Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mahayana Buddhism

Colorful Mahayana symbolism
- (text edited for clarity)

Nagarjuna image from Madhyamaka

The Mahayana ("Great vehicle"), or Northern branch, is one of the two major divisions of Buddhism. The other is Theravada ("Teaching of the Elders"), which is also referred to derogatorily as Hinayana, "Small vehicle."

Mahayana Buddhism is based on sophisticated metaphysical speculations regarding the nature of Reality (shunyata), or Enlightenment (sambodhi, prajna), and of the Buddha (Trikaya).

Soteriologically, the main idea is of not escaping into a quiescent nirvana. Rather, once having achieved enlightenment, one returns as a Bodhisattva to the world for the sake of other beings.

Mayahana, therefore, emphasizes that the duty of enlightenment is to work compassionately to relieve the suffering of others (upaya or "skillful means") and argues that all sentient creatures will ultimately achieve Buddhahood.

Mahayana Buddhism spread northeast from India into China (1st century A.D.), and from there into Tibet and Korea, and from Korea into Japan.

By convention, Mahayana is divided into two philosophical schools, both of which had a strong influence on the various Mahayana Buddhist sects, but also the Advaita Vedanta of Gaudapada and Shankara as well.

The first is the anti-metaphysical Madhyamika or Dialectic school, which emphasizes the negation of all possible phenomenal reality through a kind of logical reducto-ad-absurdum in order to arrive at the ineffable absolute or Void (shunyata) that is the only Reality.

The second Mahayanist school is the Vijnanavada or "Consciousness-[only] doctrine" which uses the experience of meditation in order to prove that all reality is ultimately Consciousness (hence the alternative names of Yogachara, "Yoga doctrine," and Chittamatra, "mind-only").

Unlike the Madhyamikas, they developed a number of metaphysical and occult conceptions, including an emanationist ontology quite similar to that of Samkhya, though psychologically rather than cosmologically oriented.

Buddhist advertisements Bodhidharma or Buddhist graffiti? The temples around Seoul hang posters. They advertise temple events and other programs. This is an older poster, on a signpost with plenty of other adverts under it.

The Bodhisattva Ideal
At the heart of Mahayana Buddhism is the noble "Bodhisattva Ideal":
However innumerable sentient beings are,
I vow to save them. However inexhaustible the defilements are,
I vow to extinguish them. However immeasurable the dharmas are,
I vow to master them. However incomparable enlightenment is,
I vow to attain it.
The Bodhisattva Vow (in Andrew Harvey's The Essential Mystics, Harper: San Francisco, 1996, p.75)

A bodhisattva is a being who searches for the attainment of Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. This conception, central to Mahayana school, developed from the original idea of one who defers the "ultimate goal" of nirvana (extinction) in order to return to the world of suffering again and again for the sake of sentient beings.

Master Shantideva (695-743 AD) was a great proponent of the Bodhisattva Ideal and the Middle Way of Buddhism [Buddhist Artwork - mirror (Australia)]

The Bodhisattva and Reincarnation
By Evgueni Tortchinov

Within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which is also a Mahayana school, two types of reincarnation must be differentiated: the usual one (the interpretation of which has the doctrine of Karma as its foundation), an interpretation of which does not differ much from that of the Theravadins, and the doctrine of Sprul-sku (read tool-koo, Sanskrit: nirmanakaya, "a magically produced body, or magically transformed body). This is the ability of the bodhisattvas and other "saints" (arya pudgala) to create by the force of mind special "artificial" bodies to reveal themselves to the Samsaric world by their will for the benefit of other living beings.

Thus, the Dalai-lama is [are] a sprul-sku of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Panchen-lama a sprul-sku of the Buddha Amitabha, Bogdo-gegen (of Mongolia) a sprul-sku of the saint Taranatha, and so on. Only such special incarnations can be realized on the levels of mind, speech, and body.

Moreover each bodhisattva, by his/her supernatural powers, can produce unlimited numbers of such "magical bodies" to be incarnated in several persons. (Such as was seen in the collision in Bertolucci's movie "Little Buddha"). In common parlance such incarnations are called "incarnated lamas," or even "living buddhas."

But ordinary beings move through the Wheel of Cyclic Existence [Samsara] by the force of their karma, which holds together their "santana," the individualized continuity of psycho-physical experience.


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