The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby cooran » Tue Oct 20, 2009 6:53 pm

Hello Doctor Who,

Thanks for confiding in us - definitely not a diatribe. This simply mirrors the journey many of us have taken and are still on. I myself went from devout Christian (and I mean devout - communicant, sunday school teacher, youth groups, marriage, kids in Church Schools and following the same pattern .... then, disillusion, finding Buddhism, finding Theravada, moving into Vajrayana, then Dzogchen. Attending retreats and teachings, weekly practice groups, hundreds of [expensive] books, travelling to see Teachers and receive empowerments and on and on and on.) Then back to my "Hearts Home" ... Theravada. And who knows what this mind-stream has done in other lifetimes?

But - that is Sa.msara "The Wandering On". Unless we progress on the Path to Nibbana, we are doomed to repeat all this tiresome suffering again and again and again and again.

In the Buddha's day, writing was just for things like government and commerce. and there was widespread illiteracy. For really important things, where it was critical that no alteration occur ( as can happen so very easily, deliberately or accidentally when writing is used) - the Oral Tradition was used. The Buddha instituted in his lifetime the Chanting Together by large groups of specially designated Bhikkhus - the Bhanakas (Hearers). The Bhanakas had portions of the Teachings allocated to each group, and so there were The Digha Bhanakas, The Majjhima Bhanakas etc.

It was only hundreds of years later in Sri Lanka, in a time of famine and warfare, with many bhikkhus dying, and with Buddhism all but wiped out in India, that the MahaSangha decided the Buddhist Canon and its commentaries needed to be written down.
They were engraved on Ola Leaves. Many of us have been to Sri Lanka and have had the inestimable good fortune to have seen demonstrations of this being done at the ancient rock temple of Aluvihara Temple (where the Tipitaka was originally written down) in the Matale district 26 km from Kandy.

The Suttas are rather like the memory prompts - the dot points of the most important information to be transmitted - similar to those a public speaker carries on a little card in his hand. Anything that is repeated is to be seen as something important which was highlighted by the repetition.

As I understand it, the Pali Suttas are teaching vehicles whose meanings are densely packed layer on layer. They are not to be read as an ordinary page of print, but require 'unpacking' by someone learned in the Dhamma. This condensed form was necessary in order that the Teachings would not be lost in the years before they were finally put into writing. It allowed them to be memorised by the large groups of bhikkhus (bhanakas) assigned to each portion of the Tipitaka. They are not verbatim reports of chats and conversations. This memorisation is said to have commenced before the parinibbana of the Buddha.

"Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata -- deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness -- are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.' That's how you should train yourselves." (Ari sutta).
Venerable Mahá Kassapa, the elected head of the First Council. Cúlavagga Xl,1,1 (ii,284) reiterated:
"Come, friends: let us recite the Teaching and the Discipline before what is not the Teaching shines forth and the Teaching is put aside, before what is not the Discipline shines forth and the Discipline is put aside, before those who speak what is not the Teaching become strong and those who speak what is the Teaching become weak, before those who speak what is not the Discipline become strong and those who speak what is the Discipline become weak."
metta
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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Doctor Who » Tue Oct 20, 2009 6:58 pm

Thank you
and a big

AHA!!!!

Venerable Mahá Kassapa, the elected head of the First Council. Cúlavagga Xl,1,1 (ii,284) reiterated:
"Come, friends: let us recite the Teaching and the Discipline before what is not the Teaching shines forth and the Teaching is put aside, before what is not the Discipline shines forth and the Discipline is put aside, before those who speak what is not the Teaching become strong and those who speak what is the Teaching become weak, before those who speak what is not the Discipline become strong and those who speak what is the Discipline become weak."
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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Dhammakid » Tue Oct 20, 2009 8:58 pm

Wonderful, Chris. I learned quite a bit from that.

:anjali:
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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby BlackBird » Tue Oct 20, 2009 9:21 pm

Thank you so very much Chris

:anjali:
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Doctor Who » Wed Oct 21, 2009 2:58 am

I know eh! thought about this tonight at work.

like i said big Ah Ha/eureaka moment.
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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Wed Oct 21, 2009 7:43 am

Wonderful post Chris, my own trajectory follows a very similar pattern, Christianish home, teenage rebellion, Theravada, Vajrayana, back to Theravada with a huge sense of relief in my case. It felt like I had switched off a huge blaring radio which was sending out programmes that seemed less and less to do with me.
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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Dhammakid » Wed Oct 21, 2009 1:32 pm

Although I'm still young, my spiritual journey has been similar. I was a devout Christian in high school. When I got to college, everyone started questioning my beliefs and I was forced to answer questions I had never been asked. Of course, that made me start questioning as well, and I eventually rejected religion altogether. Then I discovered mindfulness and did some research on it, and stumbled upon Buddhism. Access to Insight was the first web resource I began reading regularly, so Theravada became my first love. Then it was on to Zen, back to Theravada, back to Zen, back to Theravada...I even explored Sikhism for a while, and at one point became interested in Vajrayana. Now I've settled on Theravada for the time being. But who knows - anicca proves me wrong every time, and there's no telling what I'll be doing in the future. However, I am rather sure it will be some form of Buddhism.

Goes to show you that no matter how hard you try to find it, there is no truth outside of this mind. I just gotta do the work of taming this monkey.

Looking back on my path, I guess it's part of the reason why I have a hard time fully embracing the Mahayana. I mean, sure, one can make the vows to become a Buddha and to practice alongside a Buddha. But judging from the majority of stories I've heard from fellow practitioners, it just doesn't seem likely that many of us have the sharp faculties it takes to achieve Buddhahood. Though I guess it's not fair to judge that on this lifetime alone. If you have forever to achieve something, chances are quite in your favor to achieve it...

I don't know. I mean, a part of me believes that the best way to benefit all sentient beings is to show them liberation is possible and then help them get there along with you. If it's true that the vow to save all sentient beings isn't literal, and that there is indeed an end to the bodhisattva path, and that you can make such vows while practicing Theravada, then why practice Mahayana at all? I guess if you enjoy the cultural trappings going along with it, then sure. Mahayana has a real nice, pretty, shiny, colorful package with their product, but when it comes down to it, it's not too different.

I've been watching the "Discovering Buddhism" series videos put together by the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, which are all available on YouTube. They are pretty good videos I must say. The teachers are excellent and the format really appeals to the Western audience. I find that when I watch them, I can see myself practicing Vajrayana quite easily. I guess this is just another sign that the mind is so easily influenced and unpredictable.

Okay I'm rambling now.

:anjali:
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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Dmytro » Thu Oct 22, 2009 4:07 am

Hi Peter,

What seems to be a difference if held to be literal is the idea that a Bodhisattva can somehow postpone their Buddhahood.


It's interesting that in early Mahayana people would intentionally refrain from practices that could lead to stream-entry, with the ambition to develop parami for much more that seven lifetimes.

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Oct 22, 2009 4:30 am

Hi Dmytro,
Dmytro wrote:It's interesting that in early Mahayana people would intentionally refrain from practices that could lead to stream-entry, with the ambition to develop parami for much more that seven lifetimes.

Isn't the Theravada position also that Gotama Buddha did this? I.e. he could have become an Arahant when he met Dipankara Buddha, but chose the Buddha route...

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Dmytro » Tue Oct 27, 2009 6:47 pm

Hi Mike,

Isn't the Theravada position also that Gotama Buddha did this? I.e. he could have become an Arahant when he met Dipankara Buddha, but chose the Buddha route...


No. In this story from Dhammapada-Athakatha there's no notion of such 'routes'.

Sumedha. The Bodhisatta in the time of Dīpankara Buddha. He was a very rich brahmin of Amaravatī, and, having left the world, became an ascetic of great power in the Himālaya. While on a visit to Rammma-nagara, he saw people decorating the road for Dīpankara Buddha, and undertook to do one portion of the road himself. The Buddha arrived before his work was finished, and Sumedha lay down on a rut for the Buddha to walk over him. He resolved that he, too, would become a Buddha, and Dīpankara, looking into the future, saw that his wish would come true. This was the beginning of Gotama Buddha's qualification for Enlightenment. J.i.2ff.; DhA.i.68; Bu.ii.5ff.; SNA.i.49;

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_n ... umedha.htm


What's interesting in this story is that the wish to become a Buddha may or may not come true.

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Dan74 » Tue Oct 27, 2009 10:43 pm

I hope Pannasikhara weighs in, but it is certainly true that the notion of a Bodhisattva deliberately delaying enlightenment is not universally accepted in Mahayana.

Rather the Bodhisattva from his/her infinite compassion, resolves to re-enter this realm but is not "stained" by it. "In the world, but not of the world" to borrow a Christian phrasing.

I think it is clear from many Mahayana scriptures that advanced Bodhisattvas (like Vimalakirti) have eliminated defilements and passed the arahat stage.

_/|\_

PS The Bodhisattva Vows is just one of the differences. It's significant because of the strong orientation towards others, but to me perhaps a more visible day-to-day practice difference is in upaya - the various skillful means in letting go of defilements and realizing the nirvana, as well as a close contact with a teacher on this journey.
_/|\_
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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Wed Oct 28, 2009 2:33 am

Dan74 wrote:I hope Pannasikhara weighs in, but it is certainly true that the notion of a Bodhisattva deliberately delaying enlightenment is not universally accepted in Mahayana.


Correct.

Or rather, for the early Mahayana, they only delay "realization of the reality limit" (= nirvana) to the extent that they have not yet fulfilled the various qualities that are specific to Buddhas (and not other Arhats), such as the 4 intepidities, etc. But, once these are fulfilled, then they realize nirvana, become a Buddha, and turn the wheel of Dharma, etc.

As one can see, this is different from the notion of delaying until all beings are liberated.

Hence the saying, I'll quote Nagarjuna in his Bodhisambhara Sastra:
《菩提資糧論》卷4:
「菩薩煩惱性  不[1]是涅槃性
 非燒諸煩惱  生菩提種子」
(CBETA, T32, no. 1660, p. 533, a23-24)
[1]是涅槃性=斷是涅槃【宋】【元】【明】【宮】。

The Bodhisattva is of the nature of the defilements,
Not the nature of nirvana.
It is not by the burning up of the defilements,
The the seeds of bodhi are born.

Some would probably argue that this is some sort of "bodhi = klesa" argument.
But, in this context, it is not. It is just that the bodhisattva needs to remain in samsara until their other "requisites of awakening" (bodhisambhara) are fulfilled.

Rather the Bodhisattva from his/her infinite compassion, resolves to re-enter this realm but is not "stained" by it. "In the world, but not of the world" to borrow a Christian phrasing.


There are various positions on what exactly keeps them in samsaric rebirth. At first, at least, they still have defilements. Later, it becomes reliant on their training in sunyata, without realization of sunyata.

I think it is clear from many Mahayana scriptures that advanced Bodhisattvas (like Vimalakirti) have eliminated defilements and passed the arahat stage.

_/|\_


I wouldn't say "passed" the arhat stage. The Vimalakirti is a fairly early Mahayana text, in the same broad family as the Prajnaparamita, and (first) Surangama Samadhi Sutra, and also the Amitabha and Aksobhya texts. (We later see that Vimalakirti is a bodhisattva from Aksobhya's Pureland named Abhirati.) So, rather than "passed", it is maybe more accurate to just say that they are on a different track. In the Mahaprajnaparamita Upadesa, it explains that in terms of realization of nirvana, actually the Arhats are obviously ahead of the Bodhisattvas (any and all bodhisattvas), because the bodhisattvas have not realized nirvana / the reality limit. However, in usual Mahayana style, the great bodhisattvas have other qualities that may surpass those of the arhats.

PS The Bodhisattva Vows is just one of the differences. It's significant because of the strong orientation towards others, but to me perhaps a more visible day-to-day practice difference is in upaya - the various skillful means in letting go of defilements and realizing the nirvana, as well as a close contact with a teacher on this journey.


Because the early Mahayana argued that one has to stay in samsara for some time to arise various buddha-qualities, one requires a huge amount of merit. Hence, even whilst a householder, one can practice this path to a fair depth. It is very difficult to argue that of two bodhisattvas, one a celibate monk or nun in secluded meditation, and the other a layperson engaged in charity work, that either of them is possibly further advanced along the bodhisattva path. (Though it may be argued, very tentatively, that one would be able to achieve nirvana sooner. But, as shown above, this is a characteristic of Arhats and Buddhas, but not necessarily of bodhisattvas.)
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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Dan74 » Wed Oct 28, 2009 9:01 am

Thanks for clearing that up, Bhante!

I think that now that there is an expert on the board, I should just keep quiet rather than muddy the waters (or go back to playing bad chess!)

_/|\_
_/|\_
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