Having said that, I have some friendly questions regarding Theravada Buddhism that I've been wanting to ask for a long time. My questions are specifically related to Theravada Buddhism as it's commonly practiced in Theravada countries.
Firstly, what is the meaning and purpose behind devotionalism to the Buddha in Theravada, if it's believed that, since passing away into final Nibbana, he's inaccessible to us in the here and now?
Please forgive me if I'm wrong that the view of Nibbana being extinction and oblivion is not common in Theravada countries, though it is a common Western view.
Furthermore, why is there a common stereotype that Theravada is primarily a monastic movement, not intended for lay people? The fact that countries like Thailand and Cambodia are 95% Theravadan sort of calls this stereotype into question.Others still take it even further, for example the famous Ajahn Mun, who stated that the Buddha even talked to him during his deep meditation experiences, suggesting that the Buddha is at some place in a Buddha-land or Buddha-field. A sizable number of Thai Theravada Buddhists believe that Ajahn Mun and his Dhamma successor, Ajahn Boowa, were fully enlightened arahants. This view is also similar to notions found in other Dharmic paths and also in Mahayana Buddhism.
This passage from the Pali scriptures strongly suggests that the Dhamma is for everyone, whether monastic or laity:
I've also seen this translated as "...are all headed for heaven or beyond."Bhikkhus, the Dhamma well proclaimed by me thus is clear, open, evident, and free of patchwork. In the Dhamma well proclaimed by me thus, which is clear, open, evident, and free of patchwork, those who have sufficient faith in me, sufficient love for me, are all headed for heaven.
http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/middle-l ... pama-sutta
Another thing worth noting is that, like in Mahayana countries, only a minority of Buddhists in Theravada countries engage in seated, silent meditation on a regular basis. Even in Theravadan monastic communities, such meditation is traditionally done by a minority of monks on a regular basis.
Please forgive me if I'm wrong on this. I just don't like it when Western Theravadans, like Western Zennists, look down on other Buddhists for not meditating, especially considering that the vast majority of Asian Buddhists, whether Mahayana or Theravada, don't fit their narrow definition of Buddhism.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Western Theravadans might look at devotion to Guanyin or Avalokitesvara and other Mahayana practices for health and good luck to be superstitious, but one would have to ignore the devotion to Avalokitesvara that continues to this day in countries like Shri Lanka, as well as the widespread devotion to Phra Phrom, the four-faced Buddha, in Thailand.
The last question I have for now is this. I am thinking about buying a Thai amulet on Ebay for spiritual protection. Have you ever known of a Mahayana Buddhist who wore a Thai amulet? Would that be a good idea? I know that there's a good number of Chinese Mahayana Buddhists living in Thailand who've adopted Thai Buddhist practices.
Thank you for letting me ask these questions. The primary reason why I became a Mahayana Buddhist is because none of the local Theravada priests spoke English fluently. Things might have turned out a lot differently in other circumstances.