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  • Rodolfo Rivas
    started a topic Voidness and realms

    Voidness and realms

    Hello,

    First of all it is really extraordinary that one can ask Dhamma questions to monastics. I am probably burning a lot of good past Karma for this. I am very grateful.

    I got in touch with Buddhism through a Chinese Mahayana temple. My learning sources are a mix of Dharma talks at this Tien Tai Pure Land oriented temple and Dharma talks available over the internet. I find the Theravada explanations more consistent and simple but I cannot find a temple of this school near home to practice and learn.

    My questions are in regards a couple of interpretations that get me confused. One is the level of voidness between Theravada and Mahayana schools. When you read some Mahayana texts, you find the sentence 'Theravadins (or Hinayanists...) fail to realize that is or that is void'. Personally I cannot see what can be left if you read deeply the 5 kandhas or the perception free contemplation of a 4th Jhana. Also I remember a deeper Dharma talk where Ajahn Brahm explains that consciousness is one aggregate that is conditioned and there is not another consciousness out of this conditioned one by the other kandhas. Could you please shed some light into what are the claimed differences between both schools?

    My second question is about realms. If after an individual reaches Arhantship there is nothing more to achieve, is he as accomplished as a Buddha in wisdom? Would be the only difference that the Arhant was taught by a Buddha and the second re-discovered the path by himself? If there is nothing more to achieve, what are the other realms that are so common in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, like Prattyebuddhas or Bodhisatvas (spelling may be wrong)? Each realm practice different paths, like 4 noble truths, 12 links of causation and so on, but there is nothing more to achieve..., I find a contradiction.

    Palms together,

    Rodolfo

  • Rodolfo Rivas
    replied
    The short answer is yes.
    thinking in terms of "progression through realms" is foreign to Theravada Buddhism and, if anything, even more foreign to the word of the Buddha
    Thank you, it helps me putting things in context.

    There is an interesting book on the origins of the Bodhisattva concept called The Genesis of the Bodhisattva Ideal
    I knew about Ven. Analayo through this website. I subscribed to his next series of lectures at the University of Hamburg and am also already reading the book you quote. I am finding the idea of compassion for others and for self as analyzed very interesting. Probably questions will arise after this in another post.

    Thank you very much for giving your time to this forum. In the west we lack of temples nearby that speak a Western language or are adapted to western culture, sometimes you are almost a DIY buddhist and this kind community helps a lot. It is very much appreciated.

    Palms together

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  • Ajahn Brahmali
    replied
    Dear Rodolfo,

    Is it safe to say that when those differences in understanding the void are pointed out they were specific to a school not represented today by the actual recognized Theravada practice?
    The short answer is yes.

    Regarding the realms, is the idea of a progression through realms proper of Mahayana?
    I don't really know enough about Mahayana to give a complete answer. What I do know is that Mahayana is a very broad movement and a number of their doctrines are not common to all their schools. As far as I know, all schools of Mahayana include the idea of a bodhisattva path, but whether they all also have the idea of a paccekabuddha path I just don't know. I can say, however, that the thinking in terms of "progression through realms" is foreign to Theravada Buddhism and, if anything, even more foreign to the word of the Buddha.

    Is this inspired in the four immaterial attainments that follow the forth jhana?
    There is an interesting book on the origins of the Bodhisattva concept called The Genesis of the Bodhisattva Ideal and it is available at http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hambu...01_Analayo.pdf. It may not answer your question directly, but it is nevertheless very interesting reading.

    With metta.

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  • Rodolfo Rivas
    replied
    Thank you Ajahn Brahmali.

    This clarifies a lot. I searched the school Sarvastivāda and it looks like it is not active today and considered heretic even before the Mahayana came to being. Is it safe to say that when those differences in understanding the void are pointed out they were specific to a school not represented today by the actual recognized Theravada practice? Personally I haven't found any big difference in what Nagarjuna said and the lack of a permanent self in the Pali Sutras, I am not a specialist though, but as a consequence I find the web of cause and conditions in both the Pali cannon and Nagarjuna posterior elaboration.

    Regarding the realms, is the idea of a progression through realms proper of Mahayana? What I mean is first you realize the four noble truths and you become an arhant or after death a Sravaka. You understand yourself as cause and condition. Then, after practicing the 12 links of causation you realize how even the material world is cause and effect. Now you are a Pratyekabuddha. You have complete understanding but lack the compassion, so you practice the six paramitas and follow the Boddhisatva path until you eventually became a Buddha, a fully enlightened and compassionate one. Is this inspired in the four immaterial attainments that follow the forth jhana?

    I apologize if this is too detailed. I am trying to put together the right frame and I find confusing the differences claimed in the Mahayana texts I had access to when first in contact with Buddhism.

    Palms together

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  • Ajahn Brahmali
    replied
    Dear Rodolfo,

    ... the level of voidness between Theravada and Mahayana schools. Could you please shed some light into what are the claimed differences between both schools?
    According to the Suññata-sutta (SN 35:85), “the world is empty of a self or what belongs to a self”. This sutta then states that the six senses, the six sense objects and all corresponding consciousness is empty of a self or what belongs to a self. This is pretty all-comprehensive!

    The idea of emptiness is that things do not exist in and of themselves, but only through webs of causes and conditions. For this reason everything arises and passes away. Anything that does not have inherent existence cannot be called a “self”. Thus emptiness and non-self are just two sides of the same coin.

    The difference between the two schools stems from ideas that were formulated long after the Buddha. At some point in Buddhist history the idea of svabhāva/sabhāva, “own nature” or “inherent existence”, emerged. The svabhāva idea was criticized by the Buddhist philosophers Nāgarjuna, and Nāgarjuna's ideas became part of Mahayana doctrine. Nāgarjuna’s criticism was particularly directed at the svabhāva ideas developed by the Sarvastivāda school, which argued that dhammas (the most basis elements of existence) in some sense existed through time. Nagārjuna, apparently, argued that this idea was contrary to the Buddhist principles of emptiness and non-self. However this may be (and it seems to me that Nāgarjuna may have had a point), it is quite clear that the idea of svabhāva was never formulated by the Buddha. It can therefore be set aside as irrelevant for those who are primarily interested in what the Buddha taught.

    If after an individual reaches Arhantship there is nothing more to achieve, is he as accomplished as a Buddha in wisdom?
    He is as accomplished as the Buddha in terms of his insight into the four noble truths, including seeing the five khandhas in terms of the three characteristics. But the fact that the Buddha discovered the path by himself makes him special. It is difficult enough to follow the path when it is given to you on a platter, let alone discovering it for yourself! So I think it is fair to say that the Buddha had a wisdom that is “broader” than most (all?) other arahants. Thus his special ability to teach.

    A paccekabuddha is someone who awakens on his own, just like a Buddha, but who does not found a “religion”. The idea that there is a specific path to become a paccekabuddha is peculiar to Mahayana Buddhism. According to Theravada Buddhism a paccekabuddha is just someone who happens to practice in the right way (due to the right causes and conditions), but who does not actually follow a path. The same difference between Mahayana and Theravada exists in regard to bodhisattvas. According to Theravada, a bodhisattva is just someone who happens to do all the right things and then becomes a Buddha. They are not following a specific path. (Although according to post-canonical Pali scriptures such a path actually does exist, this was not the position of the Buddha.) And since there is no path, it is pointless to make a vow to become a Buddha in some future life. At least that’s how I see it.

    With metta.

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