Cappuccino Club – discussion on the Bodhisattva Ideal

Saturday 16th February 2-4 pm
at Ariyasom Villa, Sukhumvit Soi One 

‘Cappuccino Club’ 

Eschewing the usual Dhamma Talk format, sometimes we like to meet for a more open discussion of the principles of Buddhism and meditation as they relate to ‘real’ life – how we deal as humans with the various issues of daily life.  Topics can be anything, so feel free to suggest a topic yourself. We meet for coffee, chat and gentle philosophising on what it means to bring the lofty ideas of Buddhism into practical living. 

You don’t have to be an expert in anything except staying alive – so feel free to come along and join in. Try to do the ‘homework’ (below) first though, so we have a launch point for discussion.

Topic: The Bodhisattva Ideal

In Mahayana Buddhism one very important aspect – possibly the defining aspect – is the Vow to postpone your attainment of enlightenment, replacing it with the commitment to relentless rebirths in the realms of beings in order to work for their enlightenment before your own.

In Theravada Buddhism there is not so much emphasis on rebirths, aside from looking after your kamma. Instead the teaching is a practical ‘how-to’ for getting enlightened. Mahayana presents Theravada as being a selfish pursuit of ones own liberation without concern for world beings.

For Westerners, the whole topic of rebirth is tricky, as most dismiss it as something they cannot believe in, understand, or care about. So it is interesting that so many Westerners are attracted to Mahayana with it’s emphasis on something so esoteric as laying plans to cover many lifetimes.

An other curious detail is the statement in Mahayana that their teaching can get you to enlightenment in one lifetime, where in Theravada it takes thousands of lifetimes. Even a cursory understanding should show the reverse is true – Theravada teaches enlightenment here and now, where Mahayana is telling you to practise for many lifetimes!

So the questions for discussion –

  • Is the Bodhisattva Vow important?
  • Are you practising for yourself, or to save all world beings?
  • Are such issues just like the proverbial ‘Angels dancing on a pin’ and not really relevant?
  • What’s your plan – how many lifetimes do you want to spend getting enlightened?

All questions and issues are lighthearted, and the starting point for friendly discussion. It is not imperative to do your homework before coming, but below are a few links to familiarize yourself with the topic:

Some of the basic Bodhisattva Vows

Here is a fairly balanced discussion of the topic from an historical perspective, by a leading Theravada scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu

A pretty hardcore detail of the Bodhisattva Vow, and how it is to be applied in Tibetan Buddhism

A couple of notes:

Theravada Buddhism is based on the Pali Scriptures, that are considered to be the most historically accurate recordings of the Buddha’s teachings.

Mahayana Buddhism grew up a century or two later, quite possibly in response to the original teachings being held by scholar monks who had lost the emphasis on practise. The Mahayana suttas may not be historically the most accurate (and many of them are in fact just as accurate and close to the original as some of the Theravada suttas) but perhaps they are closest in essence?

Both traditions acknowledge that the Buddha himself spent some (maybe thousands) of lifetimes perfecting his virtues in order to become a fully self-enlightened Buddha. His followers became Arahants – whose attainment of enlightenment is the same, but whose qualities have not been honed through many lifetimes. A Bodhisattva is one who has vowed not to become a mere Arahant, but to keep practising and returning to rebirth, until they can become a Buddha.

According to the cosmology, only one Buddha can exist at a time, and they are millions of years apart (only a few per eon) – so you’ll be in for a very long haul if you are really planning on becoming a Buddha!

All views are welcome. There’s no party line or position to defend. Just a fun and casual discussion of the ideas behind the Bodhisattva Vow. And Cappuccinos too of course. 


Ariyasom Villa is at the end of Sukhumvit Soi One, close to Ploen Chit BTS Station.



Photos from the event:

Bangkok meditation discussion group - Cappuccino ClubCappuccino Club meets for Bangkok discussionGroup discussion of the Buddhist bodhisattva idealCappuccino Club in Bangkok discussing Bodhisattva Ideal



One reply on “Cappuccino Club – discussion on the Bodhisattva Ideal”

  1. From Ched:
    This is a brave and wonderfully interesting theme. (Unfortunately, I would be away!)

    “Mahayana presents Theravada as being a selfish pursuit of ones own liberation without concern for world beings.”

    It is a statement that is worth putting out there in the open and considering as a sangha. I am a lay vajrayana-mahayana practitioner. It is part of the Bodhisattva vows to understand that listed among the 14 Root Downfall of Bodhisattva are “9. To cause the Shravaka to abandon their practice of self-liberation and practice Mahayana without special purpose. 10. To hold the view that the Shravaka vehicle will not completely purify defilements and cause others to hold the same view.”

    When we take refuge in the Triple Gems, we take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. ALL Sangha.

    In the intention of helping our analysis, I share the following instruction from a highly-respected teacher,

    “Be respectful to others: Without Theravada and Mahayana as foundation, there would be no Vajrayana. It would be completely foolish of Vajrayana practitioners to look down on or show disdain towards Theravada and Mahayana. If you think attacking other buddhists will improve Buddhism, do a service for Buddhism, take aim at your own ego and biasedness instead.” Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, 17 Jan 2013

    In Tibetan, bodhisattva is “djangtchoub sempa”. The term « pa » can have two meanings, it can be just a nominative form of a word, “he who has bodhicitta, who has developed this awakened attitude”. But the term “pa” written differently, which is in fact used to translate this term, means “courage”. Thus, that which characterises the bodhisattva is “Courage”.
    So when we hear for example, when one speaks of big vehicle “maha-yana”, small vehicle “hina-yana”, like a kind of distinction, one says: “yes, the bodhisattva, that’s the one with an altruistic intention, whereas in the small vehicle, they don’t have altruistic intention. This is completely untrue. (Cela est tout à fait faux.) All Buddhist teaching is founded on an altruistic attitude, founded on non-violence, all practise the same. But that which distinguishes the mahayana, is the courage. Why? Because the shravaka, the pratyékabouddha, a certain number of great disciples of the Buddha did not have the courage to renounce to attain enlightenment for themselves, for the good of all sentient beings. They thought it was too immense a project to want to liberate all beings without exception. This does not mean that they did not have Love and Compassion. They did, and in a universal way, but they did not have the courage to engage in working entirely for sentient beings. So this is the notion of the word “sempa”. There is a sutra where the Buddha distinguishes the motivation of the shravaka from that of the bodhisattva.”…[extract translated from the original, from his teachings on the Bodhisattva Vows by Karma Trinley Tulku Rinpoche, 20 May 2012]

    May this be of some use. Sharing from best intentions and my quick translation, please bear with any faults.


Comments are closed.