The Bodhisattva spirit and the Hinayana ideal5 min read

The bodhisattva spirit

No ignorance and no extinction of ignorance, nor any of the rest including age-and-death and extinction of age-and-death; no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path; no wisdom and no attainment. ’

The Hinayana ideal

Hitherto we have been speaking from the standpoint of the ordinary man under illusion. Even in the midst of the illusions it is possible to discover the world of Emptiness. It has been said that even while we are being pulled along by life we can experience that lightness of life when seeing leaves no trace and hearing leaves no trace and there is absolutely nothing in the heart. That experience is the joy of the wisdom of ultimate Emptiness. Now we pass on to the attempt to experience the true world of Emptiness in the twelve Causes and four Truths: it is the attempt of those of the Hinayana path who are called Shravakas and Pratyeka Buddhas.

Whereas the Mahayana Bodhisattva spirit would find the true form in the ordinary man’s delusions, the practice of those of the Hinayana who are called Pratyeka Buddhas is to annihilate completely all love and grasping and to negate completely human life. Their ideal of Nirvana is utterly to destroy the individuality. From love and grasping arise the various illusions, and if those two are completely annihilated and made void, there will not be any illusions.

The technical term for this annihilation of individuality is: extinction of existence and feeling. Body and mind are altogether negated, and this is said to be the Nirvana ideal. The true release from birth-and-death is (they say) to be born no more. Being born and dying is pain, and the destruction of existence and feeling altogether is their ideal state which they call Nirvana.

Then the text says: ‘No suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path.’ These terms belong to the Shravakas, who also following the Hinayana have as their final goal the annihilation of life. But the method of practice differs slightly.

The Pratyeka Buddhas go into the principle of twelve Causes in order to extinguish birth-and- death. Those called Shravakas are said to go into the principles of the four Truths in order to bring about the same objective. The twelve Causes are referred to in the phrases ‘no ignorance and no extinction of ignorance, nor any of the rest including age-and-death and extinction of age-and-death’. The second set of phrases: ‘no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path’, refers to the Shravakas who by practice of the four Truths aim likewise at extinction of life. What follows is a little technical but please bear with it.

I first propose to set out the Buddhist doctrines of delusion, karma-action and pain, and then to discuss the Hinayana view. The triad—delusion, karma-action and pain—is the Buddhist view of life in both Mahayana and Hinayana. Delusion means deluded grasping at something; it is sometimes called the passions. In Buddhism the delusion is the deep-seated conviction of an I where there is no I, in other words the delusion of hanging on to the I.

On this arise in the heart the forms of the passions, which thus are simply the mental functioning on the basis of deluded grasping. Though there is no self, the conviction that there is one leads to desire to satisfy the self by search which can never come to an end. Though something pleasant is encountered, the greed for more goes on without end. When something unpleasant is encountered, anger rises. Greed is first and anger is second. Third is folly and it is failure to understand the nature of things. One does not see the chain of cause and effect, that if one does good then there is good, and if evil, then evil. When we hear people grumbling all the time, we tend to think that they are just talking nonsense, but in fact their foolish is a sort of justification of themselves. It is the delusion of self-justification. It means that having done something wrong, we want somehow to make it out to have been right.

Suppose one gets up early while it is still dark, and on the way to the bathroom one stumbles against a water jar on the ground and breaks it. ‘How clumsy of me!’ and the wife replies: ‘It wasn’t your fault, I ought to have put it away.’ There is no foolish complaining because each side is looking at its own fault.

But we don’t do it like that, but instead attack the other party by saying: ‘Who’s the fool who left that here in the dark?’ and the retort comes back: ‘Who is it that goes blundering over it and then complains?’ and the wrangle is on. All the time trying to make oneself out to be right is the sin of folly.

Well indeed if we could just sweep away all these poisons of delusion in the heart; but these our delusions cannot be ended just like that. They manifest themselves in every action of ours, and this action is what is called in Buddhism karma. Word or deed, our action is karma, and in it the movement of our mind infallibly reveals itself. He who outwardly inveighs against anger finds himself a murderer. The inner state is revealed in words and deeds, and such are called in Buddhism karma-actions.

Good or bad, there is the action, and I can never evade responsibility for it. With the action, an energy is implanted in me. The aggregate of the energies thus accumulated is also called karma, or karma-force, and it never becomes extinct until it has produced a result. At some time, it must bring about its result. Delusion and karma are like planted seeds, the fundamental causes of the results which we are bringing on ourselves. For instance, when a seed is planted, the seed itself is the direct cause, but by itself it will not sprout. There is the rain and the soil and so on, and only with these associated causes will it sprout. Then in the sowing which brings about the pains of life, the fundamental causes are delusion and karma-action.

by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect