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