Mahayana Buddhism, Rebirth and Enlightened Beings

There are numerous schools of Buddhism, which appeal to people of different dispositions. The various schools in general co-exist peacefully because they recognise that Buddha's teachings have to be presented in different ways to different people. There is no compulsion for 'one size to fit all' Consequently religious wars and heretic burnings are unknown within Buddhism.

One of the main divisions is between the Hinayana (small vehicle) and the Mahayana (large vehicle). The difference is in scope rather than doctrine. The Hinayana practitioner's objective is to achieve Nirvana, which is the extinction of personal dukkha. (it should not however be confused with non-existence). The Mahayana practitioner's objective is to achieve advanced spiritual states (culminating after many lifetimes in Buddhahood), in order to guide, teach and ultimately rescue all unhappy sentient beings from their suffering. To do this she needs to develop a number of attributes including great compassion (bodhicitta).

The fundamental beliefs of the Mahayana are opposed to materialism.

The human mind is seen as having many levels or aspects. Some of these are gross, temporary and machine-like, but others are more subtle and are capable of absorbing (mixing with) qualia (qualitative experiences). The most subtle mind is the permanent mind which goes on from life to life. Buddhists tend to use the term 'mind' or 'subtle mind' and avoid the use of the word 'soul' (See Mind and Soul). The subtle mind is changeable. It readily absorbs imprints of qualia, whether negative such as anger, intolerance, greed, jealously; or positive such as love, compassion and the intuitive realisation of 'emptiness'.

In most people who have not trained in spiritual practices the subtle mind is uncontrolled and unstable, which is unfortunate because after death this mind will be drawn to environments which correspond with its imprints. The mind need not even necessarily be reborn as a human, if the habitual tendencies are too negative then it could find itself in the body of an animal, or in some very unpleasant disembodied states.

Most sentient beings exist in states of great ignorance, suffering, and lack of freedom. In Mahayana philosophy it is regarded as extremely fortunate to be born as a human in a free and peaceful country with sufficient time and resources to be able to pursue the spiritual path of one's choice. Throughout history very few sentient beings (and very few humans) have enjoyed such freedoms. The Mahayanists regard it as a duty to make the best use of such environments while they last.

There is no element of judgmentalism in what happens after death. The mind determines its own future. 'Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.'

Consequently, one of the practices of the Mahayanist attempting to avoid uncontrolled rebirth is to calm the mind and familiarise it with positive qualia, while purifying it of negative qualia. (Or in the words of the old song 'You got to accentuate the positive, and eliminate the negative') This is usually done by meditation.

Other practices which are used to work on the mind are the day-to-day actions arising out of virtuous mental states such as compassion and generosity, prayers to enlightened beings, and contemplation of symbolically charged iconic representations of enlightened beings.


- Sean Robsville

See also:

Hinayana and Mahayana
'....After he had attained enlightenment, as a result of requests Buddha rose from meditation and taught the so-called first "Wheel of Dharma. These teachings, which include the Sutra of the Four Noble Truths and other discourses, are the principal source of the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, of Buddhism. Later, Buddha taught the second and third Wheels of Dharma, which include the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras and the Sutra Discriminating the Intention, respectively. These teachings are the source of the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, of Buddhism. In the Hinayana teachings, Buddha explains how to attain liberation from suffering for oneself alone. In the Mahayana teachings he explains how to attain full enlightenment, or Buddhahood, for the sake of others. Both traditions flourished in Asia, at first in India and then gradually in other surrounding countries, including Tibet. Now they are also beginning to flourish in the West...'

The very subtle mind
'...The mind is neither physical, nor a by-product of purely physical processes, but a formless continuum that is a separate entity from the body. When the body disintegrates at death, the mind does not cease. Although our superficial conscious mind ceases, it does so by dissolving into a deeper level of consciousness, called 'the very subtle mind'. The continuum of our very subtle mind has no beginning and no end....'

Meditation on Compassion
'...What is the goal of meditation? Through analytical meditation we shall perceive our object clearly, then through placement meditation we shall gain deeper levels of experience or realization. The main purpose of all Lamrim meditations is to transform our mind into the path to enlightenment by bringing about the deepest levels of realization. The sign that we have gained perfect realization of any object is that none of our subsequent actions are incompatible with it and that all of them become more meaningful. For example, when we have gained a perfect realization of compassion we are never again capable of willingly inflicting harm upon any other living being and all our subsequent actions are influenced by compassion...'

Bringing the future result into the present path
'....even though we have not yet attained enlightenment, when we practise Secret Mantra we try to prevent ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions of our environment and instead visualize our surroundings as the mandala of a Deity. In the same way, we prevent ordinary appearance of our body, our enjoyments, and our deeds, and, in their place, generate ourself as a Deity, visualize our enjoyments as those of a Buddha, and practise performing enlightened deeds. By doing such practices, we can attain the resultant state of Buddhahood very rapidly...'

More information on Mahayana Buddhism

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Christian versus Buddhist worldviews

Buddhism in Everyday Life
The Daily Meditation