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.