I wanted to post up a correspondence I had some time back with my religions professor at school. This is going to be a long post so...feel free to read the whole thing or not.
I don't know what kind of responses I want, or even why I decided to post this here. Just...perhaps it'd be of interest to some here. For ease of reading, my writing is in purple while Prof Hanson's is in black. Commentary in italics.
In response to some things she said in class that I did not fully agree with, I sent her this note:BUDDHISM READINGS
The following readings are from Thanissaro Bhikkhu, the abbott of Wat Metta in California:
This one relates to the Buddha's life story, and focuses on what motivates him to leave home:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... rming.html
This one has to do with something you mentioned in class today, namely how the Buddha avoided metaphysical speculations to a certain extent:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tions.html
This one is slightly more controversial (if controversy is indeed what you're looking for), since it challenges our traditional understanding of one of the Buddha's most basic teachings. By the way, it is also quite controversial WITHIN the Buddhist sphere, where this essay has actually gotten Ajaan Thanissaro into some trouble:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... self2.html
(the same concept in another essay, which you might find more readable):
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tself.html
Another essay in the vein of controversy, this time more looking at paradoxes within the system itself. This one is by Bhikkhu Bodhi, an american monk in Sri Lanka and the President fo the Buddhist Publication Society:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_02.html
All of these readings are quite short, 2-3 pages long, but packed with thought-provoking goodies I think.
Prof. Hanson replied:
RE: BUDDHISM READINGS
> Thank you for these. They were very interesting. I now can
> understand why you want to talk about Theravada as "religion" --- I
> might push against this in class a bit more, but it's nice to have the
> rationale to ponder.
> I appreciate these discussions on "not self". I hope you won't go
> berserk when I do have the class work on "what is self" because I
> still think that this helps capture the differences between W. thought
> and Buddhism. But there will be a resource so that the initial mis-
> impression can get corrected.
> And as you will soon see, the metaphysical one is being pressed into
> immediate service.
> So again thanks!In response both to her e-mail and to new points that had arisen in class that day, I wrote this:RE: BUDDHISM READINGS
Hi again Professor Hanson,
Don't worry about me going berserk about things. In fact that is something I wanted to mention, which is that I hope my presence in the class won't negatively influence your ability to freely teach your material. Please don't make an effort to adjust your curriculum in any way for my sake--although I am always here as a resource!
As I mentioned earlier, the "not-self strategy" is a very unorthodox Theravada interpretation anyway. Ajaan Thanissaro is something of a "sutta-only" commentator, meaning he considers the Discourses to be the only real source of the Buddha's words, and disregards the Abhidhamma and later commentaries if he feels they contradict the Suttas. In this case, I tend to agree with his interpretation, BUT in discussing Buddhism-as-world-religion, it would definitely not be fair to say that most Theravadins think in line with Ajaan Thanissaro on the "no-sel/not-self" issue. The Mahavihara, which is the most basic core of Theravadin orthodoxy, is quite explicit in stating that THERE IS NO SELF, and the majority of Theravadin scholars would line up behind this position (thus, the controversy). So, it is more of an interesting viewpoint/possibility than really "the" authoritative position.
There were a few other things I just wanted to share, in case they interested you:
(1) Regarding why the First Discourse is called the "Wheel-Turning Discourse." You may have already heard this, but at least one interpretation I have read says that the "wheel" (cakka) of the title refers to the way the Buddha describes his insights arising within the sutta: he describes each Noble Truth arising, then the realization of what must be done with each truth, then the acknowledgement that it has been done. So his insight arose in "three rounds with twelve permutations"--in other words, three steps for each of four truths. In ancient Indian logic (according to this one commentary), this form of two-tiered or cyclical analysis is known as a "wheel" and thus that section where the Buddha discusses the rounds and permutations is the "Wheel of Dhamma" (dhammacakka).
(2) One thing that wasn't brought up in the class discussion: When discussing abandoning one's societal/marital duties to seek enlightenment. Although the Buddha did not do so, the Vinaya would ultimately end up mandating that an aspirant monk had to have the permission of either his parent or his spouse before joining the monastic order. That rule came into effect during the Buddha's lifetime and still exists today.
(3) The Website where those links came from, Access to Insight, is a great resource overall for Theravada Buddhism. You might want to check out their Index of Essays by author and scan through the titles to see if there are any more readings that interest you: www.accesstoinsight.org
See you on Monday,
She responded, this time collating passages from my previous e-mail with her questions and comments:
MORE ON BUDDHISM READING/COMMENTS
> Thanks so much --- for these encouragements regarding open teaching,
> for the clarifications and for the resources. I was going to ask you
> about the website, so thanks for anticipating my question.
> There were a few things you said that I would like to respond to more
> specifically so I've "sandwiched" thoughts.
>> > (1) Regarding why the First Discourse is called the "Wheel-Turning
> > Discourse." You may have already heard this, but at least one
> > interpretation I have read says that the "wheel" (cakka) of the
> > title refers to the way the Buddha describes his insights arising
> > within the sutta: he describes each Noble Truth arising, then the
> > realization of what must be done with each truth, then the
> > acknowledgement that it has been done. So his insight arose in
> > "three rounds with twelve permutations"--in other words, three
> > steps for each of four truths. In ancient Indian logic (according
> > to this one commentary), this form of two-tiered or cyclical
> > analysis is known as a "wheel" and thus that section where the
> > Buddha discusses the rounds and permutations is the "Wheel of
> > Dhamma" (dhammacakka).
> I had NOT read this so thanks. Hmm --- was this commentary on
> a website or was this text? I am struck by the differences between
> textbook explanations and what I'm learning from you. So, in most
> textbooks that I'm still being asked to preview, the "Deer Park
> Sermon" label is still used. And when the "Wheel-Turning" is also
> noted, the title is vaguely attributed to either the 8-fold path
> (envisioned as a progression, therefore wheel-like) or as address of
> the 12 (dependent origination) schema.
> Especially now, given 3 possible interpretations, I think I
> simply will NOT address why it has the "Wheel-Turning" name and
> instead stick with "Deer Park". smile.gif Why I like to give it a name
> beyond 4 Noble Truths is that it obliquely requires someone to
> remember a bit of the Buddha's history --- asceticism, moderation
> bringing rejection by friends, then reconciliation.
> >> > (2) One thing that wasn't brought up in the class discussion: When
> > discussing abandoning one's societal/marital duties to seek
> > enlightenment. Although the Buddha did not do so, the Vinaya would
> > ultimately end up mandating that an aspirant monk had to have the
> > permission of either his parent or his spouse before joining the
> > monastic order. That rule came into effect during the Buddha's
> > lifetime and still exists today.
> This is a good point. Feel free to bring it up Monday.
> From a feminist viewpoint, though, I think we still have a
> problem. Even her eventual conversion does not alter how difficult
> his departure might have made the life of his wife. Perhaps one
> cannot project contemporary situations back on those times but I'm
> haunted by a situation I know here in Anchorage: the wife is blamed
> from the husband's suicide. The family still supports the wife and
> grandchildren but they are cruel to her.
> If projection backwards is not appropriate, the 500-600's BCE are
> near the times when the Sita model (and the word sati) were evolving
> and coming to prominence --- suggesting something about decreasing
> power of women. Thus it seems possible to me that thoguh she would
> remain in the palace as mother of the heir, would the King blame her
> for not being alluring enough or "wifely" enough to keep Siddhartha at
> home? How hard would that be to live with your in-laws after your
> husband has abandoned you? So for me, it remains an uncomfortable
> It raises what is now a contemporary problem as well. When
> is limited specific harm justified by a a larger life-giving vision?
> This is not a unique question fro Buddhism, but often Western
> stereotypes seem to take Buddhism as a more passive, always gentle, no
> harm religion. The monks' protests in Mymar echoes the dilemma of
> Siddhartha's abandoned wife. Unlike the self-immolating monks during
> the Viet Nam era (who had to receive blessing/okay from their
> superiors), these younger monks are said (ADN yesterday) to be acting
> without the approval of the older monks. Now the monasteries are
> being disbanded, martial law has been intensified and violent scare
> tactics by the govt have increased. One could argue that the monks
> actions have caused immediate harm to the broad populace. Their
> refuge, I assume, is in a larger vision. But it leaves us at an
> uncomfortable place. Is that not to say that some people become a
> means to a greater end .... or to use the US horrific euphemism, great
> visions have inevitable collateral damage? How do we reconcile this
> with an ahimsa posture?I did my best to respond to her questions as follows:RE: MORE ON BUDDHISM READINGS/COMMENTS
Hi again Professor,
So I'll try to respond to some of your points/questions, but to avoid confusion I won't do more sandwiching!
(1) Regarding wheel turning vs. deer park sermon: The "wheel" of logic explanation did come from a book--I think I read it in "In the Buddha's Words" by Bhikkhu Bodhi but it may have been in "Handful of Leaves" by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. In any case, yes, the explanation of the 8fp as the "wheel" is a common one--and the icon of the "wheel of dharma" portrayed in many Buddhist situations is in fact an eight-spoked wheel, representing the eight parts of the 8fp. This is supported by the fact that there are many suttas in which the Buddha says the 8fp is the core of his teachings, and the thing that sets him apart from other teachers. If, in the interest of avoiding confusion, you think Deer Park Sermon is best, go for it--but the students need to be at least FAMILIAR with the term "wheel turning discourse/sermon" because (thinking "global-citizen-wise") that is a term they are sure to come up against in readings about Buddhism. Might I suggest that simply calling it the "first discourse" is superior to either one? (By the way, I would doubt that the "wheel" term came from dependent origination, because the Buddha didn't discuss dependent origination in that particular discourse)
(2) Regarding the decision to leave home/abandon the family. I think in general I'm in agreement with you here. Ultimately, without the justification of the final results, the Buddha's decision to leave home was very likely troublesome--to say the least. So outside of the eventual benefit reaped from it, the action itself can't be satisfactorily justified. Many versions of the story strongly imply that Siddhattha KNEW he was destined to reach total enlightenment at the time of his going forth--if this is the case, perhaps the action could be considered a fair one. I don't know enough to speculate on how his wife was treated after he left home or the difficulties she may have faced.
Regarding the "larger question" about specific harms vs. larger visions. Buddhist scholars (just like every other kind of philosopher) have talked this one inside and out. The general understanding is this--long-term results are practically always impossible to foresee. A questionable action rarely guarantees the desired totally good results. Acting with morality from moment to moment should therefore be the focus. HOWEVER, if one is entirely positive that a negative action will have net positive consequences (such as if the results are quite obvious, or if one is, like the Buddha, gifted with the mental powers to foresee the eventual results). For instance, all Buddhists undertake a precept to abstain from killing. Most interpret this to extend to abortion as well (although I don't mean to open up that political can of worms). But take the example of the woman pregnant with two twins, and one of the twins, while still in utero, develops a disease of some kind. If that baby is not aborted, the mother and the other baby will die, but the aborting of that one life will save two others. We would say that, in this case, that abortion is justified (my apologies if that example was unecessarily graphic). But the basic fact remains that almost no case is that clear-cut. This is where pacifism and non-violence comes in. There are "worthy causes" and, in theory, "things worth fighting for" but because the results of violence are so unpredictable, and because violence--in its immediate manifestation--is always negative, 99.99% of the time it is better to abstain from it. As for the monks in Burma--anybody's guess, I'd say. They're a very hard case because they are dealing with an adversary that really has very little regard for common decency; so even non-violent action can cause considerable unanticipated harm in that case.
At this point in the class, a group of students was invited to visit my Temple. (I have skipped a few correspondences about additional links and readings that I sent her). Discussing both the visit and some matters we had talked about earlier in the day (about Thai monastic politics), I wrote:TEMPLE VISIT
Thanks for coming to the Temple tonight! I know the monks were very pleased to have all of you guys present. After the meditation, the monks actually gave us a special blessing (including a water-sprinkling ceremony), and Ajahn Lertsak taught a little yoga class! One fo the monks gave me some books to transmit to you; I'll give them to you next Monday. Robin and Jennifer and I stayed and talked past 11:00!!
I wanted to clarify something I said to you in our discussion earlier today, regarding the Thai schools of Buddhism. I didn't want to mislead you terribly by saying the Dhammayut (the royally-sponsored Monastic order) wanted to "return to the Buddha's teachings." This is not to be confused with the way the controversial author-monk Thanissaro "returns" to the Buddha's teachings. The Dhammayut really returned to Theravadin orthodoxy. This means the elimination of quasi-Mahayana, nature-worshipping, or animistic practices, but DOES include an acceptance of the Abhidhamma. One could argue that Thanissaro is even more "fundamentalist" than the founders of the Dhammayut, because he goes so far as to reject the Abhidhamma itself and focuses solely on the Sutta-pitaka. So, although Thanissaro is technically a Dhammyut monk, he is considered unorthodox even by their standards.
Also wanted to make clear that the "other" Thai monastic order, the Maha-nikaya, is so-called only because it is a large (maha) conglomeration of so many other schools, and not necessarily because of a perceived connection to "maha"yana.
In response to that note, and additional elements of the Temple hospitality, Prof. Hanson wrote:
JUSTIN & TEMPLE HOSPITALITY
> Dear Justin,
> I cannot say enough or thank you enough for your reception of us all
> and the helpful introduction to the temple. I also am so grateful to
> the monks for the unexpected talk, the warm accommodation of a crowd
> and apparently, a special blessing. It was an incredible experience
> that I was sorry to have left early.
> Obviously, there was lots of extra work on your part. Thank you for
> the time and care with the extra booklets (they did enhance the
> experience). I'm sure the classmates also appreciated the food. But
> just your willingness to be there, explain, etc. made it such an
> accessible experience (which has not been the case with some
> experiences of previous years. The monks have always been gracious
> but some students were totally lost.)
> What is the official address (and proper name) of the temple? I did
> want to send a thank you note.
> Thank you too for the on-going education. I actually know very few
> Buddhist documents by their names --- I've instead tried to distill
> the major concepts involved. So, when you talk about the Abhidhamma
> acceptance/rejection, is this in any way related to the Amidha
> Buddha .... or what content/belief is at stake here?
> Again, a huge and heartfelt thanks for the welcome and experiences of
> last night!I tried to dissect some of her questions, in addition to (as always) bringing up new issues gleaned from the lectures, thusly:RE: JUSTIN & TEMPLE HOSPITALITY
Hi again Professor,
Yes, you're welcome for the extra help/hospitality! In Buddhism we have a concept called "dhamma dana" meaning "generosity of the teachings." So sharing the Temple and the teachings is just my way of giving! Seriously, though, all glibness aside--we had such a welcoming and enriching experience at the Hindu Temple, I would hate to think that people would come to my Temple and find it uninviting, intimidating or overwhelming, or indeed anything less than the most enriching, enjoyable and educational process possible. I would hope that some found it enjoyable enough to perhaps join us again in the future, but perhaps that's not likely; who knows? And a hearty "thank you" in return to you and the other students for coming, and also for being so courteous, respectful and enthusiastic! As I've said before, I'm always ready to welcome any other students who want to make the visit. Additionally, feel free to keep hold of my contact info if you need help with facilitating more visits for future semesters!
In terms of the continuing discussion on some Buddhist history/evolution/concepts...The "Abhidhamma" (aka the Abhidharma) is the third of the Tipitaka collections (the one that, in class, you called the "further discourses"). This is basically a basket of commentaries, sometimes considered the distillation of the philosophical/metaphysical assertions of the Buddha. The Buddha taught in a very piecemeal fashion, tailoring his teaching depending on audience and other factors. So he never laid out a true, complete and comprehensive philosophical framework in which to interpret his teachings. Perhaps this is why an attempt to tackle Buddhist questions/dilemmas quickly becomes rather circular, or else runs up against a wall entirely. In any case, the Abhidhamma Pitaka is recorded in Pali and is part of the Tipitaka itself, so by all orthodox measures is certainly part of "The Canon." The traditional myth holds that the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma to the select among his disciples, but not to the whole mass (Siddhattha's former wife, in particular, was one of the masters of the Abhidhamma). HOWEVER, historical investigation finds this interpretation hard to support, and the Abhidhamma appears to have come about at least a century after the Buddha's death. Some close readers of the Suttas have come to the same conclusion, finding that some of the philosophical assertions of the Abhidhamma directly contradict things the Buddha may have said clearly in some discourse or other. Thanissaro Bhikkhu is among this number, often called the "Sutta-only" school of authors/commentators.
Some teminology-related thoughts on Monday's lecture, just for your consideration: When discussing the Tripitaka (or, in Pali, the Tipitaka) I noticed another discrepancy with the usual emic terminology (similar to the "first discourse" issue). It relates to the Abhidhamma Pitaka, which would usually be called, in emic terms, the "basket of commentaries" or else the "collection of philosophy" rather than "further discourses." The term "further discourses" might be confusing because (1) the Abhidhamma does not, strictly speaking, comprise a collection of discourses, and (2) it risks being confused with the Anguttara Nikaya (the "further-factored discourses," one of the 5 subdivisions of the Sutta Pitaka) or with the Sutta Nipata (the book of "additional discourses" in the Khuddaka Nikaya). This might all just be a lot of talk about nothing, since it doesn't seem like you focus much on that terminology anyway.
Also, a technicality relating to the term "Hinayana"--Hinayana, technically speaking, refers to ALL the Nikaya schools, not just the Theravada. You mentioned in the lecture on Ashoka that he chose the Theravada from among 19 schools extant at that time. This being before the rise of the Mahayana, all 19 of these schools (properly called the "Nikaya schools") are Hinayana. So, in fact, Theravada is a subset of Hinayana--although the only example of it extant today. The "P.C." term for these schools would be the "nikaya schools" or else simply the "early Buddhist schools."
As to the contact info for the Temple. Its official name is Wat Alaska Yannavararam. The address is 2309 D Street, ZIP: 99503. Comments should be addressed to either "Phra Maha Boonett Baukhai, The Abbot" or else simply to "The Abbot." Special thanks for the talk can be offered to "Dr. Maha Lertsak."
Now that's a lengthy e-mail!! My apologies for my own verbosity! See you next week.
The repartee continues:
CLARIFICATIONS, ADDRESSES, OFFERS
> Dear Justin,
> Again I'm in your debt. Thank you for helping with terminology, etc.
> Now different pieces are fitting together. You are right that I am
> not attempting terminology in class (people struggle to master even
> the most basic) but I'm grateful to start to gain more
> comfort/familiarity with the terms for my own benefit.
> Let me be sure I am accurately processing what you've said:
> Thanissaro Bhikkhu is in part "orthodox of the orthodox" because he
> rejects material from the 3rd Basket? And his basis for this
> skepticism is both potential dating and even more, discrepancy between
> the Buddha's more attested teachings and what is found in the
> Abhidhamma? To be honest (perhaps also very Western) it is the care
> and the close sticking to the attested teachings that help Theravada
> Buddhism be far more accessible to me than most Mahayana (Zen perhaps
> being the exception). I particularly struggle with Pure Land and
> basis is a major stumbling block for me. So that's a long way of
> saying that if I've understood Bhikku's position, I may well be one of
> his fans.
> The "further discourses" terminology comes from the same book that
> laid out the ceremony involving "shared merit" .... I might become
> more skeptical of this book!
> This ("shared merit") reminds me of a question from a post-class
> discussion with Jennifer and Robin ... a question I also had as I read
> an earlier e-mail. What would the Theravadan Buddhist mean
> by "blessing"? What did the monk believe the water signified as he
> sprinkled it on the participants? I don't think I really understand
> how an active blessing (as understood in usual English usage)
> integrates with the Theravadan teaching of individual growth toward
> enlightenment. Some thoughts around this would be very helpful.
> Hmmm --- there's seems to be disagreement as to Mahayana presence in
> the earliest years --- perhaps it varies due to author's
> allegiances? Nevertheless, "early Buddhist schools" sounds like a
> good retreat. Thanks.
> Thank you too for the correct titles and address of abbot and teaching
> monk! And, if you've seen class announcements, thanks also for the
> film info. That indeed would be a great site visit. Finally, thank
> you for the offer to be host for future semesters.... please count on
> it. I will direct students to you because the responses from this
> recent visit are very different than in previous years and I know it
> was the additional explanations and comfort you provided.
> Have a great weekend!More clarification, probing, and nit-picking from me:RE: CLARIFICATIONS, ADDRESSES, OFFERS
You're welcome as always, Professor.
Further clarification on the Thanissaro Bhikkhu matter. I think you've understood fairly well. However, I would not call Thanissaro among the "orthodox of the orthodox." He IS so in the sense that he is ordained in the Dhammayut order (that Royally-instituted Thai school that rejected animism, Mahayanism, etc etc), however he is TOO exegetically conservative to be orthodox. Again, the 3rd basket IS considered central to mainline Theravadin orthodoxy, including both the Mahavihara (the great Sri Lankan University) and the ("ultra-orthodox") Dhammayut Order. Thanissaro is one of a very few who have gone so far as to say that even THIS central doctrine of orthodoxy takes too many steps away from the most original teachings of the Buddha.
A Christian comparison might be helpful here: the Nicene Creed is widely considered the central yardstick of Orthodoxy among the many Christian denominations. Some schools, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, consider even the Nicene Creed to be a departure from the true and original message of the scriptures. By main-liners, Witnesses are considered radical and unorthodox, because they reject such a central tenet of the Faith, but the Witnesses consider themselves to be returning to the oldest, most original essence of the tradition. Does that comparison clarify matters?
A final terminological nitpick/learning opportunity: in your last message, you referred to him as "Bhikkhu" as if this were his last name. Bhikkhu means monk, and is almost universally the last part of the Pali name of any Southeast Asian monk. Western monks--like Thanissaro (who was born Geoffrey DeGraff)--almost always go by their Pali names (whereas Asian monks usually continue to go by their birth names), and so "Bhikkhu" is a totally non-specific title. It could refer to Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, Brahmavamso Bhikkhu, Nanamoli Bhikkhu. Better to call him "Thanissaro" or "Ajaan Thanissaro" or "Ven Thanissaro."
NOW, on to the "blessing" question. This is a very good question, actually, and I'm glad you asked. As in all Theravadin teaching, the ceremony is merely a vehicle for personal development. In this case, we can imagine the water as a vessel of purity and cleanliness. The holiness of the monks can heighten our spiritual awareness of what we really should be aware of every time we take a shower--"as my body is thus cleansed by the water, so let my mind be cleansed by morality and concentration." In other words, it's just mental trickery to hasten and aid our own inner practice. However, people not well-versed with the teachings, including a large proportion of lay Buddhists, would indeed consider this a blessing invoking magic, the supernatural, spirits etc etc, and may in fact be very superstitious about the whole proceeding.
There is a very good book by a Tibetan writer named Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners, in which she makes clear the ways in which even the most showy and ritualistic Mahayana practices are also just conduits for mental development. Apart from some odd teachings on the transfer of merit, all Buddhist schools still hold to the basic idea that we are responsible for our own spiritual progress. Magic and superstition are universally rejected by Buddhist schools. Even the Pure Land is only a "place where Dharma practice is easy" and not an eternal Grace or Paradise.
Finally, as to the question of the Mahayana presence in earliest years...Well, proto-Mahayana schools certainly were extant in the first few centuries, and many cite them as evidence of the historicity of the Mahayana. But, in my view, none of those schools match up exactly with what we now call the Mahayana--and in particular, the Heart Sutra and the Lotus Sutra both appeared later than 400 years after the Buddha's death (don't quote me on that exact number, though...). We don't know exactly what was in the Canons of the other dozen-and-a-half Early Buddhist Schools, because only the Theravadin Canon was written down. However, my understanding is that we can be fairly certain that the Mahayana didn't really and truly surface until at earliest the 1st century BCE. I don't know to what extent you trust Wikipedia as a resource, but the following passage confirms my own previous understanding from other readings, and I think sums it up nicely:
"The Early Buddhist schools are those schools into which the Buddhist monastic Sangha initially split, due to both doctrinal differences of opinion, and geographical separateness of groups of monks. The original Sangha split into the first early schools (commonly believed to be the Sthaviravadins and the Mahasanghikas) a significant number of years (at least 100) after the death of Gautama Buddha. Later, these first early schools split into further divisions such as the Sarvastivadins and the Dharmaguptakas, and ended up numbering about 18 or 20 schools.
"The arising of the Mahayana school of Buddhism (1st / 2nd century CE) went together with the adoption of new (previously not-existing) sutras, and introduced new (or emphasized old but not very central) philosophies such as the Bodhisattva and having the intention of liberating all sentient beings. Since this constituted a break with the previous traditions and customs that the 'early schools' had in common, the Mahayana is seen as a 'reformist' or revolutionary movement, and not included in any lists of the early schools. Also the Mahayana itself never groups itself with the previously existing schools, and groups all the earlier schools together under the name Hinayana."
Prof. Hanson's response:
STILL MORE CLARIFICATIONS!
> This is amazing stuff! Thank you! No --- it's not nitpicking! I
> actually was rather struck by the Bhikkhu name and wondered about the
> adoption of it. You cleared up the mystery. And your analogy to
> explain Thanisarro's place in the "orthodoxy/ non-orthodoxy"
> discussion was VERY helpful.
> I will pass along the blessing explanation. The Christian parallel I
> think is baptism (lay understandings over the centuries may be
> different than the ordained non-cognitive understandings. Such
> discrepancies probably help fuel the infant vs. adult baptism
> And thank you for the positive assessments of Pure Land. The
> explanation has never included "place where dharma is easier" versus a
> Paradise, so this thought is a terrific help in understanding
> I am not a great fan of Wikkipedia, but there are times it is useful.
> That could not be posted that way if it did not receive support from a
> significant number of scholars. Your help with clarification is
> highlighting for me the profound limitations of the available general
> texts on religions!
> Again my thanks for all!At this point our class moved into discussing the Mahayana. Although I am not a Mahayana expert, our discussion really picked up steam as we began to discuss the differences between the Mahayana and the Theravada:
RE: STILL MORE CLARIFICATIONS
Hello again Professor,
Thought I'd drop you a line and offer some more areas for thought after today's class discussion. Now that we're moving into the Mahayana, I'm not as deeply familiar with the system as with the Theravada material, however I have encountered enough of the Mahayana in my general-buddhism readings, as well as in many discussions with Mahayanists, to perhaps share some things of interest (as always, feel free to share this w/ Kevin). Ven. Franz will obviously know much more about these matters than I, so I'm sure he can correct me if I disseminate any misinformation! (Also, I wanted to offer my apologies for letting the overly-technical kamma discussion get somewhat out of hand today!)
First, a thought on the meaning of Bodhisattva. The meaning you presented in class today is a very standard one, and probably serves as well as any for a classroom understanding. An alternate nuance/understanding of the Bodhisattva (perhaps this is indeed a different understanding which varies from sect to sect, or maybe it's just a matter of nuance, not sure). The difference between a Bodhisattva and a normal ("Hinayana") practicioner is that of their goal. In this understanding, it's not so much that the Bodhisattva has gained perfect and enlightenment and just hangs around to help out, but actually that such a being is aiming for a different level of enlightenment. In the Mahayana "arahantship" is actually a lower level of Enlightenment than "Buddhahood." It is said that there are two kinds of ignorant "taints": afflictive taints and non-afflictive taints. Afflictive taints are those delusions or areas of ignorance that lead to suffering and cause rebirth. However, there is a class of delusions/flaws that are so subtle that they do not cause suffering, but they do keep one from clairvoyance, clairaudience, mind-reading and the other "Buddha powers" (interestingly, one of these powers is indeed the ability to continue to manifest in Samsara indefinitely despite having eliminated one's being bound to it). It is said that the Buddha had achieved an Enlightenment eliminating even the non-afflictive taints, which allowed him to be not just an ordinary wise man but the "perfect teacher of Gods and men, the unexcelled trainer of those fit to be trained." In other words, he had absolutely maximized his potential for helping other beings by amassing an arsenal of mental perfections allowing him to teach the Dhamma. An ordinary Arahant (perfecting the Hinayana path) removes all of those afflictions which bind him to samsara, but has not done the extra homework to reach the status of Buddha--he lacks the special mental powers, and additionally must leave Samsara entirely at the time of his death. It is said that the path to Buddhahood takes many more lifetimes than the Path to Arahantship. So, a Bodhisattva is one who chooses to undergo the "training of the ten (in some traditions six) perfections" which will allow him/her to achieve Buddhahood, so that their enlightenment can cause the maximum benefit for as many beings as possible. Key to this understanding is "bodhicitta" which is the spontaneous and permanent wish to achieve enlightenment FOR THE BENEFIT of all sentient beings--in the sense that all sentient beings will benefit from the eventual teachings of the totally-enlightened Buddha.
The main distinction with the Theravada (and indeed with the teachings as recorded in the Pali Canon) is the idea that the Buddha is indeed of a higher level of Enlightenment than an Arahant. The Canon seems to show that the Buddha used the term "Buddha" (awakened one) and "Arahant" (lit. noble one) synonymously, and although it does demonstrate the Buddha having special powers, it's not clear whether these are exclusive to him alone. The crucial distinction in the Theravada is between a "sammasambuddha" (a Buddha that achieves Enlightenment never having been taught the Buddha-dharma) and an arahant (one who achieves enlightenment because of being taught the Dhamma propagated by a sammasambuddha). WHEW!
A final note refers to the meaning of Refuge-in-the-Sangha within the Theravada. The introduction to "Refuge" (the green book I gave you today) contains a clear explanation of the meaning of that refuge. Thanissaro toes the orthodox line on this matter, so there is no need to worry about his own kooky interpretation sneaking in.
Another famous teacher, Ajahn Brahmavamso, has put forward the view that the ariyansangha (the community of those who have attained to some level of enlightenment) is in fact a subset of the bhikkhusangha (the community of monks) and that lay practicioners having achieved enlightenment are not worthy of salutation/refuge. This is an uncommon viewpoint. Most hold that both constitute different sorts of refuge--the bhikkhusangha is a mundane sort of Refuge, important to giving us day-to-day spiritual guidance, and to preserving the true teachings of the Buddha. The ariyansangha is a more internal refuge, we take refuge in them as symbols of the bliss available to those who practice what the Buddha taught.
As always, feel free to ask for further clarification etc.
See you next Monday,
An additional e-mail I sent her almost immediately after sending the previous one, because I had discovered something that illustrated my point:ADDITION ON BODHISATTVA
Wow, the timing on this one was perfect. One of my subscriptions is a Buddhist Newsletter called BuddhismConnect. It's a Tibetan teacher named Lama Shenpen Hookham, and the newsletter focuses mainly on her answering questions put forward by students. This particular question was about the Bodhisattva vow, and Lama Shenpen's answer dove-tails perfectly with the point I was trying to make about the Bodhisattva in my previous e-mail:
"...There are different ways of formulating the vow and I suspect the one you are referring to is the one that says 'I will not enter Enlightenment until I have delivered all beings to Enlightenment'. But that is only a figure of speech. If Bodhisattvas had to wait till all beings were Enlightened there would never be any Buddhas would there?"