Difference in ethics between Theravada and Mahayana?

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KiwiNFLFan
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Difference in ethics between Theravada and Mahayana?

Post by KiwiNFLFan »

Is there a significant difference in how ethical conduct (in particular the Five Precepts) are interpreted in Theravada Buddhism vs Mahayana Buddhism?

The main example I can think of is the First Precept. Vegetarianism is not widespread in Theravada countries or among Theravada Buddhists from what I understand, but Chinese and Korean monks and nuns are vegetarian, and many lay Chinese Buddhists are too.

Many Japanese, Korean and (I think) Chinese Buddhists drink alcohol, but then so do many Thais, and I'm guessing that's just laxity, not a different interpretation. I think some Chinese Buddhists may also be opposed to pre-marital sex, but I'm guessing that has more to do with culture and Confucianism rather than Buddhism.

Are there any major areas where Mahayana interpretation of precepts or morality differs significantly to Theravada?
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Re: Difference in ethics between Theravada and Mahayana?

Post by DNS »

Among adherents, yes, I'd say culture plays a large role, perhaps even more so than doctrine. For example, many buddhist countries have the death penalty whereas most devout buddhists are opposed to the death penalty on the grounds of the First Precept.

In regard to vegetarianism, among Theravadins you'd probably find more vegetarians among the lay people than among the monks. That is because the monks are required to accept what is offered to them. Among the lay adherents, most also eat meat but you're more likely to find vegetarians in certain regions, for example, in California. And then in Mahayana it is probably the reverse, with East Asian monks and nuns eating almost entirely vegetarian and the lay people eating a more omnivorous diet.

In terms of doctrine, not culture, Mahayana appears to be more open to skillful means than Theravadins. Theravada tends to take a rigid and literal view on Precepts, whereas there may be the possibility of making some exceptions in Mahayana for skillful means. It could be Mahayana's Bodhisattva view of helping others along the Path whereas Theravada focuses on individual salvation (Theravada works to help others too, but less of a focus compared to Mahayana).
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Dhammanando
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Re: Difference in ethics between Theravada and Mahayana?

Post by Dhammanando »

KiwiNFLFan wrote: Sat Sep 28, 2019 10:07 pm Is there a significant difference in how ethical conduct (in particular the Five Precepts) are interpreted in Theravada Buddhism vs Mahayana Buddhism?
If we set aside the issue of how Buddhists tend to behave in this or that country and focus instead on how their texts say they ought to behave, then I believe two of the five precepts (those concerned with stealing and intoxicants) are expounded more or less identically in Theravada and Mahayana texts. With the other three precepts there are certain differences, namely:

First precept: in Mahayana expositions it's held that one way the precept can be broken is merely by one's mentally approving of a killing that's taken place, or is taking place, or will take place. For the Theravada such an attitude of approval would certainly be viewed as unwholesome mind-door kamma (i.e., that of indulging in malice) but not actually a breach of the first precept. (The issue of vegetarianism, btw, is not relevant here, for this has to do with a Mahayana Buddhist's bodhisatva observances, not her observance of the five precepts).

Third precept: the list of inappropriate partners is common to both Theravada and Mahayana, but to this Mahayana expositions add various additional ways of breaking the precept (e.g., wrong place, wrong time, wrong orifice etc.), apparently adopted from Sarvāstivādin texts.

Fourth precept: in their list of the factors of transgression Mahayana expositions stipulate that the falsehood must be understood by the listener; if it's not understood, then no falsehood has been communicated and so the precept is not broken. In Theravada expositions this factor is missing. Whether the listener understands or not is treated as irrelevant: the mere intention to deceive someone and a communicative effort generated by this intention suffice to break the precept.
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Re: Difference in ethics between Theravada and Mahayana?

Post by Könchok Thrinley »

ford_truckin wrote: Sun Sep 29, 2019 6:22 pm
Dhammanando wrote: Sun Sep 29, 2019 12:00 pm
Third precept: the list of inappropriate partners is common to both Theravada and Mahayana, but to this Mahayana expositions add various additional ways of breaking the precept (e.g., wrong place, wrong time, wrong orifice etc.), apparently adopted from Sarvāstivādin texts.
Yes, Mahayana is against homosexual acts but not homosexuals themselves.
TBH, this wording is rather unfortunate. Anal, oral or such sex is not homosexual by itself. Mahayana is not even against these acts, rather finds them to be unwholesome.
Not to mention that we must also notice that not all such actions are equal. For example having an anal sex with your spouse is different than having vaginal sex with someone else's spouse.
Another important point is motivation as that is the single most important aspect of mahayana ethics. Garchen Rinpoche said that with the right motivation of love even enjoying sex can be wholesome.
“Observing samaya involves to remain inseparable from the union of wisdom and compassion at all times, to sustain mindfulness, and to put into practice the guru’s instructions”. Garchen Rinpoche

Formerly known as Miroku.
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Re: Difference in ethics between Theravada and Mahayana?

Post by KiwiNFLFan »

ford_truckin wrote: Sun Sep 29, 2019 6:22 pm
Dhammanando wrote: Sun Sep 29, 2019 12:00 pm
Third precept: the list of inappropriate partners is common to both Theravada and Mahayana, but to this Mahayana expositions add various additional ways of breaking the precept (e.g., wrong place, wrong time, wrong orifice etc.), apparently adopted from Sarvāstivādin texts.
Yes, Mahayana is against homosexual acts but not homosexuals themselves.
I don't think it's possible to generalise like this. Jodo Shinshu, for instance, has been performing same-sex marriages for decades.

Master Hsing Yun said:
People often ask me what I think about homosexuality. They wonder, is it right, is it wrong? The answer is, it is neither right nor wrong. It is just something that people do. If people are not harming each other, their private lives are their own business; we should be tolerant of them and not reject them.Buddhism Pure and Simple, pp. 137–138
Even Lama Thubten Yeshe said that he didn't think homosexuality was wrong, from what I remember. And that goes directly against what Tsongkhapa said.

This is again more of a cultural issue. I've heard that not too long ago, if you asked a Japanese or Korean about homosexuals in their country, they would say "there are no homosexuals in Japan/Korea".
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Re: Difference in ethics between Theravada and Mahayana?

Post by Fortyeightvows »

Master Hsing Yun said
He also says Taiwan is part of China so... :shrug:
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