Altruism and compassion in Mahayana and non-Mahayana Buddhis

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Altruism and compassion in Mahayana and non-Mahayana Buddhis

Postby himalayanspirit » Thu Jul 07, 2011 9:38 am

Since I am not an expert at Buddhism, and in fact an explorer who, for some reasons (past life connections?), gets drawn towards Buddhism a lot (especially towards Mahayana), I am not opening this thread as a debate between Mahayana and Hinayana, but as a means to understand both further.

Mahayanists claim that one should walk the path of Buddhadharma by developing compassion and their accusation against Thervada and Hinayanists is that they are selfish who are working for their own enlightenment. Now two points here:

1. Hinayanists, more so than Mahayanists, emphasize the concept of no-self, where as Mahayanists emphasize the concept of emptiness of both self and dharmas. So how and why are the Hinayanists accused of being egoists who only want "self-liberation"?

2. Usually the Thervadin and other Hinayanist monks stay in monastery and regularly interact with people, give them discourses on dharma and often also exclusively indulge in philanthropic practices for the benefit of many. Where as there are many Mahayanists, especially Vajrayanists, who go into seclusion into a cave and work towards enlightenment. So isn't it hypocritical for Mahayanists to claim that they are helping all sentient beings where as Hinayanists are not helping any being except themselves?
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Re: Altruism and compassion in Mahayana and non-Mahayana Buddhis

Postby Indrajala » Thu Jul 07, 2011 11:06 am

himalayanspirit wrote:1. Hinayanists, more so than Mahayanists, emphasize the concept of no-self, where as Mahayanists emphasize the concept of emptiness of both self and dharmas. So how and why are the Hinayanists accused of being egoists who only want "self-liberation"?


They seek arhatship which is the cessation of their rebirth and suffering, not the end of suffering for all sentient beings.



2. Usually the Thervadin and other Hinayanist monks stay in monastery and regularly interact with people, give them discourses on dharma and often also exclusively indulge in philanthropic practices for the benefit of many. Where as there are many Mahayanists, especially Vajrayanists, who go into seclusion into a cave and work towards enlightenment. So isn't it hypocritical for Mahayanists to claim that they are helping all sentient beings where as Hinayanists are not helping any being except themselves?


You misunderstand. Few Buddhists become hermits. The majority, whether they be Mahāyānist or not, live within society.

The Mahāyānist yogi who secludes him or herself away from people does it out of a motivation to be of ultimate benefit to sentient beings. Providing food, teaching dharma and aiding ordinary people is noble, praiseworthy and virtuous, but if they achieve great realization, then they are in an optimal position to aid beings because they have profound wisdom. To obtain this may require isolation from society, politics and people.
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Re: Altruism and compassion in Mahayana and non-Mahayana Buddhis

Postby ground » Fri Jul 08, 2011 2:53 am

himalayanspirit wrote:2. Usually the Thervadin and other Hinayanist ...


If you study the sutta pitaka which is the basis of the Theravada you will find out that the ideal of practice taught there is both the benefit for oneself and others. So your equating Theravada with Hinayana is caused by lack of knowledge.
If Hinayana is understood as a selfish motivation of striving only for one's own benefit then it may be present among both, Mahayanists and Theravadins if one puts aside occurrences of lip service because motivation refers to the individual and the root of the individual's actions and not to the teachings.
Mahayana in contrast to Theravada however claims that the only means to achieve both benefit for oneself and others is to become a Buddha. This of course is not found in the sutta pitaka but is a later innovation of Mahayana sutras where also the concept of "Buddha" has undergone some change in meaning.

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Re: Altruism and compassion in Mahayana and non-Mahayana Buddhis

Postby kalden yungdrung » Fri Jul 08, 2011 11:01 am

himalayanspirit wrote:Since I am not an expert at Buddhism, and in fact an explorer who, for some reasons (past life connections?), gets drawn towards Buddhism a lot (especially towards Mahayana), I am not opening this thread as a debate between Mahayana and Hinayana, but as a means to understand both further.

Mahayanists claim that one should walk the path of Buddhadharma by developing compassion and their accusation against Thervada and Hinayanists is that they are selfish who are working for their own enlightenment. Now two points here:

The Yungdrung Sempa / Bodhisattva develops Compassion + Wisdom. So compassion without Wisdom is acting like a fool whereas Wisdom without Compassion is cold.

1. Hinayanists, more so than Mahayanists, emphasize the concept of no-self, where as Mahayanists emphasize the concept of emptiness of both self and dharmas. So how and why are the Hinayanists accused of being egoists who only want "self-liberation"?

Well inside the Theravadas, only the monks can attain Buddhahood. The laymen serve the monks by food etc. and so they can become monks in their next life and attain Buddhahood by the Vinaya status. In Mahayana they are more liberal and explain that everybody can attain Buddhahood because of the inherent Sugatagarbha. I guess this is the main difference between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism.


2. Usually the Thervadin and other Hinayanist monks stay in monastery and regularly interact with people, give them discourses on dharma and often also exclusively indulge in philanthropic practices for the benefit of many. Where as there are many Mahayanists, especially Vajrayanists, who go into seclusion into a cave and work towards enlightenment. So isn't it hypocritical for Mahayanists to claim that they are helping all sentient beings where as Hinayanists are not helping any being except themselves?


Yes i know that some Thai monks take care of the Tiger babies, they save them and help them to grow up. Yes that is a form of compassion and also the Thai monks have a special programm for addicted people who abuse drugs also a very + deeds with a good motivation based on compassion. Yes i agree that some Vajrayana adherents call the Theravadas "Hinayana" and they insist on that name. The Theravadas repeatedly made the remark to be called Theravadins instead of Hinayana and here i saw also the non flexability of some Buddhists to insist to call them Hinayana's nevertheless the special request of those Theravadins.

The latter (Hinayanana) means little vehicle and it sounds like discriminating. It sound like Maha is bigger and better maybe?
All what the Buddhas did declared, is of great value / importance for us all, or very precious and this does count for Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, as well Bon and Dzogchen teachings, done by all those (countless)Buddhas.

So is is a grave mistake if the other vehicles would discriminate towards the so called " lower " paths and i agree fully it is hypocratical if some Buddhists do discriminate in that way. But i met inside Buddhism many senseless discriminations based on mediaval lineage agreements / politics. One gets used to it after some time. :D

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Re: Altruism and compassion in Mahayana and non-Mahayana Buddhis

Postby Jangchup Donden » Mon Jul 11, 2011 1:21 am

Yes i know that some Thai monks take care of the Tiger babies, they save them and help them to grow up.


Not trying to knock Theravada, as I've benefitted greatly from it's teachings and think it's an authentic means to realization, but having the intention to benefit some sentient beings out of compassion is significantly different from having the intention to benefit all sentient beings out of compassion and to remain in samsara until they all have been freed from stuffering.

I do think that Theravada can produce Bodhisattvas, and that there are probably a few Bodhisattva Theravadin practitioners, but I don't think it is the main presentation or goal of that school of Buddhism.
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Re: Altruism and compassion in Mahayana and non-Mahayana Buddhis

Postby ronnewmexico » Mon Jul 11, 2011 5:25 am

I would suppose a Theravadan may consider this a very noble and great aspiration ...."to benefit some sentient beings out of compassion is significantly different from having the intention to benefit all sentient beings out of compassion and to remain in samsara until they all have been freed from stuffering".....but considering the constraiants of our reality...quite a impossible or unrealistic one.

That said..... then the question would be..... why hold any aspiration which cannot be filled even if a great one?

I really don't think it is ever a question of inferior compassionate intent that is the marker of T as opposed to M. There are other reasons.

On the original statement, there are, multiple reasons one may stay in isolation for spiritual purpose, and multiple reasonsone may instead do compassionate acts of giving . Both T and M have adherants to isolation for spiritual purpose to my knowledge. Both have monastic members who do not to my knowledge as well.
Theravadan differs significantly from nation to nation and from culture to culture. EAch unique culture has a differing unique response to theravadan. Those blanket statements to my knowledge are only true in very general terms.
"This order considers that progress can be achieved more rapidly during a single month of self-transformation through terrifying conditions in rough terrain and in "the abode of harmful forces" than through meditating for a period of three years in towns and monasteries"....Takpo Tashi Namgyal.
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Re: Altruism and compassion in Mahayana and non-Mahayana Buddhis

Postby Jangchup Donden » Mon Jul 11, 2011 6:11 am

ronnewmexico wrote:I would suppose a Theravadan may consider this a very noble and great aspiration ...."to benefit some sentient beings out of compassion is significantly different from having the intention to benefit all sentient beings out of compassion and to remain in samsara until they all have been freed from stuffering".....but considering the constraiants of our reality...quite a impossible or unrealistic one.


I think that's a pretty often case actually. But I guess that would be an instance of someone not being predisposed to the Mahayana path -- which is fine, not everyone has to be.

That said..... then the question would be..... why hold any aspiration which cannot be filled even if a great one?


Well, even in the Pali Cannon, the Buddha made that aspiration and became a Buddha, so I think there is an acknowledgement of it and it's possibility.

I really don't think it is ever a question of inferior compassionate intent that is the marker of T as opposed to M. There are other reasons.


I'm not quite sure bout that. They say what separates Hinayana from Mahayana is the intention of a Bodhisattva. But like I said before, I don't think all Theravadins are Hinayana practicioners (sorry for using the H word).

On the original statement, there are, multiple reasons one may stay in isolation for spiritual purpose, and multiple reasonsone may instead do compassionate acts of giving . Both T and M have adherants to isolation for spiritual purpose to my knowledge. Both have monastic members who do not to my knowledge as well.


Many Pali Suttas describe Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis (although in the case of Bhikkhunis they would go in pairs or small groups because of their vows) going into isolation to achieve Arahantship. The Buddha himself did it before reaching enlightenment. So did Ananda, and many many others. So I think Buddhism has a strong and long tradition of isolated retreat, achieving enlightenment, and then teaching.
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Re: Altruism and compassion in Mahayana and non-Mahayana Buddhis

Postby ronnewmexico » Mon Jul 11, 2011 6:17 pm

Well the difference between T and M lies in the respective understandings of what it is the buddha stated.

T holds the buddha did become enlightened and then decided to teach with input from others.
M, holds to a entirely different pardigam,(very generally) the buddha as example or ementation and not person.

So from that extend two differing ways of looking at things. ONe states notions such as bodhistavva, another states notions of compassion but with certain restrictions upon it. REstrictions based in their consideration of how things are. Notions of bodhisttava also extend from how this thing is looked at.

IN M one must firstly be a bodhistavva to become enlightened,and a certain process is entailed. IN T the enlightenment is of a differing sort and one as human may becoome enlightened.
Meaning.....it is all in the specifics of this thing. Compassionate intent is present in both in equal amounts within their adherants.Substantiation in scripture may be found in both.

The bottom line remains.....T's do not think things can be done in the M fashion. M's are similiar in that regard.
Who is right or wrong....I personally suppose the notion of bodhisttava is one that is required to attain full enlightenment.
In action in this world the realm.....both have equal force for compassion and have evidenciary of equal amounts of the leaders and their followers. This as in all things human varies from century to century and from leaders to leaders and from peoples to peoples depending upon circumstance.

The notion....we must firstly be a bodhisttava and return time after time.....truth being realistically....none of us are there, though many may verse and have that intention. So really in the end the practical difference between t's and m's in this realm at this time....not a whit.
Those that are there are real bodhisttava's and not just those hallowly parrotting words that they know not the complete implication are few.
To few to make discussions such as these...basically irrelevent. For someone who is perhaps really there a HHDL or someone like that....to those this distinction may make a difference. For us the vast vast vast majority of us....the end intention, thought of, makes not a whit of difference. We all act as compassionate as we can when we can.

Well you must be clear on where you are going may be claimed....... I say sure....but for us the trip is to either the west coast or to California, from NYC and mostly we are deciding(the choice before us) is to take the Riverside drive or Tribrough bridge getting out of the city.
To expound upon what great things we may do from either california or as opposed to the entire west coast... is really for us entirely irrelevent, us being still stuck in NYC.

When we get about to Nevada then that may become quite important.
Till then parrotted words of little real import. Visitors to places they have never visited writing books upon those places from books they have picked up from authors who may or may not have visited those places, about those places.

When we get to Nevada then that choice will be before us..till then it is like a pretty dream or nice thing thought well.....yes, we would like to continue to rebirth untill all are free...nice very nice. Saying that same thing in the bardo of death or with rebirth as a human but human with no toes arms or eyes when everyone else has them, when it is us as opposed to another that may have or not have those things...then we may find if our noble intention is true. At rebirth, as we are cannot be guaranteed in shape or form. WE know not what fully lies behind us.

With full bellies as they say all are dharma practitioners of the finest sort.
So it is nice to say or think such things.....to truly believe one has made that choice to be bodhisttava or not...really that road is not before us at this moment. Most love the idea of being in love with peoples or beings but little love actual peoples or beings is my experience.
So it is really a mote point till we reach nevada.

M's and T's about the same...99.9% of the time. ONe perhaps wishes a greater thing I'd suppose.
I wish daily I could be king and make things right...it matters not a whit in things what I wish. To me it matters a bit, but really it is a very small thing what I wish even to me personally. I must first work to creeate the circumstance for that thing for the wish to mean a whit of difference in this thing of the spirit. That is how it is for most of us...I am no exception.
M's and T's in creating the circumstance of being in Nevada by choosing the Riverside drive or Triborough bridge are both making the right choices for the decision lying before them. Those are the exactly same circumstances of spirit.
Compassion is the choice and it is in both going to the west coast or california .
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