Author Topic: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions  (Read 3596 times)

Offline humanitas

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This seems like a really succinct chart 

Thoughts?  I'd thought we'd start gathering materials for Beginners or the Buddhist-curious.  Feel free to PM me with good resources, so we can Sticky a topic for new members with questions about Buddhism.


 
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Offline WonderlandAlli

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2009, 09:43:03 pm »
Thanks for this, this chart looks like a good reference page for checking the differences in traditions or as something to pick an aspect I don't know about and just randomly do a little research. :)
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Offline Monkey Mind

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2009, 10:11:21 pm »
For people who come to Buddhism from a Christian background, I say that Buddhism has it's own version of Catholics and Protestants.

In a class I once took, a Buddhist Studies professor differentiated the different sects based on 1) who achieves enlightenment (monastics, lay people, both); 2) the time line for this achievement (this lifetime, many lifetimes); 3) and what happens after enlightenment.

Offline WonderlandAlli

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2009, 10:42:35 am »
For people who come to Buddhism from a Christian background, I say that Buddhism has it's own version of Catholics and Protestants.

In a class I once took, a Buddhist Studies professor differentiated the different sects based on 1) who achieves enlightenment (monastics, lay people, both); 2) the time line for this achievement (this lifetime, many lifetimes); 3) and what happens after enlightenment.

So agreed... And that's what can make it so confusing as well.
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Offline Monkey Mind

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2009, 10:59:58 pm »
Kalachakra, I am interested in researching this history. Are there any source materials I could read? What tradition does this teaching descend from?

Offline Quiet Heart

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2009, 01:22:15 pm »
 :o
I do not have the "academic" knowledge of the history of Buddhism that some others have on this forum...but I would humbly have to say that Buddhism has gone through many changes since it's beginning. I would hesitate to say that any branch of Buddhisim is the "real" Buddhism and all others are not.
To expound the difference between Therevada and Mahayana traditions would take quite a long time...and frankly I don't see the point except for information.
I'm sure that the Theravadan community in Thailand would be very surprised to hear they are not "real" Buddhists. I'm not one of them, and if anything I feel I am more a part of the Mahayana tradition than Theravadan...but I would certainly never say that those monks who dedicated their lives to the service of Buddha in the Thai Wats (temples) were "deluded" in their worship. Having read some of their sermons, I have found some profound truths in them...and I'm glad I did,even though they are not my tradition.
And again, in my humble opinion, although I greatly respect the Dali Lama...I do not feel he is the "Pope" of Buddhisim. Certainly he is a holy person and worthy of respect...but I doubt even he would ever say he was the "head" of all Buddhists in the world.
I prefer to say...that there are many paths to the top of the mountain...some take one path...others take another. In the end I believe they all lead to the one summit.
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Offline humanitas

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2009, 03:15:06 pm »
Many transitions and changes have occurred to this mass conglomerate of dharmic paths we call Buddhism from the time of its inception.  Whether Theravada was or wasn't originally part of Buddhism as other cultures developed or envisioned it in whatever personal definitions sects and groups or individuals create in retrospect about what is or isn't Buddhism, it is now today commonly accepted that Theravada is (now) a tradition of Buddhism (today).  If beginners feel misguided by this moderator adjustment, this post might be more appropriate in the General Buddhism forum.  Moreover, we encourage people to do their own research.  If they feel that seemingly contradictory information is unsettling their perceived knowledge on the matter, again we encourage them to do their own research and discover for themselves what is real to them.  We (the moderators) are not here to be authorities on historical transitions as we're not necessarily experts on these subject matters.  We're here to point the beginning student to sources to start their journey, not control what information is or isn't real for them.  

What you are referring to is an academic issue colored by a "personal" definition of Buddhism when there were concerns over diverse systems attempting to find out what their evolutions have had in common. From this academic issue the (modern day) general accepted information is that Theravada is a school of Buddhism as they follow the Buddha's teachings.  For the Buddhist Community at large this seems to work ok.  Perhaps this is a more complex topic that is not suited to the Beginner's forum.  

« Last Edit: November 30, 2009, 11:05:02 am by Ogyen Chodzom »
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overmyhead

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2009, 04:15:31 pm »
To any beginners following this thread, I advise you to not worry about political issues such as this.  The Buddha's teachings are open, and design for, a skeptical approach.  Denouncing a branch of Buddhism for reinterpretting the teachings is kind of like, oh I don't know, denouncing someone for their opinions on the first ammendment (right to freedom of expression).

Offline Monkey Mind

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2009, 05:30:28 pm »
The teaching is from the Buddhist tradition.

Tāranātha (Tibetan: Kunga Nyingpo) (1575-1634) wrote a history (horrible wylie-ized name: paldu kyikhor lo chokor gyi byung khungs nyermkho)
better known in English as "The History of Buddhism in India" around 1608.  There is no mention of Theravada because it was not a part of Buddhism at the time of Tāranātha's writing.

The Blue Annals also has individual "books" relating each aspect of the history of Buddhism and including the names of the lineage passers in most cases.  I had my translation from the Tibetan on the Internet, but I took it down due to attacks by Theravadans.  Amazon has a translation of the Blue Annals, but it is heavily Wylie-ized and hard to read.

Moderators are misleading Beginners when they imply that Theravada was a part of Buddhism.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama could only find 8 points of agreement between Buddhism and Theravada.

Thank you for the sources, I will start there. I forwarded the content of your original post to a Tibetan teacher I know, as well as a Theravadan teacher. I would think that such archeological evidence that the Theravadan lineage was based on a hoax would result in widespread discussion. However, I found nothing written about this topic in any of the Buddhist magazines or scholarly journals, and the only Internet reference I could find was posted on Buddhist Community a few weeks ago. You might have the story of the century, you should think about publishing your ideas. I look forward to reading more about this topic.

Offline Pema Rigdzin

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2009, 12:45:41 am »
Historically, Buddhism was founded somewhere between 500 and 300 BCE, depending on calendar changes and debate, By Siddhartha Gotama "The Buddha" and  his disciples.  He spoke his teachings in the formal language of his time used for all important matters, known now in English as "Sanskrit".
in 1060 CE a monastery in Taprobane (the island now known as "Sri Lanka") broke away from Buddhism and founded Theravada, throwing away most of Buddhism and translating only some philosophical Sutras into the local corrupt sub-dialect known as "Pali".  They received little notice until the British invaded and enslaved India, including the island they renamed "Ceylon".  The British Victorian linguists found the philosophy-only approach more appealing than the practical approach of Buddhism so they created a hoax that claimed that Theravada was somehow "older" or "more authentic" than real Buddhism.  Modern scholars have exposed this Victorian Hoax and Buddhist history books are being corrected.  It may take decades for the historical record to be corrected.

OK, first off, there's no record of what language the Buddha gave his teachings in. His live, oral teachings, given all over India - to peoples of all different castes and ethnic groups, mind you - weren't even recorded until after he passed away. As the original Sangha ended up breaking up, over time, into 18 sub-schools due to differences of opinion over matters of Vinaya and such, some of the schools chose to record the Buddha's 3 baskets in Sanskrit, some chose Pali, and I believe some chose Apabramsa and other Indian languages.

This bit about Theravada only being thought to be older - or even considering it Buddhism at all! - due to some British hoax is total hogwash. I'm sure there are many Indian sources that can verify its authenticity and its status a very old Buddhist school - but Tibetan sources from centuries before the British ever thought about going to India definitely state that Theravada was one of the original 18 "Hinayana" Buddhist schools (although I prefer the term "Shravakayana"). Tibetan master scholars such as Longchenpa (1300's) definitely mention Theravada alongside the Vaibhashikas, Sautrantikas, Mahasanghikas, and others as being among the 18 original sub-schools. The Theravada tradition absolutely is, and always has been since its inception, a Buddhist school. I've never in my life ever heard anyone question that in the slightest lol. Also, the Pali canon consists of not only NUMEROUS suttas, covering many, many topics, but also consists of the Vinaya and the Abidhamma... The canon contains all of the cornerstone teachings of Buddhism, such as the 4 Noble Truths, interdependent origination, the 4 Seals, etc, so that does away with claims of them "throwing away most of Buddhism" and "only translating a few philosophical sutras." That is an absolutely ridiculous claim.

I have not read Taranatha's text, but I find it very unlikely that he didn't mention the Theravada. In any case, I don't believe Taranatha ever actually went to India himself anyway, or even claim that he did.
« Last Edit: November 30, 2009, 12:51:46 am by Pema Rigdzin »

Offline Wonky Badger

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2009, 12:52:32 am »
Moderators are misleading Beginners when they imply that Theravada was a part of Buddhism.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama could only find 8 points of agreement between Buddhism and Theravada.
I think it is generally accepted that Theravada is a part of Buddhism. Approximately how many points of agreement would you say that His Holiness the Dalai Lama should have found for Theravada to be accepted as Buddhism? Also, from what I could gather, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was not physically present at the conference where these points were agreed on.
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Offline Pema Rigdzin

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2009, 01:05:17 am »
Moderators are misleading Beginners when they imply that Theravada was a part of Buddhism.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama could only find 8 points of agreement between Buddhism and Theravada.
I think it is generally accepted that Theravada is a part of Buddhism. Approximately how many points of agreement would you say that His Holiness the Dalai Lama should have found for Theravada to be accepted as Buddhism? Also, from what I could gather, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was not physically present at the conference where these points were agreed on.

My Tibetan lamas, teaching from Tibetan commentaries of considerable antiquity, definitely teach that the Theravadin school was one of the 18 shravakayana sub-schools following the Buddha's teachings. The Tibetan traditions are all in agreement about this. I've never seen any scholar of any Buddhist tradition say anything different.

Besides, isn't the Buddha recorded as having said that any teaching that accepted the 4 Seals is tantamount to the Buddha Dharma?


overmyhead

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #12 on: November 30, 2009, 01:41:10 am »
Thank you for the post Pema.  I smelled nonsense and I was just waiting for someone to bring out the facts.  :)

Offline Monkey Mind

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #13 on: November 30, 2009, 02:34:58 am »
Yep. I have some history with this topic, which is why I like to play dumb. When this material first appeared on Buddhist Community, I spent several hours looking for a shred of something that legitimized the claim, or at least indicated that other Buddhists were like-minded around the subject. Found zilch.
« Last Edit: November 30, 2009, 08:13:09 am by Monkey Mind »

Offline Pema Rigdzin

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Re: The differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist Traditions
« Reply #14 on: December 01, 2009, 04:00:38 pm »
I realize that "Pema" is faithfully repeating the false statements he was told and taught.
That does not change the fact that modern scholarship has exposed the claim of Theravada as predating it's founding in 1060AD as a Victorian hoax.
Haha, if you think the Buddha went around speaking exclusively in Sanskrit to many people - very often commoners - for whom Sanskrit was not their tongue, then it is you who thinks the Buddha was oblivious. Secondly, the Tibetan commentaries that my teachers are referencing - which are generally commentaries on even earlier Indian texts - quite obviously and vastly predate the British arrival in India, so your claims about the British "hoax" is pretty silly... and that's not even the silliest part about your claim: what motive would the British have for inventing some story of Theravada being "real Buddhism" and having an earlier history than it did? Haha, it's so silly we probably shouldn't waste anymore time "debating" it.

Panini had written the Sanskrit Sutras which described in detail the formal Sanskrit ("Perfected") forms of the Vedic language (and by default, the informal Prakrit ("earthy informal") form is Vedic language that does not follow the rules).  Formal teachings before, during, and after Buddha were given in Sanskrit and recorded in such character sets as Brahmi, Chinese, Gupta, Japanese, Nagari, and Tibetan.  Buddha spoke of Anatman because the people around him spoke of Atman.  Buddha called his teaching Dharma because everyone around him spoke of THEIR teachings as Their Dharma, so you have Buddha Dharma, Sikh Dharma, Yoga Dharma, Jain Dharma, Vedic Dharma, Sanatana Dharma, and if speaking about Christians they would have called that teaching "Christian Dharma".
OK, I've got to say that I'm amused by your established approach of interspersing some factual, commonly known things which nonetheless are irrelevant to your points in the interest of causing people to have some faith in your knowledge so they'll accept the rest of your claims which are absurd and often wildly illogical.

I am not contradicting the general reputation of Tibetan teachers as being notoriously lousy with Sanskrit.  They commonly misspell "Padma" as "Pema", "Vajra" as "Benza", "Svaha" as "Soha", etc.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama has backed the movement to correct Tibetan use of Sanskrit, especially in Mantras - publishing in his Kalachakra Tantra book corrected Sanskrit versions of the mantras.
This is really quite laughably ridiculous. As most people know, the Tibetan language does not use the Roman script, and thus there's no such word as "pema" or "benza" or "soha" in Tibetan. Instead, the Tibetan script corresponds exactly to the Sanskrit spelling. What you are referring to is the way most publishers of English translations of Tibetan texts have transliterated the Sanskrit in a way that mimics the way most Tibetans mispronounce Sanskrit. They mispronounce it, of course, because it is a very different language from Tibetan and contains sounds which Tibetan does not. But centuries ago, Tibetans did go to the trouble of creating new syllables in their script to represent the Sanksrit sounds so it could be written correctly in Tibetan, and some Tibetan scholars such as Sakya Pandita heavily stressed correct pronunciation of Sanskrit, while others have given very feasible arguments as to why some mispronunciation wouldn't diminish the efficacy of the practice.

So basically, we have you giving examples of how Westerners transliterate into English the Tibetan mispronunciation of Sanskrit and pinning that on the Tibetans as misspelling of Sanskrit, and we have you giving us an irrelevant lesson about how Indians of all persuasions considered their traditions "Dharma," (which you've correctly but irrelevantly pointed out just generically means "system of teachings and practice") while neither of those things has the slightest thing to do with whether or not the Buddha taught in Sanskrit, whether Theravada's history is dubious, or contradicting the fact that 700-800 year old Tibetan commentaries on nearly 1,000 year old Indian commentaries place Theravada among the 18 original Buddhist "Hinayana" schools long, long before the Brits went to India.

My last thought is that when the Pali canon has all of the fundamental teachings of Buddha, from the 4 Noble Truths, to interdependent origination, the 4 Seals, to meditation techniques of shamatha and vipashyana, to the descriptions and explanations of the five skandhas and how there's no self to be found there, of cessation (Nirvana), of the Vinaya - of basically everything we consider Buddhism to be and nothing we consider contrary to Buddhism, why are you even entertaining the idea that Theravada is somehow not Buddhism lol? If the teachings in the Pali canon were spoken by the Buddha - which the rest of us Buddhists in other traditions definitely agree that they were, since they form the foundation of all Buddhisst traditions - and since the Theravadins themselves consider that it was Gautama who spoke those teachings, then the Dharma of the Pali canon is incontrovertibly Buddhist. End of story.
« Last Edit: December 01, 2009, 04:04:48 pm by Pema Rigdzin »

 


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