anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

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anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by JMGinPDX » Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:00 pm

For sake of context, when I began my Buddhist practice, I took the time to research the various traditions and history to see which lineage might be a good fit for the way I tend to operate - I settled on the Theravada Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah, and still practice within it. However, I have also been studying and practicing Zen, participating in retreats at Great Vow Monastery and sitting with a local Rinzai group (which happens to rent the building owned by my home community Portland Friends of the Dhamma), reading and listening to teachers from both traditions equally on a daily basis, and more importantly, incorporating elements of both in my sitting/walking/standing/lying down practice throughout the day.
I was initially drawn Zen itself, but chose Portland Friends of the Dhamma only because there was no local Zen center that was both fairly close to home and had a children's program for my 8-year-old and 1.5-year-old. Thai Forest and Zen seemed close enough to each other in terms of doctrine and practice that they both felt like a good fit.

One thing that continually puts me off when reading Zen texts in particular is the anti-Hinayana (e.g. Theravada) bias present in much of the literature.
Hui-neng, Huang Po, Dogen to a degree, and others quite often are critical of the "individualistic" nature of the Theravadin approach to nirvana, casting it as selfish and not compassionate, inferior to the more altruistic path of the bodhisattva, etc. etc.

In and of itself, maybe that's not completely false (although I believe there is a compassionate/metta for all sentient beings component to the Theravadin approach that is overlooked by Mahayanists), but for a teaching that emphasizes sunyata, and the emptiness of all dharmas, the non-existence of right/wrong, light/dark etc. that characterizes the conditioned world.....such blatant, negative condescension seems completely out of place.

And while I have chalked much of it up to the context of the times those ancient teachers lived in, where Theravada truly WAS in decline as a merit-based practice (and many who followed those teachers thought enlightenment was reserved for monastics anyway), a downward spiral that I think the Thai Forest Tradition in particular has eschewed and therefore saved EBT practice from itself, the bias still lives on today - the most recent example I read being in contemporary author Red Pine's commentary on the Platform Sutra.
And while contemporary Zen teachers I have encountered are more open-minded (Great Vow includes Ajahn Sumedho in their chanting in honor of important teachers, and the leader of the Rinzai group that uses the Portland Friends of the Dhamma space has been a visiting teacher for PFOD's services), I wonder how pervasive the "we're on the bodhisattva path so we're better than you" bigotry really runs.

Especially since it seems patently unnecessary - can't the Theravadins (including Thai Forest, Burmese, Sri Lankan, Insight Meditation, etc) have their individual nirvana, and the Mahayana have their bodhisattva path, without being critical of each other?

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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Miroku » Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:43 pm

Well, yeah. But there is also the whole thing about "you are not following real teachings of Buddha" thing in Theravada.

It just is like that. I would not call it bigotry. It is just a prejudice. However based on valid historic (as you pointed yourself) and also dharmic points. Mahayana is the faster path so Dogen and other wanted to keep people away from Theravada. Plus compassion plays a big role in mahayana so not having it is a big fault. Ofc that Arhats have compassion. Also practitioners of theravada can have it.
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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Monlam Tharchin » Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:53 pm

Triumphalism is common among Buddhist schools. It's a way to engender confidence in the specific school you're practicing. Some find the approach helpful, others don't.

Consider what is being addressed in critiques of "Hinayana" instead: self-centered practice.
It's a pitfall for all Buddhists, including Mahayanists.

If you root your practice in bodhicitta, this kind of confusion falls away.
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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Aryjna » Sun Oct 07, 2018 8:00 pm

According to the Mahayana, the Hinayana is simply worse, both for the practitioner and for everyone else in this world, so it is not that reasonable to expect to hear the opposite when you read Mahayana teachings that mention Hinayana. Then again, it is said that all vehicles are perfect for those who are suited to them. Hinayanists reject the Mahayana completely. If they did not, it would be unreasonable for them to continue to practice Hinayana rather than Mahayana.

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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Astus » Sun Oct 07, 2018 8:13 pm

JMGinPDX wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:00 pm
puts me off when reading Zen texts in particular is the anti-Hinayana (e.g. Theravada) bias present in much of the literature.
Since Zen has never coexisted with Hinayana before the 20th century meeting in Western countries, this is all rather rhetorical. Plus Mahayana had almost no contact with Theravada in India, so equating Hinayana with Theravada is not completely correct, although calling it Sravakayana is accurate. In any case, having a Hinayana approach in Zen is not about actual schools, but about a certain mistaken interpretation of the teaching, where one clings to cessation and the idea of nirvana apart from samsara.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun Oct 07, 2018 11:08 pm

The bias against the path of individual liberation is literally built into Mahayana, it's not just a bias either, but a doctrinal position. A Zen-relevant example would be the part of the Lankavatara dealing with Arhats, which covers what Astus talks about, iirc...the error in the path of Nirvana as cessation vs. Buddhahood... a really common sentiment in many Mahayana sutra, since Mahayana arose partially as a critique of what would be deemed "Hinayana".

That said, by today's standards people who practice Theravada might or might not fall into that category at all, plenty do not in my opinion. Additionally, "Hinayana" is usually seen as a necessary foundation of Mahayana teachings, it's simply not seen as definitive. As far as reading sutra etc. though, you'll probably need to get used to it, as I said, it is functionally built into the entire Mahayana viewpoint. The other end of this you can find occasionally at our sister site, where Theravadin's impugn Mahayana Dharma as inauthentic etc. It's no one's fault and I wouldn't call it "bigotry", it is what it is, different approaches.
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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Wayfarer » Sun Oct 07, 2018 11:59 pm

Agree with most of the above, although not inclined to dismiss 'hinayana' as inferior out of hand.

But an important point is to understand the dialectical nature of (especially) early Buddhism. 'Dialectic' refers to a mode of exposition arising from a dialogue between differing perspectives. You also find this, for example, in the Platonic dialogues, where different characters voice different perspectives, quite often in opposition to each other; sometimes there is no definitive conclusion, and the dialogue will end suspended in aporia, a question which can't be answered.

Dialectic allows a kind of understanding to emerge which simply can't be stated directly; typically it concerns those kinds of questions to which there is no definite, black-and-white, yes-or-no answer. It is significant that the Madhyamika is presented as a dialectic i.e. 'the Madhyamika dialectic'; and this is because the MMK is written in a dialectical manner, i.e. a Mahayana critique of the various perspectives of abhidharma, samkya, and so on. But understanding the dialectical nature of madhyamika is critical to it, because without understanding what it is that is being negated, then the whole point can easily be misunderstood (which frequently manifests as the mistaken understanding of madhyamika as nihilism, in my view.)

So - as the Buddhist movement matured, there was considerable dialectical development, especially in the early years, although it has never really ceased. But this is because there are multiple layers of meaning in the Buddha's teachings, so from the outset, a certain degree of interpretation was required. And much of that grew out of considering again and again, the implications of certain principles, and following through their implications. That is why you find in the Mahayana texts a certain amount of polemical and rhetorical content. At the time the Mahayana emerged, there was (as always) a contest between schools and teachers for legitimacy, recognition and patronage. So the Mahayana had to articulate the distinction, and the superiority, of the bodhisattva idea to that of the arhat ideal. You find routine expressions in many of these texts which, therefore, deprecate the paths of the 'solitary attainers' and so on. But it needs to be understood in the context of the history and tradition.

Actually I think of the standard university-type texts, Edward Conze is pretty good at laying all that out, especially his Buddhism: Essence and Development, which is a standard introductory textbook. Another is Rupert Gethin.

But the other point to note is that, now it's the 21st century, all these separate traditions are now encountering each other again via the internet and giving talks at conferences, and the like. So no doubt many new forms, and hybrid forms, are emerging and will continue to.

Also, have a look at this story, about cross-cultural misunderstandings. :smile:
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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Mon Oct 08, 2018 12:31 am

Agree with most of the above, although not inclined to dismiss 'hinayana' as inferior out of hand.

As one example Ajahn Chah says plenty of stuff that is reminiscent of a Mahayana message, so making use of those categories in the modern world should be functional, and based on what is taught, not sectarian or based on school necessarily. It's quite reasonable to point out the difference though, and I don't see the difference as purely "sectarian", you can read some Theravadin authors (as an example on the other end) that actually think that the Mahayana path is basically a product of mara, keeping people ensnared to Samsara. If someone honestly reasons this to be so, they really should practice Theravada and not Mahayana, similarly if someone can't generate faith in the Mahayana, there is no reason to practice it. On the other side, if one earnestly believes the Mahayana sutras, that the Arhat path is not the definitive one, then they should practice Mahayana. The only contradiction comes if one has teachers that are polemic in one or the other direction, I think.
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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by DGA » Mon Oct 08, 2018 2:53 pm

JMGinPDX wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:00 pm
For sake of context, when I began my Buddhist practice, I took the time to research the various traditions and history to see which lineage might be a good fit for the way I tend to operate - I settled on the Theravada Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah, and still practice within it. However, I have also been studying and practicing Zen, participating in retreats at Great Vow Monastery and sitting with a local Rinzai group (which happens to rent the building owned by my home community Portland Friends of the Dhamma), reading and listening to teachers from both traditions equally on a daily basis, and more importantly, incorporating elements of both in my sitting/walking/standing/lying down practice throughout the day.
I was initially drawn Zen itself, but chose Portland Friends of the Dhamma only because there was no local Zen center that was both fairly close to home and had a children's program for my 8-year-old and 1.5-year-old. Thai Forest and Zen seemed close enough to each other in terms of doctrine and practice that they both felt like a good fit.

One thing that continually puts me off when reading Zen texts in particular is the anti-Hinayana (e.g. Theravada) bias present in much of the literature.
Hui-neng, Huang Po, Dogen to a degree, and others quite often are critical of the "individualistic" nature of the Theravadin approach to nirvana, casting it as selfish and not compassionate, inferior to the more altruistic path of the bodhisattva, etc. etc.

In and of itself, maybe that's not completely false (although I believe there is a compassionate/metta for all sentient beings component to the Theravadin approach that is overlooked by Mahayanists), but for a teaching that emphasizes sunyata, and the emptiness of all dharmas, the non-existence of right/wrong, light/dark etc. that characterizes the conditioned world.....such blatant, negative condescension seems completely out of place.

And while I have chalked much of it up to the context of the times those ancient teachers lived in, where Theravada truly WAS in decline as a merit-based practice (and many who followed those teachers thought enlightenment was reserved for monastics anyway), a downward spiral that I think the Thai Forest Tradition in particular has eschewed and therefore saved EBT practice from itself, the bias still lives on today - the most recent example I read being in contemporary author Red Pine's commentary on the Platform Sutra.
And while contemporary Zen teachers I have encountered are more open-minded (Great Vow includes Ajahn Sumedho in their chanting in honor of important teachers, and the leader of the Rinzai group that uses the Portland Friends of the Dhamma space has been a visiting teacher for PFOD's services), I wonder how pervasive the "we're on the bodhisattva path so we're better than you" bigotry really runs.

Especially since it seems patently unnecessary - can't the Theravadins (including Thai Forest, Burmese, Sri Lankan, Insight Meditation, etc) have their individual nirvana, and the Mahayana have their bodhisattva path, without being critical of each other?
From the perspective of Mahayana:

Hinayana is an attitude toward Dharma practice.
Theravada is a tradition.
Does a Hinayana attitude show up among Theravadins? Yes, sometimes, but it does so among Mahayana people too.
The point of the admonition is for a Mahayana audience to avoid a Hinayana attitude.


as an aside: I used to practice at the same center you are practicing in in the late 1990s. At that time it was home to Dharma Rain Zen Center. The Zen Community of Oregon also practiced there, as did Robert Beatty's Insight Meditation group. Later, there was a Sakya group, too (are they still around?).

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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Matylda » Mon Oct 08, 2018 5:36 pm

JMGinPDX wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:00 pm
For sake of context, when I began my Buddhist practice, I took the time to research the various traditions and history to see which lineage might be a good fit for the way I tend to operate - I settled on the Theravada Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah, and still practice within it. However, I have also been studying and practicing Zen, participating in retreats at Great Vow Monastery and sitting with a local Rinzai group (which happens to rent the building owned by my home community Portland Friends of the Dhamma), reading and listening to teachers from both traditions equally on a daily basis, and more importantly, incorporating elements of both in my sitting/walking/standing/lying down practice throughout the day.
I was initially drawn Zen itself, but chose Portland Friends of the Dhamma only because there was no local Zen center that was both fairly close to home and had a children's program for my 8-year-old and 1.5-year-old. Thai Forest and Zen seemed close enough to each other in terms of doctrine and practice that they both felt like a good fit.

One thing that continually puts me off when reading Zen texts in particular is the anti-Hinayana (e.g. Theravada) bias present in much of the literature.
Hui-neng, Huang Po, Dogen to a degree, and others quite often are critical of the "individualistic" nature of the Theravadin approach to nirvana, casting it as selfish and not compassionate, inferior to the more altruistic path of the bodhisattva, etc. etc.

In and of itself, maybe that's not completely false (although I believe there is a compassionate/metta for all sentient beings component to the Theravadin approach that is overlooked by Mahayanists), but for a teaching that emphasizes sunyata, and the emptiness of all dharmas, the non-existence of right/wrong, light/dark etc. that characterizes the conditioned world.....such blatant, negative condescension seems completely out of place.

And while I have chalked much of it up to the context of the times those ancient teachers lived in, where Theravada truly WAS in decline as a merit-based practice (and many who followed those teachers thought enlightenment was reserved for monastics anyway), a downward spiral that I think the Thai Forest Tradition in particular has eschewed and therefore saved EBT practice from itself, the bias still lives on today - the most recent example I read being in contemporary author Red Pine's commentary on the Platform Sutra.
And while contemporary Zen teachers I have encountered are more open-minded (Great Vow includes Ajahn Sumedho in their chanting in honor of important teachers, and the leader of the Rinzai group that uses the Portland Friends of the Dhamma space has been a visiting teacher for PFOD's services), I wonder how pervasive the "we're on the bodhisattva path so we're better than you" bigotry really runs.

Especially since it seems patently unnecessary - can't the Theravadins (including Thai Forest, Burmese, Sri Lankan, Insight Meditation, etc) have their individual nirvana, and the Mahayana have their bodhisattva path, without being critical of each other?
Generally in Japan if we think of zen hinayana is almost not mentioned at all... the stress is put only on mahayana.. it is only thing which is known in far east.
theravada drew particular interest of Japanese monks in the 20th century and nobdy gave any thought about it as hinyana, shravakayana etc. there were japanese monks who went to theravada countries out of curiosity and in search of original teachings...
in mind of Japanese buddhists hinayana is nonexistant.. they were never even exposed to it. So it is for them an empty set.. therefore it is very difficult to talk about any bias in Japan, since nobody knows even hinayana...

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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by JMGinPDX » Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:38 pm

Miroku wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:43 pm
Well, yeah. But there is also the whole thing about "you are not following real teachings of Buddha" thing in Theravada.

It just is like that. I would not call it bigotry. It is just a prejudice. However based on valid historic (as you pointed yourself) and also dharmic points. Mahayana is the faster path so Dogen and other wanted to keep people away from Theravada. Plus compassion plays a big role in mahayana so not having it is a big fault. Ofc that Arhats have compassion. Also practitioners of theravada can have it.
Thanks for the reply!
I have to concur - and am equally disturbed by - the "anti-Mahayana/Vajrayana" prejudice that exists in non-Mahayana paths, whatever we call them today.
I was at a talk by Thanissaro Bhikkhu - one of my favorite teachers, and to whose monastery I have donated money/time/effort to help them boost their audio system - where he criticized the opening lines of the Hsin Hsin Ming "The Great Way is not difficult for those with no preferences," saying "of course we have preferences! That's silly..." or words to that effect. I have and LOVE the Robert Clarke translation and other translations that read "for those NOT ATTACHED to preferences" - a reading which invalidates the argument he was trying to make.

I likewise find that type of bias to be unnecessary!

I guess what it boils down to is....I expect more of Buddhists. Maybe that's the fail point in this whole argument! :)
Other spiritual practices are based entirely on the idea of discrimination and "us vs. them" and "good vs. evil"...
But THIS is the practice that's supposed to be all about dropping the discriminating mind and letting go of attachments to constructs, particularly those of human origin.
So that type of bias within the practice seems contradictory, regardless of where it's coming from.

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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by JMGinPDX » Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:40 pm

Astus wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 8:13 pm
JMGinPDX wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 7:00 pm
puts me off when reading Zen texts in particular is the anti-Hinayana (e.g. Theravada) bias present in much of the literature.
Since Zen has never coexisted with Hinayana before the 20th century meeting in Western countries, this is all rather rhetorical.
That's an excellent point and one that I had not considered.
Thank you as always for your insight.

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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by JMGinPDX » Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:41 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Sun Oct 07, 2018 11:59 pm
Agree with most of the above, although not inclined to dismiss 'hinayana' as inferior out of hand.

But an important point is to understand the dialectical nature of (especially) early Buddhism. 'Dialectic' refers to a mode of exposition arising from a dialogue between differing perspectives. You also find this, for example, in the Platonic dialogues, where different characters voice different perspectives, quite often in opposition to each other; sometimes there is no definitive conclusion, and the dialogue will end suspended in aporia, a question which can't be answered.
......
But the other point to note is that, now it's the 21st century, all these separate traditions are now encountering each other again via the internet and giving talks at conferences, and the like. So no doubt many new forms, and hybrid forms, are emerging and will continue to.
Also an excellent point. It's easy to forget about the relative isolation in which those texts were written. Thanks.

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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by JMGinPDX » Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:49 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Mon Oct 08, 2018 12:31 am
Agree with most of the above, although not inclined to dismiss 'hinayana' as inferior out of hand.

As one example Ajahn Chah says plenty of stuff that is reminiscent of a Mahayana message, so making use of those categories in the modern world should be functional, and based on what is taught, not sectarian or based on school necessarily. It's quite reasonable to point out the difference though, and I don't see the difference as purely "sectarian", you can read some Theravadin authors (as an example on the other end) that actually think that the Mahayana path is basically a product of mara, keeping people ensnared to Samsara. If someone honestly reasons this to be so, they really should practice Theravada and not Mahayana, similarly if someone can't generate faith in the Mahayana, there is no reason to practice it. On the other side, if one earnestly believes the Mahayana sutras, that the Arhat path is not the definitive one, then they should practice Mahayana. The only contradiction comes if one has teachers that are polemic in one or the other direction, I think.
Ajahn Chah started out practicing Zen, as did his disciple Ajahn Sumedho, so there's a good reason to see certain Zen/Mahayana messages in the Thai Forest Tradition specifically, even if not in other related EB lineages in Burma, Sri Lanka, et al.

I think my grounding in their teachings conflated with my affinity for Zen, and the similarities I see between them, is part of why I'm put off by the ancestors' bias.

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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by JMGinPDX » Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:54 pm

DGA wrote:
Mon Oct 08, 2018 2:53 pm
as an aside: I used to practice at the same center you are practicing in in the late 1990s. At that time it was home to Dharma Rain Zen Center. The Zen Community of Oregon also practiced there, as did Robert Beatty's Insight Meditation group. Later, there was a Sakya group, too (are they still around?).
Yes, Dharma Rain sold the building to PFOD fairly recently - 8 years ago perhaps? I don't recall.
I did a weekend retreat at Great Vow recently and I'm doing it again in December, but I'm also sitting with Rinzan Pechovnik's No Rank Zendo group when I can.
Robert has a space on the further southeast part of town now and is thriving, he's a great teacher and a wonderful human! I had the pleasure of giving him music lessons for a time, and he recently officiated my wife and I renewing our wedding vows.
I'm not sure of the Sakya group, there is so much Tibetan tradition around here that I can't keep track!

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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Wayfarer » Tue Oct 09, 2018 10:22 pm

JMGinPDX wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:49 pm
Ajahn Chah started out practicing Zen, as did his disciple Ajahn Sumedho...
Do you have a source for that? I don't think Ajahn Chah ever practiced outside Thailand, and Zen lineages are generally not represented there.
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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Tue Oct 09, 2018 10:33 pm

JMGinPDX wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:49 pm
Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Mon Oct 08, 2018 12:31 am
Agree with most of the above, although not inclined to dismiss 'hinayana' as inferior out of hand.

As one example Ajahn Chah says plenty of stuff that is reminiscent of a Mahayana message, so making use of those categories in the modern world should be functional, and based on what is taught, not sectarian or based on school necessarily. It's quite reasonable to point out the difference though, and I don't see the difference as purely "sectarian", you can read some Theravadin authors (as an example on the other end) that actually think that the Mahayana path is basically a product of mara, keeping people ensnared to Samsara. If someone honestly reasons this to be so, they really should practice Theravada and not Mahayana, similarly if someone can't generate faith in the Mahayana, there is no reason to practice it. On the other side, if one earnestly believes the Mahayana sutras, that the Arhat path is not the definitive one, then they should practice Mahayana. The only contradiction comes if one has teachers that are polemic in one or the other direction, I think.
Ajahn Chah started out practicing Zen, as did his disciple Ajahn Sumedho, so there's a good reason to see certain Zen/Mahayana messages in the Thai Forest Tradition specifically, even if not in other related EB lineages in Burma, Sri Lanka, et al.

I think my grounding in their teachings conflated with my affinity for Zen, and the similarities I see between them, is part of why I'm put off by the ancestors' bias.
Have you spent any time with Mahayana Sutras? It might be worth figuring out whether or not they speak to you on this subject, as this more than just an issue of "bias" but a question of divergent approaches to practicing Dharma, though as I mentioned, not exclusively sectarian. Given the Zen connection, the Lankavatara might be a good start, I think the "Nirvana" chapter addresses this directly.

I have also never heard that Ajahn Chah had anything to do with Zen, so i'm interested in hearing more as well.
I guess what it boils down to is....I expect more of Buddhists. Maybe that's the fail point in this whole argument! :)
Other spiritual practices are based entirely on the idea of discrimination and "us vs. them" and "good vs. evil"...
But THIS is the practice that's supposed to be all about dropping the discriminating mind and letting go of attachments to constructs, particularly those of human origin.
So that type of bias within the practice seems contradictory, regardless of where it's coming from.
I'm gonna go ahead and poke at this sacred cow a little. This is using the ultimate to ignore the relative, which is not what the teachings, any Buddhist teachings i'm aware of, actually ask us to do. Being free of bias does not mean we do not have to make relative decisions or come to conclusions in this relative existence. We have to work in our own circumstances to learn discernment that comes from insight, and to make our decisions from that place of insight, rather than simply ignoring differences. That includes which teachings we follow, and which we find definitive. People have the right to make such a decision, and impugning any such decision as "biased" or "sectarian" can sometimes be an attempt at placing one's insight above others.

There are a million quotes from different masters and traditions on this subject, but it basically boils down to: We shouldn't discard the relative in favor of some conceptual notion of what "the ultimate" is, we still have to learn to make precise decisions in life (ironically, the broader our insight the more fine our thinking can be), and while some things might be attributable to blind bias, some are decisions that should be respected, and might be more meaningful than we understand at the time. Being free of biases doesn't mean not thinking anything at all about differences, and having no opinions, it means not clinging to them. After all, if that were what it is to be free of biases, then we would never have chosen our teachers, or to practice Dharma in the first place.
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anjali
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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by anjali » Wed Oct 10, 2018 12:44 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 10:22 pm
JMGinPDX wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:49 pm
Ajahn Chah started out practicing Zen, as did his disciple Ajahn Sumedho...
Do you have a source for that? I don't think Ajahn Chah ever practiced outside Thailand, and Zen lineages are generally not represented there.
Can't speak to Ajahn Chah and Zen, but can speak regarding Ajahn Sumedho. My memory is a little fuzzy about where I heard this from, but I believe it was from Ajahn Pasanno. Thus I have heard...

After Ajahn Sumedho was ordained, he kept waiting for Ajahn Chah to give him meditation instructions. When it wasn't forthcoming, eventually he approached Ajahn Chah and asked him for instructions.

Ajahn Chah was surprised and asked him, "What have you been doing?"

Ajahn Sumedho said he had been following instructions from a book by a Chinese master (Hsu Yun), which he had found in a bookstore on his travels prior to becoming a monk. Ajahn Chah wanted to know more about what the book said. Ajahn Sumedho went to get the book, and started translating it to him (the book was in English and Ajahn Chah only spoke Thai). Apparently Ajahn Sumedho translated the whole book for him, which took a few hours! After he finished translating there was a long silence.

Ajahn Sumedho finally broke the silence with, "Well?"

Ajahn Chah's reply was, "Just keep doing what you are doing."


Although not confirmed by me, I'm fairly certain that the book was Master Hsu Yun's Discourses and Dharma Words, translated into English by Charles Luk, published in 1959. It's the only collection of Hsu Yun's Dharma talks I've ever been able to find, and it was available in the right time frame. Amazingly, the text is available here. It's a wonderful book if folks haven't read it.

So, at least for a little while, Ajahn Sumedho was practicing Zen. Interestingly much later on, Ajahn Sumedho had a connection with master Hsun Hua (City of Ten Thousand Buddhas), a Dharma Heir of Hsu Yun, related to the founding of Abhayagiri Monastery in northern California.
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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by Wayfarer » Wed Oct 10, 2018 1:46 am

Thanks. That is interesting indeed! There are many convergences between the Forest tradition and Zen tradition, and I've noticed a certain Zen-like sensibility in Ven. Sumedho's talks and writings. But I think you would agree, as Ajahn Chah's practice was rooted in the Thai forest tradition, then the fact that there was such a resonance between his teaching and Hsu Yun (also a marvellous Buddhist teacher) speaks more to the 'one taste' of the universal Dharma, than to 'influence' as such. As if both are drinking water from the same source, so to speak.
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Re: anti-"Hinayana" bias in Zen (and Mahayana in general)

Post by DGA » Wed Oct 10, 2018 1:51 am

JMGinPDX wrote:
Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:54 pm
DGA wrote:
Mon Oct 08, 2018 2:53 pm
as an aside: I used to practice at the same center you are practicing in in the late 1990s. At that time it was home to Dharma Rain Zen Center. The Zen Community of Oregon also practiced there, as did Robert Beatty's Insight Meditation group. Later, there was a Sakya group, too (are they still around?).
Yes, Dharma Rain sold the building to PFOD fairly recently - 8 years ago perhaps? I don't recall.
I did a weekend retreat at Great Vow recently and I'm doing it again in December, but I'm also sitting with Rinzan Pechovnik's No Rank Zendo group when I can.
Robert has a space on the further southeast part of town now and is thriving, he's a great teacher and a wonderful human! I had the pleasure of giving him music lessons for a time, and he recently officiated my wife and I renewing our wedding vows.
I'm not sure of the Sakya group, there is so much Tibetan tradition around here that I can't keep track!
That's excellent. Robert officiated our wedding in 1999. I left Portland shortly before the decision was made to get organized and buy a property (that was a good decision). I have so many positive memories of that Dharma hall.

Going back to the topic you raised, which is an important one: What matters is what you learn in practice. How are you growing in a real sense, and what direct knowledge do you have? By "knowledge" I mean knowing that you know how to ride a bike because you do it, not knowledge in the sense of having read something in a book. Thinking and judging and intellectualizing is great; I do it for a living, so I respect it, but it's not the point in the Dharma world. What matters is your insight, your wisdom, your qualities such as compassion. I bring this up just as a reminder because you probably already know this, and because life is short and uncertain so we have every incentive to get to the heart of the matter.

Please, if you see Robert again, tell him that some strange fellow on the interwebz remembers him fondly. He led a series of discussions on Surya Das's book Awakening the Buddha Within when it first came out that set me on a course to a life of Dharma. For that, I'll always be grateful. :heart:

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