Re: Theravada vs. Mahayana

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Posted by David on December 11, 1998 at 11:35:46:

In Reply to: Theravada vs. Mahayana posted by Joe on December 08, 1998 at 10:48:53:

Hi Joe,

How they came to differ I am not sure. I read or heard somewhere that in India, sometime after the historical Buddha's passing away, monks and nuns began to lose contact with the people. That many of them began to practice "just for themselves" and there was not a lot of interaction with the public anymore. It was also said that in response to this, some Masters initiated the teachings now called Mahayana as an expedient to redirect the Buddhist practice back to one strongly concerned with the helping others attain liberation. When the Buddha was alive, he encouraged his disciples to go to different areas to practice and beg so that many people could recieve merits from making offerings and come in contact with the Dharma. This is what I have heard, but I can no loner cite a source for this.

I, like you, would very much like to hear from others who know more about this!

As for all the celestial beings, powers, miracles and gods in the Mahayana Sutras, I have been surprised at how common place these things actually are in Theravada Sutras (Suttas). I have recently started reading the Majjhima Nikaya, the middle length discourses of the Buddha - one of the 4 divisions of the Pali Canon of Suttas spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha. I have only studied 8 of them so far (started last week), but there are many things said about celestial beings, powers, and gods. I can't recall any miracles as of now.

For example, in the introduction there is mention of the 6 realms in Buddhist cosomology which encompasses many various heavenly realms. Furhter, in the (8 that I've read) Suttas themselves there are many sections that refer to these various heavenly realms and their sub-realms, as well as those that abide there. One celestial subject very much discussed is the non-returner Arahant who abides in a celestial abode until attainment of Buddhahood. As for powers, I am still surprised at how much the supranormal powers are discussed in these Suttas. Such as knowledge of past live, reading others' minds, etc. I, like you perhaps, previously thought that Theravada was very earthly oriented. Gods are also mentioned. For one, in reference to the Buddha as teacher of humans and gods. And in one Sutta the Buddha speaks of the misperception of some of these gods in particular heaven realms that mistake themselves as outside of the cycle of birth and death and believe they are the (or a) eternal creator. I believe he was telling this to a Noble Brahmin man who came to ask the Buddha questions.

Finally, in the introduction, the translator monk mentioned that one Sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya is of the Buddha speaking the Dharma in a heavenly realm for those in that realm. I have not read that one yet though. Nor do I know how many such Sutta exist in the Digha Nikaya (long discourses) or the two collections of short discourses.

So, maybe Theravada and Mahayana aren't so different as we thought. Maybe one is just a expedient variation of the other meant to adjust the practice of some Buddhists in a certian way at a certian time under certain circumstances. And, so, a new school is born. Just a possibility.

What were the accounts of the Buddha's life you read from the two traditions?


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