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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 8 20 Between ArhAt and BodhisAttvA Finding the Perfect Balance One of the more significant elephants in the living room of Buddhism in the West is the disparity between the stated goals of the Northern and Southern schools. In the Northern tradition, the goal is often for- mulated as the cultivation of the bodhisattva path over many lifetimes for the benefit of all beings, culminating in buddhahood. Its scriptures and liturgies are thickly populated with the bodhisattva principle, and for those who practice in this tradition it is normal to take bodhisattva vows. In the Southern tradition, the spiritual ideal that is extolled instead is the realization of arahantship—the realization of nibbana and the ending of rebirth, in this very life. The bodhisattva principle is hardly ever spoken of, apart from its mention in the Jataka Tales, stories of the past lives of Gotama Buddha. The main reason for delving into this disparity is that people do make comparisons of the arahant (Pali; Skt: arhat) and bodhisattva ideal and ask which path to follow. The aim here is not to argue a particular position and defend it, but rather to shed a little more light on the goals of Buddhist practice and to recount some of what the scriptures and traditions have said about this landscape over the centuries. A student of Buddhism asked Ajahn Sumedho, “Which do you think is the best path: that of the arahant or that of the bodhisattva?” “That kind of question is asked by people who understand absolutely nothing about Buddhism!” Ajahn Sumedho replied. Don’t be an arahant, don’t be a bodhisattva, don’t be anything at all— if you are anything at all you will suffer. — Ajahn Chah Ajahn Amaro examines the arguments for and against the arhat and bodhisattva ideals that define and too often divide the Buddhist traditions. he suggests a way out of the polarizing debate. photogrAphs by mAsAo yAmAmoto In 1979 AjAhn AmAro was ordained a monk in the Thai Forest tradition in the lineage of Ajahn Chah. he went on to study with Ajahn Sumedho at Amaravati monastery in England for many years. he is co-abbot of Abhayagiri monastery in redwood Valley, California. richArdYAski