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Themes in Mahayana Buddhism

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University of Toronto St. George
Andre Maintenay

World Religions February 7 -February 14 , 2011. Themes in Mahayana Buddhism Reading: Ch. 8 The Buddhist Tradition, pp. 404-439 Mahayana Mahaya meaning greater, yana meaning vehicles, the greater wayvehicle in ever connotation Saw themselves as being the greater in every aspect Refers to bulk of Buddhism in East Asian and Northern stream of Buddhism, e.g. China, Japan Tibet, Himalayan cultural region Evolved certain characteristic features Very early on, became very popular and its ritual side developed By 250 BCE we see Buddhist practice has evolved to include traditions of pilgrimage, venerating shrines and these practices continued in one form or a another still today in various parts of Mahayana worldst Developed certain characteristic doctrinal features: 1 major point to note is that it placed tremendous importance on concept of Upaya is very important technical term for Mahayana tradition, meaning skill or skillful means Upaya truly skillful teacher, teacher who has knowledge is able to adapt hisher teachings to the level of the student, can identify the aptitudes the talents and the proclivities of each student and can target herhis message to suit that student in order to more skillfully instruct that student and bring himher up to the level of enlightenment Why is this important? Buddha employed his skill as a master in various ways and therefore evolved many different methods for teaching his disciples Concept of Upaya important because it covers great deal of what happens in the tradition, e.g. hugely influences Mahayana view of scripture Whereas Theravada school held specific canon (collection of teachings that re understood as being authoritative in the tradition) of scripture and follows that, whereas Mahayana because has belief in Buddha as being tremendously skillful teacher holds opinion that canon of scripture is never closed because Buddha could adapt his teachings tomorrow to suit the intellectual climate of tomorrows teachings Therefore Buddha never completely gone and his teachings completely transform itself in various ways to whatever is appropriate to the group being instructed, and so Mahayana canon much larger than Theravada canon Places much greater emphasis on role of the laity who do not join monastic community, unlike Theravada who view much join monastic community in order to reach enlightenment Mahayana re-conceptualizes the ideal of Buddhist practice e.g. dumps idea of the Arhant says its too narrow, too selfish, as an Arhant you are only working to achieve enlightenment for yourself however Mahayana rejects this and replaces it with Bodhisattua ideal Bodhisattua highly evolved spiritual being who has perfected himher self through same level of insight as Buddha and Arhant with one significant difference, after having achieving highest level of insight, instead of passing out of
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