Author’s Note: The battle against greed, hatred and delusion in the human mind (and body) is ongoing and eternal. Within Buddhist self-cultivation there must be a rigid and uncompromising ‘honesty’ with yourselves and others. Furthermore, such ‘honesty’ must also be ‘impartial’ and ‘indifferent’. As it is the expected ‘norm’ within the practice of ‘Dhamma’ - it is not considered anything ‘special’ once established and maintained. If a practitioner either mistakenly (or purposely) believes themselves ‘Enlightened’ when still held firmly in the grip of the three taints – then hellish inner and outer karma is not just generated but is magnified through its association with a malfunctioning Dhamma! This form of destructive self-delusion (and pseudo-enlightenment) is exactly what the Buddha and his disciples warned about through their teaching! This means that the empty mind ground only underlies good, bad and neutral conditions when it is directly experienced as doing so – and NOT before. For a person whose mind is still clouded by these three taints – then the empty mind ground is NOT yet known to be a) present and b) underlying all conditioned and non-conditioned states. Without first DIRECTLY experiencing and merging with the empty mind ground – a practitioner cannot claim to be ‘Enlightened’ simply by intellectually ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ that the empty mind ground exists in theory behind ALL material states. For a genuine experience of ‘Enlightenment’ to occur, the Dhamma must be properly followed and its fruits of practice gathered in a honest manner. Only strict discipline on the psychological and physical planes will gather enough purified inner energy for a genuine breakthrough in understanding to take place. The Mahasiddhis in the Tantric tradition, for instance, often dedicate their lives to nearly impossible tasks of spiritual discipline and purification that take twelve, twenty-four (or even longer) years to achieve! Many Mahayana practitioners ‘delay’ their entry into Nibbana over many lives in order to ‘rescue’ and ‘sae’ as many beings as possible from suffering! Those of the Theravada Scholl often dedicate decades of their lives quietly sitting in the depths of the forest until their individual minds are cleared of all impurities! Again, ‘honesty’ is the key to progression. ACW (31.8.2021)
As a follower of the Dharma, I see no contradictions in any of three contemporary schools – the Theravada, the Mahayana and Vajra (Tantra)-yana – methods of achieving Enlightenment. The Dhammapada Sutta is a prime example of the Buddha’s early (and over-all) teaching – which sees the conservative Theravada School quote frequently from it (see the Visuddhimagga) - whilst completely ignoring its Mahayana and Vajrayana content – most of which contradicts the central tenants of the ‘Hinayana’ movement! Certainly, this type of ‘Sutta’ preserved in the old Pali Cannon appears to contain the seeds of both Mahayana and Vajrayana practice. This means that these pathways cannot be ‘later’ diversions from the Buddha’s orthodox teachings – but must have been present in his ‘original’ expression of the Dhamma. This suggests that there were other trends or traits of Buddhist teaching that existed side by side with the Theravada and which taught far broader and more comprehensive Dhamma-theories. As these schools did not compete or seek worldly influence and power – and given their practitioners often withdrew for years (or decades) from the world of common interaction – their presence in the historical record did not develop until much later on, when the dialectical conditions within society favoured a more comprehensive definition of the Dhamma and what it means to be ‘Enlightened’.
Although sound academic claims have been made which present the Mahayana and Vajrayana as being ‘corruptions’ of the Buddha’s original teaching – suggesting that Hinduism, Jainism and even Islamic ideas infiltrated the interpretation of the Dhamma – this model does not hold when the Dhammapada Sutta is taken into account. As the Dhammapada Sutta emanates from the ‘Word of the Buddha’, then it is his solemn expression of the Dhamma with no outside influences. Of course, the Theravada ideologues often counter this assertion by stating extracts from ultra-conservative Suttas – with each implying that only monks can achieve enlightenment who live in a forest – and no one else! The problem here, is that much of this material is now proven as being the product of additions, omissions and clever monkish editing to justify the ethos of the Theravada School. The Theravada School could get away with this in a time-period when only Buddhist monastics could read and write and the laity had to take their word for what the Buddha taught. Today, through the science of ‘Philology’, it is clear that the Dhammapada Sutta contains unaltered (ancient) content which has proven to be an embarrassment to the conservatism of the Theravada School! Indeed, evidence suggests that the Dhammapada Sutta was a much more prominent Buddhist text until the laity started using its content to ‘doubt’ the ‘conservativism’ of the Theravada School – whose editors ‘hid’ the Sutta away and started to emphasis more one-sided Dhamma-expressions.
Even at the time of the Buddha’s Parinibbana (all-round and thorough ‘extinction’) - not all the elder monks (or groups of monks) who had learned directly from him - accepted the Theravada School as being entirely correct. This is not to say that the Theravada School is ‘wrong’ - but that its claim to an ‘exclusive’ legitimacy is not fully supported by the known facts. The conservative approach of the Theravada School is suitable for those individuals who require that type of approach to learning the Dhamma. However, it is also true that the Buddha also taught a number of other interpretations of his path – each extending the depth and broadness of the concept of ‘Enlightenment’ and how it is to be applied to the world. All pathways are of equal validity and it is probably the case that most people will at one time or another in their lives – explore all three pathways. For the Theravada School a Buddhist monastic living deep in the forest (away from ALL worldly contact) occupies the ideal situation for Dhamma-study. The six senses are ‘purified’ by ‘breaking’ ALL contact with worldly interaction whilst living in a meditation hut and following the Vinaya Discipline. Overtime, the six senses are thoroughly cleaned-out as the ridge-pole of ignorance is broken through a continuous practice of seated meditation. This is achieved by permanently uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. Once nibbana is attained, no more volitional karma is produced, but the continued existence of the physical body symbolises the accumulative effects of past karma – although after the realisation of ‘Enlightenment’ - all previously bad karma is greatly reduced. When the karmic force that powers each physical existence is exhausted – then the five aggregates (physical matter, sensation, perception, thought formation and consciousness) dissolve and fall away never to ‘re-combine’.
Interestingly, the Theravada model implies that only monks can realise ‘Enlightenment’ even though numerous Pali Suttas clearly state that a number of lay-men and women also realised complete ‘Enlightenment’ during the Buddha’s lifetime. This openly contradicts the Theravada School – which suggests that if an ‘Enlightened’ monk were to return to lay-life – then his ‘Enlightened’ state would regress as his six senses would once again be ‘sullied’ through interaction with the world. The Pali Suttas that the Theravada School preserve contradict most of the accrued dogma that this school preserves. Obviously, men and women can attain ‘Enlightenment’ even if they live within the pollution of everyday society, and according to the Dhammapada Sutta - ‘Enlightenment’ can be attained in places other than a forest – with the realisers not suffering any regression by changing their living conditions. This does not mean that the over-all methodology of the Theravada School is ‘incorrect’ - but rather that as a method it fits into a broader scheme designed by the Buddha. Somewhere along the line a group of monks seeking political (worldly) power established a number of outrageous claims that have gone unchallenged. The Mahayana School (which is a collection of Sects all teaching a variant upon a theme), also states that it might be in the interests of the individual to withdraw from the sensory stimulus of the everyday world to get to grips with the unruly mind. This is not the ‘end’ of the matter by any means – but merely the beginning of an ongoing and arduous process of self-purification. Much of the Mahayana pathway is premised upon ‘Compassion’ for other beings and includes methods of wise and loving modes of behaviour whilst interacting within the ordinary world. This means that even when living within the world of delusion, the Dhamma can be followed in such a manner that benefits others whilst pursuing a much slower path of purification.
As Hui Neng (the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an) states in his Altar Sutra – once the six senses are thoroughly purged of ALL dualistic and inverted (volitional) karma, then greed, hatred and desire are PERMANENTLY uprooted never to re-appear again regardless of the situations such ‘Enlightened’ individuals are forced to exist within. (Hui Neng had to live in the hills with bandits for sixteen years but only ate the vegetables they cooked alongside their meat). Herein lies a major interpretative difference between the Theravada and Mahayana Schools. Other than this, however, the experience of ‘Enlightenment’ is essentially the same. An ‘Enlightened’ Mahayana practitioner CANNOT regress regardless of circumstances – which he or she merely adjusts themselves to (neither attached to the inner void or hindered by external phenomena). Whereas Chinese Ch’an Masters were often reticent to discuss the post-enlightenment state (to prevent pointless mimicry and ego-boosting) - the Vajrayana School of Tantra explains this process over and over again within the literature associated with the ‘Mahasiddhis’ - or ‘Enlightened’ Indian men and women all from very different backgrounds! Again, the root essence of this can be found in the Dhammapada Sutta where the Buddha explains who and what a ‘monk’ and a ‘Brahmin’ actually are! In reality, there is no difference in the experience of ‘Enlightenment’ as taught in the Theravada, Mahayana and Tantra Schools, as the experience being explained is exactly the same. It is the experience of the underlying and empty mind ground, which is the accumulation of bodily discipline and ‘stilling’ of the mind so that the karmically conditioned taints of greed, hatred and delusion are permanently uprooted.
The differences lie in how each school teaches the path to the attainment of ‘Enlightenment’ and the accumulated dogma that has manifested due to historical conditions many hundreds of years after the passing of the Buddha. The Theravada offers a narrow gate, the Mahayana advocates a wide gate and the Tantrayana states that the ‘gate’ is ‘everywhere’ and ‘wherever’ a practitioner happens to be. This is because the empty mind ground underlies all phenomena and is not limited to a forest. Whereas the Mahayana emphasises the ‘path’ over the ‘destination’ - the Tantrayana offers the ‘destination’ over the ‘path’! However, things are not always this clear in demarcation, as some Theravada teachers offer a distinctly ‘Mahayana’ approach to their conservativism, whilst a number of Mahayana teachers are so strict that they come across as typical of the Theravada School. On occasion, there are Chinese Ch’an Masters who begin with ‘Enlightenment’ (just like the Tantrayana Masters), and will not compromise, negotiate or explain what they are doing. In reality we should study all three schools and make use of their experience and expertise in the matter of freeing humanity from its ongoing and accumulated suffering! A genuine experience of the empty mind ground unleashes an uncommon wisdom which sheds light on all this and demonstrates the genuine way ahead!
Adrian Chan-Wyles (釋大道 - Shi Da Dao) is permitted to retain his Buddhist Monastic Dharma-Name within Lay-society by decree of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, and the Chinese Buddhist Association (1992). A Buddhist monastic (and devout lay-practitioner) upholds the highest levels of Vinaya Discipline and Bodhisattva Vows. A Genuine Buddhist ‘Venerates’ the ‘Dao’ (道) as he or she penetrates the ‘Empty Mind-Ground' through meditative insight. A genuine Buddhist is humble, wise and peace-loving – and he or she selflessly serves all in existence in the past, present and the future, and residing within the Ten Directions – whilst retaining a vegetarian- vegan diet. Please be kind to animals!
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