The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

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The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Luke » Wed Oct 06, 2010 7:45 pm

What is the greatest benefit a Mahayana Buddhist gains from studying Theravada? Does one gain anything which couldn't already be gleaned from good Mahayana summaries (such as Lam-Rim texts) or from Mahayana sutras or from observing a great guru?
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby ronnewmexico » Wed Oct 06, 2010 8:22 pm

I don't necessarily consider myself a buddhist. But my study and practice are almost to exclusion derived from particular buddhist derivitive.

In that context my observation is that at some levels the thinkings are exactly equal. To my opinion it is not that one is greater or lesser than another on the basis of compassion but that one thinks the others way is simply not possible. There are things I find I agree with in both schools and disagree with. Some forms of theravadan seem archaic and dogmatic some form of mahayana seem theistically biased. Not to state my preferences are more valid than any other but to explain my context.

So my practice is mahayana as it specifically provides what I want and how to attain it. But I'd guess in some specific areas of theravadan (not accessible to me)....the same teaching would be available.
Mahayana this specific is simply more accessible for my circumstance of life.

Ultimately I tend to think it doesn't matter if one can reallly and truly have bodhisttava in real terms.
My observation is that it is not possible in the terms those of most mahayanan schools describe it. It tends to my observation of the idea of compassion but the reality of great aspirations in temple and prayer and such but little in real action or real concern. Mahayanans just really do not seem to be particularly compassionate peoples. Behavior on this board seems to slightly reflect that at times. Great peoples mahayanans to give you a smile or a handshake perhaps put on a smile button perhaps, tell you what they think you want to hear or be.. but not so great at actually changing anythng to do anything more compassionate. Diet for instance..... but only one. Perhaps the conceptualization of it into ideal prevents the actuality in real terms for all but a very few..Iit seems that way but that is conjecture.

I think compassion is part of awareness only. So no bodhisttava ideal would be necessary with that view as it would come naturally to one. But that is a personal view. Theravadan would probably more relect that view on compassion than mahayanan. I cannot stop myself from seeing a bug drowning and saving it. For me to take a vow or to aim at doing or feeling such things....seems quite unnecessary. It is always there. If I could give my life or create a million images of me.... to bring a hundred or thousand or more to happiness..certainly I would...all would... is my contention in their heart of hearts. To base my practice on such theory....unnecessary totally unnecessary to my view. It is already there as it is in everyone.

So in that context of nonbuddhist my opinion is that the two can be found to be exactly equal.
I could probably as well be following the forest monk traditions of theravada if I were a monk and the teachings and teachers were available to me. They seem very very similair to what I do.

So that's my opinion with qualifications. I don't want to challenge your faith or any of that but to answer your question from my perspective.

As a aside.....as a young child I did attend a catholic school. I was however exposed to children in public school in many circumstances. Surprisiengly I found the children in catholic schools(no slight on the faith is intended this is only antedotal experience) to be almost universally less compassionate in their interaction with their equals. Mean nasty and just not nice to be around. I wondered at that tiem if trying to live up to a ideal of compassion led as consequence by some unknown factor perhaps karma to lead those of such environments to express in this way. I have noticed years ago in a professional context that those most involved in giving in such context as nurses doctors whatever were also likewise not particularly compassionate in their other actions quite often the inverse seems the case. And some after retreat will have some bad circumstantial things happen to them as auxilary to result, this refered to as a quicking of karma by some.

So I by experience perhaps am biased to this way of thinking. Thinking the creation of the ideal, bodhisttava, in some manner creates, in a sense, these mean illspirited people who pray a lot, smile a lot in the lunchroom check out counter.. but are not really very compassionate at all.

So my conclusion and contention is that one could have exactly the same benefit from studying theravada or mahayana.

I have now researched and will add a bit about the religious context and compassion as reflects the death penalty(that could only be interpreted in a buddhist context as being noncompassionate)....There seems to be no clear correlation between such and disallowance. The earliest prohibitions occured it seems in south or central american countries, venezuela 1863 for instance, christian nations for the most part by belief. Tibet disallowed it in 1908 I believe by edict of the 13th. About the same time as Norway. Mongolia though now 50% or so tibetan buddhist(largest catagory) still allows it, while theravadan states by population such as vietnam and thailand do as well.
So religion as reflected in government seemingly does not reflect any more compassionate effect in countries of mahayanan majority belief as opposed to theravadan, which supports my contention....both as equal.
Last edited by ronnewmexico on Wed Oct 06, 2010 10:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby ground » Wed Oct 06, 2010 9:55 pm

Luke wrote:What is the greatest benefit a Mahayana Buddhist gains from studying Theravada? Does one gain anything which couldn't already be gleaned from good Mahayana summaries (such as Lam-Rim texts) or from Mahayana sutras or from observing a great guru?


I am assuming that actually you do not mean "Theravada" but that you mean "the suttas of the pali canon" which is something different due to the Abidhamma (of which there is a specific one for nearly each tradition).

In Lamrim it is taught that a bodhisattva studies and practices all teachings of the buddha
1. to be able to instruct all beings
2. because all of the buddhas teachings are without contradiction and rejecting a portion of his teachings is equivalent to disparging the buddha's teachings.



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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Sherab » Thu Oct 07, 2010 1:35 am

I read both suttas and sutras to understand in Buddha's own words what the ultimate reality is. My finding that the Buddha's view on the ultimate is consistent throughout gave me some confidence in the teachings.
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Oct 07, 2010 2:23 am

Luke wrote:What is the greatest benefit a Mahayana Buddhist gains from studying Theravada? Does one gain anything which couldn't already be gleaned from good Mahayana summaries (such as Lam-Rim texts) or from Mahayana sutras or from observing a great guru?


If you ever met an Arhat, would you dismiss him as ignorant and unable to teach you anything because he does not profess the Mahayana?
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby plwk » Thu Oct 07, 2010 3:39 am

What is the greatest benefit a Mahayana Buddhist gains from studying Theravada?
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
'Those who teach a Dhamma for the abandoning of passion, for the abandoning of aversion, for the abandoning of delusion — their Dhamma is well-taught.
http://www.yellowrobe.com/component/con ... hapla.html
'He teaches the Dhamma good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, with the right meaning and phrasing, and he reveals a holy life that is utterly perfect and pure.’
http://www.cttbusa.org/42s/42sections.asp
Section 39 The Buddha's Instructions Are Not Biased
The Buddha said, "Students of the Buddha's Way should believe in and accord with everything that the Buddha teaches. When you eat honey, it is sweet on the surface and sweet in the center; it is the same with my Sutras."
ImageOn page 62, in Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche's 'Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand' (Edited by Trijang Rinpoche, Translation by Michael Richards), it mentions a Sutra (unnamed) with this quote: "O Subhuti, the Bodhisattvas develop in all the paths, be it the path of the shravaka, the path of the pratyekabuddha or the path of the Bodhisattva. They understand all the paths"
http://cttbusa.org/lotus/lotus14_1.asp
“If there are Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, Upasakas, Upasikas, those who seek to be Hearers, Pratyekabuddhas, or those who seek the Bodhisattva Way, he should not torment them or cause them to have doubts by saying to them, “You are all very far from the Path, and you will never obtain the wisdom of all modes. Why not? Because you are careless and lax in the Way.” Further, he should not frivolously discuss the Dharma for the sake of argument.”

Does one gain anything which couldn't already be gleaned from good Mahayana summaries (such as Lam-Rim texts) or from Mahayana sutras or from observing a great guru?

Again, from Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche's 'Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand'; Day 3, Page 60:
"The Lamrin has four greatnesses...that distinguish it from the other classical teachings.
The four greatnesses are as follows:
1. the greatness of allowing you to realize that all the teachings are without contradiction
2. the greatness of allowing all the scriptures to present themselves to you as instructions

3. the greatness of allowing you to easily discover the true thinking of the Victorious Ones
4. the greatness of allowing you to save yourself from the worst misdeeds"
http://cttbusa.org/lotus/lotus14.asp
“Further, Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas contemplate all Dharmas as empty, as characterized by actuality, as not upside down, as not moving, as not retreating, as not turning, as being like empty space, as without a nature, as having the path of language cut off, as not coming into being, as not coming forth, as not arising, as without a name, as without an appearance, as in reality non-existent, as measureless, as boundless, as unimpeded, and as unobstructed.”
“They only exist because of causes and conditions and are produced from inversion.
Therefore, it is said that constantly delighting in contemplating the characteristics of Dharmas is called the second range of association of a Bodhisattva.”
http://cttbusa.org/lotus/lotus16.asp
“Good men, the Sutras proclaimed by the Thus Come One are all for the purpose of saving and liberating living beings. He may speak of his own body, or he may speak of someone else’s body. He may manifest his own body, or he may manifest in someone else’s body. He may manifest his own affairs, or he may manifest the affairs of others. But all that he says is true and not false.”
“Living beings have various natures, various desires, various modes of conduct, and various ideas, thoughts, and discriminations. Wishing to lead them to produce the roots of goodness, he employs divers causes and conditions, analogies, and expressions to explain the various dharmas, carrying out the Buddha’s work without respite.”
http://cttbusa.org/lotus/lotus2.asp
“Shariputra, in the worlds of the ten directions, there are not even two vehicles, how much the less three.
Shariputra, all Buddhas appear in the world of the five evil turbidities, that is, the kalpa turbidity, the affliction turbidity, the living beings turbidity, the view turbidity, and the life turbidity.
So, Shariputra, it is that in the time of the confusion of the kalpa turbidity, living beings are heavy-laden with impurities.
Because they are stingy, greedy, envious, and jealous, they develop unwholesome roots.
For this reason, all the Buddhas, by means of the power of expedient devices, within the One Buddha Vehicle, make discriminations and speak of three.

So, personally, the OP's question would not even have crossed my mind...
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Luke » Thu Oct 07, 2010 11:44 am

TMingyur wrote:In Lamrim it is taught that a bodhisattva studies and practices all teachings of the buddha
1. to be able to instruct all beings

That's interesting to consider it from the standpoint of teaching ability like that. I suppose the methods of instruction and style of presentation are different in each vehicle, and therefore, they have the ability to appeal to different types of people. I guess it's beneficial to explore all the major schools of Buddhism for this reason.

TMingyur wrote:2. because all of the buddhas teachings are without contradiction and rejecting a portion of his teachings is equivalent to disparging the buddha's teachings.

I have read similar things. I started this thread in order to learn more from other people's viewpoints on this matter.

Huseng wrote:If you ever met an Arhat, would you dismiss him as ignorant and unable to teach you anything because he does not profess the Mahayana?

No, of course not. I especially admire the monks of the Forest Sangha tradition.
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Luke » Thu Oct 07, 2010 12:01 pm

Thanks Plwk, those quotes were exactly what I needed. I suppose my Buddhist reading has only consisted of certain types of books up to this point. Apart from the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, the Medicine Buddha Sutra, and bits of the Pali Canon, I haven't read many sutras.

Also, my "current lama" never encourages reading about Buddhist philosophy. Perhaps this is yet another reason why I've felt the need to seek out a different lama. I would like to have a balanced mixture of philosophical understanding and meditative insight.
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby 5heaps » Thu Oct 07, 2010 2:00 pm

firstly theravada is included as part of mahayana, just as mahayana is included as part of vajrayana

secondly there are very good practitioners and teachers in theravada and it is always a pleasure so see such renunciates
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby ground » Fri Oct 08, 2010 4:59 pm

Quotes from the Lamrim


Since boddhisattvas must take care of students who are followers of all three linages (sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, boddhisattvas), they must train in the paths of those three linages.

"It is difficult to explain to others
The results of causes that are obscure to oneself.


It is contradictory to propound that you should not train in the scriptural collections of the Hinayana because you are a Mahayana practitioner.

Mahayana followers must practice all those things taught in the Hinayana scriptural collections, with only a few exceptions, such as diligently seeking blissful peace for oneself alone.

If you do not gain such an understanding, then, each time you gain what seems to be an understanding of an isolated teaching, you will abandon other teachings. Thus you will accumulate the great karmic obstruction of having abandoned the teachings, which has a very grave fruition.

Concerning instruction, complete mastery does not mean gaining ascertainment of a mere small volume that fits in the palm of one's hand; it means understanding all of the scriptures as instructions for practice.

All of the Buddha's words directly or indirectly teach methods for becoming a buddha.

"Manjushri, the karmic obstruction of abondoning the excellent teaching is subtle. Manjushri, whoever distinguishes some of the words spoken by the Tathagata as good and some as bad abandons the teaching. One who abandons the teaching, by having abondoned it, deprecates the Tathagata and speaks badly of the community.

If you say, "This is reasonable; this is unreasonable", you abandon the teaching. If you say, "this was set forth for the sake of boddhisattvas; this was set forth for the sake of sravakas," you abandon the teaching. If you say, "This was set forth for the sake of pratyekabuddhas," you abandon the teaching. If you say, "This is not a training of boddhisattvas," you abandon the teaching.

The wrongdoing of one who abandons the collections of sutras is far greater than that of one who causes the destruction of all stupas here in Jampudvipa. The wrongdoing of one who abandons the collections of the sutras is far greater than that of one who kills arhats equal in number to the sands of the Ganges.

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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby mudra » Fri Oct 08, 2010 5:05 pm

5heaps wrote:firstly theravada is included as part of mahayana, just as mahayana is included as part of vajrayana


perhaps more conventionally: stages of the path concerned with self liberation are included as part of Mahayana in the Tibetan tradition, vajrayana is included as part of mahayana.
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby ronnewmexico » Fri Oct 08, 2010 5:10 pm

Yes, initially there were something like 9 schoola in this way of thinking or from which theravadan is derived...all but the Theravadan school dying out or being coopted over time, quite regretably.
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Luke » Sat Oct 09, 2010 10:22 pm

Another reason I asked this question was that I've noticed that the Tibetan Buddhist Shedra curricula don't start with the Pali Canon, but instead start with Madhyamaka texts, Abidharma texts, and other Mahayana commentaries. Perhaps Tibetans get the essence of the Pali Canon through later Mahayana commentaries instead of studying it directly?
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Astus » Sat Oct 09, 2010 11:33 pm

The Tibetan tradition uses primarily the study of abhidharma texts as providing the basis in fundamental teachings, which for them they are the Sarvastivada and Sautrantika teachings. Also, the Nikayas found in the Pali Canon have no exact correspondents in the Tibetan Canon - unlike in the Chinese Canon -, although some parts of it can be found here and there in Tibetan.
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Luke » Sat Oct 09, 2010 11:41 pm

Astus wrote:The Tibetan tradition uses primarily the study of abhidharma texts as providing the basis in fundamental teachings, which for them they are the Sarvastivada and Sautrantika teachings. Also, the Nikayas found in the Pali Canon have no exact correspondents in the Tibetan Canon - unlike in the Chinese Canon -, although some parts of it can be found here and there in Tibetan.

So perhaps the Tibetan attitude could be summarized as "We really respect the Pali Canon... we just never read it."
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby ground » Sun Oct 10, 2010 3:56 am

Luke wrote:
Astus wrote:The Tibetan tradition uses primarily the study of abhidharma texts as providing the basis in fundamental teachings, which for them they are the Sarvastivada and Sautrantika teachings. Also, the Nikayas found in the Pali Canon have no exact correspondents in the Tibetan Canon - unlike in the Chinese Canon -, although some parts of it can be found here and there in Tibetan.

So perhaps the Tibetan attitude could be summarized as "We really respect the Pali Canon... we just never read it."


What a blessing that nowadays in the West we can access all these wonderful scriptures and study them :)

Thus we can investigate and establish for ourselves that the teachings on renunciation in the Lamrim are perfectly aligned with the pali suttas and that the introductory chapters of the Lamrim about its own greatnesses are valid:

1. The greatness of enabling one to know that all of the teachings are free of contradiction
2. The greatness of enabling one to understand that all of the scriptures are instructions for practice
3. The greatness of enabling one easily to find the Conqueror's intent
4. The greatness of enabling one to refrain automatically from great wrongdoing


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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Sun Oct 10, 2010 10:42 am

Luke wrote:So perhaps the Tibetan attitude could be summarized as "We really respect the Pali Canon... we just never read it."


Well, you have to consider that the Theravadin school is not THE Shravakayana school. The Buddha's original sangha gradually split off into 18 Shravakayana traditions in India, and the Theravada is just one of those. It just so happens that the Shravakayana teachings introduced to Tibet were from the Vaibhashika and Sautrantika schools, not the Theravada. And for those who take the traditional scholarly approach, the Abidharma texts of those traditions are covered in considerable depth. In fact, the Sautrantika Abidharma has quite a bit of importance all the way through Anuttarayoga tantric practice. And of course the Vinaya observed in Tibet is that of the Mula-Sarvastivada, of which the Vaibhashikas and Sautrantikas were sub-groups.
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby elfin » Sun Oct 10, 2010 11:30 am

Theravadans have great meditators and I feel (coming from the Tibetan tradition) there is a lot we can learn from them in that respect.

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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Luke » Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:03 pm

TMingyur wrote:I am assuming that actually you do not mean "Theravada" but that you mean "the suttas of the pali canon" which is something different due to the Abidhamma (of which there is a specific one for nearly each tradition).

Pema Rigdzin wrote:Well, you have to consider that the Theravadin school is not THE Shravakayana school. The Buddha's original sangha gradually split off into 18 Shravakayana traditions in India, and the Theravada is just one of those. It just so happens that the Shravakayana teachings introduced to Tibet were from the Vaibhashika and Sautrantika schools, not the Theravada.


Okay, so the Tibetans study the Abdharma texts of other Shravakayana schools, but do collections of these schools suttas (their versions of the Pali Canon) still exist?
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Re: The benefits of studying Theravada for Mahayana?

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:06 pm

Luke wrote:Another reason I asked this question was that I've noticed that the Tibetan Buddhist Shedra curricula don't start with the Pali Canon, but instead start with Madhyamaka texts, Abidharma texts, and other Mahayana commentaries. Perhaps Tibetans get the essence of the Pali Canon through later Mahayana commentaries instead of studying it directly?


Shedra usually starts with studying Vaibhashika and Sautrantika abidharma, and then Yogacara, and then Madhyamaka. So it starts at the Shravakayana teachings. And even though there is a Mahayana Abidharma, the Tibetan schools all follow the Sautrantika Abidharma. Abidharma aside, what might one expect to find in the realm of teachings concerning virtue, samadhi, and wisdom in the Shravakayana that one wouldn't find in the Mahayana pitaka? One's not going to find anything, because the teachings of the Mahayana pitaka are just as complete as the Pali pitaka. But of course one who has devotion for the Buddha and the Dharma might find great inspiration and all manner of positive reinforcement studying the Pali teachings more extensively, so that's wonderful.
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