dmattwads

Mahayana vs Theravada

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17 minutes ago, steve said:

 

I have not yet read through the thread and would simply like to share some initial reactions.

There is certainly value to engaging the rational mind when approaching the Dharma, for as long as we need and benefit from that.

The other side is that the Dharma is not created by or ever fully captured by discursive thought.

For me, a big part of connecting to Dharma is to see the role the discursive mind plays in our lives and to find balance between its value and limitations. 

So I would not put too much emphasis solely on what makes sense and allow yourself to develop some trust in what you are experiencing, whether or not it yet makes sense. 

For many it is a bad word, but in that lies the beginnings of faith which is an enormously powerful fuel to spiritual practice. 

 

yes for this reason I am paying a lot of attention lately to experience. Trying to see what actually works as opposed to just what sounds good in theory.

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Something that has been a bit of a surprise to me to realize lately is the reactivity I have to my two major Theravada practices which are meditation and reading texts. It seems that either one produces a strong reaction and me that is awesome not positive and I'm not sure why. 

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Posted (edited)

“I know that while my father, the Sakyan, was ploughing, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, aloof from pleasures of the senses, aloof from unskilled states of mind, I entered on the first meditation, which is accompanied by initial thought and discursive thought, is born of aloofness, and is rapturous and joyful, and while abiding therein, I thought: ‘Now could this be a way to awakening?’ Then, following on my mindfulness, Aggivissana, there was the consciousness: This is itself the Way to awakening. This occurred to me, Aggivissana: ‘Now, am I afraid of that happiness which is happiness apart from sense-pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind?’ This occurred to me...: I am not afraid of that happiness which is happiness apart from sense-pleasures, apart from unskilled states of mind.’”
 

(MN 1 246-247, Pali Text Society Vol I pg 301)
 

 

There are cessations associated with the four rupa jhanas:

1st)  cessation of dis-ease

2nd)  cessation of unhappiness
3rd)  cessation of ease apart from equanimity (with respect to the multiplicity of the senses)
4th)  cessation of happiness apart from equanimity (with respect to the multiplicity of the senses)

What it means to me:

 

My sitting is largely a matter of realizing a spontaneous breath in the midst of activity. I don't know about anybody else, but for me that requires a recognition that I am staying out of suffocation, while relinquishing control of the precariousness of posture.

I know that the alignment of the spine affects my ability to feel. The spaces between the vertebrae allow the nerves that exit the spine to relay feeling from the various parts of the body to the brain, in a dynamic that changes as the alignment of the spine changes. The more I discover relaxation in the face of the suffocation response and calm in the face of the precariousness of posture, the more the things that come forward for me in sitting reflect a timely ability to feel.

Lately I tend to emphasize the relaxation of activity when I experience discomfort, and the calming of the senses that coordinate the placement of awareness when I experience unhappiness. That I can experience ease and not experience happiness, I think is an oddity of human nature.

(http://zenmudra.com/A-Natural-Mindfulness.pdf#page=15)


More on "the senses that coordinate the placement of awareness":


In modern neurobiology, there’s a recognition that dysfunction in any of the senses connected with balance (equalibrioception, proprioception, graviception, and oculoception) can result in an out-of-body experience, and that the precise nature of that out-of-body experience will depend on exactly which sense is dysfunctional.

In some out-of-body experiences, the feeling of place associated with awareness occurs in two locations at once. Such a duality is a particular cause of distress to those who experience it, because the self is so closely identified with a singular feeling of place in awareness.

Our most intimate feeling of self, then, is a coordination of particular senses that gives place to awareness, and like the involuntary activity in the body that comes forward as I relax through the suffocation response, the involuntary activity of the particular senses involved in the experience of place comes forward as I find calm in the face of precariousness.

(Ibid)

Edited by Mark Foote
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I think another factor is that in Theravada it's all on you, but in Mahayana there are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to help you.

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18 hours ago, dmattwads said:

I think another factor is that in Theravada it's all on you, but in Mahayana there are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to help you.

Except in Mahayana these enlightened symbols (yidams) are not regarded as external forces, but manifestations of the innate buddha nature present in all beings. In essence, Mahayana explores the self liberation (or liberation from self) ideal in greater width and depth, with more expansive resources, and expedients, but the work is still all on us. Dont mean to burst anyone's bubble. 

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Posted (edited)

(wow, gremlins in the Dao Bums software!  my apologies)

Edited by Mark Foote

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14 minutes ago, Mark Foote said:

CT, is that still true even with Nichiren and Pure Land?  Or are the buddhas god-like deities that do all the heavy lifting?
 

 

As I understand it, there were two main strands of Pure Land in China- one advocated Pure Land practice as complementary to the other Buddhist practices, and it became common to see the nianfo practice incorporated with Chan, both as a way for Chan teachers to conduct popular outreach and also as a koan. This strand of Pure Land does not emphasize "other power" and, especially in the Chan presentations, posits Amitabha and the Pure Land as manifestations of the mind's innate purity. So this would accord with what CT says above, though a popular understanding of the Buddhas as independent beings is not strictly refuted. This is still the major form of Pure Land in China (and, I believe, Korea and Vietnam) and also exists in Japan with the Obaku Zen sect.

 

The other main current is represented by Shandao who taught "other power" strictly. While maybe, in theory, he would have accepted the Chan/ Mind Only explanations as ultimately true, he thought it was no good to frame the practice this way as it led to doubt and confusion. Our deluded minds in the age of dharma decline could simply not handle even a drop of self-reliance. It was Other Power all the way. This strand of Pure Land did not survive persecution in the late Tang and its texts were lost in China. They survived in Japan where they were later read by Honen and Shinran and became the basis of Jodo Shu and Jodo Shinshu, the most popular forms of Buddhism in Japan. Recently (I think in the past century or century and a half) Chinese monks visiting Japan picked up these texts and brought them back, and there has been a revival of this strand of Pure Land in China too. They call themselves the Pristine Pure Land school and this is their website: http://www.purelandbuddhism.org/

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On 4/27/2020 at 1:14 PM, dmattwads said:

I think another factor is that in Theravada it's all on you, but in Mahayana there are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to help you.


I'm wondering whose instructions on meditation you were following?  I think there are several different strands of Theravadin teachings circulating these days:

  • Goenka's teachings
  • Thai teachings, like those of Ajahn Chah
  • Western teachings, like Jack Kornfield's at Spirit Rock
  • Offshoots like Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

I think they all emphasize what is now called "bare attention", to one extent or another.  

It's true that Gautama emphasized self-reliance, but he also recommended a particular meditation as the means to that self-reliance:
 

33. "Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.


"And how, Ananda, is a bhikkhu an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge?


34. "When he dwells contemplating the body in the body, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world; when he dwells contemplating feelings in feelings, the mind in the mind, and mental objects in mental objects, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world, then, truly, he is an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external refuge; having the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge.


(https://www.accesstoinsight.org/.../dn/dn.16.1-6.vaji.html)

Turns out it was the expansion of the version of the practice given above that was described in Anapanasati Sutta that constituted Gautama's own way of living (not the one in Satipatthana Sutta).  Even so, the practice is mostly obscured by the commentaries, as far as I can tell.  Not a source of happiness, to try to do too much.

I suppose that's why many Zen teachers just instruct their students to be aware of their breathing.  Of course, the basis of Anapanasati Sutta is the distinction of the breath in and the breath out, with the accompanying awarenesses, in a cross-legged posture.   

Then there's this:

"When you sit, the cushion sits with you. If you wear glasses, the glasses sit with you. Clothing sits with you. House sits with you. People who are moving around outside all sit with you. They don’t take the sitting posture!"

(Kobun Chino Otogawa, http://www.jikoji.org/intro-aspects/ “Shikantaza”)

One could say that Buddha and the bodhisattvas are moving around outside, and maybe that enables the experience of what is outside the boundaries of sense in the distinction of the breath in or the breath out (along with a feeling of compassion).  I would guess that chanting is an excellent way to focus on the distinction of in-breathing and out-breathing, albeit somewhat unconsciously. 

Whatever works, but as you can tell I am looking for the science of why it works, to the extent possible.

 

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On 28. 4. 2020 at 4:41 PM, C T said:

Except in Mahayana these enlightened symbols (yidams) are not regarded as external forces, but manifestations of the innate buddha nature present in all beings. In essence, Mahayana explores the self liberation (or liberation from self) ideal in greater width and depth, with more expansive resources, and expedients, but the work is still all on us. Dont mean to burst anyone's bubble. 


Yes, definitely. However at the same time the deities are "outside" manifestation as well. Many masters have shared stories of being protected. Chetsang Rinpoche met a woman he considers Achi because she appeared out of nowhere and saved his life by showing him the way to escape China. Garchen Rinpoche felt a hand stroking his head while falling asleep and considers it Tara showing him she is protecting him. So while the deities are definitely manifestations of our potential, they also appear as "outer" forms to help and protect sentient beings.

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Posted (edited)
48 minutes ago, Miroku said:


Yes, definitely. However at the same time the deities are "outside" manifestation as well. Many masters have shared stories of being protected. Chetsang Rinpoche met a woman he considers Achi because she appeared out of nowhere and saved his life by showing him the way to escape China. Garchen Rinpoche felt a hand stroking his head while falling asleep and considers it Tara showing him she is protecting him. So while the deities are definitely manifestations of our potential, they also appear as "outer" forms to help and protect sentient beings.

 

:) Thanks for the reminder, Miroku. You're right, and I'm not contending any of what you said. My point was specifically referencing yidams (the tutelary deities, or what some teachers like to say, "heart-bond deities") who collectively enhances the scope of attainment of both ordinary & extraordinary realizations that cannot be accessed otherwise. 

 

To be able to make a pure connection with other formless deities and buddhas in the Vajrayana pantheon would still require some sort of virtuous affinity that one has cultivated, so, in a sense, it is still the practitioner's inner spiritual potential and qualities that determine how such connections are made, or how the conditions are ripened so as to allow for such external blessings to take place. Both the Rinpoches you mentioned are masters in their own right - what you related about their encounters are examples of the ripeness mentioned. These beings also appear regularly to us deluded beings but our jaundiced perception means we only catch glimpses now and again, or experience fleeting sensations that, at times, convince us we are not alone (like maybe catch a whiff of divine scent, or feel a sudden light breeze that pleasantly brushes our face, or we hear some kind of faint but unfamiliar angelic music during meditation, etc). As one's practice matures, these glimpses and sensations become clearer and lasts longer, and, in time, one can even receive teachings, healings, and blessings to remove stubborn obstacles.  

Edited by C T
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8 hours ago, C T said:

 

:) Thanks for the reminder, Miroku. You're right, and I'm not contending any of what you said. My point was specifically referencing yidams (the tutelary deities, or what some teachers like to say, "heart-bond deities") who collectively enhances the scope of attainment of both ordinary & extraordinary realizations that cannot be accessed otherwise. 

 

To be able to make a pure connection with other formless deities and buddhas in the Vajrayana pantheon would still require some sort of virtuous affinity that one has cultivated, so, in a sense, it is still the practitioner's inner spiritual potential and qualities that determine how such connections are made, or how the conditions are ripened so as to allow for such external blessings to take place. Both the Rinpoches you mentioned are masters in their own right - what you related about their encounters are examples of the ripeness mentioned. These beings also appear regularly to us deluded beings but our jaundiced perception means we only catch glimpses now and again, or experience fleeting sensations that, at times, convince us we are not alone (like maybe catch a whiff of divine scent, or feel a sudden light breeze that pleasantly brushes our face, or we hear some kind of faint but unfamiliar angelic music during meditation, etc). As one's practice matures, these glimpses and sensations become clearer and lasts longer, and, in time, one can even receive teachings, healings, and blessings to remove stubborn obstacles.  


Great explanation! Thank you. 

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On 4/24/2020 at 9:37 AM, dmattwads said:

I should probably clarifying even with some mantras I have to use them sparingly like the Zhunti mantra. With that and with regular meditation the reaction with me is just too much karma release too soon.

 

The moderation of the subconscious during that release is an under-appreciated skill!

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