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Dhamma Talks of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Ajahn Brahm: Which yana? Hahayana! 1

Okay, while the last people are fighting their space on the floor, the subject of this evening is another request. This time it's somebody who has sent a letter from the Netherlands. It was an English…a young Englishman studying over there, who has been listening to all these talks on the internet. It's amazing just how many of these talks on a Friday night go all around the world. First of all just on audio, and now on the webcam. So we've got a huge audience, and this particular person, a young man who has now got very interested in Buddhism, asked me a question which I thought was worthy of addressing on a Friday night. It's an old question, but a powerful one, and I'm going to answer it in a different way than I've answered before because all these talks are you know ad hoc.

The particular question was that he's come across our tradition, Theravada forest tradition, originating in Thailand and he's come across other traditions as well, especially the Mahayana, and he's read many books. What's the difference between all these traditions? Is there a difference and how do they all relate together? Or don't they relate at all? What is the meaning of all the different traditions in Buddhism? And that's the subject of this evening's talk. I'll have to address this in a historical academic way first of all, but please don't get disappointed because later on in the talk, as soon as I possibly can, I'm going to take this academic treatment and find its heart to wring out of it so the real truth about what's going on. And also just to see just how the right attitudes which we have to even the historic treatment of the different strands of Buddhism can also be applied to many other aspects of our life and also in our relationship to other religions, other points of view, other ways of thinking. So we can get what religions are supposed to be, providing a way forward, harmony, peace and friendship in our world.

We have to go back to the time of the Buddha because when a Buddha became enlightened, he never taught Buddhism, Theravada, Mahayana, Vayrayana, Zen, or anything, he taught what we called the Dhamma and Dhamma means the truth. And even these days that people argue about Dhamma, about how to spell it, should it be DHARMA or DHAMMA? What a stupid thing to waste your time on. I don't care how you pronounce it or how you spell it. But the point is, what it means is important. And this word Dhamma, what the Buddha actually found and what he taught has incredibly rich meaning. It can mean the truth, it can mean the law, but it means what at the heart of things, the source, what keeps things running, what's underlying everything and what's at the heart of you as well.

Whenever we look at any experience, it's where it's coming from, what causes it, what's its source, what is it? That is the meaning of Dhamma. And that's what the Buddha taught.

However, when anybody tries to explain, you know, what is a single experience, and usually gained in meditation, people start to taking the explanations and descriptions to be the real thing, the truth. And as you've heard me say here many times: The menu is not the food, the map is not the territory, the explanation is not the meaning. So a lot of times the problems come when we just take the words which the Buddha was using to describe certain events and just worship those words rather than worship what they were pointing to.

When, however, you do need explanations, you do need teachings, you do need words to try and explain these things, and so we start getting Eightfold Path, Four Noble Truths, all these little things which you know we read in books, which is you say is Buddhism, it's not Buddhism, it's not Dhamma, it's what is pointing to Buddhism, what is pointing to Dhamma. The truth is pointed to, encapsulated there, it's wrapped up in there, we have to take the wrappings off and say what does this really mean, what's it pointing to, to really understand what Dhamma is, which is why that all those words and all those books or those explanations, they are there to be contemplated upon, using the power which is conferred upon every individual by deep meditation.

You use a deep meditation, you've got all those teachings, you put the two together, it's called putting the match onto the gun powder, there is a bang, enlightenment happens. For those of you who want to actually to check me out upon this, this is the cause for seeing the Dhamma, for becoming a stream winner, a Sowan. They have the two causes, they have to come together. And those two causes for seeing and penetrating the truth, seeing the Dhamma for yourself, becoming the one who enters the stream, in Sri Lanka they call it Sowan, is “words from another”, someone else who's seen the Dhamma, the truth, that is the map, that is the menu, that is the books, the word of another. But the other important thing for actually penetrating that truth is called in Pali Yonismanasikara. It literally means “work of the mind”, which goes to the source, the essence of things.

Now when you've been meditating, where are you going? You're going here, into this moment, into the silence, into the present, right into this mind, into the centre of things. That's what the work of the mind is. So traditionally in all types of Buddhism that you have the teachings, you have the practice, and the two come together, that is where enlightenment happens.

So we heard these great teachings and that was the essence of them. But what happens like a lot of the times people prefer to talk about Buddhism rather than practice it. They prefer to write about it and become famous rather than just sit in quiet monasteries and just disappear, and so because of that there is lots of explanations on how to do it. Sometimes you wonder, is there too many explanations, are there too many books in the library, are there too many talks? I've just seen in our library there's a whole mp3 series of I don't know about a hundred talks of Ajahn Brahm. My goodness, only one is enough! You've heard one, you've heard them all, that's what I say. I don't know why you keep coming personally. But nevertheless, people love information, and because they love information, they like to listen to these teachings put in a different way, in a more entertaining way, you see it from this angle, you see it from that angle, but the essence is always the same.

And so because people were seeing it from different angles, you got different ways of teaching, different teachings of the Buddha and the other great teachers of that time, all, if you can really understand and penetrate it for yourself, all going to the same essence but just from different angles. However just what happened once the Buddha passed away, and we celebrated that last week, he did an amazing suggestion, a statement which became a rule, he said, ”After I pass away there will be no leader, there will be no pope, no archbishop, no head honcho to actually to be the apex of Buddhism from hereon.” He said instead, “Let the Dhamma let the truth be your leader, be your teacher.” Now that was a unique and powerful statement, made by obviously one of the wisest most enlightened beings who ever walked on this planet, because at one stroke he sort of stopped all these power games of an organised religion. So no one, no monk, no lama, no priest can actually put themselves up and say they're the head Buddhist. Because the Buddha specifically said “no way!” The teacher, the leader, the peak can never be a pope, can never be an archbishop, can never be sort of the supreme patriarch. All it can be is the Dhamma, the teaching. So straightaway it takes away you know from any hierarchy, any really powerful hierarchy, and gives Dhamma to where it belongs, to each individual.

Nevertheless because of human nature there would always be people in authority, and a lot of times those people in authority, they are given that authority by their supporters. Be careful because you make those patriarchs, not the people themselves, but you put them in those positions and that's a dangerous thing to do, but anyhow. The main patriarch, if you like, of Buddhism wasn't actually a person, it became the Sangha, it's a group of monastics and especially there was the elite amongst the monastics. And what was that elite? It was the enlightened ones. There was a natural elitism there and you can…it's very hard to stop it. Those monks who were enlightened and those nuns who were enlightened they obviously became sort of natural authorities. If you really want to ask a question on Buddhism, on Dhamma, on meditation, who would you ask? Obviously you go on to go and ask an enlightened one, the one who has got all of the answers.

Now even though in Buddhism, the Buddha actually laid down all these rules to say “don't let anyone know if you're enlightened, don't exhibit your psychic powers so that you you know sort of suppress any elitism even to the point where all the monks and the nuns they wear the same type of robes. I just got a new robe. It wasn't big enough, so they put a patch on the end of it, it's a different colour. I'm proud of having a patched robe, because sometimes people think that if you become like an abbot, you have to have the lame robe, you know the one with those sparkles or at least you can have a few sort of stripes to show your authority. But if you didn't… came to our monastery for the first time, you wouldn't know who was the senior monk and who was the junior monk because we look the same, it's the same as Dhammasara as well. If you've never been to the nuns' monastery before, which one is the abbot? And that's part of Buddhism, the no-hierarchy. But there was a natural tendency for the enlightened ones to be the ones who would solve all those questions, and basically that got up the nose of the ordinary monks one hundred years after the time of the Buddha.

Because what happened? And this is the history of why Buddhism started to split up into different sects. I don't like sects… ha ha… You got that joke, very good, I won't need to explain it now, I'm celibate. But, I was meaning SECTS.

But what actually happened was there was the age-old controversy in monasticism. The same thing happened to the Franciscans in the Catholic order. We start off being very pure, not having money. After one hundred years some of the monks said, “Well, it was alright in the time of the Buddha, but these are modern times”, I'm talking about twenty-four hundred years ago, instead of twenty-five hundred years ago, “things have changed”, they said. And this is actually recorded, historic, and it's great to actually to see in the past as people still get the same old arguments as they do today, that it's not practical these days, you've got to be a modern monk – twenty-four hundred years ago – they are saying, we have got to keep money now, and the old monks said, no, you can't, it's against the rules. No, we're going to change those rules. No, you can't. And so there was a big controversy. It became what became known as the second council of Buddhism. and at that second council they tried and had some sort of vote, but they couldn't agree.

In our rules we cannot go any further unless there's unanimity, majority doesn't work, because we realize that the minority will not be happy. Everyone eventually has to agree on a solution, has to be in unanimity in the monastic rules. So they couldn't agree and so they decided: let's allow the Arahats, the Enlightened Ones decide. So the Enlightened Ones decide, no you can't have money, and that was the end of it. And all the other ones, the ordinary Joe-Blow monks, they weren't happy. And especially, for those students of history, this happened in the town of Vesali, just north of Patna, north of the Ganges, in the heart of ancient Indian democracy. This was a democratic republic. For those who think democracy started in Greece, you don't know your history. There was a parallel democracies, very vibrant, longstanding and successful in India, in the time of the Buddha, they were so well established already, they had to go back much earlier in history, but we cannot find out how long. Democracy was not a Greek idea. It was a parallel introduction both in the Indian subcontinent and also in that part of Europe. This was a democracy, an elite decided.

Now after that time, what happened, and this is history. The people who lost their argument, the ordinary monks, they started to get upset about the authority of the Arahats. From that time on you are starting to see people say that Arahats, well they know may be perfect in their understanding of Dhamma, but they're not always perfect in worldly things, they can make mistakes. This is actually where you start to see the denigration of the Arahat, putting in their place.

And at the same time we started to see in history of Buddhism the rise of an alternative to the Arahat. Instead of becoming an Enlightened One, become the Bodhisattva, the one who is on the path to become enlightened, but who puts off that final enlightenment for the sake of all other beings. And this is actually where the Bodhisattva starts to rise in the history of Buddhism. But there was also another movement as well, because to be an Arahat was a bit hard, you know to be an Arahat you have to give up everything and you can't sort of do this and you can't do that and sometimes when you are in a position of authority, they might come and ask you: Ajahn Brahm, are you an Arahat? Because we've heard, the monastery down the road, they're Arahats. So there's always this peer pressure. And that would also have been there at the time, it's nature. And obviously that sometimes it's just a little bit too hard to actually to fulfil the goal and so we…also there was a lot to be gained in having another goal, saying well you know I may not be an Arahat, but I'm a Bodhisattva. And the requirements for the Bodhisattva were much less for being the Arahat. So that also was a popularization. So at that time you can see about three or four centuries after the time of the Buddha there's a whole new set of scriptures started to appear and we have the start of the Mahayana tradition.



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Okay, while the last people are fighting their space on the floor, the subject of this evening is another request. This time it's somebody who has sent a letter from the Netherlands. It was an English…a young Englishman studying over there, who has been listening to all these talks on the internet. It's amazing just how many of these talks on a Friday night go all around the world. First of all just on audio, and now on the webcam. So we've got a huge audience, and this particular person, a young man who has now got very interested in Buddhism, asked me a question which I thought was worthy of addressing on a Friday night. It's an old question, but a powerful one, and I'm going to answer it in a different way than I've answered before because all these talks are you know ad hoc.

The particular question was that he's come across our tradition, Theravada forest tradition, originating in Thailand and he's come across other traditions as well, especially the Mahayana, and he's read many books. What's the difference between all these traditions? Is there a difference and how do they all relate together? Or don't they relate at all? What is the meaning of all the different traditions in Buddhism? And that's the subject of this evening's talk. I'll have to address this in a historical academic way first of all, but please don't get disappointed because later on in the talk, as soon as I possibly can, I'm going to take this academic treatment and find its heart to wring out of it so the real truth about what's going on. And also just to see just how the right attitudes which we have to even the historic treatment of the different strands of Buddhism can also be applied to many other aspects of our life and also in our relationship to other religions, other points of view, other ways of thinking. So we can get what religions are supposed to be, providing a way forward, harmony, peace and friendship in our world.

We have to go back to the time of the Buddha because when a Buddha became enlightened, he never taught Buddhism, Theravada, Mahayana, Vayrayana, Zen, or anything, he taught what we called the Dhamma and Dhamma means the truth. And even these days that people argue about Dhamma, about how to spell it, should it be DHARMA or DHAMMA? What a stupid thing to waste your time on. I don't care how you pronounce it or how you spell it. But the point is, what it means is important. And this word Dhamma, what the Buddha actually found and what he taught has incredibly rich meaning. It can mean the truth, it can mean the law, but it means what at the heart of things, the source, what keeps things running, what's underlying everything and what's at the heart of you as well.

Whenever we look at any experience, it's where it's coming from, what causes it, what's its source, what is it? That is the meaning of Dhamma. And that's what the Buddha taught.

However, when anybody tries to explain, you know, what is a single experience, and usually gained in meditation, people start to taking the explanations and descriptions to be the real thing, the truth. And as you've heard me say here many times: The menu is not the food, the map is not the territory, the explanation is not the meaning. So a lot of times the problems come when we just take the words which the Buddha was using to describe certain events and just worship those words rather than worship what they were pointing to.

When, however, you do need explanations, you do need teachings, you do need words to try and explain these things, and so we start getting Eightfold Path, Four Noble Truths, all these little things which you know we read in books, which is you say is Buddhism, it's not Buddhism, it's not Dhamma, it's what is pointing to Buddhism, what is pointing to Dhamma. The truth is pointed to, encapsulated there, it's wrapped up in there, we have to take the wrappings off and say what does this really mean, what's it pointing to, to really understand what Dhamma is, which is why that all those words and all those books or those explanations, they are there to be contemplated upon, using the power which is conferred upon every individual by deep meditation.

You use a deep meditation, you've got all those teachings, you put the two together, it's called putting the match onto the gun powder, there is a bang, enlightenment happens. For those of you who want to actually to check me out upon this, this is the cause for seeing the Dhamma, for becoming a stream winner, a Sowan. They have the two causes, they have to come together. And those two causes for seeing and penetrating the truth, seeing the Dhamma for yourself, becoming the one who enters the stream, in Sri Lanka they call it Sowan, is “words from another”, someone else who's seen the Dhamma, the truth, that is the map, that is the menu, that is the books, the word of another. But the other important thing for actually penetrating that truth is called in Pali Yonismanasikara. It literally means “work of the mind”, which goes to the source, the essence of things.

Now when you've been meditating, where are you going? You're going here, into this moment, into the silence, into the present, right into this mind, into the centre of things. That's what the work of the mind is. So traditionally in all types of Buddhism that you have the teachings, you have the practice, and the two come together, that is where enlightenment happens.

So we heard these great teachings and that was the essence of them. But what happens like a lot of the times people prefer to talk about Buddhism rather than practice it. They prefer to write about it and become famous rather than just sit in quiet monasteries and just disappear, and so because of that there is lots of explanations on how to do it. Sometimes you wonder, is there too many explanations, are there too many books in the library, are there too many talks? I've just seen in our library there's a whole mp3 series of I don't know about a hundred talks of Ajahn Brahm. My goodness, only one is enough! You've heard one, you've heard them all, that's what I say. I don't know why you keep coming personally. But nevertheless, people love information, and because they love information, they like to listen to these teachings put in a different way, in a more entertaining way, you see it from this angle, you see it from that angle, but the essence is always the same.

And so because people were seeing it from different angles, you got different ways of teaching, different teachings of the Buddha and the other great teachers of that time, all, if you can really understand and penetrate it for yourself, all going to the same essence but just from different angles. However just what happened once the Buddha passed away, and we celebrated that last week, he did an amazing suggestion, a statement which became a rule, he said, ”After I pass away there will be no leader, there will be no pope, no archbishop, no head honcho to actually to be the apex of Buddhism from hereon.” He said instead, “Let the Dhamma let the truth be your leader, be your teacher.” Now that was a unique and powerful statement, made by obviously one of the wisest most enlightened beings who ever walked on this planet, because at one stroke he sort of stopped all these power games of an organised religion. So no one, no monk, no lama, no priest can actually put themselves up and say they're the head Buddhist. Because the Buddha specifically said “no way!” The teacher, the leader, the peak can never be a pope, can never be an archbishop, can never be sort of the supreme patriarch. All it can be is the Dhamma, the teaching. So straightaway it takes away you know from any hierarchy, any really powerful hierarchy, and gives Dhamma to where it belongs, to each individual.

Nevertheless because of human nature there would always be people in authority, and a lot of times those people in authority, they are given that authority by their supporters. Be careful because you make those patriarchs, not the people themselves, but you put them in those positions and that's a dangerous thing to do, but anyhow. The main patriarch, if you like, of Buddhism wasn't actually a person, it became the Sangha, it's a group of monastics and especially there was the elite amongst the monastics. And what was that elite? It was the enlightened ones. There was a natural elitism there and you can…it's very hard to stop it. Those monks who were enlightened and those nuns who were enlightened they obviously became sort of natural authorities. If you really want to ask a question on Buddhism, on Dhamma, on meditation, who would you ask? Obviously you go on to go and ask an enlightened one, the one who has got all of the answers.

Now even though in Buddhism, the Buddha actually laid down all these rules to say “don't let anyone know if you're enlightened, don't exhibit your psychic powers so that you you know sort of suppress any elitism even to the point where all the monks and the nuns they wear the same type of robes. I just got a new robe. It wasn't big enough, so they put a patch on the end of it, it's a different colour. I'm proud of having a patched robe, because sometimes people think that if you become like an abbot, you have to have the lame robe, you know the one with those sparkles or at least you can have a few sort of stripes to show your authority. But if you didn't… came to our monastery for the first time, you wouldn't know who was the senior monk and who was the junior monk because we look the same, it's the same as Dhammasara as well. If you've never been to the nuns' monastery before, which one is the abbot? And that's part of Buddhism, the no-hierarchy. But there was a natural tendency for the enlightened ones to be the ones who would solve all those questions, and basically that got up the nose of the ordinary monks one hundred years after the time of the Buddha.

Because what happened? And this is the history of why Buddhism started to split up into different sects. I don't like sects… ha ha… You got that joke, very good, I won't need to explain it now, I'm celibate. But, I was meaning SECTS.

But what actually happened was there was the age-old controversy in monasticism. The same thing happened to the Franciscans in the Catholic order. We start off being very pure, not having money. After one hundred years some of the monks said, “Well, it was alright in the time of the Buddha, but these are modern times”, I'm talking about twenty-four hundred years ago, instead of twenty-five hundred years ago, “things have changed”, they said. And this is actually recorded, historic, and it's great to actually to see in the past as people still get the same old arguments as they do today, that it's not practical these days, you've got to be a modern monk – twenty-four hundred years ago – they are saying, we have got to keep money now, and the old monks said, no, you can't, it's against the rules. No, we're going to change those rules. No, you can't. And so there was a big controversy. It became what became known as the second council of Buddhism. and at that second council they tried and had some sort of vote, but they couldn't agree.

In our rules we cannot go any further unless there's unanimity, majority doesn't work, because we realize that the minority will not be happy. Everyone eventually has to agree on a solution, has to be in unanimity in the monastic rules. So they couldn't agree and so they decided: let's allow the Arahats, the Enlightened Ones decide. So the Enlightened Ones decide, no you can't have money, and that was the end of it. And all the other ones, the ordinary Joe-Blow monks, they weren't happy. And especially, for those students of history, this happened in the town of Vesali, just north of Patna, north of the Ganges, in the heart of ancient Indian democracy. This was a democratic republic. For those who think democracy started in Greece, you don't know your history. There was a parallel democracies, very vibrant, longstanding and successful in India, in the time of the Buddha, they were so well established already, they had to go back much earlier in history, but we cannot find out how long. Democracy was not a Greek idea. It was a parallel introduction both in the Indian subcontinent and also in that part of Europe. This was a democracy, an elite decided.

Now after that time, what happened, and this is history. The people who lost their argument, the ordinary monks, they started to get upset about the authority of the Arahats. From that time on you are starting to see people say that Arahats, well they know may be perfect in their understanding of Dhamma, but they're not always perfect in worldly things, they can make mistakes. This is actually where you start to see the denigration of the Arahat, putting in their place.

And at the same time we started to see in history of Buddhism the rise of an alternative to the Arahat. Instead of becoming an Enlightened One, become the Bodhisattva, the one who is on the path to become enlightened, but who puts off that final enlightenment for the sake of all other beings. And this is actually where the Bodhisattva starts to rise in the history of Buddhism. But there was also another movement as well, because to be an Arahat was a bit hard, you know to be an Arahat you have to give up everything and you can't sort of do this and you can't do that and sometimes when you are in a position of authority, they might come and ask you: Ajahn Brahm, are you an Arahat? Because we've heard, the monastery down the road, they're Arahats. So there's always this peer pressure. And that would also have been there at the time, it's nature. And obviously that sometimes it's just a little bit too hard to actually to fulfil the goal and so we…also there was a lot to be gained in having another goal, saying well you know I may not be an Arahat, but I'm a Bodhisattva. And the requirements for the Bodhisattva were much less for being the Arahat. So that also was a popularization. So at that time you can see about three or four centuries after the time of the Buddha there's a whole new set of scriptures started to appear and we have the start of the Mahayana tradition.


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