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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
SPRING 2014 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 71 Questions inherent in the historical realistic perspective led to the devel opment of the cosmicphilosophical perspective found in the Mahayana teachings. Who was this untaught teacher actually? Why was Siddhar tha Gautama uniquely able to become that untaught teacher? The cosmic philosophic perspective emphasizes the principle of buddhahood rather than the historical person, Siddhartha Gau tama. In fact, in this perspective, as in much of Mahayana thought, the his torical Buddha almost disappears from view and is distinctly less important than the principle of buddhahood and the nonhistorical “cosmic Buddhas” who became the primary referents for the term “Buddha.” In Mahayana Buddhism, the nar rative of Siddhartha Gautama shifts to stories about his long career as a bodhi sattva. This became what ordinary peo ple could emulate if they were striving to emulate the Buddha. Because Thera vada and Mahayana forms of Buddhism mean something quite different by the term “Buddha,” they also posit differ ent paths and goals for those seeking to emulate the Buddha. Bhikkhu Bodhi finishes his discus sion by debunking some of the stereo types that Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists hold about each other. He explains that Theravadins, who do not usually take the bodhisattva vow, are just as altruistic in their lifestyle as Mahayana Buddhists. And Mahayana Buddhists, who do not expect to attain enlightenment during this lifetime, nev ertheless do study and practice seriously. In chapter 2, Jeffrey Samuels dis cusses the littleknown fact that the bodhisattva ideal does play an impor tant role in Theravada Buddhism. Not only is the bodhisattva ideal significant in lore about the Buddha’s former lives but it is also an optional ideal for Thera vada practitioners, some of whom have chosen to take the bodhisattva vow. Thus, the common distinction between Mahayana Buddhists as promoters of the bodhisattva ideal and Theravada Buddhists as rejecters of that ideal does not completely hold. Next, Karel Werner’s chapter focuses on alleged differences between the attain ments of the Buddha and the arhats. These differences fostered divisions among early Buddhists that eventually hardened into Theravada and Maha yana. Those who became Mahayanists were skeptical about whether the arhats’ attainments qualified them as genuinely enlightened and fully liberated. This issue was debated vigorously in early Buddhist texts. Scholar Peter Skilling presents a great deal of useful and important information in his chapter titled “Vaidalya, Maha yana, and Bodhisatva in India,” though that information is embedded in signifi cant amounts of more technical mate rial. It begins with a crucial point: “The binary Hinayana/Mahayana model [is] ahistorical and fundamentally inappro priate as a frame for the study of Bud dhism.” Skilling goes on to state that these terms do not occur in any of the Pali literature, nor are they the organiz ing principles of Indian or Tibetan his tories of Buddhism. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this point because the name “Hinayana” has never been claimed by any Buddhist school or move ment. Instead, it is used by Mahayanists as a pejorative term for their opponents or for what they consider to be lower, inadequate states of spiritual develop ment. The very use of the term inevita bly contains a negative judgment about those to whom it is applied, which makes the term problematic. It is long past the time when teachers of Mahayana Bud dhism should find more adequate and accurate names for the teachings of the historical Buddha found in the Pali texts and the teachings of the contemporary Theravada movement. “Hinayana” is never an appropriate name for any of these teachings. Skilling also adeptly disposes of fifteen common claims about Mahayana Buddhism in a section sub titled “What Mahayana Is Not.” Another important contribution is Skilling’s technical discussion of a term that few Buddhist practitioners have ever heard of: Vaidalya. It was used by Indian Buddhists in the postAshokan period when new ideas were widespread but dis tinct schools had not yet separated from one another and the terms “Hinayana” and “Mahayana” were unknown. At that time, many Buddhists used Vaidalya and its variants to refer to nine or twelve categories of teachings attributed to the historical Buddha. Especially interesting is the fact that in sutras later classified as Mahayana sutras, this term is used for the Buddha’s complete teachings, which are said to include many texts found only in the Pali canon and not widely used by later Mahayanists. This information clearly points to a time in Buddhist his tory before Mahayana had emerged as a distinct, selfconscious movement that saw itself as superior to older forms of Buddhism—a time when Buddhists who were proposing newer ideas also identi fied completely with older Buddhist texts and concepts. Bhikkhu Analayo’s chapter on the evolution of the bodhisattva concept in early Buddhist canonical literature focuses on the historical Buddha as the original bodhisattva and examines the lineage of former Buddhas in early canonical literature and the various stories about the original vow taken by Gautama in a previous life. It also dis cusses the vows of Maitreya, the bodhi sattva of the future also recognized in nonMahayana forms of Buddhism. The final chapter by David McMa hon is helpful in pointing out something that would be evident only to those who read both Pali suttas and Sanskrit Mahayana sutras. Aside from their dif fering teachings, these two sets of texts are very different stylistically. The Pali texts are extremely repetitive, clearly revealing their origins as memorized REVIEWS