Development and Mission of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism in an Era of Globalization Shr Heng Lyu Abstract: Harmonious relations between the Northern (Mahayana) and Southern (Theravada) traditions of Buddhism—based on their shared fundamental principle of “ceasing all unwholesome conduct, doing only what is good, and purifying the mind”—are the key to the flourishing of Buddhism as it becomes a truly international religion. The author is abbot of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, the largest Buddhist monastic and educational center in the Western hemisphere. This paper was prepared for the third convocation of the World Buddhist Conference, held in Hong Kong in April 2012.
fter his enlightenment, the Buddha encouraged his disciples to broadly propagate his Dharma in order to guide living beings to end suffering and attain bliss. From the first, his Dharma was not a localized or regional belief system but transcended national, cultural, and ethnic distinctions and is now embraced by people all over the world. From India, where it began, the Buddha’s teachings spread north and east into China, Tibet, Mongolia, parts of Russia, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam; and to the south they spread to Sri Lanka and to the countries of Southeast Asia as far as the islands of Indonesia. This Dharma even went westward as far as the eastern Mediterranean. This passing of the torch in advance of the modern era of globalization demonstrated the appeal of Buddhism’s compassionate spirit.
Issue 11, October 2012
Shr Heng Lyu
2. The Impact of the Era of Globalization Up through the advent of post-industrial society, with the continuous advancement of media and the arrival of the data and information age, Buddhism has held to its core principle of being in accord with conditions, yet not wavering in its essence of Dharma. It continues in a spirit of broad tolerance. Its qualities of acceptance and openness have allowed it to hold to its true principles despite the changing times and the differences in culture and geography as its teachings spread to the continents of Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Africa, so that it literally has become a global religion. In this age of globalization, when we examine the scriptures of both the Northern and Southern Buddhist traditions—the Mahayana and the Theravada—in search of common ground, what stands out is this unifying teaching: “Cease all unwholesome conduct, do only what is good, and purify your mind.” That is what the Buddha taught and what Buddhism stands for. On the basis of this fundamental mission shared by the Southern and Northern Buddhist traditions, there is every reason to believe that the two traditions can move forward together in mutual cooperation. Buddhism is based on an understanding of the operation of causes, conditions, and effects. Similarly, the arrival of globalization can be understood as the inevitable result of the advancement of technology. What used to be a world of various independent civilizations, with people living differently in different corners of the globe, is now a world in which all are connected and linked together by the various types of globalization— political, economic, immigration, even fashion. We see the world from a brand new vantage point, introducing some multi-faceted opportunities. Yet at the same time, globalization is creating, in every country, many new problems in relation to physical and psychological health, to family and career. One example is the increase in desires, in stress and anxiety, and in friction among various value and belief systems. There are also economic hazards and hazards associated with the environment and climate change. 3. The Essential Mission of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism “Cease all unwholesome conduct, do only what is good, and purify your mind”: This essential mission of both the Theravada and Mahayana teachings is also a core principle that can end suffering and ensure good fortune despite the negative impacts of the age of globalization. This view is based on the following considerations:
Religion East & West
Buddhism in an Era of Globalization
To “cease all unwholesome conduct” means “not to do anything that would add to the suffering and pain of self and others.” With a respectful and careful attitude and mindset, we should reflect and check to see whether our own conduct, speech, and thought will cause us pain and suffering. If they are hurtful, we should correct them and change them. For instance, we should not engage in behavior that would be harmful to body and mind, like a gluttonous diet, ingesting drugs and alcohol, browsing unwholesome websites, etc. Avoiding such things will naturally prevent or at least reduce the occurrence of personal pain and suffering. In a broader scope, the instruction to cease unwholesome conduct should be applied to our relations with other people and matters around our external activities so that we avoid undermining others’ work, stealing, insulting others, destroying the environment, and creating pollution. When we refrain from such conduct, our surroundings are positively affected and our entire society benefits from a reduction in conflict and violence. “Do only what is good” means to act in a way that reduces the suffering and pain experienced by oneself and others. If we are diligent and careful, we can examine the reasons why one would feel pain, and we can engage in remedial efforts. For example, if one maintains good personal hygiene, one can avoid contracting illnesses. Also, constant anger can damage social relationships and cause suffering of body and mind. In such circumstances, one can participation in charitable activities and emphasize relaxation and compassion. Nourishing the growth of kindness allows us to abandon anger and hatred and avoid repeating past painful experiences. Again taking a broader view, we should diligently and carefully help people and other living beings around us to reduce their pain and suffering. Constantly being mindful of good intentions, we can encourage others to be positive and upright, perhaps participating in activities that protect the environment. In such a manner, we improve the quality of our lives and contribute to society by filling it with positive and wholesome energy. “Purifying the mind” refers to abandoning a narrow-minded and egocentric mentality. Buddhism emphasizes seeing the world as it really is and putting principles into practice. In real life, we inevitably face many challenges and struggles in which we interact with people who are in conflict with the ideal. In such circumstances, we work to purify our own mindfulness, abandon a selfish viewpoint, keep calm and cool, and objectively observe the conditions of our own body and mind and the circumstances and the conditions in which we are involved. Then Issue 11, October 2012
Shr Heng Lyu
we will be in a good position to think rationally, figure out the best way to solve the problem, and mindfully help to bring about more positive circumstances. For example, how do we get along with people who hold beliefs and values that are very different from our own? This is a question that we need to ponder deeply. If we only follow our own narrow and egotistical views and fail to observe the circumstances and conditions of self and others, often we create unnecessary misunderstandings so that, even though we originally were trying to help others, we end up inadvertently harming them instead. Especially in dealing with the conflicts brought forth by the impact of globalization, we inevitably face various multidimensional and multifaceted challenges. If we seriously put into practice the principle of â€œpurifying oneâ€™s mind,â€? resolving such conflicts will become far easier. 4. Current Developments in Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism Both Southern and Northern traditions have been quick to make use of modern technology to help spread the Dharma. There are Buddhist radio and television channels, both Theravada and Mahayana, as well as a vast number of Buddhist websites. This has helped spread the Dharma to the world on an unprecedented scale. Some of these websites provide Buddhism-related information in the form of questions and answers, classes, prayers and recitations, and even gatherings or assemblies. There have been a large number of Buddhist multimedia products of various kinds that are now widely available on the Internet. Thus, we have completely surpassed the traditional models of Dharma propagation from traditional monastic sources. As Buddhism has becomes a more familiar presence throughout the world, the translation of the Dharma also becomes more complex. The translation of Buddhist texts is no longer restricted to the Pali Canon or Sanskrit, Chinese, or Tibetan Sutras. There is now a large and multifaceted Buddhist literature available in contemporary translations in various languages. This allows Buddhism to be more easily integrated into the diverse cultures of the various regions of the world. Due to these successes, and to the central importance of rationality and kindness in Buddhism due to its open and tolerant spirit, as well its various interfaces with modern science, Buddhism has become a very attractive religion in non-Asian societies as well; Buddhism is becoming internationalized, and new Buddhist cultures have been created in countries outside of Asia. This is a Buddhism no longer rooted in Asian
Religion East & West
Buddhism in an Era of Globalization
culture. Of course, this development is only in its beginning stages and is still in need of careful nurturing with appropriate Dharma if it is to be successful. Another important development is the elevated status of women in contemporary Buddhism, leading to their more active and significant participation in Buddhist activities, involving both service to communities and propagation of the Dharma. In charitable and educational institutions, women fulfill very significant roles and are very accomplished. Buddhist traditions include very rich cultural resources, such as art, music, literature, and education, which have tremendous positive influences in peopleâ€™s lives and spiritual health. Therefore, the preservation and propagation of these resources has a harmonizing effect on the lives of people in contemporary society. The most important of these developments, in both Southern and Northern Buddhist traditions, has been the establishment of a wide range of Buddhist colleges and universities, which aim to further the study of Buddhist philosophy and in which Buddhist principles are taught in a way that does not conflict with local requirements and guidelines for public education. Additionally, Buddhists are now active in social benefit programs, especially emergency treatment centers, hospitals, hospices, care centers for the elderly, and orphanages. In both Southern and Northern Buddhist traditions, such charity and welfare programs have been established or are under development. However, depending on the various social, economic, and geographic factors, their success varies. Buddhism no longer restricts itself to dialogue within Buddhism and is beginning to initiate interaction with other religions through interfaith dialogue. In this way, Buddhists hope to promote mutual understanding as a good foundation for a more peaceful world. 5. Prospects for Success in Cooperation Between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism Interaction between Southern and Northern Buddhism traditions has become a highlight of current internal Buddhist development. The current and previous World Buddhist Forums have provided Southern and Northern Buddhist traditions with platforms for communication and interaction. Also, there have been exchanges in Dharma learning between the ordained sangha and the laity from both traditions. The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, located in California, has hosted the Western Sangha Conference several times. That conference provides a platform Issue 11, October 2012
Shr Heng Lyu
for monastics raised in various cultures to learn from each other and to discuss and to resolve challenges that we all confront. I would like to offer another example. Our late Venerable Master Hsüan Hua, previously known as Du Lun, was the founder of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. He was the ninth-generation patriarch of the Guiyang Chan school. During 1949–1950, at the age of thirty-two, Master Hua lived in Thailand and Burma in order to observe and learn about the Buddhism of the Southern tradition. He wore the traditional sash and robe, went barefoot, carried the alms bowl, and in general lived the life of a monk of the Southern tradition. He felt deeply that both Southern and Northern traditions should cooperate and work together to make Buddhism flourish. In later years, he invited to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas monks from Southern tradition countries (including Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, and Cambodia) to teach the Dharma. Several times he provided space within the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to sangha members of the Southern tradition to host their own meditation retreats. Moreover, the Venerable Master himself would The Southern and bring disciples along with him to monasteries of the Southern tradition for interaction and learning. So far, Northern traditions the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas has hosted thirteen times the Great Three-Stage Full Ordination Dharma should work together to Assembly for the ordination of Buddhist monks and nuns. On all of these occasions, the virtuous sangha make Buddhism flourish. of both Southern and Northern traditions hosted the Dharma assemblies. On some of the occasions, there were sangha members of the Southern tradition who requested Bodhisattva ordination. In 1995, when the Venerable Master was soon to enter nirvana, he instructed his disciples to donate a 120-acre parcel of land, located in Redwood Valley nineteen miles north of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, to Ajahn Sumedho, an American Dharma Master of the Southern tradition, so that a new monastery in that tradition could be built there. This monastery, called Abhayagiri Monastery, was duly constructed and has since flourished as part of the lineage of the late Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah. It currently houses over a dozen Western monks. Although our teacher, the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua, has now entered nirvana, the interaction between the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and the schools of Southern tradition continue. When the monks of Abhayagiri Monastery hosted their Ordination Dharma Assembly, they also invited us to be Masters of Veneration and Accreditation and
Religion East & West
Buddhism in an Era of Globalization
to cohost the Dharma event. Even though we are not trained in Pali, the canonical language of the Southern tradition, we were able through brief English explanations to understand its process and its differences from the Northern tradition. And when they have a class on the monks’ precepts, we go and participate so that we can learn from them as well. At our Berkeley Buddhist Monastery (a branch of Dharma Realm Buddhist Association), we also provide space for them to host their own monthly Dharma lectures. When they invite virtuous guests from the Southern tradition to visit the United States for Dharma propagation, we host them as speakers at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. To us, every one of the Buddhists from the schools of the Southern and Northern traditions is like a brother or sister as we gather together for Dharma assemblies and share the benefit of Dharma joy. 6. Conclusion In a dynamic global environment, we need to work together to fulfill our shared mutual mission of nourishing and transmitting this central Buddhist teaching: “Cease all unwholesome conduct, do only what is good, and purify your mind.” This is the essential principle of both Theravada and Mahayana teachings. To creatively apply it, to put it solidly into practice, and to subsequently become awakened is to accomplish the ultimate objective of Buddhism. In both the Southern and the Northern traditions, this objective is the ultimate liberation that is Nirvana. We also strive to take all sentient beings across to the “other shore” of Nirvana so that they can all ultimately become Buddhas. This task truly requires virtuous masters from both traditions to kindly provide instruction and guidance and to work together, utilizing the ongoing development of Buddhism in a globalized world. I believe this will be realized in the near future.
Issue 11, October 2012