted by the similarities. I could go on and explain why I think this is so, but it really comes down to just practicinig the teachings.

Therefore I would suggest just to start to meditate and train yourself in the precepts. Things will get much more clear from that than any words on similarities and differences can ever do. Through this training I found myself to have a far lesser tendency to divide things and put them into groups anyway. Therevada and Mahayana are just labels, just names, not more than that. Compare it to a soup, some bites you take have more vegetables, some have more water, some are more salty and some may have more meatballs. Still, it is all the same soup; all the same dhamma.

So, you don't have to pick a specific tradition; you can feel affiliated with many or none. But this will come over time. I think it is best to start with groups which teachers you find inpsiring. If you find the Dalai Lama inspiring, take an interest in Tibetan Buddhism. If you find Thich Nhat Hahn inspiring, take on a bit of Zen. For therevada, maybe Ajahn Sumedho inspires you. You can take bits of every teacher. It's not like a Therevadin can not learn anything from a Mahayanist or the other way around.

Personally this is how I approach Buddhism and as a result I feel very connected to all practitioners of this beautiful teaching. Others may say sticking to one tradition is more fruitful to progress. For them, this may be true. I guess we can't really argue, because it is not possible to have both experiences when being new to the path. Also, everyone is different. So you should find out for yourself.

Over time you might float towards one tradition more than the other, or you may not. But you will not have any doubt, because you are grounded in your practice. In the end this will develop your own 'tradition'. Let's call it Epimetheus-yana. (The Epimetheus Vehicle). So in reality there are millions of traditions, one for each Buddhist.

I hope my words will be a bit useful.

With metta,
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Sun Jun 10, 2012 8:40 pm

Theravada means "Teachings of the ancients." It is considered to be generally closer to the actual teachings of the Buddha. Theravada uses the Pali cannon, or Tipitaka, as its scriptures. It is most prevalent in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and other Southeastern Asian countries, and has large populations in India and Vietnam.

Mahayana means "The Great Vehicle." It developed around the time of Christ in China, Japan, and other East Asian countries. Inside Mahayana exist several subschools such as Zen, Pure Land, Nichiren, and Tiantai. There are many different Mahayana texts in many different languages, but common ones are the Heart, Lotus, and Mahāparinirvāṇa sutras.

There are many differences between the two schools. Theravada focuses heavily on meditation and strict ethical behavior in the pursuit of individual enlightenment. Mahayana (usually) focuses on devotion to a Buddha or compassion as a means towards enlightening all beings, not just oneself.

The differences are far more varied and nuanced than that. But I hope it at least gives you something to go on. Someone else with better knowledge of the subject can elaborate, I'm sure.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby Ben » Mon Jun 11, 2012 12:28 am

Greetings,

This may be a good place to start for you:
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=148
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby nobody12345 » Sat Jun 23, 2012 9:54 am

No matter how you slice it, Mahayana is a later development.
(Even Mahayana defenders agree on this point)
No commentator has wisdom that matches the Buddha so modifying/editing Dhamma is like a distorting a map.
The most beneficial and safe path one can choose is the original teaching of the originator himself (the Buddha), that is, no commentators, no modification, no dragon revealing the hidden doctrine, no the second turning of the Wheel.
So if I were you, I would stick to the 4 major Nikayas/ Theravada tradition.
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby Epimetheus » Thu Jun 28, 2012 1:09 pm

Thanks for the answers/links. Just a couple more questions:

Was wondering with regard to imaginos' comment that the Theravada tradition is closest to the Buddha's original teachings. I'm led to believe the teachings were passed verbally for many generations before being written. We could not then be entirely certain what the Buddha actually said, but the earlier the writings the more likely they were similar to the Buddha's teachings. Is this a reasonable understanding?

If there have been no further enlightened beings since Buddha, which is why we should go directly to the buddha's teachings not elsewhere, then how can we know the teachings actually work: they would seem not to be producing the desired effect. If however, beings have become enlightened from the Buddha's teachings would it not be more prudent to follow them, for they have understood the teaching and are close to us (in time if not geographically)?
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby nobody12345 » Wed Jul 04, 2012 7:30 pm

Epimetheus wrote:Thanks for the answers/links. Just a couple more questions:

Was wondering with regard to imaginos' comment that the Theravada tradition is closest to the Buddha's original teachings. I'm led to believe the teachings were passed verbally for many generations before being written. We could not then be entirely certain what the Buddha actually said, but the earlier the writings the more likely they were similar to the Buddha's teachings. Is this a reasonable understanding?

If there have been no further enlightened beings since Buddha, which is why we should go directly to the buddha's teachings not elsewhere, then how can we know the teachings actually work: they would seem not to be producing the desired effect. If however, beings have become enlightened from the Buddha's teachings would it not be more prudent to follow them, for they have understood the teaching and are close to us (in time if not geographically)?


Your concern regarding the Pali Canon/ Theravada is understandable.
So I think for you, the safest bet is to stick to the repeated themes and methodologies in the Pali Canon for practice.
If the same teachings and instructions are repeated in multiple places, then we can be sure that is the core of the core teachings of the Buddha.
So start from those repeated instructions would be the best bet for a starter.

And regarding the enlightened disciples of the Buddha, they could be Arahants but none of them are Samma-sam-buddha (fully enlightened).
So they can teach within the boundaries of the original teaching of the originator (Buddha) but cannot add new things to it or turning the second wheel of Dhamma.
(Some people think it’s ok to add new things and they are Mahayana followers.)
And whether Dhamma works or not is something you need to find yourself.
Unless one is really putting up a great effort, one would never know.
It’s really a hard work.
It’s the hardest work in the universe, to be exact.
Is it worth the effort?
If you ask me, my answer is yes.
But you do an investigation and make up your own mind since no one can determine your fate/future but yourself.
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby Dan74 » Thu Jul 05, 2012 1:15 am

In practice what I've found to be important more than the differences between schools is cultivating a strong faith and commitment to the teachings and finding an insightful teacher and supportive community of practitioners.
Last edited by Dan74 on Thu Jul 05, 2012 3:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby Magoo » Thu Jul 05, 2012 2:03 am

imaginos wrote:
Epimetheus wrote:And whether Dhamma works or not is something you need to find yourself.
Unless one is really putting up a great effort, one would never know.
It’s really a hard work.
It’s the hardest work in the universe, to be exact.
Is it worth the effort?
If you ask me, my answer is yes.
But you do an investigation and make up your own mind since no one can determine your fate/future but yourself.



I agree with you here Imaginos, but I have only recently understood this clearly. I am new to Buddhism and Dhamma. I spent the first 6 months consuming knowledge, reading and trying to understand. Along with this I mediate daily and most aften a coupel fo times a day. I was thirsty for more knowledge and to some extent...still am. As a beginner, it was always very hard to grasp, how all the teachings come together and what does Dhamma actually mean? I found myself reading a topic, reading another topic and reading another topic and then having to go back to the start or back somewher else to understand an earlier teaching once again. But I am really starting to feel and 'see' how the teachings come together and what Dhamma (Truth) actually is. I feel in a way that after much effort, the doubt and restlessness have been relieved.

So it is definately hard work and now I can definately say it is worth it.

Dhamma is so obvious once a glimpse has been presented. But the sustained effort in every moment must continue. It is becasue of this effort that many deny the Truth. Delusion will prevail for the many. But that is not my responsiblity. My responsiblity is for myself. And if I realize Dhamma this will only help myself and the many.

This is my understanding and short story any way.

With Metta
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby Kusala » Thu Jul 05, 2012 4:13 am

Epimetheus wrote:I'm looking to practice Buddhism, but i have some concerns on where to start. I'm wondering if anyone can help me with these beginner questions

What are the differences between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism?

If the Buddha only taught one dharma, why are there these two vehicles to choose from?

Perhaps most important: In choosing a path, how to find the best one for me?

Sorry if these question have been addressed elsewhere, please direct me there.


You might find this article helpful... http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/bud ... hools1.htm
Image

Homage to the Buddha
Thus indeed, is that Blessed One: He is the Holy One, fully enlightened, endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct, sublime, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.

Homage to the Teachings
The Dhamma of the Blessed One is perfectly expounded; to be seen here and now; not delayed in
time; inviting one to come and see; onward leading (to Nibbana); to be known by the wise, each for himself.
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby DarwidHalim » Thu Jul 05, 2012 7:25 am

Between Therarava and Mahayana, there is one thing for sure - you can find more similarities than differences.

In term of view, I can't find the difference. I can find even heart sutta view within Pali suttas.

However, in terms of technique of practices, they are differences.

In Theravada, good and bad is separated as something distinct. Therefore, in the way of practice, you adopt the good one, and you abandon the bad one.

However, in Mahayana, particularly Vajrayana, it is only at the beginning of your study, you are introduce to good and bad as something distinct.

At the latter part, you are introduced to the view that actually between good and bad, that interpretation is coming from your side. From the phenomena or object itself, they themselves do not have value. They are not good, bad, or neutral.

Because of that, at the advanced level, you will be trained in the situation that use your distractions or desire, or any negative things as your path. This advanced teaching is also known as using adversity as your path.

Theravada tradition have some similarity, particularly the forest tradition. However, in forest tradition, it is your physical adversities living in the forest that you use mainly as your path.

In Vajrayana, it is your destructive emotions that you use as your path. In Theravada, destructive emotion is abandoned.

But in Vajrayana, destructive emotion is used as the path. This is like you are using the poison as the medicine.

In you are extremely angry, in the beginning of Vajrayana (which is Mahayana in general), you will be taught to subdue that anger by using antidote.

But, at the advanced level, where you already have the ability to keep a distance with your anger, instead of subdue or abandon it, you should learn how to use that.

Anger has exceptional quality. Its clarity and its energy can be beyond your limit. If at that particular moment, you have the ability to stay still and just look at the nature of the anger, when it arises, and can feel the non-identity of that anger, the clarity and its intense energy can give you a very very strong impression and a very deep direct experience of anatta.

In just 1 extreme and furios anger, if you can know the nature of anger - which is anatta, and freedom - that just 1 instance is enough to give you the glimpse - what does it mean by anatta and freedom.

Another example is desire.

Do you realize that it is far far easier to be mindful when you do a meditation instead of playing your favorite game?

If you can be very mindful and fully aware and still during your game playing, meditation is peanut.

So, instead of you abandon your desire in whatever activitity, you purposely go and do it, with your awareness ability. It will improve your ability in anatta substantially.

In Vajrayana, anatta is taught to be realized in intense activitities and in poisonous activity.

Not all people are able to do it and are agree with it. Some people really have the view that this nature, this universe is really divided into good and bad. So, if you want to practice, only through the good path you can progress, not in the bad path.

But some people see that this nature is not good nor bad.Therefore, whatever path he or she uses can become the path.

In Vajrayana, attachment is used to destroy attachment. Craving is used to destroy craving. Desire is used to destroy desire.

Some use attachment, but they are getting worse in the sense they get more attachment. So, all of them really depends on your intelligence and your self-contraint. You must know your limit.

If you think it is only through the good path, your buddhahood can be achieved, Theravada is the safe bet.

But, if you naturally think in reality, there is actually no good and bad, and everything is possible as the path, it is up to you where you want to train yourself.
I am not here nor there.
I am not right nor wrong.
I do not exist neither non-exist.
I am not I nor non-I.
I am not in samsara nor nirvana.
To All Buddhas, I bow down for the teaching of emptiness. Thank You!
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby Zach » Thu Jul 05, 2012 8:37 am

This is interesting to me I come from a Mahayana background ( Kadampa ) I see no contradiction in the Union of first turning and other teachings as they are all methods for accomplishing profound paths the Great Arya Atisha was both a master of the Sravaka Tenents and the Mahayana system and was highly respected for his demonstration of pure ethical discipline and demonstration of the Bodhisattva's way of being. :)
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Jul 05, 2012 8:57 am

Zach wrote:This is interesting to me I come from a Mahayana background ( Kadampa ) I see no contradiction in the Union of first turning and other teachings as they are all methods for accomplishing profound paths the Great Arya Atisha was both a master of the Sravaka Tenents and the Mahayana system and was highly respected for his demonstration of pure ethical discipline and demonstration of the Bodhisattva's way of being. :)
Keep in mind, however, that the "Sravaka Tenent" system is not the same as the Theravada.

As Reginald Ray states in his Indestructible Truth:

    In fact, as we shall see presently, "Hinayana" ["Sravaka Tenent" system] refers to a critical but strictly limited set of views, practices, and results. The pre-Mahayana historical traditions such as the Theravada are far richer, more complex, and more profound than the definition of "Hinayana" would allow. ...The tern "Hinayana" is thus a stereotype that is useful in talking about a particular stage on the Tibetan Buddhist path, but it is really not appropriate to assume that the Tibetan definition of Hinayana identifies a venerable living tradition as the Theravada or any other historical school.." Page 240.

As Red Pine states:

    Shravaka means “one who hears” and originally referred to those disciples who actually heard the Buddha speak. Later, it was extended to include the members of such early sects as the Sarvastivadins. And later still, it was used pejoratively by Mahayana Buddhists in reference to those who sought nirvana without concern for others. It should be noted, though, that this depiction of the Hinayana was a Mahayana invention and doubtlessly included a certain amount of distortion of the actual practice of those at whom it was aimed, namely monks and nuns who followed the letter and not the spirit of the Dharma. Thus, a shravaka was often described as one who merely heard the teachings of the Buddha but did not put them into practice. – THE HEART SUTRA, page 43
.

    . . .the earlier teachings, which Mahayanists refer to disparagingly as the Shravakayana, the Pupils Vehicle, as if its followers were mere laymen and not true shramanas, when they are being polite, and as hinayana, 'inferior vehicle,' when they wish to be rude. . . INDIAN BUDDHISM A.K. Warder, pg 355
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: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby Zach » Thu Jul 05, 2012 10:07 am

tiltbillings wrote:
Zach wrote:This is interesting to me I come from a Mahayana background ( Kadampa ) I see no contradiction in the Union of first turning and other teachings as they are all methods for accomplishing profound paths the Great Arya Atisha was both a master of the Sravaka Tenents and the Mahayana system and was highly respected for his demonstration of pure ethical discipline and demonstration of the Bodhisattva's way of being. :)
Keep in mind, however, that the "Sravaka Tenent" system is not the same as the Theravada.

As Reginald Ray states in his Indestructible Truth:

    In fact, as we shall see presently, "Hinayana" ["Sravaka Tenent" system] refers to a critical but strictly limited set of views, practices, and results. The pre-Mahayana historical traditions such as the Theravada are far richer, more complex, and more profound than the definition of "Hinayana" would allow. ...The tern "Hinayana" is thus a stereotype that is useful in talking about a particular stage on the Tibetan Buddhist path, but it is really not appropriate to assume that the Tibetan definition of Hinayana identifies a venerable living tradition as the Theravada or any other historical school.." Page 240.

As Red Pine states:

    Shravaka means “one who hears” and originally referred to those disciples who actually heard the Buddha speak. Later, it was extended to include the members of such early sects as the Sarvastivadins. And later still, it was used pejoratively by Mahayana Buddhists in reference to those who sought nirvana without concern for others. It should be noted, though, that this depiction of the Hinayana was a Mahayana invention and doubtlessly included a certain amount of distortion of the actual practice of those at whom it was aimed, namely monks and nuns who followed the letter and not the spirit of the Dharma. Thus, a shravaka was often described as one who merely heard the teachings of the Buddha but did not put them into practice. – THE HEART SUTRA, page 43
.

    . . .the earlier teachings, which Mahayanists refer to disparagingly as the Shravakayana, the Pupils Vehicle, as if its followers were mere laymen and not true shramanas, when they are being polite, and as hinayana, 'inferior vehicle,' when they wish to be rude. . . INDIAN BUDDHISM A.K. Warder, pg 355


Sorry for any offence caused ! :)

So a Sravaka is one who hears the Dhamma but fails to put it into practice ? :quote:
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Jul 05, 2012 10:25 am

Zach wrote:Sorry for any offence caused !
No offense. Just giving you a bit of a different take than you might find among the Kadampas

So a Sravaka is one who hears the Dhamma but fails to put it into practice ? :quote:
Or fails to put the fulness of it into practice.
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: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Thu Jul 05, 2012 3:40 pm

Epimetheus wrote:Thanks for the answers/links. Just a couple more questions:

Was wondering with regard to imaginos' comment that the Theravada tradition is closest to the Buddha's original teachings. I'm led to believe the teachings were passed verbally for many generations before being written. We could not then be entirely certain what the Buddha actually said, but the earlier the writings the more likely they were similar to the Buddha's teachings. Is this a reasonable understanding?

If there have been no further enlightened beings since Buddha, which is why we should go directly to the buddha's teachings not elsewhere, then how can we know the teachings actually work: they would seem not to be producing the desired effect. If however, beings have become enlightened from the Buddha's teachings would it not be more prudent to follow them, for they have understood the teaching and are close to us (in time if not geographically)?

Wait wait wait there have definitely been thousands of enlightened beings since the Buddha. In the Buddha's time alone, in fact, there were hundreds and hundreds of enlightened ones who heard his teaching and were liberated.

In Buddhism, there are three types of enlightened ones. One person hears the teaching of the Buddha and becomes enlightened. One discovers enlightenment for him/herself, but lacks the ability to teach it - they call these people "private Buddhas." The final category is the perfectly self-enlightened one, the Sammasambuddha, the one who through unending wisdom and effort discovers the Dhamma and goes to teach it to everyone out of compassion. The Buddha was Sammasambuddha, and his enlightenment, although not qualitatively different from the enlightenment of any other being, was accompanied by supreme understanding and unmatched wisdom. All other enlightened ones from the Buddha to today are in the first category - they reached enlightenment because of the teaching of the Buddha, not through their own wisdom. That's what separates the Buddha from any other enlightened being.

But make no mistake, the Theravada lineage has definitely lead to quite a bit of enlightenment =]

As for the transmission of the Tipitika, or our "scriptures," for lack of a better term, it's not possible to know for sure that every single verse is accurate and straight from the Buddha's mouth. However, the themes and concepts that appear over and over again could not have possibly "slipped in" at a later date, so to speak. The Three Marks, the Four Noble Truths, rebirth, kamma, etc. all permeate the writings in the Tipitika to such a degree that it would be absurd to assume the historical Buddha didn't teach them. However, one of the great things about Buddhism is that we don't have a slavish devotion to the letter of the text; it's totally okay to be skeptical towards the complete inerrancy of every single word.

I hope that helps a bit.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Theravada and Mahayana

Postby Zach » Thu Jul 05, 2012 4:47 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
Zach wrote:Sorry for any offence caused !
No offense. Just giving you a bit of a different take than you might find among the Kadampas

So a Sravaka is one who hears the Dhamma but fails to put it into practice ? :quote:
Or fails to put the fulness of it into practice.


:anjali:
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