Key Problems with Mahayana Teachings

1. The main problem is a conflict with a very basic tenet of Buddha Dhamma: That a Buddha comes to this world after very long times, and DISCOVERS the laws of nature by his own efforts. Mahayanists agree that it takes aeons of time to fulfill the “paramitas” and to become a Buddha.

  • Then they turn around and say that Buddha Dhamma needed to be “refined” for the changing times; see “Background on the Current Revival of Buddha Dhamma“. How can the ultimate laws of nature discovered by a Buddha be “refined” or “revised”? No one has answered this basic question.

2. The first thing one is supposed to do in becoming a “Mahayana Buddhist” is to take the “Bodhisattva vow”:They say each being should endeavor to become a Buddha i.e., each person should become a Bodhisattva.

  • Those who initiated this idea a long time ago probably did not have any idea that there are infinite number of sentient beings in this world. Each human’s body itself has amazingly large number of microscopic beings; see, “There are as many creatures on your body as there are people on Earth!“.
  • There are 1000 trillion of just ants on this Earth: Or do they not count other living beings?
  • If it is not possible to have a significant number of Arahants for 1800 years, is there any realistic way for trillions of beings to attain Aranhathood, let alone Buddhahood?
  • In this aeon (basically the time duration of a universe or about 30 billion years), there have been four Buddhas, and one more is supposed to appear; this is truly an exception. Before this aeon, there were 30 aeons (trillion years!) that did not have a single Buddha appearing. So, how long would one to have wait to become a Buddha, i.e., remain a Bodhisattva? And will all beings (or even the human population today) be able to become Buddhas in the same aeon let alone at the same time? Are they serious?

3. Within 500 years of the passing away of the Buddha, the Indian Mahayanists started not only refining but incorporating concepts that were alien to Buddha Dhamma. If it needed refining just after 500 years, how come they have not kept up with the updating process? One would think they would be doing a major revision these days with so much changes in science and technology. Actually, what has happened is the opposite: Science and technology is consistent with the original Dhamma; what needs to be done is to abandon those alien concepts in Mahayana and embrace the pure Dhamma.

4. Those who started this revision process did not understand the main concept of Nibbana and the related concepts of anicca, dukkha, anatta. So, they defined those in their own terms, and then got into a slippery slope in trying to explain those terms by inventing more concepts. It snowballed, and in the words of Edward Conze, who translated many Mahayana texts to English:

  • “……About 100 BCE (roughly 400 years after the Buddha’s Parinibbana) a number of Buddhists in India felt that the existing statements of the doctrine had become stale and useless. In the conviction that Dhamma required ever new re-formulations so as to meet the needs of new ages, new populations and new social circumstances, they set out to produce new literature which ultimately came to known as Mahayana Buddhism. The creation of this literature is one of the most significant outbursts of creative energy known to human history and it was sustained for about four to five centuries. Repetition alone, they believed, cannot sustain a living religion. Unless counterbalanced by constant innovation, it will become fossilized and lose its life-giving qualities, they believed”.
  • (see, “Historical Timeline of Edward Conze“).

For someone who is not familiar with the original teachings of the Buddha, those philosophical arguments could look impressive, as they did for Edward Conze. We will examine those concepts in detail in upcoming posts. I have discussed the concept of “emptiness”; see the link below.

5. None of the Mahayanist “authors” such as Nagarjuana, Vasubhandhu, Asanga, are documented to be Arahants or even Sotapannas; they were like philosophers of today putting forth their own theories. Not only that, they had an aversion to the concept of an Arahant. In fact, the last Arahant (up to now) is supposed to be Ven. Maliyadeva from Sri Lanka, who lived in the second century CE according to some sources:

  • The Mahayana sutras are supposed to have their origin with Nagarjuna, who is believed to have lived 150-250 CE in India. Thus it is clear that the pure Dhamma went underground somewhere before 200 CE, within about 700 years of the Parinibbana (passing away) of the Buddha.
  • Thus those Indian intellectuals like Nagarjuana were just like the philosophers from the time of Socrates, who make all kinds of speculations consistent with the “knowledge” about the “world” at any given time.
  • The Buddha did warn of this outcome: He said: “there will be other versions that look like Dhamma and feels like Dhamma. Just like when there are imitations of gold coming to the market, the real gold goes underground” (Saddhamma Patirupaka Sutta (SN 16.13). That has been the case for over 1800 years.
  • But the truth comes out eventually. That time could well be now. The correct interpretations of anicca, dukkha, anatta have been hidden for all this time, but within the past ten to twenty years, they have been uncovered and been explained in Sri Lanka. The details will come out in due time, but for anyone interested, the correct interpretations are on this website for scrutiny.

6. So what are these revisions that the Mahayana forefathers made?

There are five doctrinal “innovations” of the Mahayanists that have been listed by Edward Conze; see, “Historical Timeline of Edward Conze“. They are:

  • As concerns the goal there is a shift from the Arahant-ideal to the Bodhisattva-ideal;
  • A new way of salvation is worked out, in which compassion ranks equal with wisdom, and which is marked by the gradual advance through six “perfections” (paramita);
  • Faith is given a new range by being provided with a new pantheon of deities, or rather of persons more than divine;
  • “Skill in means” (upayakausalya), an entirely new virtue, becomes essential to the saint, and is placed even above wisdom, the highest virtue so far;
  • A coherent ontological doctrine is worked out, dealing with such items as “Emptiness”, “Suchness”, etc”.

We will point out the key contradictions of each of these revisions with the Buddha’s original teachings (see i-v below), and will go into details later on.

  1. The basic idea of Buddha Dhamma is that each human being has a unique mind. It is defiled by greed, hate, and ignorance. Because of that each person commits immoral acts and subsequently “pay for those actions”, suffering is the net result in the cycle of rebirths. One gets out this cycle of rebirths by purifying one’s mind; one who has accomplished this task is an Arahant. That can be done only by each person. NO ONE can purify anyone else’s mind. Nibbana is not an abstract concept: “Nibbana“.
  2. One attains Nibbana when one purifies the mind of ALL defilements. That is when one has ultimate wisdom, or panna. There is no way to equate compassion with panna. One can be as compassionate to the maximum, but that does not mean one has gotten rid of ignorance. In fact, those beings in the Brahma worlds do not generate any hateful thoughts; they have perfected the four Brahmavihara: metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha. They don’t have a trace of hateful thoughts, yet they have ignorance (moha), and thus will one day be reborn in the four lower realms (unless they attain Sotapanna stage before that). Therefore, this is also a major contradiction. See, “Sotapanna Stage of Nibbana“.
  3. Buddha said a human life is better than life in any other realm (other than the realm reserved for the Anagamis), because the easiest to attain Nibbana is from the human realm. While some beings in higher realms can be helpful to us, and we should share merits with them, a human is not supposed to worship any other being. One has to have faith only in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. No other being can help with our goal of attaining Nibbana.
  4. “Skill in Means” or whatever other term anyone comes up runs into the same problem as compassion above in (ii). Such ideas run against the core teaching of the Buddha that says, even if one gets rid of greed and hate, but still has ignorance, then one will end up getting back greed and hate DUE TO ignorance. Nibbana is not attained until ignorance is completely removed from the mind.
  5. Mahayana descriptions on all these philosophical concepts like emptiness or sunyata are just a lot of empty words. They have much simpler explanations that are consistent with original teachings; see the links below. The Mahayanists had to re-invent alternate descriptions for these terms because the original meanings were in conflict with their “revisions” discussed in i-iv.

7. Those who follow the Mahayana version do that because either, (1) they are born into Mahayana tradition (just like I was born to Theravada), or (2) that is the version of “Buddhism” that one got introduced to. The problems with Mahayana versions are not due to their making. But it is time at least to start changing those features that are in stark contradiction not only with the original teachings of the Buddha, but also with the enhanced world view of science within the past several hundred years.

  • The oath in most Mahayana traditions to, “not to seek Enlightenment until ALL BEINGS ARE READY for Enlightenment” is the most visible contradiction. As I pointed out in #2 above, at least these days we know that this is a outright lie, and is an obvious break of the precept not to lie knowingly.
  • This should not be a debate about ideologies of sects; it should be an open discussion about how to weed out the inconsistent material from all sects, and to recover the pure Buddha Dhamma for the benefit of all.

Before discussing the problems with the wrong interpretations in Theravada, let us discuss the concept of sunyata; see, “What is Sunyata (Emptiness)?“. Mahayana Buddhism tries to make a big deal out of sunyata, because their forefathers (those who started Mahayana tradition) could not understand the concept of Nibbana. It is unfortunate that many people who are only introduced to Mahayana teachings believe that Nibbana is an abstract concept; see, “Nibbana – Is It Difficult to Understand?

Also see:

Saddharma Pundarika Sutra (Lotus Sutra) – A Focused Analysis

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