Monday, 9 December 2013



  Mountain Man arrested for trying to feed himself, owns judge and walks out

  American Buddhist Journal

Why is Mahayana Buddhism so popular?

Thursday, August 27, 2009
Mahayana Buddhism: How did it achieve such popularity?
Rit Nosotro (comparative essay from a predominantly Christian perspective)

Given the established Asian religions and/or philosophies of Taoism, Confucianism, and Shintoism, why did Mahayana Buddhism gain such popularity?
The Force, Nature, Master Kong, the Sun Goddess, and Buddha – each of these play their respective roles in the Eastern religions of Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Mahayana Buddhism. However, Mahayana Buddhism has surpassed all in its ability to weave its way into Western [Judeo-Christian] culture, in particular. Why is this true?
The answer may be had by examining Mahayana Buddhism in contrast with basic beliefs in other religions including those of evangelical Christianity. Wherever nominal Christians turn from the truth [sic.] to New Age mythology, Mahayana Buddhism is a popular belief system that tickles their itching ears.

Mahayana vs. Hinayana Buddhism
All forms of Buddhism, including Mahayana, believe in meditation and concentration, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Noble Path, the impermanence of all phenomena [anicca], dependent causation, and the nonexistence of an essential self [anatta]. Yet, Buddhism has two major branches.

“From Mahayana sources, it seems that the major point of difference was that the now defunct Lesser Vehicle [Hinayana or Sarvastivada now mistakenly equated with the ancient Theravada tradition] sought salvation through individual effort, whereas Mahayana advocated salvation for all beings through the worship and grace of the Buddha or buddhas (“enlightened ones”) and bodhisattvas ([beings who vow to become buddhas) Buddhist-saviors, whose ‘essence is enlightenment’),” Royal W. Weiler stated.

However, in practical terms, even the historical Buddha is overshadowed by the bodhisattvas, who are people who vow that they will forgo or delay their final enlightenment until all creatures are “saved” (Ref. 1, Ref. 2 “Mahayana” Encyclopedia Americana, “Buddha and Buddhism” Encyclopedia Americana).

Another split between Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) and Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) Buddhism is the Hinayana belief that Buddha was just human. They believe that when he died [parinirvana is the opposite of death since "death" is almost inseparably involved with rebirth] he ceased to exist. [This is, of course, a great distortion since that which does not exist cannot then cease to exist; what is true to say is that he broke the cycle of rebirth and escaped Samsara].

Mahayana, however, believes that Buddha did not die, but merely transformed himself into another body. [This would seem to say that the Buddha did not attain nirvana or that, as is more commonly suggested, "Nirvana is Samsara."] That’s where Mahayana developed [or invented] the idea of the Trikaya or “The Three Bodies” which Buddha uses.

Another difference is that the standards to achieve nirvana (a lack of desire and feelings) [nirvana -- the "end of all suffering" --is in fact marked by the absence of craving and the presence of an exquisite, ineffable feeling of bliss] was lowered in Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana lowered the standard two notches from the previous Hinayana standard so that more people could be “saved” by achieving nirvana.

By reducing the standard, it increased the possibility of the masses achieving the goal(Ref. 3, Ref. 4)... and so on with many common distortions being repeated and given new life.
NOTE: Who is Rit Nosotro [pseudonym "writ by us"?], and how does one cite "his" essays? All material on this site ( is under constant revision. Essays continue to be donated by students and other authors which become property of Emails to the servant at often contain constructive comments about the published material. These are used to supplement, clarify, and delete as evidence demands. is a global community effort. Thus, essays do not use the first person nor are they written from a uniquely American perspective. In order to reflect the collective authorship of the dynamic content contained on, the pseudonym of "Rit Nosotro" has been devised. (Writ is an archaic past tense of "written" and Nosotros is the plural pronoun for "us" in Spanish.) The authorship is "written by us." [So the WQ deduction was correct.] This does not mean "public domain." Unless otherwise stated, these are anonymous contributions over which controls all copyright. For example, this page might be cited in a bibliography in the following manner: Nosotro, Rit. How to cite material from 27 Oct. 2003. (Date of access: Oct. 27, 2009). It has been available for six years exactly without being corrected. Published in the hopes that these revisions help (WQ).

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Story of Mahayana (Part I)

From its source in India, the Mahayana version of Buddhism spread to Central Asia, China, Japan, mainland Southeast Asia, Java, Sumatra, and even Sri Lanka (Abhayagiri monastery). Also known as the Northern School, it was considered more liberal and progressive than the Southern School (Theravada). Early Theravadins branded Northern Buddhism Acariya-vada, or “Teaching of the Patriarchs.”

Another term accepted by Mahayanists themselves to describe the Northern School is “Bodhisattva-yana,” or the “Bodhisattva Vehicle.” The bodhisattva (enlightenment delayed) is the Mahayana ideal, rather than the Theravadin arhat (immediate enlightenment) ideal.
Mahayana Buddhism is generally practiced in the countries of East Asia, namely, China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. (But usually, Nepal, Tibet, and the rest of Asia are also included under the term of “Northern” Buddhist). Mahayana became the Pan-Asiatic form of Buddhism. But it involved fundamental shifts in doctrine and approach for which there were precedents in earlier schools. Mahayana teaches that neither self (soul) nor dharmas (phenomena) exist.
The Mahayana view, as Nagarjuna puts it, is that “There is no real, independent existence of entities in the factors (pratyaya)” (Madhyama-Karika 1, 5). Mahayana is a populist, devotional movement that prefers worship to practice, but it utilizes Sanskrit, a language used by brahmins, scholars, and the Indian elite, whereas Prakrit (of which Pali is a form) was the language of the people, which the Buddha used to teach the Dharma widely.

In Mahayana, love of creatures (the Indian ideal of ahimsa) is exalted as the highest. A bodhisattva (one bent on becoming a buddha rather than attaining enlightenment as a disciple) is encouraged to offer the merit derived from good deeds for the good of others, just as the Buddha encouraged his disciples and arhats to do. The tension between morality and mysticism which agitated India also entered Mahayana.

Nature and CharacteristicsMahayana adherents adopt the method of non-dualism (advaya). That is, it does not accept that there exist such opposites as nirvana and samsara, or noumena and phenomena, and so on. Mahayana is more inclined towards a mystical approach. Like Hinduism, it believes in the spiritual apprehension of Truth beyond understanding: The conscious self can transcend bodily limitations and commune with, or become immersed in, some higher form of being. (This differs from the Buddha's gradual teaching of the Middle Way and the methodical Theravadin approach to reaching enlightenment and nirvana).
Mahayana is not merely metaphysical, dealing with the basic structure and principles of reality. Its teachings can be regarded as a theoretical, preparatory, instructional manual for the achievement of a desired state or condition. Thus, there is a coexistence of theoretical investigation and supreme experience. The former is the premise, the latter, the consequence.

The convergence of meditative exercises leads to an emptying of thought to reach a point where one proceeds from voidness to voidness and finally to the ultimate where even the minutest thought vanishes. (This corresponds to the goal of Raja yoga and Hinduism where samadhi, or the stilling of all thought-waves or vrittis, is the goal). Rational activity is exercised until it becomes quiescent: prajna (supreme wisdom) itself by successive emptying becomes nullified. Only in doing so does it identify with the unutterable ultimate reality.

Divinization and Multiplicity
In the Mahayana tradition, the historical Buddha Shakyamuni is viewed not merely as a human master and model but also as a supramundane being. Mahayana tends to be devotional and mystical, taking the Buddha almost in a theistic sense. With echoes of the Hindu idea of avatars, it is as if the Supreme Reality (Brahman) descended on earth in human form for the good of mankind.

He does this by multiplying himself and is reflected in a pentad of buddhas: Amitabha, Vairocana, Aksobhya, Ratnasambhava, and Amoghasiddhi. Some of these, usurping the place of Shakyamuni, are revealers of elaborate doctrines and complicated liturgies. The Mahayana concept of this Reality is never as a theistic creator but as Divine Love that out of compassion embodied itself in human form to uplift suffering humanity.
As Mahayana developed, a great deal of literature called Buddhavacana ("Revelation of the Buddha") was circulated, which went far beyond the ancient canons (such as the body of work preserved from the time of the Buddha by the Theravada tradition known as the Pali canon). It was proposed as the highest revelation, superseding prior texts. In this literature the teaching is viewed not as merely of one kind but as on various levels, each adapted to the intellectual capacity and karmic propensities of those who hear it.

The Buddha is no longer simply the historical sage (muni) of the Shakyas (his clan name) but is now supramundane (lokottara). Even the Sangha is of two types, that of this world and that beyond it. The devotion of the Mahayanists gave great impetus to Buddhist art in various forms.

The Bodhisattva Ideal
The Bodhisattva Gwan Shih Yin ("One who hears the cries of the innumerable suffering") is esteemed as the ideal in Mahayana is the Bodhisattva, a saintly figure who has vowed not to enter final nirvana (parinirvana) until the whole human race has achieved salvation with him. The essential premise of the bodhisattva ideal is to generate the thought of enlightenment to fulfill the vow to become a buddha, foregoing entrance into nirvana in order to remain in the world as long as there are creatures to be saved from suffering (which the historical Buddha did not do).

With that vow the aspirant begins the career of a bodhisattva, which traverses 10 stages or spiritual levels and achieves purification through the practice of the Ten Perfections (paramitas). These levels, which become progressively higher, elevate the bodhisattva to the condition of a buddha. The first six levels are preliminary, representing the true practice of the six perfections:
  1. generosity
  2. morality
  3. patience
  4. vigor
  5. concentration
  6. wisdom
Irreversibility occurs as soon as the seventh stage is reached. From this moment the bodhisattva assumes the true "buddha nature," even though further purification and fortification must be achieved in the stages that follow. This is the moment when, having performed his duty, he engages in activity aimed at completely fulfilling the obligations of a bodhisattva.

The difference between this and the preceding six stages is that now the activity is explained as an innate and spontaneous impulse manifested unconstrainedly and therefore not subjected to doubts. Everything is now uncreated, ungenerated; thus, the body of the bodhisattva becomes identified more and more completely with the essential body (dharma-kaya), with buddhahood, and with omniscience.
The Three Buddha Bodies (tri-kaya)
Mahayana Buddhism developed the doctrine of the Three Bodies, which forms the highest doctrine of this school of thought. The three bodies (modes of being) of the Buddha are rooted in the Theravada teachings concerning the physical body (consisting of four elements), the mental body, and the body of the Dharma. It is with the Mahayana, however, that the theory of the three bodies enters into the salvation process and assumes central significance in the doctrine.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mahayana versus Theravada

Dr. W. Rahula (Gems of Buddhist Wisdom, additional editing by WQ)

What is the difference between Mahayana [the Buddhist school prevalent in China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and Vietnam] and Theravada [the Buddhist school prevalent in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos]? To put things in perspective, let us turn to the history of Buddhism and trace the emergence and development of Mahayana and Theravada.

History The Buddha was born in the 6th Century B.C. From the attainment of enlightenment at the age of 35 until his final nirvana at the age of 80, he spent his life teaching. He was energetic: for 45 years he taught day and night, sleeping for about two hours a day.

The Buddha spoke to all kinds of people: kings, farmers, beggars, brahmins, wanderers, and ordinary everyday people. His discourses were tailored to the experience, understanding, and mental capacity of his audience. What he taught was called Buddha-Vacana, that is, “the word of the Buddha.” There was nothing called Theravada or Mahayana at that time.

After establishing the Order of monks and nuns, the Buddha set down disciplinary and procedural rules called the Vinaya to the guide the Order. The remainder of his Teaching was called the Dharma, which included discourses, sermons, and sayings to monastics and lay people.

The First CouncilThree months after the Buddha’s final nirvana, his immediate disciples convened a council in Rajagaha, India. Maha Kassapa, the most respected and elderly monk, presided over that council. Two very important Great Disciples (mahatheras) who specialized in the two distinct areas of the Teaching (the Dharma and the Vinaya) were present. The first was Ananda, the Buddha’s closest companion and disciple over the preceding 25 years. Endowed with a remarkable memory (even in an age of remarkable memories), Ananda was able to recite all the discourses the Buddha had uttered. [When sutras begin “Thus have I heard,” Ananda is that “I” and he made this statement in front of the First Council of enlightened elders]. The other monastic was Upali, who had committed all of the Discipline to memory.

Only these two sections, Discourses and Discipline, were recited at the First Council. Although there were no differences of opinion on the Dharma (no mention was yet made of the Abhidharma, “Higher Teaching,” the metaphysical and psychological explanations), there was some discussion about the Rules.

Before the Buddha’s was to pass into nirvana, he told Ananda that if the Order wished to amend or modify some “minor” rules after his passing, they could do so. But on that occasion Ananda, overpowered by grief on hearing of the Buddha’s impending passing, it did not occur to him to ask what the “minor” rules were.

As the members of the First Council were unable to agree as to what constituted those minor rules, Maha Kassapa finally ruled that no disciplinary rule laid down by the Buddha should be changed and that no new ones should be introduced. No intrinsic reason was given. Maha Kassapa did say one thing, however: “If we changed the rules, people would say that Ven. Gautama’s disciples changed them even before his funeral pyre had gone out.”

At the First Council, the Dharma was divided into various sections, and each section was assigned to an Elder (a Thera) and his pupils to commit to memory. The Dharma (or “Teaching,” the Vada) was then passed on from teacher to pupil orally.
The Dharma was recited daily by groups of monastics who often cross checked each other to ensure that no omissions or additions were made. Historians agree that an oral tradition is more reliable than a report written by one person from memory several years later.

The Second CouncilOne-hundred years later, a Second Council was held to discuss some Rules. There was no need to change the Rules three months after the final passing of the Buddha because little to no political, economic, or social changes took place during that short interval. But a century later, some monastics saw the need to change certain minor rules. The orthodox Order said that nothing should be changed, while others insisted on modifying some Rules.
Finally, a group of monks left the Second Council and formed the Mahasanghika, the “Great Community.” Even though it was called the Mahasanghika, it was not known as “Mahayana.” During the Second Council, only matters pertaining to the Rules were discussed, and no controversy whatsoever about the Teaching is reported.

The Third Council In the 3rd Century B.C.E., during the reign of Emperor Asoka, the Third Council was held to discuss the differences of opinion among the monks of [18] different sects that had arisen. By the Third Council the differences were not confined to the Rules but were also connected with the Teaching. At the end of the Third Council, the president of the council, Moggaliputta Tissa, compiled a book he called Kathavatthu refuting the heretical, false views and theories held by some sects.
The Teaching approved and accepted by the Third Council was known as Theravada -- the “Teaching of the Elders” or what the Buddha’s original-hearers (those Theras) had rehearsed and passed down through the students dedicated to memorizing, reciting, and cross checking the various sections of the Dharma. The Abhidharma collection -- the Higher Teaching, that is, the philosophical commentaries and metaphysical treatises as distinct from the bare discourses -- was also included at the Third Council.

After the Third Council, Asoka’s son, Venerable Mahinda, brought the Three Collections (Tripitaka: Teaching, Rules, and Abhidharma) to Sri Lanka, along with the commentaries and explanations which were recited at the Third Council. The texts brought to Sri Lanka were preserved to the present day without losing a single page. The texts were written in the Pali language, which was based on the Magadhi dialect spoken by the Buddha. There was still nothing known as “Mahayana.”

The Coming of MahayanaBetween the 1st Century B.C.E. to the 1st Century A.D., the two terms Mahayana (the “Great Vehicle”) and Hinayana (the “Inferior Vehicle”) appeared in the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, the “Discourse of the Lotus of the Good Law.”

About the 2nd Century A.D., Mahayana became clearly defined. Nagarjuna developed the Mahayana philosophy of Sunyata (Emptiness or nonexistence) and proved that everything is Void [devoid of personality or identity] in a small text called the Madhyamika Karika.
About the 4th Century, Asanga and Vasubandhu wrote many additional works on Mahayana.

After the 1st Century AD., the Mahayanists took a definite stand and only then were the opposing terms Mahayana and Hinayana introduced and propagated, the latter as a foil or strawman for the former. [Mahayana teachings were a criticism of those now defunct Indian sects (not of Theravada) particularly the Sarvastivada School, which taught the theory that all exists].

Therefore, one must not confuse Hinayana with “Theravada,” the Teaching of the Elders, because the terms are not synonymous. Theravada Buddhism had gone to Sri Lanka during the 3rd Century B.C.E. when there was no Mahayana at all. Hinayana schools [among the 18 sects that had] developed in India [200 years after the Buddha’s passing] and had an existence independent from the form of Buddhism existing in Sri Lanka.

Today there is no “Hinayana” sect or school in existence anywhere in the world.

Therefore, in 1950 the World Fellowship of Buddhists inaugurated in Colombo, Sri Lanka unanimously decided that the term “Hinayana” should be dropped when referring to Buddhism existing today in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, etc. [sometimes referred to as “Southern Buddhism”].

This is the brief history of Theravada, Mahayana, and Hinayana.

Mahayana and TheravadaNow, then, what can be said of the difference between Mahayana and Theravada?

I have studied Mahayana for many years, and the more I study it the more I find there is hardly any difference between Theravada and Mahayana with regard to the fundamental Teaching.
  • Both accept Sakyamuni Buddha as the teacher.
  • The Four Noble Truths are exactly the same in both schools.
  • The Eightfold Path (to enlightenment) is exactly the same in both schools.
  • The teaching of Dependent Origination is the same in both schools.
  • Both reject the idea of a supreme being who creats and governs this world.
  • Both accept the teachings of Impermance, Unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha), Impersonality (Anatta) as well as Morality, Concentration, and Wisdom without any difference.
These are the most important teachings of the Buddha, and they are all accepted by both schools without question.
Differences There are also, however, some points of difference, or at least of emphasis. An obvious one is the “Bodhisattva ideal.” Many people say that Mahayana is for a Bodhisattvahood that will lead to Buddhahood, while Theravada is for Arahantship (immediate enlightenment as taught by the Buddha). I must point out that the Buddha was an arahant (an enlightened one). A Nonteaching (Prateka or Pacceka) Buddha is also an arahant.
A disciple can also be an arahant. Mahayana texts never use the term “Arahant-yana,” the Arahant Vehicle. Instead, Mahayanists use three terms: Bodhisattva-yana, Prateka-Buddha-yana, and Sravaka-yana (the Bodhisattva-vehicle, the Nonteaching-Buddha vehicle, and the Disciple-vehicle). In the Theravada tradition these three are called Bodhis.

Some people mistakenly imagine that Theravada Buddhism is “selfish” because it teaches (what the historical Buddha taught) that people should diligently work towards their own salvation without helping others. But how could a selfish person ever gain enlightenment? (It would be impossible because selfishness precludes the compassion and wisdom necessary for realizing the truth that leads to enlightenment and the liberation of nirvana). Both schools accept the three Yanas or Bodhis and consider Bodhisattvahood the ideal, the highest.
The difference is Mahayana Buddhism has created many mystical Bodhisattvas, while Theravada Buddhism considers a “bodhisattva” a person among us who devotes his or her entire life to the attainment of perfection, ultimately attaining buddhahood [enlightenment] for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of the world.
Types of Buddhahood
There are three types of Buddha:
  • Samma Sambuddha (a supremely enlightened one), who gains full enlightenment [by perfecting ten qualities and gaining the magical ability to teach] by one’s own effort alone
  • Pacceka Buddha who is fully, independently enlightened but has not developed the Ten Perfections to a lesser degree than the Samma Sambuddha [and therefore is not skilled in showing others the way to enlightenment], and the
  • Savaka Buddha who is an arahant-disciple of a perfectly enlightened Buddha.
The nirvana of the three types is exactly the same. The only difference is that the Samma Sambuddha has many more qualities (paramitas, paramis, or perfections) and capacities which are useful in teaching than the other two types.
Some people think that the Voidness (Sunyata) discussed by Nagarjuna is purely a Mahayana teaching. However, it is based on the Buddha’s teaching of Impersonality (anatta) or no-self and Dependent Origination, both found in the original Theravada, Pali language texts.
On one occasion Ananda asked the Buddha, “People say the word Void. What is Void (Sunya)?” The Buddha replied, “Ananda, there is no self, nor anything belonging to a self in the world. Therefore, the world is empty.”

This idea was used by Nagarjuna, who wrote the small remarkable book, Madhyamika Karika.

Apart from the idea of Voidness, the concept of the “store-consciousness” in Mahayana Buddhism also has its seed in Theravada texts. The Mahayanists have simply developed it into a deep psychology and philosophy.
PHOTOS: Map showing distribution of the two Buddhist schools (Feng Shui Times); the Buddha sending out the first Buddhist missionaries (who were arahant-savakas or "enlightened disciples"); modern day Theravada monks on almsround in Sri Lanka; ornate and elaborate golden Bodhisattva (Nepal); Theravada Sangha (Order) living as simply as the Buddha originally set out (Kare Lie); Mahayana-Vajrayana Sangha in front of many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on an altar (; anthropomorphic depiction of a Bodhisattva of "perfect wisdom."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is "Mahayana" a Different Religion?

Originally in Life Magazine (WQ update)

PHOTOS: 1. Mahayana "god" Amitabha in heaven (thezenfrog blog); 2. (; dogged Zen devotion (; iconic Japanese Buddha; mother goddess Western and Eastern form, Mariam and Kwan Yin.

From early times the type of Buddhism practiced in China and eventually in Japan (Zen) and Tibet (Lamaism) differed from the earlier practices of South and Southeast Asian Buddhists.

The difference was due to some extent to variations in national temperament. But it can be traced back to about 200 years after Gautama's passing, when a group of disciples disagreed on the interpretation of the Teaching and preached instead a doctrine that was less rigorous and more easily adapted to the needs of ordinary people.

This new, easier doctrine became known as Mahayana ("greater vehicle"). And its members disdainfully referred to the orthodox, original form of Buddhism as Hinayana ("lesser vehicle").

Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama), who became the historical Buddha (or "fully enlightened teacher"), taught a Path to individual emancipation from continuous-rebirth (Samsara) and suffering (dukkha).

Mahayana, like Christianity, developed a messianic message of a savior who would provide for the "salvation" of others (variously: Maitreya, the prophesied future-buddha; Amitabha, a buddha in a heaven known as the Western Paradise; or any number of bodhisattvas). This salvation would not be into nirvana (the complete freedom from all further suffering) but into a "pure land" (heavenly abode) or simply more and improved rebirths.

So vast was the difference between original Buddhist doctrines and popular Mahayana innovations that it constituted almost a different religion. Some say it was a vastly different new religion with a Buddhist appearance and substantively Hindu doctrines.

Some go so far as to say that Mahayana is simply "Chinese Christianity" since the similarities are so striking and in line with the Buddhism Jesus was exposed to in India. (See previous entries on the Lost Years of Jesus).
Mahayana Buddhism, matured mainly in the free religious atmosphere of Tang Dynasty China, sought a way to make Buddhism a religion of the masses. It found the ascetic life of India and Southeast Asia too austere and demanding for ordinary people. And it searched for a method by which enlightenment might be achieved more simply than the historical Buddha had taught.

Whereas the new ideal of Mahayana was a saintly would-be savior figure known as a bodhisattva who vows to forego enlightenment and emancipation until he or she saves all other beings, the ideal Buddhist of the Hinayana was the arhat.

(Hinayana technically refers to sects like the Sarvastivada school that no longer exist but are somewhat close in character to the oldest surviving Buddhist tradition, the Theravada, or "Teaching of the Enlightened Elders," the Theras being the immediate disciples of the historical Buddha).
An arhat is a meditator who realizes enlightenment in this very life. But the bodhisattva-ideal of the Mahayana school became someone still stuck in Samsara. This became acceptable with the counter-intuitive leap in logic that Nirvana is Samsara, that is, the old Hindu idea that liberation is here now for immediate realization within suffering and rebirth. Bodhisattvas (which faithful Mahayana practitioners vow to be) elect to remain unenlightened (or at least not fully-enlightened, which would entail emancipation).

Thus, they do not achieve the liberating goal of Buddhism, at least as taught by the historical Buddha, which was always nirvana. That is, they will not accept freedom until everyone else achieves the goal. The belief is that this is what perfectly enlightened teachers (samma-sam-buddhas) do, in spite of the fact that the historical Buddha established the Teaching and was emancipated from rebirth.

Since meditation and even temporary asceticism are thought too demanding for the average person, Mahayana teaches that faith and devotion are enough. Salvation-by-faith (as in Christian and Hindu worship [bhakti]) became one of Mahayana's basic tenets. And the serene meditative example of Gautama was superseded by a glorious redeemer, a god known as the Amitabha Buddha or "Buddha of Infinite Light," to whom the prayers of the faithful were addressed.

Unlike the Buddha, Amitabha was not an actual historical person. So the dominant virtue changed from an emphasis on detached wisdom to engaged compassion, which further popularized the new Mahayana religion. Now that it had a Jesus/Jehovah figure, it adopted a Madonna or Mary (Hebrew "Miriam") in the form of a human mother goddess -- the embodiment of compassion and mercy -- Kwan Yin.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Myth of "Hinayana"

By Kåre A. Lie (excerpt edited by WQ)
In the centuries surrounding the birth of Christ, there was a radical development going on in Buddhism. A new school was born, and its adherents called it Mahayana (the "Great Vehicle"). How this school differs from earlier schools may be found in any history of Buddhism. Here we will concentrate on one of the results of this schism: the term Hinayana (the "Inferior Vehicle").

Adherents of the older schools criticized the Mahayanists, particularly for creating new "sutras" [discourses], counterfeiting the word of the historical Buddha. Mahayanists, on the other hand, reacted to this critique by accusing their opponents of not understanding the teaching of the Buddha at all and for being narrow minded egoists.
The debate became heated, and accusations flew from both sides. Then one brilliant person on the Mahayana side of the debate created the pairing Mahayana/Hinayana. And it stuck. They called their opponents Hinayanists. The word worked excellently as an insult – with a simplicity parallelling "Mahayana" that any fool could grasp.

Hinayana (or more correctly hiinayaana) is a highly derogatory term. It does not simply mean "lesser" or "inferior" vehicle as one often sees stated. Whereas the second element – that is, the yaana – means vehicle, hiina very seldom has the simple meaning of "lesser" or "small."
Shakyamuni teaching his dimunitive first disciples:
Hinayana is the "basic level" of Buddhism according
to some Vajrayana teaching (e.g., Kagyu Samye Ling)

If that had been the case, the Pali (and Sanskrit) texts would have used it in other connections as the opposite of maha – big. But they do not. The opposite of maha is cula [pronounced, choola], the normal word for "small."

The term Hinayana is an echo of a debate long dead, or rather a debate wherein one party is dead and the other is shouting to the winds.

Who were the opponents who were labeled "Hinayana"? Was it the Theravadans? Probably not. At the birth of Mahayana, Theravada [the "Teaching of the Elders," those "elders" being the immediate disciples of the historical Buddha] had largely emigrated to Sri Lanka, and could therefore hardly be counted among the dominating schools on the Indian mainland – which is where the Mahayana/Hinayana debate took place.

Theravadans are only sporadically mentioned in Mahayana works. Karmasiddhiprakarana Vasubandhu respectfully calls them "the honorable Tamraparniyas." (Tamraparni was a name for Sri Lanka). He does not call them "Hinayanists."

The most influential of the schools at that time was the Sarvastivada. So it is most probable that they were the main targets of this epithet – but they were hardly the only target for Hinayana-invectives.

The Sarvastivada School, and the other early Buddhist sects that developed in India at that time, are long dead -- with the exception of the Theravada. But the debate and the arguments found their way into the Mahayana discourses. For instance, it is glaringly apparent in the anti-Hinayana propaganda of the Lotus Sutra – and echoes of it are found throughout the teachings of Mahayana and Vajrayana.

[NOTE: Vajrayana (the "Lightning Vehicle"] is a Mahayana-school dominant in Tibet, which regards itself as a further refinement of Mahayana teachings and thus superior to "ordinary" Mahayana].

Today confusion remains, because Mahayanists and Vajrayanists use the pejorative term "Hinayana" in three different ways:
  1. In a historical sense, pre-Mahayanist schools are called Hinayana.
  2. Modern Theravada is frequently confused with the old Hinayana.
  3. It is used as an internal part of the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings.
Let us have a closer look on these three usages.... Read full article

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Theravada Buddhism (video)

Wisdom Quarterly (ANALYSIS)
The video ends with time for a short personal meditation guided by music ().

This video attempts to describe the earliest existing Buddhist school, the Theravada ("Teaching of the Elders"). Its description, however, suffers from common mistakes:

The tradition is not part of the Hinayana ("Lesser Vehicle") schools that Mahayana ("Great Vehicle") Buddhism sought to ridicule, such as the Sarvastivada, which were successfully wiped out and replaced by Hindu-influenced Mahayana. But as the oldest tradition closest to the defunct schools, explaining the deep philosophy and facts of this major Buddhist lineage.

Buddha at Sukhothai, Thailand (Aidan McRae Thomson/

The Northern School/Southern School distinction is also misleading. Hinduism went everywhere Buddhism, but in most places did not catch on, except as a major unnamed influenced in Mahayana.

Theravada began in India, spread to the Indian island of Sri Lanka (the southern tip of the subcontinent), and spread east to encompass pocket from Israel (a metropolitan place far in the west) to Vietnam (far in the east). Two empires in particular helped it spread, Asoka's empire of Greater India (Maha Bharat) and the Khmer empire now limited to Cambodia). Jesus (St. Issa) was influenced by Theravada and Mahayana (see Holger Kersten) and his teaching seems to serve as the basis for Christianity.

The Three Wise Men (or Kings) from the East were Buddhist monks in search of a tulku (reincarnating lama). This is not to say that this actually happened, just to say that it became part of the mythology around Jesus ("Zeus' son" according to St. Constantine at the Council of Nicea). The search for the Messiah seems to be the search for the Buddha-to-come Maitreya. As Kersten's scholarship reveals, there was a well established Jewish settlement (trading outpost) in Kashmir, India to which Jesus traveled with a Silk Route trading caravan.

The countless similarities between Buddhism and Christianity (even as it was reshaped and made almost unrecognizable by the Greek and Roman empires) in both the Greek Orthodox and European Catholic monastic traditions is no accident at all. But what Christianity teaches is far more a Chinese-style imperial Mahayana, a covert kind of Hindu conception rooting it back to Sumerian, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian astrotheologies.

Jordan Maxwell reveals the shocking truth about Jesus and most religion
fed to us: Astrotheologically, it is the same old Sun and star worship.

Theravada differs from most religion in that it attempts to uphold the message of the historical Buddha. Mahayana, by contrast, takes the old Hindu (and Vedic civilization) pantheon and rebrands it as countless buddhas. The gods of old were extraterrestrials from heaven with their own back stories. Mahayana kept these gods, but by calling them Buddha this and Bodhisattva that, all the same worship continued.

The historical Buddha brought something altogether new to the practice of spirituality. A reliance on oneself as a lamp and an island guided by the Enlightened One (while he lived and taught and established a dispensation), the Teaching of Enlightenment (the Dharma), and those who had successfully followed that Path and confirmed its efficacy (the noble Sangha).

While Mahayana is much more about devotion and looking outside oneself for worldly success and a heavenly rebirth -- just like most of the religions of old -- with an emphasis on the wonderful Divine Feminine (Mother Goddess) Kwan Yin (Christianity's Virg Yin), Theravada kept to a more focused aim: enlightenment in this very life and final nirvana within seven lives.

The first stage of enlightenment (stream entry) used to be the focus of both traditions. But Mahayana philosophically veered far from it to a sort of messianic complex (everyone is a bodhisattva, and bodhisattva vows are the only acceptable career for new Buddhists to take, for anything else would be "selfish." And all the Buddha's original disciples, the theras (elders) who were arhats (enlightened in this very life) must, by implication, be "selfish dummies" relying on "expedient means."

And the Buddha himself could not have really entered final nirvana (parinirvana) because that could be interpreted as "selfish." The bickering between modern Mahayana and "Hinayana" apologists can get absurd. There was no division in ancient times when Mahayana ideals were closer to the root tradition.


But Hinduism (which was really Vedic Brahmanism before Adi Shankara came along long after the Buddha to create it) was always hostile to the Buddha's liberating message and human potential. It always preferred a heaven-centric philosophy, relying on Great Brahma, supplicating devas (light beings from space and nature), and centering around a hierarchical-patriarchal (often quite sexist) temple establishment.

What does Theravada offer instead? Imperfectly it tries to retain the Buddha's original message. Asked if he were a god (extraterrestrial deva), a yakkha (powerful extraterrestrial being), or what, he answered simply, "I am awake" (buddha simply meaning "Awakened One"). He had not relied on the gods or come as a heavenly "savior."

Starting here and rooted here on the human plane, he found the Path to freedom from all suffering. This Path is not limited to humans but also is the way for devas, brahmas, and all beings. Other beings generally do not have the opportunity to strive all the way to the final in the present life, but all would benefit along the way.

Humans and lower devas (within the Sense Sphere) are the ones the Buddha focused on teaching because they are capable in this very life of gaining absorption (purifying serenity) and liberating insight by following the guidance of the Three Gems (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha). Mahayana has made each of these three something else:

The "Buddha" has become countless buddhas, any king or philosopher or messiah; the Dharma has become 80,000+ teachings (mixed with Confucianism, Taoism, and even the Brahmanism the Buddha rejected); the Sangha has become any Buddhist "community." Is it any wonder Mahayana practice looks very little like the historical Buddha's dispensation?

Mahayana is wonderful. It is rich and cultural. It is philosophical and exalted. And it has the best art.

But if one would seek enlightenment (understanding it to be a very unselfish thing to free oneself from greed, hatred, and delusion and help and inspire others to do the same) in this life, one would certainly investigate Theravada and the unimaginable riches of the Pali Canon.

Pali is the exclusively-Buddhist language. It is closest to the Prakrit or Magadhi language the historical Buddha spoke, while the brahmin priests around him had their secretive Sanskrit for mantras and aloof scholarship, which served a role quite like Latin in the Catholic Church.

Zen has been a push to return Mahayana Buddhism to its essentials -- just sitting to reach satori (an epiphany). But most Americans misunderstand what "Zen" means and take it to mean a free-for-all without rules or guiding ideals when it is anything but that in Asia.

It is therefore no wonder that Zen Buddhism, according to Wisdom Quarterly, the most popular type of Buddhism in the West and in America in particular. (See the myth-shattering work of UCLA's Prof. Buswell a former Zen monk in Korea who also studied Theravada monasticism).

Famous Women of Buddhism

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Story of Mahayana (Part II)

From its source in India, the Mahayana version of Buddhism spread to China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, and throughout Asia. Also known as the Northern School, it was considered more liberal and innovative than the traditional Southern School (Theravada). Mahayanists also call themselves the Northern School or “Bodhisattva-yana” (yana = vehicle). The bodhisattva replaced the arhat as the Mahayana ideal. It is with the Mahayana school that the theory of the Three Bodies (tri-kaya) enters into the salvation process and assumes central significance in the doctrine.

1) The phenomenal body (nirmana-kaya) is a manifestation of the Buddha among creatures to teach them the path to liberation -- a body that for some schools is nothing but an illusory appearance of eternal reality.
2) The enjoyment or bliss body (sambhoga-kaya) is the body to which contemplation can ascend. At the higher stages of supramundane contemplation that body manifests to the bodhisattva its splendor and reveals doctrines unintelligible to those who are unenlightened.

3) The unmanifested body of the Truth or Law (dharma-kaya) already appears in the Lotus Sutra, a transitional text that became central in many Mahayana devotional schools (such as Nichiren). In many Mahayana texts buddhas are infinite, and all partake of an identical nature -- the dharma-kaya. As anticipated in ancient schools, the Buddha is the Law (Dharma). "He who sees the law sees me; he who sees me sees the law."
There is identification of the Buddha with an eternal Dharma, with enlightenment (bodhi), and hence with nirvan. Later, real existence will be opposed to the mere appearance of existence. And voidness -- the "thingness of things," an undefinable condition, present and immutable within the buddhas -- will be stressed.
All is in the dharma-kaya. Nothing is outside of it, just as nothing is outside of space. Transcendence and immanence come together. Other schools posit a presence that is innate within all human beings, even if it is not perceived. It is like a gem hidden in dross, which shines in its purity as soon as the veil of mud (ignorance) is removed. In this aspect, the Buddha in Mahayana is taught to be intrinsically trans-human and even absolute. [All of these are Vedantic, Brahminical Hindu ideas reasserting themselves in Buddhist guise].
Since a Mahayana Buddhist can appeal for help to a god-like figure, who is a glorious redeemer, he can hope for salvation through his faith and devotion [just as Bhakti yoga points to salvation through devotion to Brahman, godhead, the "thingness behind things" or the ultimate reality].
For the average human being, this is not as hard as living up to the Theravada ideal [which is what the historical Buddha taught and which leads to arhatship]. In this sense, Mahayana has more appeal to ordinary people.
In reality, Mahayana and Theravada monastics joyfully coexist, particularly in the US.

New revelations
New revelations are made not only to human beings on Earth but also in the heavenly paradises by Shakyamuni and other buddhas. The Teaching (Dharma) is expounded uninterruptedly in the universe because worlds and paradises are infinite and all buddhas are consubstantiated with the essential body.

The assemblies to which they speak consist not only of disciples but also bodhisattvas, gods (brahmas and devas), and demons (asuras and yakkhas). The authors of the new doctrines were captivated by exaltations which often make their discourses logically implausible: phantasmagoria of celestial choruses, fabulous visions which shine with flashes of new speculations, and trains of thought under the influence, more or less conscious, of speculative and mystical Indian [i.e., Hindu] traditions.

The texts, from which new trends spring, overflow with repetitions and modulate the same arguments with a variety of readings. The task of Mahayana thinkers was very difficult because it was not easy to produce a completely logical arrangement from this prolix literature. The appearance of some of these books is surrounded by legend. The Prajñaparamita ("Perfection of Wisdom") and the Avatamsaka ("Flower Garland") sutras, for instance, are said to have been concealed by the nagas, [reptilian] demigods living at the bottom of lakes and rivers, in miraculous palaces.
There are various Prajñaparamita texts, ranging from 100,000 verses (Shatasahasrika) to only a few lines (the Prajñaparamitahrdaya, famous in English as the "Heart Sutra"). The Prajñaparamita sutras announce that
  • the world as it appears to us does not exist
  • reality is the indefinable "thingness of things" (tathata, dharmanam dharmata)
  • voidness (shunyata) is an absolute "without signs or characteristics" (animitta)
The fundamental assumption of the Prajñaparamita is expounded in a famous verse: "like light, a mirage, a lamp, an illusion, a drop of water, a dream, a lightning flash -- thus must all compounded things be considered."
Not only is there no "self," but all things lack a real nature (svabhava) or identity of their own. There are two truths -- relative truth, which "applies to things as they appear," and absolute truth, the intuition of voidness (which can be of 10, 14, 18, or 20 kinds).
The Mahayana Schools and their Texts
Mahayana comprises the following main schools:
  1. The Madhyamika
  2. The Yogahara or Vijñanavada (Vijñaptamatrata)
  3. The Avatamsaka, the school of the identity (or oneness) of the paths to salvation (eka-yana) represented by the Saddharmapundarika ("Lotus of the Sublime Dharma")
  4. The various devotional (Pure Land) schools
  5. The Dhyana school (Ch'an in China, Zen in Japan)
References: 1) Encyclopedia Britannica 1991-1994 2) Wikipedia 3) Buddhism and Asian History: The Encyclopedia of Religion

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mahayana Buddhism

Colorful Mahayana symbolism
- (text edited for clarity)

Nagarjuna image from Madhyamaka

The Mahayana ("Great vehicle"), or Northern branch, is one of the two major divisions of Buddhism. The other is Theravada ("Teaching of the Elders"), which is also referred to derogatorily as Hinayana, "Small vehicle."

Mahayana Buddhism is based on sophisticated metaphysical speculations regarding the nature of Reality (shunyata), or Enlightenment (sambodhi, prajna), and of the Buddha (Trikaya).

Soteriologically, the main idea is of not escaping into a quiescent nirvana. Rather, once having achieved enlightenment, one returns as a Bodhisattva to the world for the sake of other beings.

Mayahana, therefore, emphasizes that the duty of enlightenment is to work compassionately to relieve the suffering of others (upaya or "skillful means") and argues that all sentient creatures will ultimately achieve Buddhahood.

Mahayana Buddhism spread northeast from India into China (1st century A.D.), and from there into Tibet and Korea, and from Korea into Japan.

By convention, Mahayana is divided into two philosophical schools, both of which had a strong influence on the various Mahayana Buddhist sects, but also the Advaita Vedanta of Gaudapada and Shankara as well.

The first is the anti-metaphysical Madhyamika or Dialectic school, which emphasizes the negation of all possible phenomenal reality through a kind of logical reducto-ad-absurdum in order to arrive at the ineffable absolute or Void (shunyata) that is the only Reality.

The second Mahayanist school is the Vijnanavada or "Consciousness-[only] doctrine" which uses the experience of meditation in order to prove that all reality is ultimately Consciousness (hence the alternative names of Yogachara, "Yoga doctrine," and Chittamatra, "mind-only").

Unlike the Madhyamikas, they developed a number of metaphysical and occult conceptions, including an emanationist ontology quite similar to that of Samkhya, though psychologically rather than cosmologically oriented.

Buddhist advertisements Bodhidharma or Buddhist graffiti? The temples around Seoul hang posters. They advertise temple events and other programs. This is an older poster, on a signpost with plenty of other adverts under it.

The Bodhisattva Ideal
At the heart of Mahayana Buddhism is the noble "Bodhisattva Ideal":
However innumerable sentient beings are,
I vow to save them. However inexhaustible the defilements are,
I vow to extinguish them. However immeasurable the dharmas are,
I vow to master them. However incomparable enlightenment is,
I vow to attain it.
The Bodhisattva Vow (in Andrew Harvey's The Essential Mystics, Harper: San Francisco, 1996, p.75)

A bodhisattva is a being who searches for the attainment of Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. This conception, central to Mahayana school, developed from the original idea of one who defers the "ultimate goal" of nirvana (extinction) in order to return to the world of suffering again and again for the sake of sentient beings.

Master Shantideva (695-743 AD) was a great proponent of the Bodhisattva Ideal and the Middle Way of Buddhism [Buddhist Artwork - mirror (Australia)]

The Bodhisattva and Reincarnation
By Evgueni Tortchinov

Within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which is also a Mahayana school, two types of reincarnation must be differentiated: the usual one (the interpretation of which has the doctrine of Karma as its foundation), an interpretation of which does not differ much from that of the Theravadins, and the doctrine of Sprul-sku (read tool-koo, Sanskrit: nirmanakaya, "a magically produced body, or magically transformed body). This is the ability of the bodhisattvas and other "saints" (arya pudgala) to create by the force of mind special "artificial" bodies to reveal themselves to the Samsaric world by their will for the benefit of other living beings.

Thus, the Dalai-lama is [are] a sprul-sku of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Panchen-lama a sprul-sku of the Buddha Amitabha, Bogdo-gegen (of Mongolia) a sprul-sku of the saint Taranatha, and so on. Only such special incarnations can be realized on the levels of mind, speech, and body.
Moreover each bodhisattva, by his/her supernatural powers, can produce unlimited numbers of such "magical bodies" to be incarnated in several persons. (Such as was seen in the collision in Bertolucci's movie "Little Buddha"). In common parlance such incarnations are called "incarnated lamas," or even "living buddhas."

But ordinary beings move through the Wheel of Cyclic Existence [Samsara] by the force of their karma, which holds together their "santana," the individualized continuity of psycho-physical experience.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Buddhist Economics: money & interest

How money and charging interest debased Buddhism

Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quang Ðu'c burned himself to death at a busy Saigon intersection on June 11, 1963. David Halberstam, a New York Times reporter, witnessed his self-immolation: " I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being...human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think.... As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him."

Early Indian to Medieval Chinese Economies
Economic ethics in Mahayana Buddhism show both continuities and differences with those in Theravada Buddhism. Many of the changes are related to transformations in Mahayana understandings of nirvana/Samsara, enlightenment, and the bodhisattva ideal (delaying one's salvation to save others).

For example, within Mahayana the absolute difference or separation between nirvana and Samsara disappears. As a result, charitable activities within Samsara grow to have more value in themselves and the bodhisattva idea becomes the ideal.
At the same time, a more positive view of Samsara tends to lead to an acceptance of status quo conditions "in the world," while the primary focus of efforts toward enlightenment are put upon change in one's perception of things. This focus on enlightenment as primarily a change in one's way of perceiving things implied that the main effort towards enlightenment must be made towards effecting such perceptual change (through meditation and the like), rather than Theravada Buddhism's focus on change in individual ethical/moral behavior leading to a gradual betterment of karma.29

Another implication of these shifts in Mahayana versus Theravada [metaphysics] was a greater acceptance of economic activity by the Sangha. The most obvious instances of this were the increased economic activities of the Buddhist monasteries in China and Japan and the acceptance of monk labor in the Ch'an/Zen school. At the same time, in terms of lay economic ethics, values toward wealth continued to remain focused upon religious giving (dana). Accumulation and possession of wealth was "good" as long as one remained unattached to it. In terms of the Buddhist Sangha's relationship with the state, the previous pattern of cooperation and a comforting approach to social change, along with support for the status quo distribution of wealth, remained the governing outlooks.

An excellent example of both these continuities as well as differences with Theravada [views] can be found in the Indian Mahayana work by Nagarjuna called the "Jewel Garland of Royal Counsels." In this work Nagarjuna presents counsel to his friend and disciple, King Udayi, about the ideal Buddhist state. In such a state the enlightened king begins with his understanding of the truth of egolessness and based upon this understanding acts benevolently and without "self" [selfishness, egotism, self-aggrandizement, greed, etc.] to carry out compassionate measures for the sick, elderly, farmers, children, mendicants, and beggars, based upon the karmic premise that such giving of wealth will produce more prosperity and wealth for the kingdom in the future. He also cooperates with the Sangha to spread the Dharma.30

In this way Nagarjuna takes up the themes of karma, egolessness, compassionate giving, and Sangha/state cooperation and puts them into an overall viewpoint of how Mahayana economic and social ethics should be carried out by the benevolent king. In the process, he also presents both the continuities and differences between Mahayana and Theravada: the similarities consisting of a common stress on Sangha/state cooperation and doctrinal ideas, the differences being a much greater stress on the importance of the initial perceptual change in an individual's thinking as the key to all later benevolent actions.

Confucian Heritage
In China, Mahayana continued along similar lines of Sangha/state cooperation. However, it must also be understood in terms of Buddhism's entry into China as a foreign religion and its efforts to accommodate itself to an already existing Confucian heritage.

This accommodation ultimately resulted in a Chinese transformation of Buddhism which left much more Confucian influence and less Indian, although it was still clearly recognizable. Specifically, what this meant was a greater emphasis on filial piety (dedication to parents and elders) -- the cornerstone of Confucian ethics -- as well as on the values of social harmony and hierarchical social relationships between ruler and subject, husband and wife, teacher and student, and so on.

This Confucian influence was seen most strongly during the beginning of the introduction of Buddhism into China, in the translations of Indian sutras during the Later Han (25-220 C.E.) and Eastern Chin (317-420 C.E.) periods. But it continued even after Buddhism was established and accepted in the more cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Sui (581-618) and T'ang (618-907) periods.31 As a result, filial piety, although not unknown in earlier Buddhism and already praised as a virtue there, came to be much more emphasized in the Chinese environment.

For the Chinese Buddhist laity, this fit in well with social expectations for behavior. For the monk, it presented a huge challenge in terms of justifying such seemingly unfilial behavior as following the traditional Buddhist ideal of leaving home and joining the Sangha, in the process cutting ties and obligations to parents.32

Buddhism's position in China and the need for accommodation also led to a greater emphasis upon those strands of earlier Buddhist ethics (for monk and laity) referring to gratitude and loyalty, especially to family and sovereign.33 The ideal of harmony, so strong in Confucianism, was adopted by Chinese Buddhists and applied to all social relationships, as well as becoming the cornerstone of some Chinese Buddhist metaphysical systems, such as the Hua­Yen school established in the seventh century.

In this way, both Chinese Buddhist ethics and metaphysics were subtly transformed in the process of assimilation and accommodation to indigenous Confucian ideas, and as a result diverged somewhat from their Indian Mahayana predecessors.

There were large areas of continuity between Chinese Mahayaana and earlier Indian Mahayaana (and Theravada) lay and monastic social ethics. For example, giving to the Sangha (dana) remained the most virtuous and merit­making activity for people. Also economic ethics for the monk in the form of Vinaya rules governing economic matters generally were the same as in Indian Mahayana. Moreover, for both monk and layperson karuna ("compassion") as an individual virtue continued to be an extremely important.

Midieval temple splendor (photo)

Temple Economics: Charging interest
Yet in practice, Chinese Buddhist economics took on new forms. These new forms could be seen in various commercial activities of Chinese temples which had not existed in India: grain milling, oil seed pressing, money lending, pawnshops, loans of grain to peasants (charging interest), mutual financing associations, hotels and hostelries, and rental of temple lands to farmers in exchange for some percentage of the crop.

In other areas, Chinese temples carried over previously existing Indian Mahayana commercial practices such as loans (with interest) against pledges, auction sales of clothing and fabrics, use of lay servants within the monastery to carry out commercial transactions on behalf of the Sangha, and allowing goods donated to the Sangha that were not used by the monks to be sold or loaned out to earn profits for the Sangha. Even in these practices, which were carryovers from India, new forms developed in China as monks came to be allowed to handle gold and silver and carry out commercial transactions including usury (charging interest) on an individual basis. In most cases such transformations were less a result of changes in the Indian Disciplinary Rules (Vinaya) than a disregarding of it in practice in China.34

Of all the commercial activities of the Chinese monasteries, usury in one form or another was clearly one of the most profitable. Part of such interest-charging was from loans to peasants in the form of grain at the beginning of the farming season, with repayment of principal along with a 50 percent interest due at the harvest. Other loans with interest went out in the form of cash to members of the upper classes, soldiers and others, except in the case of those with whom the monastery had a close relationship (based upon lay giving), who would get their loans interest­free.

Loans were also made to temple serfs attached to the monastery. They were not charged interest due to the risk­-free nature of such transactions since serfs were bound to temple lands anyway. Due to misuses of usury (not only by monasteries but by other lenders) leading to hardships for peasants, the government during the T'ang period (618-907 C.E.) put limits on interest rates at 4 to 5 percent per month. But both private moneylenders and the temples often went beyond these limits.35

As time passed such usury was not only undertaken by the monastery itself but by individual monks and became a major activity of many of them. Monasteries apparently condoned such individual usury because even though it led to the development of wealthy individual monks, these monks tended to practice religious giving to the monastery, and after their death their assets usually were inherited by the monastery.36 In this way individual monk usury was justified in terms of its ultimate benefit to the Sangha.

As a result of such usury activities, as well as generous donations from wealthy clans and the Imperial family from the fifth to the seventh centuries in particular 37, Buddhist monasteries in medieval China became extremely wealthy and the number of monasteries and monks increased considerably. Such wealth resulted in turn in monasteries coming to wield a significant amount of political power as well.

From the state's point of view, however, all of this brought about a considerable loss of tax revenue due to the tax­free status of monastic lands, and a considerable loss of unpaid government service and tax-like labor (corvée) brought about by the huge increase in monks (exempted from such labor), many of whom were former peasants. In addition, there was an increasingly lavish consumption of wealth occurring in Buddhist festivals and feasts and construction of temples, burial mounds (stupas), family mortuaries, and statues.

Urged on by Confucians and Taoists, who decried these trends as leading to the impoverishment of the empire, the state engaged in periodic persecutions of Buddhism by forcibly reverting monks to lay status (laicization), seizure of monastery wealth (especially gold, silver, and copper), and placing limits on the number of monasteries and temples. Major persecutions of this type occurred in the years 446, 574, and 845. In each case the main goal was to shore up the finances of the empire by forcibly returning monks to peasant life (some of whom had taken up monkhood to avoid taxes and tax-like labor), converting some temple lands to taxable status, and melting down some of the enormous numbers of gold, silver, and copper Buddhist statues, the making of which had led to extreme shortages of these materials available for coinage of money by the empire.38

Another reason behind some of the persecutions was the occasional political involvement of monasteries in rebellions or intrigues against the state. This occurred even though "official" Buddhism in the form of state-­sponsored temples and monasteries tended to support the state unequivocally. Smaller regional temples and those tied to local great families, however, occasionally got involved in political movements against the state and thus provided a very different example of Buddhist/state relations than the traditional cooperative Sangha/state ideal.39

The occurrence of rebellions during the Sui, T'ang, and later periods tied to worshipers of Maitreya (the future Buddha) illustrated how particular Buddhist sects or movements using Buddhist symbols for their own purposes could adopt adversarial relationships with the state and use advocacy of greater economic equality (or at least relief from heavy taxation) as part of their appeal for rebellion against state authority.40
WQ edited excerpt from Continuity and Change in the Economic Ethics of Buddhism: Evidence From the History of Buddhism in India, China, and Japan
By Gregory K. Ornatowski, Boston University,

American Buddhist Journal

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Friday, 13 December 2013

Of seven Russian Oligarchs, six were Jewish

On 2 July 2007, Luke Harding said this in The Guardian:
"A survey of the oligarchs, as they have become known, reveals an intriguing picture. Most of the first wave are now in prison or in exile... Only a handful, led by Roman Abramovich, Russia's richest man, have managed to succeed under both Boris Yeltsin and Putin... 
Few ordinary Russians will feel much sympathy for the losers. Any admiration for the gusto with which the country's 50-odd billionaires live their lives is more than outweighed by outrage at the way many of them made their money. And in a country where anti-Semitism is still rife and openly expressed, nationalist rabble-rousers have made much of the fact that of the seven oligarchs who controlled 50% of Russia's economy during the 1990s, six were Jewish: Berezovsky, Vladimir Guzinsky, Alexander Smolensky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Mikhail Friedman and Valery Malkin. That fact is incontestable."
Not just me saying it, is it? Even a bloke inclined to describe those who dared to express 'outrage' at the Jewishness of the privatisation sharks as 'nationalist rabble-rousers,' isn't above pointing out the racial identity of the men who robbed the Russian people blind.

By the time Boris Berezovsky committed suicide, most of the money had gone. Check out his extraordinary confession here

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