Being an Explanation of the Difference Between Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism
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In the course of his Freeing the Buddha (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, 2005) author Brian Ruhe provides an introduction to Hinayana Buddhism for novices. His explanations of the four noble truths and the eightfold noble path, etc., are adequate, albeit not notably profound.
As a former Thai Buddhist monk, Mr. Ruhe is at pains to inform his readers that the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings have strayed so far from his conception of the “true” Dharma as to be without any redeeming virtue.
While the narrow scope of Mr. Ruhe’s perception is entirely understandable, it is to be regretted that he seems never to let an opportunity pass in which to denigrate traditions of which he appears largely ignorant. Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, wisely discouraged dissention among the Sangha and criticized those who fomented such.
In praise of Hinayana ethics, Mr. Ruhe writes that there has never been a war involving “Theravadins.” He overlooks the Khmer-Siamese war as also recent events in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The fact is that, although Dharma practitioners in general are perhaps not quite so given to violence as Jews, Muslims, or Christians, there is scant evidence to support the opinion that Hinayana Buddhists are significantly more peaceful than their Mahayana and Vajrayana brothers.
It is, however, true that there is little to Hinayana Buddhism beyond ethics and mindfulness. Laudable as these practices may be, from a Mahayana perspective the obsession with the self-centered Arhat ideal and the accumulation of “merit” is regrettable, as these are simply dead ends. For, if enlightenment is deemed the penultimate goal of Buddhism, it would seem relevant that no Hinayana practitioner has attained such subsequent to Sakyamuni’s entry into Nirvana.
The late Rev. Tyuuzi Hasimoto of Tokyo, first President of the Universal Buddhist League and Toshiyori’s mentor, described Hinayana as “primitive Buddhism.” He was quite correct in that these self-styled “Theravadins” appear to follow the letter of the law — i.e. the Tripitaka — without giving so much as a moment’s thought to its actual meaning and purpose.
In contrast, those who follow such paths as Shingon, Zen, or Jodo Shinshu have usually read not merely from the Tripitaka, but also some of the great Mahayana sutras (e.g., the Heart, the Lotus, the Sukhavati-vyuha, and the Kegon), and the teachings of their chosen lineage masters. Thus, as Rev. Hasimoto put it, “When read by Mahayana practitioners, Hinayana sutras become Mahayana teachings.” It is immaterial that Western critics assume the Mahayana sutras were written, like the New Testament, long after the Founder’s departure. Indeed, even if they were composed by Nagarjuna or various unidentified scholars at Nalanda University, they contain the distilled essence of the Buddhadharma. Severed from this analysis, followers of the Hinayana path may be less likely to attain enlightenment than some devout Christians! For, the distinction between Mahayana and Hinayana comes to this: Knowing that we are all a part of the One, Mahayana practitioners understand that individual liberation is impossible. The best that “primitive Buddhists,” such as Mr. Ruhe, can hope for is the accumulation of sufficient merit as to provide re-birth into improved circumstances, and so the growth of wisdom and compassion.
The author concludes his volume with thirteen “non sequitur” opinion pieces, in which he persists in belittling Vajrayana and Mahayana Buddhism.
Except the reader is in possession of a table or chair of which one leg is 4.5 centimeters shorter than the others, Toshiyori can think of no reason why anyone should wish to purchase such a appalling waste of paper. If you have thrown away your money on this singularly offensive tome, be sure to recycle!
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