In the final week of Rita Gross’s Tricycle Retreat, Buddhist History for Buddhist Practitioners, we have been discussing changes and innovations in Buddhism after the time of the historical Buddha. Rita chose a very interesting method for presenting this topic, in which she broke down later Buddhist developments into three categories: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, also known as The Three Jewels. By employing this method, Rita and the participants were able to touch on many subjects, from the issue of full female ordination, to the Bodhisattva vow, to Maitreya, The Buddha of the Future.

One participant states,

Thanks for a wonderful retreat/lecture Professor. Very enjoyable and practice provoking. A friend once commented that the Buddha had to be a Mahayanist because he decided to teach the Dharma at the request of gods, for the benefit of beings. The difference would be, i think, that he had been already fully realized. Whereas one who takes the Bodhisattva vow, wishes that the limitless beings are freed from samsara first, depending on their motivation of, king, captain, or shepherd, I suppose.

an ocean of gratitude Professor,

To which Rita replies,

Working with Buddhist sources in a historically accurate way, we would have to say the Mahanaya as a separate Buddhist movement post dates the Buddha by some centuries. Buddha lived and taught before Buddhist sects and lineages separated from one another or developed, so Buddha was neither a Mahayanist nor a Theravadin or any other specifically named Buddhist sect. I would claim than when Buddhists say the Buddha really practices my form of Buddhism and not yours, that’s about at the level of monotheists claiming the God is a Lutheran not a Catholic, or vice versa, or worse yet that God is a conservative or a liberal. We need to be less judgmental than that.

Another paricipant writes,

It’s interesting to survey this in terms of “Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.” Regarding the ordination of women in the Theravadan lineage, there have been really fascinating developments here in Northern California for a while, (and of course, in Australia a couple years ago). We look forward to witnessing another bhikkhuni ordination in October at Spirit Rock.

I’d welcome any comments about how you think the Thai Forest Tradition will evolve and how successful this new generation of nuns will be in gaining recognition overall.

As for the variations in Dharma practice, I had no idea how diverse this topic is. I have a large tome by Donald Lopez, Jr called “Buddhism in Practice” that gives an astounding survey of variations in Buddhist practice — and that is just in Asia! What we are doing here in the West compounds all of that.

I am interested in the development of “Buddhism in the West” (itself not a well-defined term). Americans so readily combine and mix traditions that some of the new variations hardly seem “Buddhist.” I sometimes have concern that essential elements of the teachings are too quickly tossed aside if they don’t meet our desire for instant gratification, to the detriment of offering truly liberating teachings. Yes, later developments are not automatically “bad,” but what about Buddhist apps for smart phones that will allow us to do a 5-minute “meditation” while waiting in line for coffee and checking our email in between? I suspect Buddhism will survive somehow in the good hearts of many humans, but I do wonder about some of the versions we are creating. Any comments?

Thank you so much for this course. I have learned a lot.

Rita responds,

I don’t think that I know enough about the Thai forest tradition to say much about how it will develop in the future. But if the newly ordained nuns are sincere, practice well, and have good teachers, I’m sure they will be a credit to Buddhadharma.

I’m not a great fan of “feel good Buddhism” with all its superficiality. Nor are any genuine teachers whom I know. But I’m sure these things have always gone on. People are always wanting a quick fix. If enough people are doing genuine practice, the wheat will separate from the chaff.


On behalf of the Tricycle staff, I’d like to thank Professor Gross and all the retreat participants for the wonderful month of teaching and dialogue!

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