( Mon Eve 5-31-2010)
(With my own minor alterations of punctuation)
Early Buddhism, "Hinayana", and Mahayana
The term "Hinayana" is at best a politically charged tactic used by proponents of the Mahayana movement to belittle their opponents as "Lesser Path" followers. Unfortunately, as much or more than any other field of cultural studies, it has become ingrained in the official terminology of the history of Buddhism. (Self Note - I would like to use Therevada as a more respectful term, but I must check that all of the conceptual connotations align properly!)
Modern Buddhist scholarship in the west is only some 150 years old. (**Check Date - 1860?**). Yet already many basic historical thematic questions are becoming obscured with age by the leading national Sanghas in their drive to attract new members. It turns out that these questions were discussed as fresh topics in an earlier age, and the answers developed then prove informative to the background mood of Buddhism in the digital age. When two or more sources address a topic and one is arguably less definitive than the other, I sometimes like to use the rougher source as a brainstorming tool before the polished precision of the definitive tome seals up the work-in-progress atmosphere of investigation. In this segment, the first contribution comes from "An introduction to Mahayana Budhism" by William Montgomery MvGovern Ph. D.
A "One-Hour" overview of Buddhism reveals that a major surge in Buddhist growth emerged with the rise of a movement called Mahayana or "Great Path". However, this was not universally accepted, and an important enclave of earlier practice has been maintained. (Check modern country names - Burma, Siam, Ceylon?). What follows certainly owes its source to McGovern, but it is my own modfied presentation.
(Side notes - I could never have located an obscure source like this before the advent of the Harvard Book Store's Espresso book machine. Also, this is another of those fields which truly rewards attention to publication dates, as early scholars were significantly aware of each other's emerging contributions. Also apropos of publication dates, a few shockingly archaic turns of phrase were employed.)
An interesting clue to to the mood of the monograph comes from the Dedication to Mrs. C. A. F. Rhys-Davids. She was an important early scholar who truly pioneered crucial western efforts to understand Buddhism. Hers is the first of many names who have begun to be obscured by the mists of time. As for the publication date - 1922 - an important question becomes whether McGovern had the opportunity to study D. T. Suzuki's more thorough outline published in 1908. It turns out that McGovern was a Ph. D. in his own right, so we must presume he had at least partial access to Suzuki's efforts. Therefore the early polemical rhetorical passages regarding Christianity early in the first pages must be considered a device to "attract-with-controversy" the attention of readers in the Great Gatsby era.
I. "Pristine-Early" Buddhism - designated as Pre-Hinayana
The first point of interest is a division between the earliest canonical "pristine" Pali teachings and the official rise of Hinayana itself. Apparently the earliest Buddhism avoided discussing the thorny questions of ultimate reality with a fierce focus on the universal impermanence of all things. McGovern's phrase on P. 6 was "Agnostic position concerning transcendental problems". Along the way, Buddhism is notable for early promotion of logical rigor by using structured lists of linked concepts. Right at the outset the big three are the Four Noble Truths, the Eight-Fold Path and the (Twelve Steps) of the Dependent Origination of all suffering. CLICK HERE to go to a subpage to review those themes.
On page 11 McGovern remarks, "Hinayana itself was by no means unified, for shortly after the death of Gautama it broke up into a number of sects, with widely varying interpretations of the earlier philosophy. Out of the eighteen or twenty such Hinayana sects, two only require especial attention at the present time. These are, first, the Sthavira-vadins (Pali Theravadins) and, second, the Sarvasti-vadins." ((Dashes Mine)).
Going to page 12, "Even the more primitive Sthavira-vadin school, which prides itself upon its maintenance of the letter of the law as preached by Shakyamuni, has added several important features". One cannot both maintain the letter of the instruction while simultaneously adding doctrinal features! Apparently, this is where there emerges the distinction point of a Pre-Hinayana practice and the more developed forms later. ((THIS IS THE POINT TO VERIFY!)).
This is where I shall tap the power of the web to give the reader choice what to review next.
CLICK HERE to for "Pristine-Early" Buddhism
CLICK HERE for Sthavira-vadin Early Hinayana
CLICK HERE for Sarvasti-vadin Later Hinayana
CLICK HERE to go to the Mahayana sections