Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines?

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Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines?

Postby Caldorian » Thu Mar 27, 2014 10:28 am

I'm interested in sources that try to delineate Theravādin doctrinal stances in relation to the common Mahāyāna doctrines (e.g., Madhyamaka, Yogācāra, Tathāgatagarbha).

The thing is, I practice in two traditions, Theravāda and Sōtō Zen, and I actually feel that it is a helpful and good combination for a variety of reasons. Doctrinally, I feel much more at home in the Theravāda and my instinctive reaction to teachings tends towards the Theravādin perspective, as far as I understand. By reading up on the history and development of Buddhism, I have a good passing understanding of the most important Mahāyāna (at least non-Vajrayāna) doctrines and I can kind of the see some of their points, even though I am pretty sure that many criticisms against the Abhidhammic schools do not really apply to the Theravāda as it stands today. For instance, from what I learned of both Abhidhamma and Madhyamaka, the Theravādin Abhidhamma does not reify Dhammas in the way the Sarvastivāda did. So, it seems to me that it's not really a contradiction to follow the Theravāda while also acknowledging the Madhyamaka's criticism as valid (with regard to Sarvastivādin doctrine, that is).

Anyway, I think it's very important to have a clear understanding about what each tradition teaches and how these teachings relate to each other in order to minimise doctrinal confusion in the long term. Since I consider myself more at home in the Theravāda, it would be nice to have some references when confronted by Zen-/Mahāyānist opinions about the Dhamma. That's why I'm interested on what modern Theravādin scholars think about the developments in the Mahāyāna.

Thanks in advance! :anjali:
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby boris » Thu Mar 27, 2014 3:11 pm

Mahāyāna is based (I am speaking only of the philosophical aspect) on two wrong views. (i) That all our normal experience is merely appearance, behind which there lurks Reality (which it is the business of the yogin to seek out), and (ii) that what the Buddha taught was that this Reality behind appearance is the non-existence of things. We can sum this up by saying that Mahāyānists (generally speaking—and also many Theravādins) hold that the Buddha taught that things do not really exist, but only appear to, that this apparent existence is due to avijjā or ignorance.


http://nanavira.org/index.php/letters/p ... -july-1963

Mahāyānists accept the Pali Suttas (at their own valuation) and then claim to go beyond them (rather as Hegelians claimed to have gone beyond Christianity, by mediation in a higher synthesis). The Mahāyānists interpret the Pali Suttas (with which they are usually not very well acquainted) to conform with their own ideas; and the trouble is that there is much in the current orthodox Theravādin interpretation of the Pali Suttas to support the Mahāyānist contention. (An English bhikkhu with Theravāda upasampadā uses these interpretations to ridicule the Theravādin claims to be different from Mahāyāna; and so long as these interpretations are allowed to be orthodox it is not easy to challenge his argument.)

I think I told you some time ago (in connexion with Huxley and chemical mysticism) that the Mahāyānist view can be summed up in two propositions, the first common to all mystics, and the second supposed to represent the Buddha's solution to the problem raised by the first.

(i) Behind the ordinary appearance of things there lies Reality, which it is the task of the Yogi to seek. Existentialist philosophers do not go as far as this: if they admit such a Reality—Jaspers, for example—they qualify it by saying that it is necessarily out of reach. See Preface (m).

(ii) Reality is the non-existence of things. In other words, things do not really exist, they only appear to do so on account of our ignorance (avijjā). (George Borrow[1] tells of a Spanish gypsy in the last century whose grandfather held this view, so it hardly needs a Buddha to declare it. It seems to be closely allied to the Hindu notion of māyā—that all is illusion.)

Now the Pali texts say that the Buddha taught anicca/dukkha/anattā, and the average Theravādin, monk or layman, seems to take for granted that aniccatā, or impermanence, means that things are perpetually changing, that they do not remain the same for two consecutive moments. Failing to make the necessary distinctions (see PATICCASAMUPPĀDA [c]), they understand this as implying perpetual flux of everything all the time. This, of course, destroys the principle of self-identity, 'A is A'; for unless something endures unchanged for at least a certain interval of time you cannot even make the assertion 'this is A' since the word 'is' has lost its meaning. Bypassing dukkha as something we all know about, they arrive at anattā as meaning 'without self-identity'. (This is Mr. Wettimuny's theme,[2] following Dahlke. I do not think he is aware that he is putting himself among the Mahāyānists.) Granted the premise that anicca means 'in continuous flux', this conclusion is impeccable. Unfortunately, in doing away with the principle of self-identity, you do away with things—including change, which is also a thing. This means that for the puthujjana, who does not see aniccatā, things exist, and for the arahat, who has seen aniccatā, things do not exist. Thus the Mahāyānist contention is proved.

The difficulty arises when we deal with the sekha, who is in between the two; are we to say for him that 'things partly exist and partly do not exist', or that for him 'some things exist and some do not' (in which case we seem to have Eddington and the quantum theory)? The former, no doubt, would be preferable, but what is one to make of a partly non-existent thing? And in any case we have the curious state of affairs that there is change (or impermanence) only so long as it is not seen; for in the very instant that it is seen it vanishes. (This is certainly true of avijjā—see A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §24—but the vanishing of avijjā, as I understand it, leaves impermanence intact and does not interfere with the three Laws of Thought.)
http://nanavira.org/index.php/letters/p ... ember-1963
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby Coyote » Thu Mar 27, 2014 3:47 pm

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ttvas.html

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ature.html

http://www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/1390.html as well as the "emptiness" series on here, there doesnt seem to be a main link for the series as a whole. http://www.audiodharma.org/teacher/16/ . There may also be a few others on mahayana themes.
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby culaavuso » Thu Mar 27, 2014 4:58 pm

Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu has written an essay A Verb for Nirvana which discusses the misunderstanding of "some philosophers in India" which is a Mahayana view on the nature of Nibbana.

Parinirvana in Mahayana describes Nirvana as "Self" and "Eternal". This idea is discussed in Vedanta and Buddhism: A Comparative Study as a Vedanta influence.

Ajahn Punnadhammo has a blog post titled You Say Nirvana, I Say Nibbana.

Ven. Dr. W. Rahula wrote the article Theravada - Mahayana Buddhism
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Mar 27, 2014 6:18 pm

Here's a discussion on practice (not so much doctrine): http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 20#p210963
See, in particular Dan's comments a couple of posts down from that point.

:anjali:
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby Bakmoon » Fri Mar 28, 2014 9:39 am

This is just personal opinion, but I think that Madhyamaka is almost totally compatible with the Theravada. There are a few things that aren't (The only thing that comes to mind is the interdependence of Samsara and Nirvana, but I think even then there are different ways of understanding it that don't necessarily contradict the Theravada school.) but for the most part, I think Theravada and Madhyamaka have a lot more in common than they have differences. In fact, I have talked to people who consider themselves to be Madhyamaka Theravadins and I considered them to be largely orthodox in their understanding of Theravada.

There are definitely Mahayana ideas that do contradict Theravada Buddhism, however, such as the idea in some schools that Arahats attain only a temporary Nirvana and are latter called back, the teaching of the three bodies, and the teaching on the existance of pure lands, for example, but I don't think that these teachings are talked about much in Soto Zen.

I think the main elephant in the room so-to-speak is the Mahayana teaching of the Tathagatagarbha, or teaching that all sentient beings posses Buddha nature. It is an important teaching in the Soto Zen school and forms the basis for some of their meditation theory. There are several different ways that this teaching has been understood historically, and sometimes the Tathagatagarbha has been taught to be one's true self, which obviously contradicts Theravada teaching (I think the Mahayana texts the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, and maybe the Srimaladevi Sutra take this position) but for the most part the Tathagatagarbha hasn't been understood to mean that in East Asian Buddhism.I think some other interpretations of it are still problematic (such as the interpretation that all beings already posses an enlightened mind and it merely needs to be recognized) but other understandings of it are less problematic (for example if it means that all beings possess the potential for awakening).

All in all, I think that Soto Zen only has a few doctrinal issues from a Theravada perspective, and certainly in terms of actual practice, the differences aren't necessarily all that big at all.
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby Caldorian » Fri Mar 28, 2014 9:57 am

Thank you all for your help so far. I'm slowly working myself through the linked content. :)

Especially Bhikkhu Thanissaro seems to have spent some time on talking about Mahāyānist ideas. So far, I have only listened to his talk about Buddha-dhātu. While I see his points, especially that the concept of Buddha-dhātu is essentially superfluous (at least for sāvakayāna practicioners in Theravāda and other schools, I guess), I don't find all of his arguments very convincing. Actually, some of them seemed to be very artificial (like the "sliming" anecdote). I also feel that he ignored a bit the split between gradual and sudden enlightenment schools in Mahāyāna. Interestingly, I think that a lot Tathāgatagarbha literature definitely seems at odds with the Theravāda; so, he could have had much stronger arguments against the idea.

In any case, this is all very helpful! :thumbsup:
Next I will read the two letters by Bhikkhu Ñānavīra.
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby Caldorian » Fri Mar 28, 2014 10:10 am

Bakmoon wrote:All in all, I think that Soto Zen only has a few doctrinal issues from a Theravada perspective, and certainly in terms of actual practice, the differences aren't necessarily all that big at all.


I agree with you, Bakmoon. And I also think that the Buddha-nature and the idea of sudden enlightenment are the biggest fields of contention between Theravāda and Zen practice.

That said, the zazen/shikantaza practice itself is pretty sound in my opinion and experience, even though I sometimes get the feeling that it represents a longer and more subtler approach than the more systematic ones. Also, I think what actually hampers many zazen practicioners (at least in my Saṅgha) is that they put very little focus on cultivating sīla and mettā.
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby Caldorian » Fri Mar 28, 2014 10:21 am

culaavuso wrote:Parinirvana in Mahayana describes Nirvana as "Self" and "Eternal". This idea is discussed in Vedanta and Buddhism: A Comparative Study as a Vedanta influence.


Yes, I already read about the hidden atta belief in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra.

I'm looking forward to reading the article by Glasenapp. Actually, I have a 1st edition of his "Brahma und Buddha" from 1926 on my bookshelf and should check it out when I find the time; I bought it originally because Glasenapp lived, taught, and died in Tübingen, my home town for over a decade (and home to my Alma Mater).


======== EDIT: ========

What occured to me when I read the letters by Bhikkhu Ñānavīra is how easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking of the Mahāyāna as a consistent entity. The propositions that he ascribes to the Mahāyāna are only true for a subset of Mahāyāna schools. For instance, I suspect that the Prasaṅgika school of Madhyamaka would deny these propositions. The problem is that the Mahāyāna schools amongst themselves have so different and sometimes contradictory ideas and definitions that it's hard to have a good intra-Mahāyāna dialogue, let alone a fruitful Theravāda-Mahāyāna dialogue. So, if there is not even a single definition of śūnyatā and svabhāva in Mahāyāna, of course, it's very difficult for Theravādin commentators to make accurate comparisons. Image

Hm, I slowly come to the conclusion that this is only a path towards more papañca... :toilet:
Maybe it would be best for me to largely ignore Zen doctrine and stick to the Suttas (e.g., the Brahmajāla Sutta) for the time being? Or maybe I should get a clearer grasp of what Dōgen actually thought and then seek specific Theravādin sources for those ideas?
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri Mar 28, 2014 11:48 am

Actually, the view of reality in chan / zen seems to be summed up in the lankavatara sutra "Things are not as they seem, nor are they otherwise." Which is a long way from "nothing really exists".
As far as the hidden atta, i recently read a philosopy snippet somewhere on the net that classified theravada buddhism as one of the "ideal self" philosophies. You only need to look at my sig to see why.


I see alot of criticism of mahayana buddhism on this board and much of it is qoutes from people who obviously have no idea what they are talking about and who are spreading sectarian poison imo just to make themselves look wise. If you want to know what mahayana buddhism is about you should ask a mahayana teacher. Also, mahayana buddhism is not some monolithic dogmatic belief structure. So generalizations with a view to screaming heresy are useful only if you enjoy getting worked up about nothing or are interested in putting a few philosophical notches on your gun.
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby Caldorian » Fri Mar 28, 2014 1:53 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:Actually, the view of reality in chan / zen seems to be summed up in the lankavatara sutra "Things are not as they seem, nor are they otherwise." Which is a long way from "nothing really exists".
As far as the hidden atta, i recently read a philosopy snippet somewhere on the net that classified theravada buddhism as one of the "ideal self" philosophies. You only need to look at my sig to see why.


I haven't read the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra myself and I don't really intend to do so. I can only refer to what I read about it (e.g., in Andrew Skilton's "A concise history of Buddhism" which I really liked).
With regard to the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, I haven't read it yet, although I recently purchased Red Pine's translation of it and will read it when I find the time.

However, I don't know exactly what you refer to when you write "Which is a long way from 'nothing really exists'." because I don't remember anyone making this claim here. Or did I miss something?

m0rl0ck wrote:I see alot of criticism of mahayana buddhism on this board and much of it is qoutes from people who obviously have no idea what they are talking about and who are spreading sectarian poison imo just to make themselves look wise. If you want to know what mahayana buddhism is about you should ask a mahayana teacher. Also, mahayana buddhism is not some monolithic dogmatic belief structure. So generalizations with a view to screaming heresy are useful only if you enjoy getting worked up about nothing or are interested in putting a few philosophical notches on your gun.


I am a bit confused about whom you are addressing with your post, m0rl0ck. :? Your post reads like an admonishment for something that did not occur in this thread.
Neither do I see any divisive posts in this thread, nor does it help me to ask for the opinion of Mahāyāna teachers for answering the questions I had.
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby Bakmoon » Fri Mar 28, 2014 2:04 pm

Caldorian wrote:
Bakmoon wrote:All in all, I think that Soto Zen only has a few doctrinal issues from a Theravada perspective, and certainly in terms of actual practice, the differences aren't necessarily all that big at all.


I agree with you, Bakmoon. And I also think that the Buddha-nature and the idea of sudden enlightenment are the biggest fields of contention between Theravāda and Zen practice.

That said, the zazen/shikantaza practice itself is pretty sound in my opinion and experience, even though I sometimes get the feeling that it represents a longer and more subtler approach than the more systematic ones. Also, I think what actually hampers many zazen practicioners (at least in my Saṅgha) is that they put very little focus on cultivating sīla and mettā.


Believe it or not, I personally don't think that the idea of sudden enlightenment is in conflict with Theravada Buddhism at all. There are many accounts of people becoming awakened suddenly by just hearing the Buddha teach, and in the Theragatha and Therigatha there are many stories of Monks and Nuns awakening as the result of some sort of surreptitious experience such as blowing out a candle. The Theravada school regards these kinds of experiences as being preceded by training, but the experience of enlightenment itself is quite often a sudden one.

I would also agree with you that the practice of Zazen is a valid method. I don't have a detailed understanding of how it is practiced (in fact, I would be extremely grateful if you could explain it in some detail) but from what I have understood of it, it seems to be quite compatible with Theravada theory and practice, and I don't think it really needs to be modified at all.
The non-doing of any evil,
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The cleansing of one's own mind:
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby beeblebrox » Fri Mar 28, 2014 2:32 pm

Caldorian wrote:However, I don't know exactly what you refer to when you write "Which is a long way from 'nothing really exists'." because I don't remember anyone making this claim here. Or did I miss something?


Hi Caldorian,

Ven. Nanavira seemed to make that claim (quoted in the second post), and then tried to construct his argument around it. I thought that Morlock made a good point... we can't expect a Theravadin practitioner to be familiar about what is actually involved in Mahayana, and then to say something reliable about it.

I think this is like asking a Republican to give his opinion about what a Democrat does, or asking a Protestant what he thought about Catholicism. (Not that I'm saying these are analogous to what Theravada or Mahayana believe.) You just can't expect them to give you information that would be unbiased, reliable or accurate.

I think the most that you can get from this thread is to learn how some Theravadin practitioners would interpret the Mahayana teachings (usually they do this from within the framework of their own teachings), but you will not get much about how the Mahayana practitioners actually put those into practice.

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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby culaavuso » Fri Mar 28, 2014 6:33 pm

Caldorian wrote:The problem is that the Mahāyāna schools amongst themselves have so different and sometimes contradictory ideas and definitions that it's hard to have a good intra-Mahāyāna dialogue, let alone a fruitful Theravāda-Mahāyāna dialogue.


Another point to consider is whether these ideas are answering skillful questions. Some of these doctrinal differences seem to stem from answering questions that the Buddha put aside.

AN 3.67: Kathavatthu Sutta wrote:Monks, it's through his way of participating in a discussion that a person can be known as fit to talk with or unfit to talk with. If a person, when asked a question, doesn't give a categorical answer to a question deserving a categorical answer, doesn't give an analytical (qualified) answer to a question deserving an analytical answer, doesn't give a counter-question to a question deserving a counter-question, doesn't put aside a question deserving to be put aside, then — that being the case — he is a person unfit to talk with. But if a person, when asked a question, gives a categorical answer to a question deserving a categorical answer, gives an analytical answer to a question deserving an analytical answer, gives a counter-question to a question deserving a counter-question, and puts aside a question deserving to be put aside, then — that being the case — he is a person fit to talk with.


A long discussion of these kinds of questions can be found in the book Skill in Questions by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

There is a possibility that the answers to such questions could be known to be true, but if the Buddha put them aside then that suggests that the answers are not beneficial. As such, this would suggest that declaring the answers would be wrong speech

MN 58: Abhaya Sutta wrote:In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
...
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.


Another possibility is that they are true and beneficial, but not timely. This idea is suggested when the claim is made that the Buddha had secret teachings that were not shared openly.

DN 16: Maha-parinibbana Sutta wrote:I have set forth the Dhamma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; there is nothing, Ananda, with regard to the teachings that the Tathagata holds to the last with the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some things back.


AN 7.51: Avyakata Sutta wrote:Because of the cessation of views, monk, uncertainty doesn't arise in an instructed disciple of the noble ones over the undeclared issues. The view-standpoint, 'The Tathagata exists after death,' the view-standpoint, 'The Tathagata doesn't exist after death,' the view-standpoint, 'The Tathagata both does and doesn't exist after death,' the view-standpoint, 'The Tathagata neither does nor doesn't exist after death': The uninstructed run-of-the-mill person doesn't discern view, doesn't discern the origination of view, doesn't discern the cessation of view, doesn't discern the path of practice leading to the cessation of view, and so for him that view grows.


MN 63: Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta wrote:So, Malunkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared. And what is undeclared by me? 'The cosmos is eternal,' is undeclared by me. 'The cosmos is not eternal,' is undeclared by me. 'The cosmos is finite'... 'The cosmos is infinite'... 'The soul & the body are the same'... 'The soul is one thing and the body another'... 'After death a Tathagata exists'... 'After death a Tathagata does not exist'... 'After death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist'... 'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,' is undeclared by me.

And why are they undeclared by me? Because they are not connected with the goal, are not fundamental to the holy life. They do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That's why they are undeclared by me.


On Wikipedia there is the quote on the Bodhisattva page
Wikipedia wrote:According to the doctrine of some Tibetan schools ... It is held that Buddhas remain in the world, able to help others ...


This view seems to find support in the Flower Adornment Sutra.

Another interesting difference to consider is that the suttas say that attaining noble right view means no more than seven lives remaining. This doesn't seem to leave room for the view that a being with noble right view could choose to be reborn more than seven times in order to work on improving pāramitā.

SN 13.8: Samudda Sutta wrote:In the same way, monks, for a disciple of the noble ones who is consummate in view, an individual who has broken through [to stream-entry], the suffering & stress that is totally ended & extinguished is far greater. That which remains in the state of having at most seven remaining lifetimes is next to nothing: it's not a hundredth, a thousandth, a one hundred-thousandth, when compared with the previous mass of suffering. That's how great the benefit is of breaking through to the Dhamma, monks. That's how great the benefit is of obtaining the Dhamma eye.


There remains the possibility that these statements could be understood as false by their teachers but merely used as a way to develop a certain attitude or perspective in students.

MN 61: Abhalatthika-rahulovada Sutta wrote:Rahula, whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is tossed away just like that.
...
Rahula, whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is turned upside down just like that.
...
Rahula, whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is empty & hollow just like that.


Bakmoon wrote:Believe it or not, I personally don't think that the idea of sudden enlightenment is in conflict with Theravada Buddhism at all. There are many accounts of people becoming awakened suddenly by just hearing the Buddha teach, and in the Theragatha and Therigatha there are many stories of Monks and Nuns awakening as the result of some sort of surreptitious experience such as blowing out a candle. The Theravada school regards these kinds of experiences as being preceded by training, but the experience of enlightenment itself is quite often a sudden one.


Ud 5.5: Uposatha Sutta wrote:Just as the ocean has a gradual shelf, a gradual slope, a gradual inclination, with a sudden drop-off only after a long stretch; in the same way this Dhamma & Vinaya has a gradual training, a gradual performance, a gradual practice, with a penetration to gnosis only after a long stretch.
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri Mar 28, 2014 8:58 pm

Caldorian wrote:
I am a bit confused about whom you are addressing with your post, m0rl0ck. :? Your post reads like an admonishment for something that did not occur in this thread.
Neither do I see any divisive posts in this thread, nor does it help me to ask for the opinion of Mahāyāna teachers for answering the questions I had.


My post was mostly a reaction to the nanavira qoutes above, sorry i should have made that clearer.
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby Bakmoon » Fri Mar 28, 2014 9:01 pm

culaavuso wrote:
Bakmoon wrote:Believe it or not, I personally don't think that the idea of sudden enlightenment is in conflict with Theravada Buddhism at all. There are many accounts of people becoming awakened suddenly by just hearing the Buddha teach, and in the Theragatha and Therigatha there are many stories of Monks and Nuns awakening as the result of some sort of surreptitious experience such as blowing out a candle. The Theravada school regards these kinds of experiences as being preceded by training, but the experience of enlightenment itself is quite often a sudden one.


Ud 5.5: Uposatha Sutta wrote:Just as the ocean has a gradual shelf, a gradual slope, a gradual inclination, with a sudden drop-off only after a long stretch; in the same way this Dhamma & Vinaya has a gradual training, a gradual performance, a gradual practice, with a penetration to gnosis only after a long stretch.


As I said, the path itself is indeed a gradual one, and it is necessary to work along it for a long time, but once one is accomplished in the path, realization can come spontaneously. The Uposatha Sutta is talking about the gradual nature of the path, not about realization itself. Even this sutta itself mentions a drop-off after a long stretch, indicating at least the possibility of sudden awakening.
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby culaavuso » Fri Mar 28, 2014 9:39 pm

Bakmoon wrote:As I said, the path itself is indeed a gradual one, and it is necessary to work along it for a long time, but once one is accomplished in the path, realization can come spontaneously. The Uposatha Sutta is talking about the gradual nature of the path, not about realization itself. Even this sutta itself mentions a drop-off after a long stretch, indicating at least the possibility of sudden awakening.


Uposatha Sutta seems to reference realization itself as "penetration to gnosis" which parallels the "sudden drop-off after a long stretch" portion of the description of the ocean.

One example of this in the suttas is Ud 1.10, where Bāhiya had for a long time practiced wholesome behavior enough to be venerated but did not "even have the practice whereby [he] would ... enter the path of arahantship". After one discourse from the Buddha he was able to become an arahant "right then and there".

Ud 1.10: Bāhiya Sutta wrote:I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Sāvatthī at Jeta's Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika's monastery. And on that occasion Bāhiya of the Bark-cloth was living in Suppāraka by the seashore. He was worshipped, revered, honored, venerated, and given homage — a recipient of robes, alms food, lodgings, & medicinal requisites for the sick. Then, when he was alone in seclusion, this line of thinking appeared to his awareness: "Now, of those who in this world are arahants or have entered the path of arahantship, am I one?"

Then a devatā who had once been a blood relative of Bāhiya of the Bark-cloth — compassionate, desiring his welfare, knowing with her own awareness the line of thinking that had arisen in his awareness — went to him and on arrival said to him, "You, Bāhiya, are neither an arahant nor have you entered the path of arahantship. You don't even have the practice whereby you would become an arahant or enter the path of arahantship."
...
Then Bāhiya, hurriedly leaving Jeta's Grove and entering Sāvatthī, saw the Blessed One going for alms in Sāvatthī — serene & inspiring serene confidence, calming, his senses at peace, his mind at peace, having attained the utmost tranquility & poise, tamed, guarded, his senses restrained, a Great One (nāga). Seeing him, he approached the Blessed One and, on reaching him, threw himself down, with his head at the Blessed One's feet, and said, "Teach me the Dhamma, O Blessed One! Teach me the Dhamma, O One-Well-Gone, that will be for my long-term welfare & bliss."
...
Through hearing this brief explanation of the Dhamma from the Blessed One, the mind of Bāhiya of the Bark-cloth right then and there was released from effluents through lack of clinging/sustenance. Having exhorted Bāhiya of the Bark-cloth with this brief explanation of the Dhamma, the Blessed One left.
...
"Monks, Bāhiya of the Bark-cloth was wise. He practiced the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma and did not pester me with issues related to the Dhamma. Bāhiya of the Bark-cloth, monks, is totally unbound."
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby Caldorian » Sun Mar 30, 2014 10:27 am

Bakmoon wrote:I would also agree with you that the practice of Zazen is a valid method. I don't have a detailed understanding of how it is practiced (in fact, I would be extremely grateful if you could explain it in some detail) but from what I have understood of it, it seems to be quite compatible with Theravada theory and practice, and I don't think it really needs to be modified at all.


Actually, there is not much to it:

In my Saṅgha (AZI in Europe), they put a lot of emphasis on posture. They tell you exactly how to sit and walk (kinhin), and to be honest, they are a bit dogmatic about it.* In fact, I don't even believe that Dōgen Zenji was this specific with regard to the posture, at least it didn't sound like that when I read the chapter on zazen in his Shōbōgenzō. Anyway, you sit with your eyes half open, and they tell you to breathe naturally and observe your mind without noting or clinging. In fact, they don't even tell you to break a chain of thought by noting, like we are often taught in vipassanā, they just tell you to let the thoughts float away without engaging them. They also recommend you to put a lot of attention on your posture, so I guess you could interpret this as an undirected mindfulness of bodily sensations.

They also do kusen (verbal instruction) in the course of meditation from time to time, that is, the head of the group either talks about the correct posture or gives some other discourse on the Dhamma; so, it's basically a mix of Dhamma talk and sitting meditation. Oh, and they use the kyōsaku (hitting the shoulder muscles with a wooden stick) if you ask for it, which I really like because it actually helps with concentration and muscle tension.


* For instance, I was told twice by a senior member that my cushion was too small, that I was sitting to "low" for the full lotus, and that my posture would result in back pains. I must admit that I ignored his admonishment because, well, in contrast to said senior member, I actually sit in the full lotus and I have based my posture on my own experiences in that asana, so that I can sit a full hour in it, and I even know at least one senior bhikkhu-cum-yoga teacher and also sits pretty low in the full lotus. (They aren't all like that in the AZI; the head of my then local dōjō didn't see the need to correct my posture, unless I got adrift in thought and let my chin wander upwards. His corrections were always helpful and accurate...)

beeblebrox wrote:Ven. Nanavira seemed to make that claim (quoted in the second post), and then tried to construct his argument around it. I thought that Morlock made a good point... we can't expect a Theravadin practitioner to be familiar about what is actually involved in Mahayana, and then to say something reliable about it.

m0rl0ck wrote:My post was mostly a reaction to the nanavira qoutes above, sorry i should have made that clearer.


Ah, yes, thanks. Hm, the problem is that you can't expect Theravādin practicioners to know Mahāyāna or Mahāyāna practitioners to know Theravāda. However, this way both sides will continue to misrepresent each other and no meaningful dialogue emerges. :shrug:

I was very impressed and thankful when I had a short retreat with the Czech Bhikkhu Dhammadīpa who is both a scholar in Theravāda and Mahāyāna and could give very interesting and differentiated answers about both traditions. Incidentally, he had also trained Sōtō before he became a Theravādin bhikkhu and encouraged me to continue my zazen practice.

culaavuso wrote:Another point to consider is whether these ideas are answering skillful questions. Some of these doctrinal differences seem to stem from answering questions that the Buddha put aside.


A very good point, culaavuso, and thank you for the quotes! I really should read Thanissaro's book; is there a hardcopy version of it? (I don't really read pdfs on the computer.)

In any case, that's what I meant when I said that is seems like it's dangerous to lose myself in conceptual proliferation about questions that are not directly relevant to my practice.
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Re: Sources for Theravādin perspective on Mahāyāna doctrines

Postby culaavuso » Sun Mar 30, 2014 5:24 pm

Caldorian wrote:I really should read Thanissaro's book; is there a hardcopy version of it? (I don't really read pdfs on the computer.)


Wat Mettavanaram has a free book program that currently has Skill in Questions listed as one of the available books.
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