What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

General forum on the teachings of all schools of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Topics specific to one school are best posted in the appropriate sub-forum.
User avatar
Lazy_eye
Posts: 496
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:32 am
Location: Laurel, MD
Contact:

What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Lazy_eye » Wed Apr 27, 2016 4:57 pm

I recently read an interesting paper by Daniel Breyer in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics. Although his focus is on Pali Buddhism, I'm interested to know how the questions he raises are answered from a Mahayana/Vajryana point of view.

Breyer's topic is the summum bonum in Buddhism -- that is, what the Dhamma/Dharma sets up as the ultimate or highest good. This has important implications, at all levels of practice. The "ultimate good" is what shapes the overall "axiology" (i.e. value system). Looking at how Buddhists have interpreted the Pali suttas, Breyer sees two differing strains of thought:

A positive axiology (he terms this the "Nirvana View"): The ultimate good in Buddhism is the state of perfect serenity, wisdom and compassion that the Buddha reached after his awakening. This is the highest happiness. In Mayahana terms I think we would speak of perfectly realizing Buddha Nature and perfect comprehension of sunyata. In essence, there is a higher truth outside of concepts and language. We can't talk about it because doing so would trap us in samsara, but it is what we aim for, nonetheless.

A negative axiology (he terms this the "Nirodha View." The ultimate good is the elimination of dukkha, nothing more, nothing less. In this view, “x is good if and only if x either contributes to the elimination of dukkha, or consists in the absence of suffering.” The ultimate good is described by the absence of something (dukkha), and NOT by the presence of, say, a higher truth or higher state of being.

Which of these seems more consistent with Mahayana/Vajrayana? It seems that in the Buddhism of the Pali suttas, the negative axiology can be demonstrated as being more correct, but my impression is that this is not the case in Mahayana.

Thoughts? Breyer's paper can be found here, btw.

User avatar
Hickory Mountain
Posts: 59
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:40 pm
Location: Marshall, AR

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Hickory Mountain » Wed Apr 27, 2016 5:26 pm

Lazy_eye wrote: In Mayahana terms I think we would speak of perfectly realizing Buddha Nature and perfect comprehension of sunyata.
I think this is a really good explanation, the only things I would tweak would be to emphasize the ongoing nature of realizing Buddha Nature and to add that this view is intrinsically pointed towards bringing other beings into the same state.
Namo Amitabha

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 8423
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Apr 27, 2016 7:24 pm

That basic dichotomy exists throughout Mahayana really too - as to Vajrayana you can find ends of the spectrum in all four schools with some (Gelug and Sakya) going more to the emptiness end and the others (Nyingma and Kagyu) at the other, I think that's generally correct...though it's almost at the scholastic level..it's kind of hard and confusing to categorize Tantra in that way.

There are not actually different end goals though IMO, nor is the dichotomy presented regarding Theravada actually representative of different goal..those are actually same "ultimate good" put in different terms. Of course people will argue about them interminably.

So In Mahayana I think the rough comparison to this would be schools that focus on emptiness vs. schools that focus on Buddhanature. So similar except from his (Theravada) PoV cessation of suffering is Nirvana, whereas Mahayana has non-abiding Nirvana which is not only cessation of Kleshas but the end of knowledge obscurations.
"it must be coming from the mouthy mastermind of raunchy rapper, Johnny Dangerous”

-Jeff H.

User avatar
Lazy_eye
Posts: 496
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:32 am
Location: Laurel, MD
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sat Apr 30, 2016 11:04 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:That basic dichotomy exists throughout Mahayana really too - as to Vajrayana you can find ends of the spectrum in all four schools with some (Gelug and Sakya) going more to the emptiness end and the others (Nyingma and Kagyu) at the other, I think that's generally correct...though it's almost at the scholastic level..it's kind of hard and confusing to categorize Tantra in that way.

So In Mahayana I think the rough comparison to this would be schools that focus on emptiness vs. schools that focus on Buddhanature. So similar except from his (Theravada) PoV cessation of suffering is Nirvana, whereas Mahayana has non-abiding Nirvana which is not only cessation of Kleshas but the end of knowledge obscurations.
Thank you -- I'm interested to see how different schools across Mahayana/Vajrayana incline towards one or the other. What about Zen? One would think, on first glance, that it's more on the emptiness side, since we can see its emphasis on dropping this or cutting through that. But at the same time it's all about Buddha nature:
Chinul wrote:There are many different kinds of faith. Buddhism tells people who believe in causality and who like happiness o have faith in ten virtues as sublime causes, and to have faith in humanity and higher states as pleasant results. For those who enjoy quietude, belief in the conditions of birth and death is the right cause, while the way to extinction of misery is the holy result. For those who like complete Buddhahood, faith in the six perfections over three aeons is the great cause; enlightenment and nirvana are the great results.

In Zen, however, right faith is not the same as any of these. One does not have faith in any contrived causes or effects; it is only necessary to have faith that the intrinsic self is originally Buddha.
But is this intrinsic Buddha-self some kind of state (albeit one we can't describe in conventional language) or simply the null that is left when all afflictions are peeled away?
There are not actually different end goals though IMO, nor is the dichotomy presented regarding Theravada actually representative of different goal..those are actually same "ultimate good" put in different terms.
To me, there's a distinction that can be seen if we run a little thought experiment: suppose, due to some freakish occurence in the cosmos, a person dropped dead and was not reborn in any state -- that is, his or her mind continuum just ended, with the result that this person became ontologically equivalent to a rock or other inanimate object. Could this person be said to have achieved the goal of the path?

In a negative axiology (that is, "good"="cessation") the answer would seem to be "yes"; in a positive axiology, it would seem to be "no."

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 8423
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sat Apr 30, 2016 11:10 pm

But is this intrinsic Buddha-self some kind of state (albeit one we can't describe in conventional language) or simply the null that is left when all afflictions are peeled away?
Answering that question with a blunt affirmative or negative is generally discouraged, seems to me. There is no such thing as "null" or "nothing", emptiness precludes any possibility of creation or annihilation.
Thank you -- I'm interested to see how different schools across Mahayana/Vajrayana incline towards one or the other. What about Zen? One would think, on first glance, that it's more on the emptiness side, since we can see its emphasis on dropping this or cutting through that. But at the same time it's all about Buddha nature:
East Asian Buddhism is AFAIK more heavily influenced by the notion of the "Third Turning" Sutras, so yes, there's plenty of that.
To me, there's a distinction that can be seen if we run a little thought experiment: suppose, due to some freakish occurence in the cosmos, a person dropped dead and was not reborn in any state -- that is, his or her mind continuum just ended, with the result that this person became ontologically equivalent to a rock or other inanimate object. Could this person be said to have achieved the goal of the path?
That's actually just Nihilism, and an adharmic view period, not a "negative axiology", IMO. The idea that Nirvana is cessation of the Kleshas does not mean Nirvana is annihilation, by my understanding. You can read places in the Pali Canon where craving for annihilation is addressed...so yeah, annihilation is not Nirvana:

http://www.budsas.org/ebud/word-of-buddha/wob4nt03.htm
"it must be coming from the mouthy mastermind of raunchy rapper, Johnny Dangerous”

-Jeff H.

User avatar
Lazy_eye
Posts: 496
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:32 am
Location: Laurel, MD
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sat Apr 30, 2016 11:29 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote: That's actually just Nihilism, and an adharmic view period, not a "negative axiology", IMO. The idea that Nirvana is cessation of the Kleshas does mean Nirvana is annihilation, by my understanding.
However, this does appear to be the correct view according to the Pali suttas, as best as I've been able to determine.

I posted this topic at both DWs, as I'm interested in whether it's a point of difference between Mahayana and Sravakayana. So far it seems that the answer is yes.
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Sat Apr 30, 2016 11:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 8423
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sat Apr 30, 2016 11:33 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote: That's actually just Nihilism, and an adharmic view period, not a "negative axiology", IMO. The idea that Nirvana is cessation of the Kleshas does mean Nirvana is annihilation, by my understanding.
However, this does appear to be the correct view according to the Pali suttas, as best as I've been able to determine.

I posted this topic at both DWs, as I'm interested in whether it's a point of difference between Mahayana and Sravakayana. So far it seems that the answer is yes.

If it were the correct view according to the Pali Suttas, why would there be such as carving as "craving for self annihilation" that one needs to unbind? What makes you hink that is the view in the Pali Suttas, rather than simply the view of some Theravadins, Secular Buddhists, etc.?

I am fairly familiar with the Pali Canon and IMO taking that sort of approach is really taking some liberties with what is there, I can dig up examples if you want, but find any Sutta where Nibbana is alluded to, and it's fairly obvious it is not just annihilation..whatever else might be said.
"it must be coming from the mouthy mastermind of raunchy rapper, Johnny Dangerous”

-Jeff H.

User avatar
Lazy_eye
Posts: 496
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:32 am
Location: Laurel, MD
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sat Apr 30, 2016 11:39 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote: If it were the correct view according to the Pali Suttas, why would there be such as carving as "craving for self annihilation" that one needs to unbind? What makes you hink that is the view in the Pali Suttas, rather than simply the view of some Theravadins, Secular Buddhists, etc.?
Well, to get into this question we'd end up having a Theravada discussion on a Mahayana board...let me just say that it's been discussed at great length over at the other DW and it's really hard to make the case that nibbana (according to the Pali suttas) is anything but cessation of the kleshas, with the cessation process concluding at parinibbana. I can point you to the relevant threads, if you're interested. Here's one.

Craving for self-annihilation is discouraged because it's a type of self view -- that is, there is a self that can be annihilated. This is different. As long as one holds self views of any kind, rebirth will continue and nibbana will never be reached.

I don't see anything wrong, personally, with saying that the two vehicles differ. Otherwise there wouldn't be two vehicles, right?
I am fairly familiar with the Pali Canon and IMO taking that sort of approach is really taking some liberties with what is there, I can dig up examples if you want, but find any Sutta where Nibbana is alluded to, and it's fairly obvious it is not just annihilation..whatever else might be said.
One area of confusion is that there's nibbana with remainder, and nibbana without remainder. When you get to the end of the (sravaka) path, you're still conscious due to unused kammic "fuel." But eventually that fuel gets used up and you, the arahant, arrive at remainderless nibbana -- never to re-emerge into sentience. Except that, according to Mahayana, you do re-emerge and ultimately become a Buddha.

User avatar
Wayfarer
Global Moderator
Posts: 4218
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Wayfarer » Sun May 01, 2016 12:00 am

Without reading the paper, which I will - I tend towards the former attitude; I see the negative approach as being mainly a by-product of the particular nature of Buddhist dialectics, an outcome of 'things left unsaid' and the 'silence of the Buddha'. I see a lot of that as being grounded in the attempt to short-circuit the 'grasping' of images, ideas, and icons which is characteristic of the religious mentality; the tendency to seize some aspect of the elephant, so to speak, and to declare 'this is it'. That tendency is a constant target of criticism in Zen, in particular, and religious iconoclasm, generally.

Plus there was the requirement for Buddhism to define its approach in distinction from the Brahmins, who were wily and sophisticated opponents - they zig, you zag. Subsequently there are types of expression that aren't used as part of the idiom (an idea that is explored in Stephen Collin's book Selfless Persons; pdf is here.)

There are quite a few debates on this forum about the meaning of śūnyatā (which is natural, it being a Buddhist forum) and the problem of reification (making something out of śūnyatā). But it occured to me recently that the opposite problem to reification is nullification - reading śūnyatā as non-existence. I think that is a risk of the 'negative axiology', but it's a very subtle and elusive point.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 8423
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun May 01, 2016 12:03 am

Well, to get into this question we'd end up having a Theravada discussion on a Mahayana board...let me just say that it's been discussed at great length over at the other DW and it's really hard to make the case that nibbana (according to the Pali suttas) is anything but cessation of the kleshas, with the cessation process concluding at parinibbana. I can point you to the relevant threads, if you're interested. Here's one.

Craving for self-annihilation is discouraged because it's a type of self view -- that is, there is a self that can be annihilated. This is different. As long as one holds self views of any kind, rebirth will continue and nibbana will never be reached.

I don't see anything wrong, personally, with saying that the two vehicles differ. Otherwise there wouldn't be two vehicles, right?
Oh of course there's a difference, NIbbana of Theravada is not full enlightenment according to the Mahayana for one.

Even in the Pali Canon though, Nibbana is fully outside the propositions of the tetralemma..so IMO if someone is saying that (even in Theravada) Nibbana = non existence, they seem on pretty shaky ground, because this very thing is refuted in Pali literature. Remember the Sutta where the Buddha refuses to answer "does the Tathagata exist after death, or does he not exist" etc.? There is a very clear message in a number of Sutta that thinking about existence vs. non existence in regards to Nibbana is wrong view.

In short, cessation of kleshas does not = non-existence, and IMO someone making that argument does not have a lot to stand on, in either tradition, by my understanding.
"it must be coming from the mouthy mastermind of raunchy rapper, Johnny Dangerous”

-Jeff H.

User avatar
Lazy_eye
Posts: 496
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:32 am
Location: Laurel, MD
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sun May 01, 2016 2:18 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote: Even in the Pali Canon though, Nibbana is fully outside the propositions of the tetralemma..so IMO if someone is saying that (even in Theravada) Nibbana = non existence, they seem on pretty shaky ground, because this very thing is refuted in Pali literature. Remember the Sutta where the Buddha refuses to answer "does the Tathagata exist after death, or does he not exist" etc.? There is a very clear message in a number of Sutta that thinking about existence vs. non existence in regards to Nibbana is wrong view.

In short, cessation of kleshas does not = non-existence, and IMO someone making that argument does not have a lot to stand on, in either tradition, by my understanding.
There's a fair amount of discussion out there about what the Buddha's refusal to answer those questions implies. The metaphor usually given for Nibbana is that of a fire going out -- asking such questions is like asking where the fire went, IMO.

We can see easily, though, that in Śrāvakayāna consciousness (vijñāna/viññāṇa) ceases at parinibbana because it is one of the five aggregates. Since there is no longer any fuel to sustain aggregate-formation, they must dissolve. The living arahant is still conscious because of the "remainder" (that is, dependent origination processes that have not finished playing out). I don't know the Mahayana/Vajrayana view very well -- one reason for my post here is to learn more about it -- but I'm guessing that the tathagatagarbha/True Self doctrines make the difference here.

This isn't my main point, though. My main point is that the end goal of Śrāvakayāna is cessation, nothing more, nothing less. If your dukkha has ceased, then you have realized the goal of the path. So getting back to the thought experiment earlier, if for some strange reason a person dropped dead, was not reborn, and became in effect just like an inanimate object, then he or she would have met the conditions for success per the Śrāvakayāna -- dukkha would have ceased. As Breyer suggests in his paper, Pali Buddhism is a type of negative axiology -- its logic is basically subtractive. The "highest happiness" is the absence of something: dukkha.

I understand this would not be the case in Mahayana/Vajrayana, though, because the criterion is becoming a Buddha. A person can't realize Buddhahood simply by becoming insensate/inanimate -- this doesn't suffice to meet the goals of the path. It seems as though Mahayana has something more like a positive axiology, in which there is a higher good (the True Self) that is not simply the absence of bad.

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 8423
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun May 01, 2016 3:03 am

Again, that is just annihilationism, by my understanding. I do not agree with that reading of Pali literature.
There's a fair amount of discussion out there about what the Buddha's refusal to answer those questions implies. The metaphor usually given for Nibbana is that of a fire going out -- asking such questions is like asking where the fire went, IMO.
IMO it is pretty basic (and repeated time and time again in Pali stuff) that Nirvana is beyond extremes and polarities - which again fully discounts the notion that NIbbana is simply nothingness, as do all the various presentations The Deathless in the Pali literature. so I cannot accept those ideas, whether there is a fair amount of discussion about them or not.

As to whether Mahayana is different, of course, because from that perspective an Arhat still has obscurations of knowledge. There is still a "positive" and "negative" presentation in that some schools emphasize Buddha nature from the inside out, and others emphasize the emptiness of phenomena, IMO they lead to the same place though.

Do you have any sources from Theravadins expressing this notion that Nirvana = annihilation? I'd be interested in reading one, particularly from sources that are non-academic. It is important to point out that adopting an approach of what is abandoned is not the same as saying "afterwards it's just non-existence" which seems to be what you are saying.

Not to belabor the point, but here are some quotes from Access to insight regarding Nibbanna:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dham ... bbana.html

Far as I'm concerned, it is patently obvious from these and other statements from the Pali Canon that The Buddha did not believe Nirvana was tantamount to a "final death", and had he felt that way, IMO he would have taught it.
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Sun May 01, 2016 3:19 am, edited 3 times in total.
"it must be coming from the mouthy mastermind of raunchy rapper, Johnny Dangerous”

-Jeff H.

User avatar
Dan74
Founding Member
Posts: 2486
Joined: Mon Oct 08, 2012 3:59 pm
Location: Lyss, Switzerland

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Dan74 » Sun May 01, 2016 3:11 am

Lazy_eye wrote:I recently read an interesting paper by Daniel Breyer in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics. Although his focus is on Pali Buddhism, I'm interested to know how the questions he raises are answered from a Mahayana/Vajryana point of view.

Breyer's topic is the summum bonum in Buddhism -- that is, what the Dhamma/Dharma sets up as the ultimate or highest good. This has important implications, at all levels of practice. The "ultimate good" is what shapes the overall "axiology" (i.e. value system). Looking at how Buddhists have interpreted the Pali suttas, Breyer sees two differing strains of thought:

A positive axiology (he terms this the "Nirvana View"): The ultimate good in Buddhism is the state of perfect serenity, wisdom and compassion that the Buddha reached after his awakening. This is the highest happiness. In Mayahana terms I think we would speak of perfectly realizing Buddha Nature and perfect comprehension of sunyata. In essence, there is a higher truth outside of concepts and language. We can't talk about it because doing so would trap us in samsara, but it is what we aim for, nonetheless.

A negative axiology (he terms this the "Nirodha View." The ultimate good is the elimination of dukkha, nothing more, nothing less. In this view, “x is good if and only if x either contributes to the elimination of dukkha, or consists in the absence of suffering.” The ultimate good is described by the absence of something (dukkha), and NOT by the presence of, say, a higher truth or higher state of being.

Which of these seems more consistent with Mahayana/Vajrayana? It seems that in the Buddhism of the Pali suttas, the negative axiology can be demonstrated as being more correct, but my impression is that this is not the case in Mahayana.

Thoughts? Breyer's paper can be found here, btw.
I don't like this description at all, LE. It doesn't accord with what I've been taught, what I've read in my studies and what I feel in practice.

In Mahayana as in Theravada, the goal is the elimination of delusion, of ignorance. There are some differences in just how far ignorance extends with some sources in Mahayana describing the Buddha's omniscience as going further than the Theravada sources. Then there is also skillful compassionate action which is very important in Mahayana (the 4 Vows) and in Zen, as people will remember, the last of the 10 Ox-herding pictures is entering the market-place with open arms. Not the state of serenity (equanimity/no disturbed by the worldly winds would've been better) and understanding emptiness which is #7 or #8.

_/|\_

User avatar
Lazy_eye
Posts: 496
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:32 am
Location: Laurel, MD
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sun May 01, 2016 3:18 am

Ok, so it looks like we can agree on one thing -- Mahayana and Vajrayana do not teach the "Nirodha view," according to which the summum bonum (highest good) is cessation.

Whether or not this is what Theravada teaches...maybe something to be discussed on the other forum. If any one's interested, here's the link to a thread on this topic.

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 8423
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun May 01, 2016 3:20 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Ok, so it looks like we can agree on one thing -- Mahayana and Vajrayana do not teach the "Nirodha view," according to which the summum bonum (highest good) is cessation.
No, but the various presentations of emptiness definitely sit on a spectrum, one side of which can verge on a similar nihilism when misunderstood, IMO. On the other side, you can find presentations that reify a "true self" enough that they might verge on eternalism in some hands.

BTDubs on the subject of the "fire" thing:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... bbana.html
Ok, so it looks like we can agree on one thing -- Mahayana and Vajrayana do not teach the "Nirodha view," according to which the summum bonum (highest good) is cessation.
According to the Mahayana (and Vajrayana is simply different methods within Mahayana, not a different philosophy or goal per se), Mahayana teaches both the cessations of the kleshas and of the cognitive obscurations, leading to full Buddhahood.
"it must be coming from the mouthy mastermind of raunchy rapper, Johnny Dangerous”

-Jeff H.

User avatar
Lazy_eye
Posts: 496
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:32 am
Location: Laurel, MD
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sun May 01, 2016 3:54 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:According to the Mahayana (and Vajrayana is simply different methods within Mahayana, not a different philosophy or goal per se), Mahayana teaches both the cessations of the kleshas and of the cognitive obscurations, leading to full Buddhahood.
Thanks. This is a bit of a side note, but while we're on the topic....do all Mahayanists consider Vajrayana to be valid "Mahayana"? I mean, given the tantras and so on...I know it works the other way around.
No, but the various presentations of emptiness definitely sit on a spectrum, one side of which can verge on a similar nihilism when misunderstood, IMO. On the other side, you can find presentations that reify a "true self" enough that they might verge on eternalism in some hands.
And you see Gelug and Sakya as being one side of that spectrum, and Nyingma and Kagyu on the other?

What about Zen? Superficially it seems like more of an "emptiness" approach, and Zennies do in fact get accused of nihilism -- and yet the point of many koans is to realize Buddha nature. All of East Asian Buddhism, as you say, seems strongly influenced by tathatagarbha teachings.
Johnny Dangerous wrote: BTDubs on the subject of the "fire" thing:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... bbana.html
My understanding -- and this is just the understanding of a beginner student who has been involved in lengthy discussions with Theravadins on the topic -- is that Thanissaro's views are somewhat unorthodox. A more orthodox Theravada position would be Ajahn Sujato's:
Sujato wrote:After Awakening, the arahant lives every day in mindfulness and peace. They are fully aware, fully conscious. Nibbana is ever-present in the sense that there is never any greed, hatred, or delusion. But the mind otherwise functions as normal – thinking, feeling, experiencing, remembering, imagining, and so on. An arahant is not continuously aware of the 4 truths, but will clearly perceive them whenever she turns her mind to them...

Then there is the state of the arahant after death
, sometimes called ‘parinibbana’, more technically ‘anupadisesanibbana’, ‘Nibbana without residue’. It is here that all forms of conscious experience, inclusive of the 5 aggregates, or citta, or whatever you wish to call it, stop utterly and finally. This is clear and unambiguous in the Suttas.
More here.

Interestingly, Thanissaro also seems to state a similar position in this recent interview:
A:The awakened mind is doing one thing, but nibbana itself is not the same thing as the awakened mind. The fact that you have a mind that’s still functioning in the world after awakening that is part of the fuel remaining when you have nibbana with fuel remaining and nibbana with no fuel remaining. When you hit the point with nibbana with no fuel remaining there is no activity at all.

Follow-up Q:Then the nibbana with no fuel remain is pari-nibbana, isn’t it?

A: Yes, that’s after death.
(Link here)

Vijñāna, as I wrote before, is one of the aggregates, and all aggregate formations cease at parinibbana ("nibbana" means "extinguishing," and "parinibbana" means "full extinguishing"), because there is no fuel left for them. So what could cause awareness to persist afterwards?

It seems to me there would have to be some sort of other, non-afflicted vijñāna -- which had to be there all along -- and this would be equivalent to tathatagarbha. This is not in Theravada, though, AFAIK.

MiphamFan
Posts: 974
Joined: Thu Jun 18, 2015 5:46 am

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by MiphamFan » Sun May 01, 2016 5:58 pm

The whole idea of a "summum bonum" in Buddhadharma was bothering me a few months ago too.

At this point, as far as I understand, I think it is completely inappropriate to construe Buddhahood as some kind of idealized "bonum".

Buddhahood is nothing other than understanding the nature of reality, it is not some external ideal you try to attain.

The whole ideal of having some kind of idealized good is Platonic and has influenced basically all streams of Western/Arabic philosophy after the demise of the other Greek philosophical schools. The Sceptics and Cynics both would be pretty suspicious of the whole Platonic project of inventing abstract ideals for example. In Buddhist terms it really is just a kind of eternalism and not that helpful for understanding Dharma IMO.

It really is not necessary to have a "summum bonum" to have an ethical system. In the West itself, as I mentioned above, the Sceptics didn't have this.

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 8423
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun May 01, 2016 6:02 pm

Lazy_eye wrote: Thanks. This is a bit of a side note, but while we're on the topic....do all Mahayanists consider Vajrayana to be valid "Mahayana"? I mean, given the tantras and so on...I know it works the other way around.
No, not as far as I know. It doesn't exactly work the other way around either, since some Mahayana schools consider certain sutra definitive, and others nearly disregard some sutra, etc.
And you see Gelug and Sakya as being one side of that spectrum, and Nyingma and Kagyu on the other?
Kind of, yes, but they are general trends and you find differences even within the specific schools too, IME.
What about Zen? Superficially it seems like more of an "emptiness" approach, and Zennies do in fact get accused of nihilism -- and yet the point of many koans is to realize Buddha nature. All of East Asian Buddhism, as you say, seems strongly influenced by tathatagarbha teachings
I'd see Zen more as leaning towards the "true self" thing, as with a lot of East Asian Dharma, IME the people who are making Zen nihilistic are usually westerners suffusing Zen with their own beliefs, or at least people with a heavily modernist bent doing the interpreting.

My understanding -- and this is just the understanding of a beginner student who has been involved in lengthy discussions with Theravadins on the topic -- is that Thanissaro's views are somewhat unorthodox. A more orthodox Theravada position would be Ajahn Sujato's:
I don't think that's correct, I don't think Theravadins as a whole consider Nirvana without remainder to mean simply a permanent death at all. Regardless though, I don't really care about credentials of people's arguments so much as I am curious: Where/what in the suttas makes these people think this is the correct position?
Sujato wrote:After Awakening, the arahant lives every day in mindfulness and peace. They are fully aware, fully conscious. Nibbana is ever-present in the sense that there is never any greed, hatred, or delusion. But the mind otherwise functions as normal – thinking, feeling, experiencing, remembering, imagining, and so on. An arahant is not continuously aware of the 4 truths, but will clearly perceive them whenever she turns her mind to them...

Then there is the state of the arahant after death
, sometimes called ‘parinibbana’, more technically ‘anupadisesanibbana’, ‘Nibbana without residue’. It is here that all forms of conscious experience, inclusive of the 5 aggregates, or citta, or whatever you wish to call it, stop utterly and finally. This is clear and unambiguous in the Suttas.
Even here, he is not saying it is non-existence, the distinction is very important, especially with regard to the "fire" discussion. Maybe that's what he believes, IDK.

A:The awakened mind is doing one thing, but nibbana itself is not the same thing as the awakened mind. The fact that you have a mind that’s still functioning in the world after awakening that is part of the fuel remaining when you have nibbana with fuel remaining and nibbana with no fuel remaining. When you hit the point with nibbana with no fuel remaining there is no activity at all.
He is not saying that Nirvana is a state of nonexistence, he is saying that mental activity has ceased. that may seem like quibbling to you, but in terms of Buddhist philosophy it most definitely isn't. In that regard, what he is saying here (by my reading a least) is not remotely contradictory to what was posted in the earlier article on fire.
Vijñāna, as I wrote before, is one of the aggregates, and all aggregate formations cease at parinibbana ("nibbana" means "extinguishing," and "parinibbana" means "full extinguishing"), because there is no fuel left for them. So what could cause awareness to persist afterwards?
No one said anything about awareness persisting, only that NIrvana is not non existence or annihilation.
It seems to me there would have to be some sort of other, non-afflicted vijñāna -- which had to be there all along -- and this would be equivalent to tathatagarbha. This is not in Theravada, though, AFAIK.
To the best of my knowledge, Tathagatagarbha also is not really an "awareness".
"it must be coming from the mouthy mastermind of raunchy rapper, Johnny Dangerous”

-Jeff H.

User avatar
Lazy_eye
Posts: 496
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:32 am
Location: Laurel, MD
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sun May 01, 2016 7:03 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote: It would be nice if he said why he thought it was clear and unambiguous, as there are many people who've read the same suttas that wouldn't agree.
I could e-mail him and ask.

To me, it seems pretty clear though. The Buddha taught dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda). Bhava is one of the links in dependent origination; therefore, when dependent origination ceases, bhava must also cease. There is nothing to keep the wheel going, so when the remaining fuel is used up, it just stops.

Is there any way in which bhava would continue after dependent origination has ceased?
He is not saying that Nirvana is a state of nonexistence, he is saying that mental activity has ceased. that may seem like quibbling to you, but in terms of Buddhist philosophy it most definitely isn't.
I agree, and I don't think it's quibbling. As I understand it, the sravakayana is a path leading to cessation. This is different from setting up some sort of conceptual system in which we talk about "existent" or "non-existent" states. If I understand correctly, the Buddha would say that such talk overshoots the mark. What he does instead is to frame all these questions in terms of pratītyasamutpāda (dependent origination) and nirodha (cessation).
SN-12 wrote:Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.
Or, to use the short version: "I teach dukkha and the cessation of dukkha."
Johnny Dangerous wrote: No one said anything about awareness persisting, only that NIrvana is not non existence or annihilation.
I don't think I said that it was. I said "the end goal of Śrāvakayāna is cessation, nothing more, nothing less. If your dukkha has ceased, then you have realized the goal of the path."

That includes cessation of the kleshas and the halting of dependent origination, and ultimately the final breakup of the aggregates including vijñāna.
To the best of my knowledge, Tathagatagarbha also is not really an "awareness".
Well, I guess this is the question that I was hoping to find answers to in this thread: is nirvana according to Mahayana a permanent state that continues after bodily death? Is awareness, in some sense, an attribute of Buddhas following their parinirvana? If not, how do they appear to meditators and teach them?

For example, Allan Wallace writes about a "brightly shining mind" that persists after breakup of the aggregates. Is paranirvana something like that?
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Sun May 01, 2016 7:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
Posts: 8423
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA
Contact:

Re: What is the ultimate good according to Mahayana and Vajrayana?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sun May 01, 2016 7:09 pm

I could e-mail him and ask.

To me, it seems pretty clear though. The Buddha taught dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda). Bhava is one of the links in dependent origination; therefore, when dependent origination ceases, bhava must also cease. There is nothing to keep the wheel going, so when the remaining fuel is used up, it just stops.

Can you think of any way in which bhava would continue after dependent origination has ceased?
No, but the end of karmic movement does not imply that Nirvana is simply nothingness - again, this is basic, and alluded to time and time again. You are imposing a wrong view IMO by saying that the end of becoming is equal to annihilation, the Buddha specifically taught that was a wrong view.
Well, I guess this is the question that I was hoping to find answers to in this thread: is nirvana according to Mahayana a permanent state that continues after bodily death? Is awareness, in some sense, an attribute of Buddhas following their parinirvana? If not, how do they appear to meditators and teach them?

For example, Allan Wallace writes about a "brightly shining mind" that persists after breakup of the aggregates. Is paranirvana something like that?
I won't be the best at explaining this, but it is not so much a "permanent state" as a realization of reality...so using the model of entering a "permanent state" after bodily death is pretty much unheard of, AFAIK, it really doesn't make sense in the whole scheme. Emptiness makes all those concepts provisional, the idea that there is something to attain or not attain, a nirvana separate from a samsara etc..that is generally rejected in the Mahayana, to the best of my knowledge.

So the "brightly shining mind" doesn't exist or not exist, it isn't a solid "thing", nor is it simply a blank emptiness....again lots of times propositions such as existing, not existing, arising, ceasing, etc. are denied in regards to the ultimate in Mahayana. I am not explaining it well though, so hopefully someone else can jump in.
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Sun May 01, 2016 7:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.
"it must be coming from the mouthy mastermind of raunchy rapper, Johnny Dangerous”

-Jeff H.

Post Reply

Return to “Mahāyāna Buddhism”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 41 guests