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ABHIDHAMMA RAKKHITA through
Verse 147 Sirima Vatthu
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147. Behold The True Nature Of The Body
See this body beautiful
a mass of sores, a congeries,
much considered but miserable
where nothing’s stable, nothing persists.
Explanation: This body has no permanent existence. It is in fact
a body of sores. It is diseased. It is propped up by many kinds of bones. It is
considered by many to be good. It is well thought of by many. It is glamorously
made up. Observe the true nature of the body.
Passa cittakatam bimbam
yassa natthi dhuvam thiti.
Verse 147: Look at this dressed up body, a mass of sores,
supported (by bones), sickly, a subject of many thoughts (of sensual desire).
Indeed, that body is neither permanent nor enduring.
1. bahusankappam: the body, which is the subject of many
thoughts of sensual desire and admiration.
The Story of Sirima
While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered
Verse (147) of this book, with reference to Sirima the courtesan.
Once, there lived in Rajagaha, a very beautiful courtesan by the
name of Sirima. Every day Sirima offered alms-food to eight bhikkhus. One of
these bhikkhus happened to mention to other bhikkhus how beautiful Sirima was
and also that she offered very delicious food to the bhikkhus every day. On
hearing this, a young bhikkhu fell in love with Sirima even without seeing her.
The next day, the young bhikkhu went with the other bhikkhus to the house of
Sirima. Sirima was not well on that day, but since she wanted to pay obeisance
to the bhikkhus, she was carried to their presence. The young bhikkhu, seeing
Sirima, thought to himself, “Even though she is sick, she is very
beautiful !” And he felt a strong desire for her.
That very night, Sirima died. King Bimbisara went to the Buddha
and reported to him that Sirima, the sister of Jivaka, had died. The Buddha
told King Bimbisara to take the dead body to the cemetery and keep it there for
three days without burying it, but to have it protected from crows and
vultures. The king did as he was told. On the fourth day, the dead body of the
beautiful Sirima was no longer beautiful or desirable; it got bloated and
maggots came out from the nine orifices. On that day, the Buddha took his
bhikkhus to the cemetery to observe the body of Sirima. The king also came with
his men. The young bhikkhu, who was so desperately in love with Sirima, did not
know that Sirima had died. When he learnt that the Buddha and the bhikkhus were
going to see Sirima, he joined them. At the cemetery, the corpse of Sirima was
surrounded by the bhikkhus headed by the Buddha, and also by the king and his
The Buddha then asked the king to get a town crier announce that
Sirima would be available on payment of one thousand in cash per night. But no
body would take her for one thousand, or for five hundred, or for two hundred
and fifty, or even if she were to be given free of charge. Then the Buddha said
to the audience, “Bhikkhus! Look at Sirima. When she was living, there
were many who were willing to give one thousand to spend one night with her;
but now none would take her even if given without any payment. The body of a
person is subject to deterioration and decay.”
Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:
At the end of the discourse, the young bhikkhu attained
FIVE TYPES OF BUDDHIST STUDY
MAHAYANA AND HINAYANA COMPARED
ONE HUNDRED DHARMAS
Berlin, Germany, January 2002
The terms Hinayana
(Lesser Vehicle or Modest Vehicle) and Mahayana
(Greater Vehicle or Vast Vehicle) originated in The Prajnaparamita Sutras (The Sutras on Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness, The Perfection of Wisdom Sutras). They are a rather
derogatory pair of words, aggrandizing Mahayana and putting down Hinayana.
Alternative terms for them, however, have many other shortcomings, and so
therefore I shall use these more standard terms for them here.
[See: The Terms Hinayana and Mahayana.]
Hinayana encompasses eighteen schools. The most
important for our purposes are Sarvastivada and Theravada. Theravada is the one
extant today in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Sarvastivada was widespread in
Northern India when the Tibetans started to travel there and Buddhism began to
be transplanted to Tibet.
There were two main divisions of Sarvastivada
based on philosophical differences: Vaibhashika and Sautrantika. Hinayana tenet
systems studied at the Indian monastic universities such as Nalanda, and later
by the Tibetan Mahayanists, are from these two schools. The lineage of monastic
vows followed in Tibet is from another Sarvastivada subdivision,
There is quite a significant difference between
the Hinayana and Mahayana presentations of arhats and Buddhas. Both agree that
arhats, or liberated beings, are more limited than Buddhas, or enlightened
beings, are. Mahayana formulates this difference in terms of two sets of
obscurations: the emotional ones, which prevent liberation, and the cognitive
ones, which prevent omniscience. Arhats are free of only the former, whereas
Buddhas are free of both. This division is not found in Hinayana. It is purely
a Mahayana formulation.
To gain liberation or enlightenment, both
Hinayana and Mahayana assert that one needs nonconceptual cognition of the lack
of an impossible “soul.” Such a lack is often called “ selflessness,” anatma in Sanskrit, the main Indian
scriptural language of Sarvastivada and Mahayana; anatta in Pali, the scriptural language of Theravada. The
Hinayana schools assert this lack of an impossible “soul” with respect only to
persons, not all phenomena. Persons lack a “soul,” an atman, that is unaffected by anything,
partless, and separable from a body and a mind, and which can be cognized on
its own. Such a “soul” is impossible. With just the understanding that there is
no such thing as this type of “soul” with respect to persons, one can become
either an arhat or a Buddha. The difference depends on how much positive force
or so-called “ merit” one builds up. Because of their development of the
enlightening aim of bodhichitta, Buddhas have built up far more positive force
than arhats have.
Mahayana asserts that Buddhas understand the
lack of an impossible “soul” with respect to all phenomena as well as with
respect to persons. They call this lack “voidness.” The various Indian schools
of Mahayana differ regarding whether or not arhats also understand the voidness
of phenomena. Within Mahayana, Prasangika Madhyamaka asserts that they do.
However, the four Tibetan traditions explain this point differently regarding
the Prasangika assertion. Some say that the voidness of phenomena understood by
arhats is different from that understood by Buddhas; some assert the two
voidnesses are the same. Some say that the scope of phenomena to which the
voidness of phenomena applies is more limited for arhats than it is for
Buddhas; some assert it is the same. There is no need to go into all the
The assertions of Hinayana and Mahayana
concerning arhats and Buddhas differ in many other ways. Theravada, for
instance, asserts that one of the differences between a shravaka or “listener”
striving toward the liberation of an arhat and a bodhisattva striving toward
the enlightenment of a Buddha is that shravakas study with Buddhist teachers,
while bodhisattvas do not. The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, for instance, did
not study with another Buddha. He studied only with non-Buddhist teachers,
whose methods he ultimately rejected. In the fact that Buddha’s understanding
and attainment did not arise from reliance on a Buddhist teacher, Theravada
asserts that a Buddha’s wisdom surpasses that of an arhat.
In addition, bodhisattvas work to become
universal Buddhist teachers; shravakas do not, although as arhats they
certainly teach disciples. Before passing away, Buddha himself deputed his
arhat disciple Shariputra to continue “turning the wheel of Dharma.” According
to Theravada, however, Buddhas excel arhats in being more skillful in methods
for leading others to liberation and in the breadth of their conduct of
teaching. This is the meaning of a Buddha’s being omniscient. However, according
to this presentation, a Buddha would not know everyone’s address and would have
to ask such information from others.
According to the Vaibhashika school of Hinayana,
Buddhas are actually omniscient in knowing such information, but they only know
one thing at a time. According to Mahayana, omniscience means knowing
everything simultaneously. This follows from its view that everything is
interconnected and interdependent; we cannot speak of just one piece of
information, totally unrelated to the rest.
Hinayana says that the historical Buddha
achieved enlightenment in his lifetime and, like an arhat, when he died, his
mental continuum came to an end. Therefore, according to Hinayana, Buddhas
teach only for the rest of the lifetime in which they achieve enlightenment.
They do not emanate to countless world systems and go on teaching forever, as
Mahayana asserts. Only Mahayana asserts that the historical Buddha became
enlightened in a previous lifetime many eons ago, by studying with Buddhist
teachers. He was just demonstrated enlightenment under the bodhi tree as one of
the twelve enlightening deeds of a Buddha. The precursor of this description of
a Buddha is found in the Mahasanghika School of Hinayana, another of the
eighteen Hinayana schools, but is not found in either Sarvastivada or
Concerning Buddhas, another major difference is
that only Mahayana asserts the three corpuses or bodies of a Buddha –
Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Dharmakaya. Hinayana does not assert them. Thus,
the concept of a Buddha is significantly different in Hinayana and Mahayana.
Hinayana and Mahayana both assert that the
stages of progress to the purified state, or “bodhi,” of either an arhat or a
Buddha entail developing five levels of pathway mind – the so-called “five
paths.” These are a building-up pathway mind or path of accumulation, an
applying pathway mind or path of preparation, a seeing pathway mind or path of
seeing, an accustoming pathway mind or path of meditation, and a path needing
no further training or path of no more learning. Shravakas and bodhisattvas who
attain a seeing pathway of mind both become aryas, highly realized beings. Both
have nonconceptual cognition of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths.
Both Hinayana and Mahayana agree that a seeing
pathway mind rids both arya shravakas and arya bodhisattvas of doctrinally based
disturbing emotions, while an accustoming pathway mind rids them of
automatically arising disturbing emotions. The former are based on learning the
set of assertions of one of the non-Buddhist Indian schools, while the latter
arise automatically in everyone, including animals. The list of disturbing
emotions that shravaka and bodhisattva aryas rid themselves of is part of a
larger list of mental factors. Each of the Hinayana schools has its own list of
mental factors, while Mahayana asserts yet another list. Many of the mental
factors are defined differently in each list.
Both Hinayana and Mahayana agree that the course
of progressing through the five pathway minds entails practicing the
thirty-seven factors leading to a purified state. A “purified state” or “
bodhi” refers to either arhatship or Buddhahood. These thirty-seven factors
include the four close placements of mindfulness, the eight branches of an arya
pathway mind (the eightfold noble path), and so on. They are very important. In
anuttarayoga tantra, the thrity-seven are represented by Yamantaka’s
thirty-four arms plus his body, speech and mind, as well as by the dakinis in
the body mandala of Vajrayogini. The thirty-seven are a standard set of
practices. The specifics of each practice, however, are often different in
Hinayana and Mahayana.
Both Hinayana and Mahayana assert that the
scheme of stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner and arhat refers to
stages of an arya shravaka’s path, but not to the path of an arya bodhisattva.
Thus, stream-enterers have nonconceptual cognition of the sixteen aspects of
the four noble truths, which include nonconceptual cognition of the lack of an
impossible “soul” of persons. We should not think that stream-enterer is a
beginner level. So if someone claims to have achieved the state of a
stream-enterer, be suspicious.
Hinayana does not provide an extensive
explanation of the bodhisattva pathway minds. Mahayana, however, explains that
an arya bodhisattva’s path to enlightenment entails progressing through the
development of ten levels of bhumi-mind. These levels of mind do not pertain to
the path of shravakas.
Both Hinayana and Mahayana agree that traversing
the bodhisattva path to enlightenment takes more time than traversing the
shravaka one to arhatship. Only Mahayana, however, speaks of building up the
two enlightenment-building networks – the two collections – for three zillion
eons. “ Zillion,” usually translated as “countless,” means a finite number,
though we would be unable to count it. Shravakas, on the other hand, can attain
arhatship in as short as three lifetimes. In the first lifetime, one becomes a
stream-enterer, in the next lifetime a once-returner, and in the third
lifetime, one becomes a non-returner, achieves liberation, and becomes an
arhat. This is quite tempting for many people.
The assertion that arhats are selfish is like
bodhisattva propaganda. It is basically meant to point out an extreme to avoid.
The sutras record that Buddha asked his sixty arhat disciples to teach. If they
were truly selfish, they would not have agreed to do so. Arhats, however, can
only help others to a more limited extent than Buddhas can. Both, however, can
only help those with the karma to be helped by them.
It is important to realize that the Hinayana
schools do assert that before becoming a Buddha, one follows the bodhisattva
path. Both Hinayana and Mahayana have versions of the Jataka tales describing the previous
lives of Buddha Shakyamuni as a bodhisattva. Starting with King Siri
Sanghabodhi in the third century CE, many Sri Lankan kings even called
themselves bodhisattvas. Of course, this is a little tricky to untangle because
there was some Mahayana present in Sri Lanka at the time. Whether this idea of
bodhisattva kings preexisted a Mahayana influence is hard to say, but it did
happen. Even more surprisingly, in the fifth century CE, the elders at the Sri
Lankan capital Anuradhapura declared Buddhaghosa, a great Theravada Abhidharma
master, to be an incarnation of the bodhisattva Maitreya.
Mahayana asserts that there are a thousand
Buddhas in this “fortunate eon” who will start universal religions, and there
have been and will be many more Buddhas in other world ages. Mahayana also
asserts that everyone can become a Buddha, because everyone has the Buddha-nature
factors that enable this attainment. Hinayana does not discuss Buddha-nature.
Nevertheless, Theravada does mention hundreds of Buddhas of the past. One
Theravada sutta even lists twenty-seven by name. All of them were bodhisattvas
before becoming Buddhas. Theravada asserts that there will be innumerable
Buddhas in the future as well, including Maitreya as the next one, and that
anyone can become a Buddha if they practice the ten far-reaching attitudes.
Mahayana says that the ten far-reaching
attitudes are practiced only by bodhisattvas and not by shravakas. This is
because Mahayana defines a far-reaching attitude or “perfection” as one that is
held by the force of a bodhichitta aim.
According to Theravada, however, so long as the
ten attitudes are held by the force of renunciation, the determination to be
free, bodhichitta is not necessary for their practice to be far-reaching and
act as a cause for liberation. Thus, Theravada asserts that both bodhisattvas
and shravakas practice ten far-reaching attitudes. Aside from the different
motivating aims behind them, the other main difference between a bodhisattva’s
and a shravaka’s practice of the ten is the degree of their intensity. Thus,
each of the ten far-reaching attitudes has three stages or degrees: ordinary,
medium, and highest. For example, the highest practice of generosity would be
giving one’s body to feed a hungry tigress, as Buddha did in a previous life as
The list of the ten far-reaching attitudes also differs
slightly in Theravada and Mahayana. The Mahayana list is:
The Theravada list omits mental stability, skill
in means, aspirational prayer, strengthening, and deep awareness. It adds in
Both Hinayana and Mahayana teach the practice of
the four immeasurable attitudes of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Both
define love as the wish for others to have happiness and the causes of
happiness, and compassion as the wish for them to be free of suffering and the
causes of suffering. Hinayana, however, does not develop these immeasurable
attitudes through a line of reasoning, such as that all beings have been our
mother and so on. Rather, it starts by directing love at those whom we already
love and then extending it, in stages, toward a widening range of others.
The definitions of immeasurable joy and
equanimity are different in Hinayana and Mahayana. In Hinayana, immeasurable
joy refers to rejoicing in the happiness of others, without any jealousy, and
wishing it to increase. In Mahayana, immeasurable joy is the wish that others
have the joy of unending enlightenment.
Equanimity is the state of mind that is free
from attachment, repulsion, and indifference. In Theravada, it is equanimity
toward the outcome of our love, compassion, and rejoicing. The outcome of our
attempts to help others really depends on their karma and their efforts;
although, as with Mahayana, Theravada accepts the possibility of a transfer of
positive force, “merit,” to others. We wish them to be happy and to be free
from suffering, but have equanimity about what actually happens. This is
because we know that they will have to do the work themselves. In Mahayana,
immeasurable equanimity means wishing all others to be free of attachment,
repulsion and indifference, because these disturbing emotions and attitudes
bring them suffering.
Although reaching the liberated state of an
arhat requires developing love and compassion, it does not entail developing an
exceptional resolve or a bodhichitta aim. The exceptional resolve is the state
of mind to take responsibility to help lead everyone to liberation and
enlightenment. The bodhichitta aim is the state of mind to attain enlightenment
oneself, in order to fulfill the goal of that exceptional resolve. Since
Hinayana contains little elaboration on the bodhisattva path, it does not
explain these two attitudes. Mahayana outlines in great detail the meditation
practices for developing them.
Although Hinayana does not assert the lack of an
impossible “soul” of phenomena, or voidness, it is not the case that Hinayana
does not discuss the nature of all phenomena in general. Hinayana does this
with its presentation of the two truths concerning all phenomena. The precursor
to gaining an understanding of the voidness of phenomena is an understanding
the two truths. In Mahayana, the two truths are two facts concerning the same
phenomenon. In Hinayana, the two truths are two sets of phenomena. There are
superficial or conventional true phenomena and deepest or ultimate true phenomena.
Within Sarvastivada, Vaibhashika asserts that
the superficial true phenomena are physical objects and states of mind, ways of
being aware. The deepest true phenomena are all the atoms making up physical
objects and all the tiniest moments of cognition. It is important to realize
that what we see are the superficially true phenomena, but that, on the deepest
level, things are made of atoms. We can see how this leads to an understanding
of the superficial level as being like an illusion.
According to Sautrantika, superficial true
phenomena are metaphysical entities, our projections onto objects; whereas the
deepest true phenomena are the actual objective things themselves. Here, one
begins to understand that one’s projections are like an illusion. If we get rid
of the projections, we just see objectively what is there. Our projections are
like an illusion.
According to Theravada, superficial true
phenomena are imputed phenomena. This refers to persons as well as physical
objects, whether within the body or external. The deepest true phenomena are
what they are imputed on. The body and physical objects are imputed on the
elements and the sense fields that we perceive. What is an orange? Is it the
sight, the smell, the taste, the physical sensation? An orange it what is
imputed on all that. Likewise, a person is what can be imputed on the aggregate
factors of body and mind. The six types of primary consciousness and the mental
factors are the deepest true phenomena, because a person is labeled or imputed
Although none of the Hinayana schools talk about
the voidness of all phenomena, they do say that it is important to understand
deepest true phenomena nonconceptually in order to gain liberation. The flavor
is thus very much the same as the Mahayana discussion.
Theravada also has a very different explanation
of karma, which is not found in the Sarvastivada schools or in Mahayana, but we
will not go into that now.
With this introduction, we can begin to
appreciate how the Hinayana schools of Theravada and Sarvastivada really are in
the full flavor of the Buddhist teachings. This can help us to avoid making the
mistake of forsaking the Dharma by saying that any of Buddha’s teachings are
not Buddhist teachings. When we understand different schools properly from
their own point of view, we develop a great deal of respect for all of the
teachings of the Buddha. This is very important.
The main spiritual goal
of Buddhism is to attain ‘Nirvana’, which means the spiritual liberation from
the cycle of birth and rebirth. Buddhism religion does not believe in the
existence of god and questions the Hindu practice of elaborate ceremonies,
image worship, suppression of women and the elevation of Brahmins. Its core
lies in the philosophy that every one is equal and that nothing lasts forever
and nothing happens by chance. The teachings of Buddha teachings were first
compiled on the Pali script as the ‘Tripitakas’. King Ashoka (250 B.C) was one
of its chief believers and propagators. Buddhism is divided into 2 major sects
- Huinayanas (travellers by a lesser vehicle) & Mahayanas (travellers by a
Buddhism was bifurcated into two schools of thought by the 1st millennium b.c.,
when a new cult, known as Mahayana emerged as a reaction against the orthodoxy
of the existing sect called the Theravadins or Hinayanas. The older version of
Buddhism (the Hinayanas) believed that the only way to attain nirvana was by
leading a monastic life of austerity, abandoning all worldly pleasures. There
was no scope for a lay person to attain liberation. Prince Siddhartha, who
later became the Buddha, was accepted as the sole possessor of the Eternal
Truth. Cutting across China, Tibet, Japan and Korea, the Mahayana sect has a
much larger following because of their more liberal interpretation of the
teachings of the Buddha than the Hinayanas. The newer school allowed for the
possibility of enlightenment to all those who followed the path of
righteousness, irrespective of their status in society. Synonymous with the
Mahayana sect are the values of love and compassion combined with that of
knowledge. Equal importance is given to both these key concepts of Mahayana,
and that might be one of the reasons this denomination attracts devotees in
Mahayana (Mahayanas) introduced the idea of a deity into the religion, both on
a speculative level which belongs more to philosophy, and in a popular way that
was more like the polytheism of the masses.
For the purposes of popular religion, Buddha became the supreme deity, much as
Krishna was for the average Hindu…
There are many Bodhisatvas (’bodhi’ enlightenment) or noble persons in past
ages who trod the path of the Buddha and became eligible to attain to
Buddhahood. But they stopped at the bodhisatva stage and did not take the final
step out of compassion for a suffering humanity.” They are compassionate
If the suffering of many is brought to an end by the suffering of one, the one
should foster this suffering in himself by means of compassion. Have one
passion only: the good of others. All who are unhappy, are unhappy from having
sought their own happiness. All who are happy, are happy from ‘having sought
the happiness of others. You must exchange your well-being for the miseries of
Gradually the historical Buddha faded away, leaving the Buddha as an expression
of Dharma (the ultimate void) as the only reality.Without denying the
historical Buddha, not only Mahayana, but all forms of Buddhism see in him only
the manifestation of a type, and one of a series of Buddhas who appear on earth
throughout the ages.”
With the help of numerous bodhisatvas and Buddhas, polytheism, belief in
demons, and other alien ideas could be readily assimilated to Buddhism. The
gods and demons of other peoples were declared to be incarnations or duplicates
of the Buddhist pantheon.
Hinayana (Huinayanas) professes to follow the basic principles of the Pali
canon and, by this standard, may be identified with primitive Buddhism.
Certainly its emphasis on the four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path places
it nearer to the original teachings of Gautama than Mahayana whose express
purpose was to reinterpret the Buddha’s esoteric doctrine in order to make it
The issue between the two systems runs deeper than the familiar difference
between the active and contemplative life in Western religious thought. It
implies a radical dichotomy between two contradictory moral philosophies:
Mahayana admits a personal deity (or deities) and therefore allows for the
concept of social justice and charity under obedience to a higher power.
Hinayana denies any god outside and above man and so logically concerns itself
only with self, which it seeks to spare the trial of continuous rebirth by Nirvana
Man seeks liberation, freedom, and salvation, “Nirvana”. Whether one
believes in rebirth, or purgatory, or hell or in some form of suffering here or
hereafter, to escape from suffering is a universal aspiration. Buddhism while
avoiding speculation provides a practical discipline.