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Bodhisattva Ideal - Questions and Answers Tuscany 1984 Part 1 - Unchecked

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked by Sangharakshita, and may contain mistakes and mishearings. Checked and reprinted copies of all seminars will be available as part of the Complete Works Project.

by Sangharakshita

... party that attached more
importance to the letter of the teaching, and a
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majority party that attached more importance to the spirit of the teach- ing. A party that concentrated
on what the Buddha had said, and a party that concentrated on what the Buddha was and what the
Buddha had actually been.
So I think the explanation that I have given is, on the whole, a sort ~f, quite fair interpretation
of the real point at issue. And it is perhaps significant that it was mainly from among the
Mahasangikas that the Mahayana eventually arose. Though, I mean, information about this split is
available in quite a number of modern works. I think one of the latest, perhaps, the latest and probably
the most, well perhaps I should not say relia~e but ~ertainly the most exhaustive generally available
Warder's 'Indian Buddhism'. That gives quite a good account of this whole business.
But, I think, Also one needs to understand that it's not a question of there having been in
Buddhism this kind of split at one particular point, and that thereafter all Mahasangikas and all
Mahayanists in- variably adhered to the spirit rather than the letter and all Theravadins or
Sthaviravadine invariably adhered to the letter rather than the spirit. It is not quite as straightforward as
that. Because, I mean, there have been Mahayanists who have adhered to the letter of the Mahayana,
you know, very much against the spirit of the Mahayana and you can find Theravadins who adhere to
the spirit rather than the letter of the Theravada. So, when one has any sort of formulated teaching,
whether a Buddhist teaching or any other, there is always the possibility of taking that towards either of
these two attitudes. And the fact that, so to speak, historically you belong to the school of the spirit as
op- posed to the school of the letter does not necessarily mean that you yourself, personally or
individually are more observant of the spirit than the letter or vice versa. So you mustn't say 'Ah well,
I'm a Mahayanist, I'm broadminded automatically. I only consider the spirit, not like those wretched
Theravadins.' One is not really justified in thinking in that sort of way, or assuming necessarily that,
because someone is a Theravadin, he necessarily, on all occasions, adheres to the letter rather than the
spirit. It is very much a question of your personal attitude or personal response to the teaching which
can be taken in either of these,two ways, howsoever formulated and whether within this Yana or that
Yana.
This is why I'm inclined to say nowadays not so much that there is a Hinayana or a Mahayana
as a spiritual phenomenon, or even that there are individual Mahayanists and individual Hinayanists as
though they're always either one or the other; but rather that on any particular oc
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casion, within any particular context of spiritual life, you may adopt either a Hinayana attitude or a
Mahayana attitude. It seems very much more like that. It is not that, well, this is the Mahayana, that is
the Hinayana, except in a purely historical and, as it were, technical sense. Or that here is a
Mahayanist and there is a Hinayanist. It is more that well at this particular moment is my at-- titude
towards, say, meditation a Hinayana attitude or a Mahayana attitude? Is my attitude towards work a
Hinayana attitude or a Mahayana attitude? Is it self-regarding or is it other-regarding? Or is it self-
regarding, or is it self and other-regarding. It is not just a question of slapping on the labels Hinayana
and Mahayana, or Hinayanist and Mahayanist more or less indiscriminately.
I've met many a Tibetan Buddhist who was technically a follower of the Bodhisattva Ideal but
whose attitude, one might say, was thoroughly Hina~anistic, and I've also met Theravada bhikkhus
whose attitude was cheerfully Mahayanistic, one might say4 Anyway
Vessantara:
In the 'Survey' you give an account of the charges which the Mahayana made against
the Theravada, How did the Theravada defend itself against the various criticisms?
S.:
Broadly speaking the Hinayana, certainly in the person of the Theravada or Sarvastivada,
simply ignored the Mahayana. In fact as it continued to do, you know, broadly speaking. In one of the
works which we find in the Abhidharma Pitika of the Theravada, that is to say the Kathavanthu,
usually translated as 'Points of Controversy' - there are a number of discussions between different
schools with the Theravada on the one hand and various, sort of, Mahasangika offshoots or proto-
Mahayana schools on the other.
But apart from that there is very little indeed-~in the way of controversy between the
Hinayana on the one hand and the Mahayana on the other. The Hinayana ignored the Mahayana
except somewhat later on when it came to various quite technical philosophical discussions, as
between, say, the Sarvastivadins and some of the other schools.
The two also tended to be geographically isolated. especially, say, in the case of the
Theravada. The Theravada survived in Ceylon. Of course in Ceylon the Theravadins were very much
opposed to certain Mahayanistic or quasi-Mahayanistic schools which did gain some foothold in
Ceylon. There were the two great Viharas - The Abhayagiri Vih~ra and the ... what was the other one?
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Vessantara: The Maha Vihara?
S.:
The Maha Vihara, that's right. And the Abhayagiri Vih~ra was, as it were, Mahayanistically
inclined. But we don't know of any actual polemics in the philosophical sense we only know that, with
the help of the king, the Abhayagiri-vadins were eventually suppressed, and that was that! We know
very little indeed about what they actually taught. The impression we get from Theravada sources,
whenever they are men- tioned is that tY\ey were... their teaching was so dreadful that a dec- ent
Theravadin couldn't even go into any details. They were usually referred to as Vetulyavadins wh~ch
for some modern Theravadins is a term of abuse. Some scholars maintain that Vetulyavada or
Vaitulyavada is synonymous with Vaipulyavada. Mahayana sdtras are called Vaipulya sutras or
extended or expanded sutras. But this is a matter of controversy.
But, broadly speaking, there was very little in the way of con- troversy between the
Theravadins on the one hand , or Hinayanists on the one hand, and Mahayanists on the other. They
seem to have agreed to differ.
Very often of course, in the later periods of Indian Buddhist history one does find followers of
the Hinayana and followers of the Mahayana living virtually side by side in the same monastery. The
dif- ference between the two being simply that the Mahayana monks, it is said 'worshipped the
Bodhisattvas and studied the Mahayana sutras' whereas the Hinayana monks didn't, I mean, the
Mahayana monks studied whatever the Hinayana monks studied but with the addition of the Mahayana
Sutras. Besides which they also worshipped the Mahayana Bodhisattvas which the Theravadins or the
Hinayanists would not have done. But they seem to have lived together in the same monastic com-
plex at least quite amicably.
Vessantara: There are various questions arising out of some of the incidents of the life of the Buddha
which you talk about. Lalitavajra had one about Kisagotami.
Lalitavaira: Firstly, I was struck by the difference in teaching between the incident in the Buddha's life
concerning Kisagotami and the incident in the life of Christ and the raising of Lazarus. The later
incident is usually taken in a literal manner. If both are indeed true there appears to be a btLge chasm
as to what is regarded as spiritual teaching. The Buddha's pointing directly to the nature of existence
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and Christ again abnegating.
S.:
I think the difference goes even more deep than that. Because one might say that in the case
of Christ as, you know, represented in the Gospels, he wasn't concerned so much to give a teaching -
though he did give some teaching - as to demonstrate, so to speak, that he was the Son of God.
Because, after all, God was regarded as the Creator. God had created man. God was master, so to
speak, of life and of death. So, if you could bring a dead man back to life, well, what did that show,
what did that prove? - That you had~some trem- endous power, that you were, so to speak, God. This
is why down the ages Christians have usually regarded Christ's miracles as proof of his claim that he
was, in fact, the Son of God. So, the miracle of raizing Lazarus from the dead must be seen within that
particular context. Whereas, in the case of the Buddha, he was not concerned with esttlishing any such
claim. That would, in fact, have been im- possible within the context of the Dharma as taught by him.
One might even say that he wasn't concerned to establish the fact that he was Enlightened. Re was
only concerned to point out the way to someone who neede&a way to follow.
So when Kisagotami came before him there was no question of his bringing her son back to
life to demonstrate that he was the Son of God or even that he was Enlightened, or even that he did
have super- normal powers. It was a question of leading Kisagotami to Enlight- enment. So the two
different attitudes or responses do illustrate this very great difference between Christianity on the one
hand and Buddhism on the other.
It is perhaps significant that in Christianity, as I mentioned, I mean, historically, so much
importance has been attached to the miracles of Christ, and that when these were attacked ...

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