This month’s, open-audience, open-discussion “Ask Us Anything” — discussions about meditation and related topics — with co-host Denny K Miu primarily address the term “Hīnayāna” and misunderstandings about karma.
My original questions for the talk (followed by Denny’s response):
- Karma seems to be the People’s Magazine (perhaps an outdated reference) of dharma. Karma seems both fundamental and profound. Gross and apparent as well as hidden and subtle. While investigating all the ins and outs of karma is considered one of the imponderables — reserved for the Buddha because the potential for madness — how can we not get scared off from deeply studying and investigating the given teachings on karma and knowing/observing karma in ones experience? [While searching I also came across a lengthy list of the types of karma in Jainism] I feel as with most everything, we benefit from feedback from friends and teachers. [UPDATE 10/8/20: regardless of all of this, most importantly, how am I viewing what is happening in any given moment, and what is my response, if any?]
- “Hīnayāna” as a superlative. As a westerner I don’t innerstand this and have no preference or value judgement to any of the vehicles, smaller (Theravada), greater (Mahayana), ultimate/indestructible (Vajrayana). If meaning just smaller vehicle, couldn’t a small vehicle, like a Porsche roadster, get somebody quickly to where they could be of assistance in special situations? I’ve also heard a non-Buddhist describe Theravada as a small path, or narrow path, or esoteric path that’s not for everyone and only a few can walk.
- [note: we did not address this topic in the chat:] “self-love” as a negative term in Mahayana. Yes, on a higher level self-love obviously is not helpful. However, for those with low self-esteem, low self-confidence, victim mentality and/or with an inferior negative ego, I feel loving one’s own heart, if done appropriately, can fulfill a healthy psychological counter-balance
- What does “Ji Ru” translate as?
- Six of the eight consciousnesses are associated with the body (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and mental action/volition) and two are associated with the mind (self-grasping and memory/karma, aka mano and ālāya). Each can be thought of as cause (seed) and effect (fruit). The “sight” is an “effect” of the “eyes” coming into contact with simulants from the outside world, but it can also be the “cause” since it is the internal simulant for the brain (the mind root) resulting in mental action. Therefore “karma” can also be both the “cause” and the “effect”. “Karma” is the “fruit/effect” since it is a record of all mental actions, but it is also the “seed/cause” helping to shape future mental actions. However, in order for a seed (cause) to grow into a fruit (effect), it requires “condition”. The most common misunderstanding of “karma” is that it is the ”condition”. This is wrong since “karma” is only the seed that affects the future but it is not the future. We control the outcome because we control the condition.
- Hina means small and Yana means vehicle. Hanayana is a frictional term created by the Chinese buddhists to denigrate those who do not practice their so-called Mahayana tradition (Maha means big). In 1950 the World Fellowship of Buddhists had declared that the term Hīnayāna should not be used when referring to Buddhism practiced in SouthEast Asia, instead the term Theravada should be used which means elders. Surprisingly many Chinese Buddhist monastics still insist on using the pejorative term, consistent with their lack of modern education and world view. One of the most popular Mahayana scriptures is the Lotus Sutra which was translated into Chinese in 286 CE. The oldest scripture is the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra which was thought to be written around 50 CE. In order words, the so-called Mahayana tradition did not come into existence until almost 500 years after the death of the historical Buddha whereas the Theravada tradition came into existence immediately after (through the 1st Council). The tradition continued until the second Council which was around 300 BCE, 300 years after the death of Buddha. And the third Council which was convened by King Ashoka was around 250 BCE and subsequently delegates were sent to various parts of the world including Sri Lanka. In other words, the beginning of the Theravada tradition as practiced in SouthEast Asia predated the Mahayana tradition by at least 300 years. So it is not only contextually inaccurate, it is also historically inaccurate to refer to anything non-Mahayana as Hinayana. Finally, the beginning of Buddhism in China started with the Sutra of the Forty Two Chapters which was translated in 67 CE by two monks from India which predated the transition to Mahayana by also 300 years. In other words, the original Buddhist tradition that came to China was not even the so-called Mahayana tradition. The Mahayana tradition is actually a cultural amalgamation of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
- Jiru is 繼如. 繼 means to continue. 如 could come from 如來 which is one of the ten epithets of Buddha. In Sanskrit 如來 is Tathāgata which means the one beyond all coming and going – beyond all transitory phenomena.
Join us live next month, October 27, 2020: [Direct link to launch zoom and join “Ask Us Anything” starting at noon Central Time the last Tuesday of each month]