Why The Mahayana Teachings Are Authentic

As the Buddhas have pure Bodhicitta
to fully benefit all beings,
all Buddhas will teach Bodhicitta
to fully benefit all beings.

Stonepeace | Books

If the path taught in the first turning of the wheel [of Dharma] – the thirty-seven aspects of the path to enlightenment – were the only path to enlightenment taught by the Buddha, then there would be no substantial difference between the spiritual process leading to the full enlightenment of a Buddha and that leading to the individual liberation attained by an Arhat. Another way of saying this would be that an individual who attained Nirvana (the elimination of one’s own suffering [only]) would be identical in understanding and abilities to one who attained the complete enlightenment of a Buddha. If that is the case that these two states are identical, then the only substantial difference between them would be the time it takes to attain them: In order to attain Buddhahood, one must accumulate merits for three innumerable eons, whereas the individual liberation of an Arhat can be attained far more quickly. Nagarjuna argues, however, that such a position (that the states are identical but for the time involved) is untenable.

Nagarjuna points out that one of the metaphysical ideas current in the earlier Buddhist traditions is that at the time of the Buddha’s final Nirvana, which is known as “Nirvana without residue”… If this was the case, he argues, then the period of time during Buddha Shakyamuni was able to work for the welfare of other sentient beings following his full awakening, which was his primary reason for accumulating merits and wisdom over three innumerable eons, was extraordinarily short. The Buddha[-to-be] left his royal life at the age of twenty-nine, attained full enlightenment [Buddhahood] at the age of thirty-six, and passed away [into Parinirvana] at the age of eighty or eighty-one. This would imply that the Buddha was able to work for the benefit of other sentient beings for only a few decades. For Nagarjuna, this huge disparity between the duration of the Buddha’s training and the duration of his activity after enlightenment does not make sense.

He further argues that there is no basis for positing that the continuum of an individual’s mind would come to an end upon the attainment of final [ultimate] Nirvana, because there is nothing that can bring about the total cessation of the continuum of consciousness. He asserts that if there is a sufficient antidote to any given phenomenon or event, then that antidote can be said to cause the complete cessation of the functioning of that phenomenon or event. (For example, a sufficient antidote of a bodily poison would cause the complete cessation of the functioning of that poison.) However, insofar as continuum of consciousness itself is concerned, no event or an agent can bring about its total destruction. Nagarjuna argues that the innate mind and the defilements or afflictions that obscure its inherent clarity are two separate things. Mental pollutants – defilements and afflictions – can be eliminated by practicing the powerful antidotes of the Buddha’s teachings. However, the continuum of the mind itself remains endless. Nagarjuna claims that not only are the teachings found in the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition more profound than the teachings of the Pali tradition, but also that they do not contradict the Pali teachings. In a sense, one could say that the Mahayana scriptures elaborate on themes presented there. In this manner, Nagarjuna argues the authenticity of the Mahayana teachings.

Essence Of The Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama’s Heart Of Wisdom Teachings
Translated & Edited By Geshe Thupten Jinpa

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