Vows, commitments and modern life: Root downfalls of the Bodhisattva Vows, causing others to abandon the Pratimoksha and belittling the Hinayana.

Causing others to abandon the Pratimoksha. 

We incur a root downfall if we cause an ordained person to give up their Vinaya practice saying that it is not relevant to the Mahayana path.

I know some very senior ordained teachers who talk of women effectively throwing themselves at them.  The temptations must be great indeed.  To engage in actions which cause somebody to lose their ordination, which we can do merely with some wrong words spoken, is, in my view, to commit spiritual murder, or at the very least to assist in somebody’s spiritual suicide. 

I am aware of the fact that these are dramatic words.  But when somebody gets ordained, their old ordinary self quite literally dies and a new being is born, Kelsang Something or Another.  If that person disrobes, the person who was formerly known as Kelsang whatever quite literally dies, vanishing from this earth. 

We sometimes think ordained people are so strong, and sometimes the recently ordained think everything will now be so easy.  But both views are wrong.  Gen Lhamo says, “getting married is easy, it is staying married where the real work is.  In the same way, getting ordained is easy, it is staying ordained where the real work is.”  Just as we would be careful to not encourage others to do things which might jeopardize their marriage, so too we need to be careful to not encourage ordained people to do things which might jeopardize their ordination. 

This vow does not only apply to the ordained Pratimoksha vows, but it also applies to the lay Pratimoksha vows (though the negative karma is greater with the ordained vows).  If we knew somebody was an alcoholic, we certainly wouldn’t invite them to a bar or put them in situations that might cause them to relapse.  In the same way, taking the Pratimoksha vows is like the alcoholic who stops drinking.  But there are tremendous tendencies within us to relapse back into our old samsaric ways.  Samsaraholics Anonymous does not exist, but it should.  And we should be just as considerate towards not leading those who have taken such vows into temptation anymore than we would of our friends addicted to drugs, cigarettes or alcohol.

Belittling the Hinayana. 

We incur a root downfall if we have a disrespectful opinion of the Hinayana path, maintaining that it does not lead to actual liberation.  One of the most useful concepts in the Dharma is the notion of common and uncommon paths.  When I was growing up, we had a split level house.  Halfway up the stairs, things branched off and I could go outside for example, or I could keep going up all of the way and make it to my room.  It is impossible for me to get to my room without taking those first stairs, but I don’t need to take them if all I want to do is go outside.  In this way, the first half of the stairs are “common” to both paths, and the second half of the stairs is part of the “uncommon” path.  Both the person who wants to go outside and the person who wants to go to the top floor must use the first half of the stairs, but only the person who wants to go to the top floor must do all of the stairs.  For such a person to belittle the first half of the stairs is to deny themselves part of their path.

In the same way, all of the paths to liberation are “common” to the Mahayana path, they are part of our path.  So to belittle them is to belittle the very foundation of our eventual enlightenment.

Few among us, though would actually outright belittle those who travel other paths, but there are many subtle levels where we do this.  First, it is not uncommon for Mahayana practitioners to, even if only internally, generate pride thinking they are somehow better because than those travelling another path that leads only to liberation.  

Second, when we speak with people from the Theravadin tradition, or other traditions that seek only liberation, we need to be mindful that some of them consider it insulting to call them “Hinayanists,” the translation of which means “lesser vehicle.”  Now in the context of the Mahayana teachings (“great vehicle”) we don’t mean it in an insulting way, we use the term merely to differentiate between the intermediate and the great scope.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it is quite understandable why they could find it insulting for us to refer to them in that way.  So when we speak with them, or when we speak in public forums where they might be present, we should show appropriate consideration.

Third, another common way in which we effectively belittle the Hinayana is in how we actually practice the Dharma.  We show a bias towards the great scope meditations and especially our tantric meditations, and pay little attention to the initial and intermediate scope meditations.  Everyone enjoys meditating on love and the self-generation as the deity, but it is a little less fun to meditate on death, the lower realms, the sufferings of samsara and technical subjects like the 12 dependent-related links.  So we generally tend to avoid these meditations and focus on the ones we enjoy.  Of course these higher level meditations are wonderful in and of themselves, but their real power is only uncovered when they are engaged in on the solid foundation of the earlier meditations.  We can generate worldly compassion and love without the earlier meditations, and this is a good thing, but if we want to generate spiritual compassion and love (meaning concern about other’s future lives), then we need these earlier meditations.  We cannot generate a qualified compassion without first generating a qualified renunciation.  We cannot generate a qualified renunciation without first generating a qualified fear of lower rebirth and a realization of our own death.  

There is of course nothing wrong with engaging in the higher meditations without having built the foundation within our mind, the point is our higher meditations will only be as qualified as the foundation we have built.  We still should train in all of the meditations from the very beginning because each meditation informs all of the others, but our qualified realization of a higher meditation will never outstrip the extent to which we have qualified realizations of the lower meditations.  Engaging in advanced tantric practices are good, but they will only produce their declared benefits when done with the proper foundations.  


4 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Root downfalls of the Bodhisattva Vows, causing others to abandon the Pratimoksha and belittling the Hinayana.

  1. Thank you for a thoughtful post on a difficult subject. You brought a lot of important insights to some very complex issues.

    Suicide or murder immediately limits one’s choices completely. . I have had many very dear friends who became victims of both murder and suicide. Their options are gone. For this reason, I am not completely sure that either murder or suicide is actually comparable to losing an ordination or jeopardizing one’s vows (as some choices still remain open to the individual to a least a basic level).

    Further to belittle anyone, or to have the intention to do so, is probably something that should be seriously considered. Negating or invalidating anyone does not show a beneficial intent. Corrections can be made without such measures, opinions can be expressed without reducing the value of what others may be attempting to do or say. I realize this is not what you are discussing in this post – it is just a general response.

    As an analogy:
    The best way win in argument is to recognize and express the points that the other person has made which are correct (which you do agree with). This allows people to move forward in hearing, and really understanding, each other and also, hopefully, to develop respect and tolerance for their differences.

    Recognizing what others are doing right, validating their choices and being generous in you evaluation of the others’ perspectives, opinions and expressions has much to offer us in this time of conflict and tension.

    Thank you for focusing on such important issues. You helped me to consider these things in a way I had not previously done.

  2. I can understand this post, but I have to be honest, I don’t find it a fair or balanced. There are many ordained folk I have met in the NKT that work hard to protect their vows and I have also met lay folk who act inappropriately towards the ordained, thus perhaps contributing to ‘spiritual murder’. However I also know senior ordained monks (still around) that have made passes at their lay students, suggested sexual relationships or engaged in other inappropriate behaviour. This causes others to abandon their faith – also spiritual murder. But in posts I have read on this site we are encouraged to develop compassion for these ‘fallen kelsangs’ because it is hard to be ordained. Sorry, but if you are going to talk about actions that can contribute others to abandon faith you should really look at both angles. To talk about ‘woman throwing themselves’ at senior monks without also mentioning the senior and other monks who abuse their power is unbalanced as both have the same consequence. Abuse of power by a person in (spiritual) authority is arguably much worse – and perhaps you could say that being ordained gives the air of spiritual authority even if it is not valid. If lay folk can commit spiritual murder with a few ‘wrong words spoken’, is it not important to also remind the ordained that their ‘wrong words’ can have a negative (perhaps worse) effect on others? I realise that you mention lay vows in this but it is not with the same rhetoric used for the ordained.

    • I completely agree with you. Both sides need to be equally looked at, and both sets of behavior need to be equally addressed. Thank you for posting this.

  3. Relating to other Buddhists and Sangha members with respect and pure view is highly beneficial. We don’t know who these people are in reality.

    Good questions to ask:

    What does this person reveal to me, what does this teach me about Dharma, how can it help me put Dharma into practice in my life?
    Which delusion is manifesting? How can I respond without delusion? Until I can do this, I should watch my mind closely around these beings who share a view of attaining enlightenment.

    When requesting for advice or challenging:
    Everything is subjective, within your own samsara. So responding comes from that frame of reference. A learning ‘how to get out of my smasara’ point of view rather than a I’m special and I’m important and I want to be right and in control self-cherishing view which perpetuates samsara.

    Ways to handle it: Assertive communication that is non-aggressive/passive/non controlling: I think, I feel, I want.
    Sounds like self-cherishing, but it is not. It’s a good way of relating to oneself and others.

    1. I think what has been said is this….. This shows I alone am responsible for my inner thoughts.
    2. I feel disappointed because my experience tells me that…..etc I am responsible for managing my inner feelings.
    3. I want to understand different points of view and alternatives. I am responsible for my own inner wants and desires.

    There is no mention of the word YOU. There never really needs to be. You is very direct and mostly makes a person defensive and can induce self-cherishing. The same for a leading question like WHY. Can be seen as hostile.

    Consider: Why didn’t you put that in?
    Possible alternatve: I think x would be good to include. Instead Y was chosen, I was wondering what prompted this? – it’s less likely to make someone defensive.

    Examples which project hostility instead of inner responsibility:

    A) You said this, its wrong: This is a thought which is projecting my samsaric ideas are correct.
    B) You said this, I feel this is ridiculous: This is a feeling arising at the moment of understanding. Perhaps the feeling is: annoyed, upset, disheartened, angry, there need not be a projection ‘you are making me feel this way’
    C) What you should be doing is this: This is about ones inner desire. My wants/wishes are different. This is where a lot of anger comes from. When our wishes are not fulfilled or we think things should be different to how they are, a non acceptance. “I want a clear understanding of what has been said and I want to express from my point of view what from I believe is important.”

    When communicated like this, it’s like there is a repsonsibility for ones own samsara. Communication is far more congruent with our subjective reality and allows the realisation to dawn that we are in our mind, ‘alone’ expressing our own emptiness instead of projecting things outward onto/imputing our reality and continually recreating samsara over and over.

    This ensures I do not blame/outwardly project my samsara ‘onto’ (there is no such thing) other people and objects as inherent causes of my happiness and unhappiness. I realise it comes from within.

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