Developments in Buddhist Thought Year 2


Mahayana Buddhism - Emergence

  • Came about in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Broke away from the Hinayana during this time. 
  • Mahayana means ''the Greater Vehicle''. Hinayana means ''lesser vehicle''. 
  • Split between Mahayana and Hinayana = the Great Schism. 
  • Developed out of a sense of a grandoise cosmology, complex rituals and an emphasis on meditation. 
  • Ideas differing from the Hinayana - e.g the idea of the bodhisattva vs the arahant. 
  • Countries in the Far East such as China, Taiwan, Tibet, Japan, Korea etc. 
  • Distinguished from the Theravada with their dark coloured robes - colours such as burgundy and brown. 
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  • Upaya means skilfull or expedient means. This is basically a means to helping someone achieve enlightenment and is a distinctly Mahayana stance. 
  • Can be unconventional - something that is not typically associated with Buddhist doctrine or practice. According to scripture, just about anything can be counted as upaya - even breaking the Five Precepts. Zen history is full of accounts of students realising enlightenment after being hit or shouted at by a teacher. One famous story tells of a Zen monk who realised enlightenment after having his leg broken in a door. The problem with this approach is that it could potentially be abused. 
  • Upaya is outlined in the Lotus Sutra in Chapter 2 (The Parable of the Burning House), Chapter 7 (The Parable of the Magic City) and Chapter 8 (The Parable of the Hidden Gem). It can also be highlighted in the raft parable. 
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Bodhisattva vs Arhat

  • The bodhisattva ideal is a distinctly Mahayana stance. Basically, the aim of all Mahayana monks is to become a bodhisattva - a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays so in order to help other sentient beings. 
  • The role of the bodhisattva is basically to help others step off the wheel of samsara before themselves. To save mankind from suffering.
  • Buddhists take a bodhisattva vow in order to solidfy their desire to help other sentient creatures. The basic vow is ''I vow to save all sentient beings from suffering and its causes''. Officially there are four vows which a bodhisattva takes but this is the most important. 
  • Mahayana Buddhists are viewed as truly altruistic which is the aim of their practice. 
  • Bodhisattvas differ greatly to the Theravada arahant/arhat. 
  • In Theravada Buddhism, the focus is on the self and self reformation rather than saving or helping others. Arhat represents the highest stage of spiritual attainment. An arhat is an enlightened being who has escaped samsara and will not return again to the mortal realm (be reborn). They must eradicate the ''higher fetters" (basically ills) in order to do so. The arahant becomes one with the Buddha in wisdom and compassion. They have no need to practice for themselves but continue to teach and help others. They no longer produce any karma - they are saved from samsara and are perfect spiritua beings. 
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Six Paramitas

  • The six perfections/paramitas are essential to the bodhisattva way. They encourage good actions and right livelihood and emphasise altruism in their teaching. 
  • These help us realise our inherent Buddha-nature and do good things to help others. Like a ''skillful means'' on the path to enlightenment. 
  • The first three perfections are taken as virtuous things that any good person would do whereas the remaining three are more greatly associated with spiritual attainment. 
  • 1) Generosity - being kind and compassionate towards others as well as altrutistic in your practice. To be a bodhisattva you must be these things. 
  • 2) Morality - act morally in all situations. You must use the precepts as ''training wheels'' to your moral practice. 
  • 3) Patience - the Sanskrit words for patience literally means ''able to withstand''. Coping with the sufferings of life/dissatisfaction. Being patient with others in understanding the dharma. 
  • 4) Energy - throw yourself at enlightenment and make a conscious effort towards it. 
  • 5) Meditation - a mind that's all over the place cannot be the mind of a true bodhisattva. We must eliminate all mental neurosis. 
  • 6) Wisdom - highlighted by Nagarjuna - basically knowing the truth of the world, everything is empty of inherent nature etc. 
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Key Bodhisattvas

  • Avalokiteshvara: A celestial bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhists. He appears regularly in the Lotus and Heart Sutras as well as Japanese history. The Dalai Lama is said to represent a reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara. Male or female depending on the culture and context. 
  • Majushri: Another celestial bodhisattva who represents wisdom. Found in the Lotus Sutra where he appears heavily and also in Pure Land Buddhism where he has been given a place in the Pure Land. 
  • Maitreya: ANOTHER, celestial bodhisattva who is said to represent a future Buddha who will return to this world according to Buddhist eschatology. Upon his return to this world, he will become enlightened, achieve Buddha-hood and sow the teachings of the Dharma. 
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The Trikaya

  • The Trikaya is also known as the Doctrine of the Three Bodies. They are basically the material and immaterial forms of the Buddha and other Buddhas/celestial bodhisattvas. They deepen our understanding of the Buddha in his mortal form etc. Touches on the Two Truths of the Madhyamika. 
  • The Truth Body - represents ultimate truth - transcendent and immaterial. The truth of the Buddha's words is ultimate and absolute. He can be represented as transcendent and immaterial. Beyond existence and beyond concepts. Identified with Buddha-nature and enlightenment. It also represents shunyata - the fact all inherent things are empty of form. The Buddha is a sort of transcendent concept that keeps us on the Path. 
  • Bliss Body/Heavenly Body - represents the feeling of bliss during enlightenment/the feeling of bliss that the Buddha felt during enlightenment. Also represents the Buddha as an object of devotion. A heavenly body Buddha is perfect and non-returning but is also distinct. This is when the Buddha manifests themself as a celestial being - they are not ''flesh and blood'' anymore. A good example would be the Buddhas in the Pure Land. 
  • Earthly Body - the earthly body is the form that the Buddha took while he walked this earth - his material and mortal form. This is how we should recognise the Buddha - he was not immortal and he was a real person - this was his inherent form, however, he also had heavenly and truth forms as well. Celestial bodhisattvas can take human forms as a skillful means to helping someone achieve enlightenment. 
  • Basically the whole idea of the Trikaya was helping people understand what the Buddha was. He was not a God but he can't have just been an ordinary man - he had 3 forms. We can compare the Trikaya to the weather. The truth body is the atmosphere, the heavenly body is the clouds and the earthly body is the rain. Helps us understand interdependency. 
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  • Nagarjuna is the founder of the Madhyamika philosophy. Madhyamika means Middle Way. 
  • Nagarjuna basically founded the Wisdom Sutras or Prajna-Sutras (Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra). We don't really know where these texts came from other than the fact that Nagarjuna formulated them.
  • There is not much to be said about Nagarjuna either - most of his biography is reflected by myth.
  • It is said that the Wisdom Sutras come from the words of the Buddha that were lost many centuries ago. The naga serpents guarded these words of wisdom until a mortal could come and take them to the moral realm. They invited Nagarjuna to do so and he did just that. 
  • This reflects the deep and intense levels of meditation that Nagarjuna had to endure in order to formulate his philosophy. 
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Wisdom Sutras

  • The Wisdom (Prajna) Sutras are perhaps best reflected by the Heart and Diamond Sutras. 
  • The Heart Sutra is the shortest and perhaps most popular Mahayana sutra. It talks of the idea of shunyata/emptiness as an extension of the doctrine of anatta. 
  • The sutra depicts a conversation between Shariputra and Avalokiteshvara. Shariputra asks Avalokiteshvara what we must do in order to ''let go'' or ''cut off'' (nirodha) our attachment to things. Avalokiteshvara explains that first of all we must recognise that everything is empty of inherent nature since everything is interdependent. He gives the example of the five skandhas - they all rely on each other to make a ''being'' and without one of them, a ''being'' wouldn't exist. This must mean that on their own - the skandhas are empty - they can only ''be'' something if they work together. ''Form is emptiness and emptiness is form''. 
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Shunyata and Dharmas

  • Shunyata is basically the idea that everything is empty. This is the wisdom formulated by Nagarjuna. 
  • Everything is empty because there is no inherent being (svabhava) in contingent things. 
  • This is basically a deeping of the doctrine of anatta. There is no self - just interdependent things which we rely on (the five skandhas). 
  • Nagarjuna said that all phenomena have no intrinsic existence, i.e things cannot exist on their own because they are made up of other things. 
  • These phenomena are called dharmas (not to be confused with the Buddha's teachings). Dharma are basically phenomena that cannot be broken down any further than what they are. I.e perceiving the colour red - this cannot be reduced into anything else. Seeing a delicious pastry would not be a dharma because it can be broken down into other things, i.e smell taste, texture etc. 
  • These dharma are empty. Even though they can't be reduced into anything smaller - they rely on a chain of other things in order to exist. Without this chain of existence then nothing would exist thus everything is empty. 
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Differing Ideas on Shunyata

  • In the Hinayana stance, the existence of dharmas makes way for ''letting go'' (nirodha). It aids us in our non-attachment from things because we can see things for what they really are. I.e recognising ''that's just hatred type 37b" - means that we don't have to get attached to it. The Hinayana do believe that these dharmas exist because without them - nothing would exist. To deny their existence becomes nihilistic. 
  • In the Mahayana stance - these dharmas neither exist nor do they not exist. We can't talk meaningfully about dharma from our own perceptions. This is because, to say that they do exist would mean denying shunyata and anatta (the non existence of a svabhava) but to say that they do not exist means that nothing could exist. We basically just need to recognise that everything is empty and that's it. We shouldn't go asking questions about why because we'll end up with an idea that's too small. 
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The Two Truths

  • The Two Truths also explain the ideas about shunyata. 
  • There are two truths absolute - the absolute truth behind all things (shunyata) and relative - the world of phenomena that we can break down into things which are ultimately not real. It tells us that existence can be relative and it can be absolute. 
  • The relative truth can be outlined like this - I can break my cat down into parts, whiskers, a tail, fur and its paws etc. However, without all these things my cat would not be a cat - it would be something else - it would not be a being at all. This represents relative existence and it is the one must of us are used to. 
  • Absolute truth is shunyata - recognising that all these distinctions we make with our knowledge of relative truth are really just empty. By making this distinction we are on our way to liberation. If we never recognise that things are empty then we will not achieve spiritual liberation. Absolute truth is a big part of the cessation of dukkha and ''letting go'' of craving. 
  • However, a common misconception is that absolute truth is the real truth and relative truth is false. Actually - they are both true which is why they are called the Two Truths - not one truth and one lie. Relative truth helps us understand absolute truth and vice versa. It's ironice because they're both interdependent. 
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  • In the Madhyamika - samsara and nirvana are the same thing. 
  • Because everything is empty - there can be no distinction made between samsara and nirvana. They are reflections of one another. 
  • Samsara is a reflection of nirvana and nirvana is a reflection of samsara. It is like a man and his shadow. You cannot separate the shadow from the man nor the man from his shadow. 
  • Nirvana and samsara are neither the same nor different. They should be understood as the same thing and this helps us to achieve nirvana because we know that it is essentially the same as samsara. 
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Spread of Buddhism West

  • Until the 1960's, there was not really a sense of Buddhism in the West at all, it remained in the primitive agrarian and Asian communities. 
  • However, by the 1960's the Buddhist movement in the West was beginning to grow. This was due to many Western scholars studying the teachings of Buddhism, artists and writers depicting it in their work, and the spread of immigration from the East. 
  • Around a century ago, many Europeans travelled East and brought back many Eastern customs and traditions with them. It wasn't until the 1960's that Buddhism really began to spread to the West. The Vietnamese War saw many Vietnamese monks and lay people leave their homes in search of refuge. The 1959 Chinese takeover of Tibetan saw many Tibetans leave their homes also. The Indochina wars of the 50's and 60's further provoked this flow of migration. Thai monks moved West and began building Right Livelihood businesses - taking their Buddhist teachings with them. 
  • The ''come and see for yourself'' attitude attracts many Westeners to Buddhist teachings. They don't have to believe in anything but are encouraged to get a taste for the Buddha's teachings. 
  • Buddhism also developed in the West because of a decline in Christianity due to a developing age of science and technology. 
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Examples of Buddhist Movements

  • Sangarakshita (formerly Dennis Lingwood) was a monk from London. He spet around 20 yrs in India where he was ordained as a Theravada monk, but he also began adopting many Mahayana teachings as well. He has not confined himself to the loyalty of just one tradition, but he allows himself to study many as this is how you acquire wisdom. On his reutrn to the UK, he decided that he wanted to set up his own school. In 1968, the Western Buddhist Order and Friends of the Western Buddhist Order was set up; it is now called the Triratna Buddhist Order/Community. The TBO is not a monastic order but a group of people with a range of different lifestyles who simply want to study the workings of the Dharma. They emphasise samatha meditation, compassion, spiritual friendship and mindfulness. They also encourage, Right Livelihood busineses. This has made it accessible to Westerners in a more modern setting. 
  • The Forest Sangha tradition differs greatly to the TBO. The forest tradition has been moved lock, stock and barrel to the West - there has been no attempt made to ''Westernise'' the forest tradition. It is mostly associated with Ajahn Sumedho and the English Sangha Trust. Don't allow ordination of nuns. 
  • Sakka Gakkai is a popular Buddhist movement among the celebrity community. Sakka Gakkai is an offshoot of Pure Land called Nichiren Buddhism. They emphasise chanting which they believe makes them better people and will help them achieve liberation in the afterlife. It is popular with celebrities and show biz people such as Kate Hudson and Jennifer Anniston. It is probably popular as there is no set lifestyle to follow which makes it accessible to Westerners with busy lives who still want to give religion a shot. 
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E.g of Buddhism in Western Culture

  • Nirvana (band). 
  • Celebrity Buddhists e.g Kate Hudson. 
  • ''Meditation'' and ''mindfulness'' = buzz words in advertising campaigns. 
  • Films and the media e.g Seven Years in Tibet (Brad Pitt), Little Buddha (Keanu Reeves). 
  • Vegetarianism and veganism has become a popular trend. 
  • Dual belonging e.g Paul Knitter
  • The spread of Buddhist festivals e.g Wesak. 
  • The use of the words meditation and karma. 
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Media stereotypes

  • Buddhism is an atheist religion - there are countless gods, goddesses and deities. 
  • It's all about meditation - when in fact many Buddhist communities in Asia have never meditated. 
  • The whole idea of ''zen'' and being ''zen'' (something young people say). The word zen actually refers to a Mahayana denomination and is everything but what people think - Kung Fu etc. 
  • The idea that Buddhism has no rules when there are loads. 
  • Yoga being central to Buddhism. 
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Buddhism and the Media

  • Buddhism is widely reflected in the media e.g the Buddhist Society website has a page titled ''Press and the Media''. 
  • Countless films, articles and documentaries exploring developments in Buddhist thought. The spread of the media has allowed us to learn more about Buddhist teachings. 
  • Some lay communities are encouraged to use social media. Buddhism emphasises spiritual friendship and sometimes the world can become a lonely place. 
  • The Dalai Lama even has his own Twitter account. 
  • Monks aren't encouraged to do this because it can provoke attachment, but they are allowed to read the news. 
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Buddhist Role Models

  • Ani Choying: A Buddhist nun and also a Tibetan refugee. She is known for her musical chanting and has even recorded music with people like Steve Tibbetts. She is a role model for Buddhist women everywhere. She helps raise money for poor and uneducated Nepalese women in a male dominated society. She is fluent in English and attends international conferences around the world e.g International Association for Buddhist Women. She has recently been awarded UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Nepal. 
  • Thich Quang Duc: A Vietnamese monk who burnt himself to death at a busy intersection in Saigon in 1963 (height of the Vietnamese war). He did this in order to show that we must fight all forms of repression on equal terms. He was photographed by Malcom Browne and the photographs attracted attention worldwide. John F. Kennedy spoke out about the incident and said that he had never seen such a courageous and horrific act. Quang Duc remains a Buddhist role model even for Buddhists today. His heart did not burn in the fire and it is taken as symbolising the fact that compassion wins against hatred. Malcom Browne won a Putlitzer Prize for his photograph. 
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The Dalai Lama

  • The 14th Dalai Lama is a Buddhist role model and leader. 
  • He has travelled the world and spoke out about issues such as the environment, human rights, sexism and gender equality, nuclear weapons, war and peace, the welfare of the Tibetan people etc. He also acknowledges an interfaith dialogue. 
  • He considered as one of the most popular world leaders. In an opinion poll in 2013 - he drew with Obama and beat Pope Francis (who came 3rd). 
  • He most likely appeals to people bevause of his charismatic personality, international infatuation with Buddhism, ability to speak out on worldwide issues and his sympathy for Tibetans and western sinophobia. He's got something that out post-industrial age doesn't. He has a ''mystic otherness'' which makes him an inspirational and adoring figure. He's also media savvy which is popular with the young people. 
  • He tells people to ''stick to their own roots'' - there is no stigma with Buddhism. 
  • The left like him because he campaigns for universal rights and self autonomy and the right like him because he opposes China. 
  • However, his portrayal in the Western media contrasts with that of China. ''He is a wolf in monks robes, a demon with a human face and the heart of a beast''. Any photographs or media of the Dalai Lama are banned in China. 
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Paul Knitter

  • Professor of Theology in NYC. After the publication of his book ''No Other Name '' in 1985 - he became known for his religious pluralism. We can also learn a lot about him from his book ''Without Buddha - I would not be a Christian''. 
  • He's a keen Buddhist follower and believes that meditation is helpful in spiritual practice and encourages others to take it up. Some Christians are offended by his views but others have embraced the idea of an 8th Christian sacrament - a Sacrament of Silence - a sense of internal prayer which focuses on the breathing. 
  • Understanding Buddhism has helped him reconnect with God and his teachings. He has searched for an developed a non-dualistic understanding of God and has reconnected with Aquinas in this way. 
  • One issue is that the problems of religion can't be captured in human language, nor can they be captured by two - he is working in a theological minefield. 
  • While many Westerners accept and embrace his ideas, his students have accused him of a kind of promiscuity - ''spiritually sleeping around''. The Pope Benedict says that he is not a true Christian because he has spent his time picking and mixing his favourite parts of Christianity with parts of Buddhism that aren't reflective of Buddhist teachings. 
  • The Dalai Lama has not spoken out against this dual belonging. 
  • Believes in phrases like 'interbeing' - shunyata etc. 
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Stephen Bachelor

  • Mostly associated with secular Buddhism. At least 20% of Buddhists are secular and do not belong to any particular group or faction. 
  • He spent 20 years as a monk with the Dalai Lama's sect in Tibet. He was amazed at the way Buddhist thought has cultivated its way into Western society given that it comes from primitive and conservative agrarian cultures in Asia. You can now get meditation on the NHS and even a US Congressman has published a book about meditation. He notes with irony that a Westerner will take what a monk says in Thailand but they won't take what priest says in Cambridge. 
  • Secular Buddhism seeks to return to the roots of Buddhist tradition and rethink Buddhism from the ground up. Argues that the Pali Canon can easily have been written by a Brahmin or Jain monk and simply reflects the views of the culture at the time.
  • He says that the mystical element of Buddhism is not true Buddhism. If we ***** back all these metaphysical accoutrements, we are left with a version of Buddhism that is practiceable and understandable. We live in a secular world and secular Buddhism fits in with that ideal.
  • Reworked Four Noble Truths into the Four Noble Tasks. Says that Buddhism is something to do, not something to believe in. This can be reflected by the parable of the Poison Arrow. 
  • Contrasts heavily with the beliefs of Eastern sects. 
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Issues of Female Enlightenment

  • It is often thought that women cannot be enlightened. This was reflected by the culture at the time of the Buddha - women were not equal to men and therefore could not be equal in enlightenment. Originally, the Buddha would not ordain women into the monastic sangha as he argued that ''any religion with women in it will last half as long''. His cousin Ananda asked him why couldn't women be enlightened and he admitted that there was no reason why they couldn't. Eventually the Buddha let women into the Four Fold Sangha which he established. His aunt became the first bhikku to be ordained. 
  • There is no one scripture which says whether women can be enlightened or not enlightened. However, in the Theravada tradition - a woman can never become an arahant or a bodhisattva. ''A serpent, a pig, a man or a god can become a bodhisattva - but never a woman''. 
  • Story of the Dragon King's Daughter (Sagara) Chapter 11 of the Lotus Sutra. Daughter is told she will never be enlightened so changes herself into a male. This is interpreted as a pre-requisite on her path to Buddha-hood and enlightenment. It can also be interpreted as a skilfull means in order to become enlightened. One of the only scriptures which shows a mortal being enlightened, other than the Buddha. 
  • Dragons in Eastern philosophy represent widsom, benevolence, power and divinity - different to the idea of Western dragons. 
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Cultural Developments - Women

  • In Sri Lanka before the time of the Buddha, there was little evidence of female discrimination. Not like in Sharia Law or Manu's Code of Law. Women originally had equal rights to men. Didn't have to shave their heads as widows and were permitted to remarry, but this had changed by the time of the Buddha and women were forced to respect the men in their lives.
  • In China - Empress Wu - one of the female champions/heroines of Buddhism. Seized the throne despite going against Confucianism. Used Buddhist scriptures to justify her rule. Confucian tradition went against the rights of women, e.g women didn't have any rights or reasons to divorce a man but he had many to divorce a woman. 
  • In Japan - women were seen as sexual objects for men to enjoy. Shown in the story of Shinran and Kannon - Kannon turns into a woman to satifsy Shinran's sexual desires (''I will be his helpmate''). Although this went against the conduct of most monks, this didn't matter because this was how women were percieved anyway. This encouraged women to be obdient to their husbands and to men. It was preferable to have a son, since without one, a woman would be denied funeral rights. 
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Female Ordination - Theravada

  • Buddha originally refused to let women into the monastic sangha. He soon acknowledged that women had rights ''a good son is as good as a good daughter''. However, he only ordained his aunt providing that she follow the 320 rules of the Vinaya Pitaka and the 8 precepts (gurudharma) that men did not have to follow. 
  • In the Theravada tradition, the ordination of women and female lineage died out long ago in Thailand, Cambodia etc. Women are restricted from becoming a nun and have to remain a novice for most of their lives. This is because female ordination requires a quorum. Since the lineage has died out, there is no quorum for future women to be ordained. Ordination of women is banned in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. 
  • Women in the Forest Sangha are further not allowed to be ordained and must do things such as handling goods and money which monks are not permitted to do. 
  • Novices follow 8 precepts instead of 10 that a bhikkuni would follow. The men do not have to follow these precepts/gurudharma e.g a bhikkuni must always respect a bhikkuni, she cannot scold him or advise him etc. 
  • In Thailand and Burma, women are restricted to being novices. In Thailand they wear white robes and in Burma they wear pink. In Thailand women have got around the issue of ordination by being ordained in countries like Sri Lanka or being ordained by Mahayana nuns. Dhammananda Bhikkuni was one of the first bhikkunis from Thailand to recieve a full ordination in 2003. 
  • In 2007 - the Dalai Lama spoke out at a conference - International Association for Buddhist women by saying that the Buddha would allow for female ordination in this age and that Theravadins should make a greater effort to ordain nuns. This provoked backlash from male dominated communities. 
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Mahayana Lineage

  • In the Mahayana tradition, ordination of women is permitted and encouraged. The lineage in China is still strong and can be traced back to the first nuns. There are nuns in Korea, China and Taiwan. The lineage has died out in Tibet. 
  • While the Mahayana tradition allow for female ordination - their tradition is still strict and men and women are not yet equal. 
  • An egalitarian group e.g - the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, set up in 1978. It is an order where men and women have completely equal rules and rights. 
  • The Mahayana tradition has helped revive female lineage and has allowed for the ordination of Theravada nuns also. The feminist movement is spreading slowly but gradually. Centuries of discrimination will not be undone overnight but there has been a concious effort by Asian women to fight for their rights against gender discrimination. Buddhist feminists such as Ani Choying have worked hard in an attempt to enjoy an equal society where men and women share the same rights. The movement has gained momentum and shows no signs of slowing down, especially in this modern, post-industrial age. 
  • The Dalai Lama even agrees with female ordination which has meant it has become accepted by more and more schools since he is such a prominent figure.
  • 1987 - International Association for Buddhist Women, daughters of the Buddha, also fights for gender equality. 
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