Are You A Theravada or Mahayana Mormon? (With Poll)

October 26, 2011

There have been many “types” of Mormons discussed online and in other places.  Sometimes these “types”  have to do with one’s “faithfulness”.  Other times they may have to do with someone’s level of participation on Sundays.  Perhaps it is based on whether someone is primarily “spirit of the law” or “letter of the law”.  Today, I want to suggest another way of looking at types of Mormons based on general styles of comments I have seen here on Wheat & Tares.  Interestingly, both types could be considered equally “active”, and both types can support their positions with scripture, etc.  The biggest difference here is someone’s perception of their relationship between themselves and others.  I’d call them Theravada Mormons and Mahayana Mormons.

So what do those terms even mean?  They are the two main schools of Buddhism: Theravada and Mahayana.  In many regards, they have the same fundamental beliefs.  Much like our regard for Joseph Smith, they revere Buddha for the teachings he brought forth.  They both believe in the Four Noble Truths and in the Eightfold Path.  Many fundamental teachings are common between the two schools.

While there are also a number of differences between the two schools, the one I want to focus on for the point of this post is the “ideal person” according to each school.  In Theravada Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to be an Arhat (Sanskrit, Arahant in Pali).  This is someone who has achieved the ultimate goal for themselves.  Perhaps our equivalent would be “having our calling and election made sure”.  In Theravada Buddhism, one focuses on improving all aspects of one’s life following the Eightfold Path.  While this obviously and necessarily includes developing compassion for and helping others, the primary goal is perfecting oneself.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the “ideal person” is a Bodhisattva (Sanskrit, Bodhisatta in Pali).  In this case, someone also tries to attain Buddhahood, but primarily for the ultimate goal of helping to save all other beings.  Even though someone has “succeeded” in the test of life, as a Bodhisattva, they postpone their ultimate reward indefinitely until literally EVERYONE has also reached the same point.  This obviously would take eons, but it something they are willing to do.  In this life, someone who aspires to this takes a Bodhisattva Vow.  This can be done to oneself, and can be repeated each day.  On a practical basis, repeating this each day changes one’s outlook to place others’ needs in front of one’s own in all decisions throughout the day.

So, what does this have to do with Mormons?  In comments here and other places, it seems that people tend to fall in one of these two groups.

A Theravada Mormon is focused on perfecting themselves.  They feel that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14).  As Paul said in Philippians 2:12, it is important to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Just like in Buddhism, Theravada Mormons also care for their fellowman, but it can be seen as meeting their primary goal.  Perhaps they do home teaching because it is a requirement to “perfect” themselves.  Perhaps they “love the sinner but hate the sin” with regards to homosexuals, “loving them” because they are suppose to love their neighbor, but never truly accepting them as a person.  Perhaps they do missionary work because this is the “one and only true Church” and everyone has to also be a Mormon to be saved.  And at the end of the day, being a Theravada Mormon is an admirable quality.  We truly are here to try to perfect ourselves.  We are taught that the gate truly is strait.

A Mahayana Mormon is primarily focused on others.  They might remember the two great commandments: Love God, Love your Fellowman.  Or they may quote from Matthew 25:40, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Just like in Buddhism, Mahayana Mormons are focused on others.  They continue to try to improve themselves and live the gospel more fully, but this is primarily so they have a greater capacity to also lift others up.  Perhaps they love their neighbors but are bad home teachers because they don’t really care about “programs”.  Perhaps they truly love and respect a homosexual friend at the risk of being seen as “embracing” something sinful.  Perhaps they have a hard time with missionary work, because they see strengths and goodness in others and don’t really know if they’d be better as Mormons.  And at the end of the day, being a Mahayana Mormon is also an admirable quality.  We are truly here to lose ourselves in the service of others.  God truly does love all of his children equally.

So, which is better?  It’s hard to say.  I do think that we tend to drift towards being Theravada Mormons in the LDS Church and culture.  We tend to drift towards focusing on “ourself” things: what we drink, what we wear, how many earrings or tattoos we have, what our callings are, whether we are reading scriptures each day as asked, whether we pay a full 10% tithing, whether we are magnifying our callings, whether we faithfully attend ALL of our meetings, and all sorts of things.  These are all inwardly focused things.  They are perfecting ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with that, but perhaps we should be more like Mahayana Mormons.  For example, from 3 Nephi 28 we read the following when Jesus addressed his 12 apostles.  Nine of them asked him:

We desire that after we have lived unto the age of man, that our ministry, wherein thou hast called us, may have an end, that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom.  And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because ye desired this thing of me; therefore, after that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom; and with me ye shall find rest.

But for three others, this wasn’t enough:

And when he had spoken unto them, he turned himself unto the three, and said unto them: What will ye that I should do unto you, when I am gone unto the Father?  And they sorrowed in their hearts, for they durst not speak unto him the thing which they desired.  And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.  Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death… and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand.

So, obviously all 12 served others and devoted themselves toward becoming better people, but I would argue that the first 9 were more like Theravada Mormons, concerned with doing all they were supposed to do, then asking for their reward in heaven.  Contrast this with the 3 Nephites who were more like Mahayana Mormons, even willing to postpone their reward in order to help their fellowman .  And as Christ told them, “more blessed are ye”.

In more modern teachings, President Uchtdorf also addressed this topic in General Conference earlier this month in a talk entitled “Providing in the Lord’s Way”:

Unfortunately, there are those who overlook the temporal because they consider it less important. They treasure the spiritual while minimizing the temporal. While it is important to have our thoughts inclined toward heaven, we miss the essence of our religion if our hands are not also inclined toward our fellowman….

This very hour there are many members of the Church who are suffering. They are hungry, stretched financially, and struggling with all manner of physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. They pray with all the energy of their souls for succor, for relief.

Brethren, please do not think that this is someone else’s responsibility. It is mine, and it is yours. We are all enlisted. “All” means all—every Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood holder, rich and poor, in every nation. In the Lord’s plan, there is something everyone can contribute.

Given this, I would argue that being a Mahayana Mormon is “higher” than being a Theravada Mormon.  It doesn’t really matter what color shirt we wear, what callings we have, how many months we have 100% home teaching, or how eloquent we are in teaching our classes.  In the long run, many of the things we fuss about are unimportant.  Our primary goal should be on serving others.  We should dedicate our lives to helping everyone around us.  We should treat each person we see as our brother or sister – regardless of their religion, background, learning, economic status, orientation, style of dress or hair, etc.  We are all in this together.

I would love to work on perfecting myself, but that is something I will never fully do here in mortality.  In my eulogy, I could care less about lists of things I may have done or callings I may have had or honors of men I may have received.  Instead, I want to be known as someone who truly and honestly loved those around him.  And I would love to be known as a true bodhisattva and a Mahayana Mormon.

What do you consider yourself?

  • A Mahayana Mormon (43%, 37 Votes)
  • A bit of both (29%, 25 Votes)
  • A Theravada Mormon (10%, 9 Votes)
  • Neither - they are invalid categories (10%, 9 Votes)
  • Huh? This Buddhism stuff is strange (8%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 87

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Questions:

  • Is the difference between a Theravada and a Mahayana Mormon clear from this?
  • Which do you consider yourself?
  • Do you think one type is “better” than another type?  Why or why not?
  • Do you think that one type is more common in the Church, officially or unofficially?

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40 Responses to Are You A Theravada or Mahayana Mormon? (With Poll)

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 26, 2011 at 7:41 AM

    Years ago, while still dating, I remember discussing (lesser wheel) buddhist philosophy with my wife. Fun stuff.

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  2. Mike S on October 26, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    Stephen:

    I still study a lot of Buddhist philosophy. And it has actually strengthened and complemented many of the beliefs with which I was raised as a Mormon. As prophets have said, we accept all truth wherever we find it, whatever the source.

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  3. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 26, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    They also said we do not have all the truth and have a duty to look for it.

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  4. Course Correction on October 26, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    Who is going to admit to being a Theravada Mormon?

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  5. jack on October 26, 2011 at 11:31 AM

    I consider myself a Zen Mormon. I tend to accept things the way they are & understand that each person is going about life as best as they can. I try to not place an expectation on any one & instead accept them for who they are. Life is Suffering but that suffering is usually because we try to fit others into our narrow definition of who/what they believe & when that person/group fails to fit in with definition we ‘suffer’ & get mad or sad or resentful. The church & its members are what they are. I strive to be the best I can. I follow the commandments as best as I can & often fail. The church & its members often fail to & in that we are united. I can only ask each person I come into contact with to be the person they truly are. Anything else will just disapoint me.

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  6. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 26, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    Course Correction, if you redefine Theraveda as it defines itself, many would feel comfortable with the definition.

    Do you have a duty to eschew sin to gain proper focus, to not excuse failure, to not “leave the other undone” and to preserve the structures and forms that allow for others to be served and saved?

    Or should you just kind of let it all slide, justify a little sin, call it compassion but never setting your own house in order?

    It is all in the presentation. It is a long and interesting debate, and we are kind of getting a slant from one perspective of it.

    From their perspective they would ask the question:

    Do you justify a little sin or do you feel you have a duty to truly repent?

    Do you truly follow Christ and accept him as the way and the truth or are you your own light?

    Etc.

    Anyway …

    I don’t want this to look like an attack on any one group, I just really enjoyed my philosophy of India classes, down to my favorite quote from the professor: “Neti, Neti — and not that either” (referring to all the people he heard saying “Neti, Neti”).

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  7. Tim on October 26, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    I have given thought to this same idea many times, but in different terminology of course. I tend to picture life as a series of ladders/ropes which we can climb to advance to a higher level (self improvement). There are people (Theravada) who figure, “I’ll climb up first, then turn around and help others up”. And there are those (Mahayana) who figure, “I’ll help others up first, then I’ll climb up”.

    However, depending on the circumstances, there are times when someone who is accustomed to taking the lead might stop and help others first, and someone accustomed to helping others first might take the lead.

    At heart, I think most people desire to be Mahayana (good intentions) but in practice, most people tend to be Theravada.

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  8. Mike S on October 26, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    Course Correction:

    I am admittedly biased in favor of Mahayana Mormonism, so I’m sure that that came out in the article. I would also guess that most people who frequent a site like W&T would also agree with me. I think Theravada Mormons would tend to hang out at different sites.

    As a simple example of the different, take the basic white shirt. A Theravada Mormon might echo conference talks about how the white shirt on Sunday makes them feel more spiritual. It makes them feel more “in tune” and represents purity. It is all based around someone making themselves more holy, more pure, more focused – much like becoming an Arhat in Thervada Buddhism. No one can argue with this being wrong, and I would propose that the majority of the Church leadership and many of its members follow the gospel in this fashion. They just don’t tend to come to sites like this.

    Conversely, a Mahayana Mormon might care less about a white shirt. It represents trying to force someone to conform to some non-doctrinal and contrived standard. Instead, a Mahayana Mormon might just accept everyone as they are, with people more important than principles. And no one can argue with that either.

    So, neither is necessarily right or wrong. I do think that some of the non-doctrinal policies set in place by the Theravada mindset (of focusing on purifying the person individually) do tend to be off-putting to people of the Mahayana mindset (hence the series of posts I write). At the same time, I’m sure the more laissez-faire and accepting attitude of someone like me bothers someone who thinks we should just accept all of the Church’s policies as directly from God through the mouth of His prophet – that we should shut up, put our heads down, and just get with the program.

    And at the end of the day, maybe they’re right. Maybe individual obedience to the “rules” is more important than anything else we do. Maybe Mormonism is supposed to be closer to Theravada Mormonism than Mahayana Mormonism. Who knows?

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  9. Mike S on October 26, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    #7 Tim:

    Great comment. I especially like this line: At heart, I think most people desire to be Mahayana (good intentions) but in practice, most people tend to be Theravada.

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  10. Anonymous on October 26, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    @Tim, Course Correction

    As the one person who’s voted for Theravada so far, Tim’s pretty much pegged me. I desire to be a “Mahayana Mormon” but I’m honestly not there. I’m gobbling up Mormon and “anti-Mormon” literature, podcasts, etc., but I’m not posting or sharing what I’m learning with others. I go to Church weekly and most often bring a book to read during otherwise boring lessons, but I never participate, ask questions, volunteer stories, etc. I’m the guy in the ward that nobody talks to, and if you do talk to me, I shift my eyes and try to end the conversation as quickly as possible. I perform my callings quietly and without recognition. I’m having one heck of a spiritual journey through life, and am learning and growing a ton, but it pretty much stops with my Self. I love the idea of being Mahayana, of loving and serving others. I can’t imagine something of greater value. I think it’s great when people come on here and say that the social aspect of Mormonism is one of their favorite things in the church/culture, and I honestly wish I had the same sort of experiences myself. But I don’t. Maybe some day, when I move to a new ward and am no longer pegged as the Silent Guy, things will change.

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  11. Miri on October 26, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    I think that, like Stephen said, your perception of the two depends on the angle you’re looking at–and while I identify more with the Mahayana, I think that the true ideal needs to be a mixture of the two. (Then again, I’ve never studied Buddhism–though I’ve wanted to–so I might be totally misunderstanding the concepts.)

    I think that, in reference to a person’s attitude toward others, Mahayana sounds much more Christlike; Theraveda sounds self-serving and action-oriented rather than “true love of Christ”-oriented. Sort of a spirit of the law vs. letter of the law issue, with the law being “love thy neighbor.” But in the end, I think we’re only responsible for our own growth. We need to take care of others (for their sake, not because of how it helps us to perfect ourselves), but ultimately we’re not responsible for their growth.

    So, if the point of Theraveda is that helping others only matters for how it helps you, then I don’t think there’s much useful in that. But I don’t get the sense that that’s what it means–just that the ultimate goal is perfection of the self. And in the long run I think that’s what we all need to do.

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  12. Heber13 on October 26, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    Great post. Makes me think a lot. Not only is there more than one way to practice faith as a Mormon, but it is interesting to me how many parallels you can see in other faiths like Buddhism, Judaism, Christian, etc etc etc … I like seeing the similarities and learning from that.

    I think Christ’s teachings more reflect Mahayana, and Paul and Church Leaders teach more Theraveda (though not exclusively).

    I vote a little of both.

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  13. Will on October 26, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    Mike,

    Great post.

    I would define myself as a Theravada Mormon because of the way I see things. Maybe it is vain of me, but I think some of your commentary is based on comments that I have made.

    Comments that you and I have gone back and forth on. I would state the other form you mention is not obtainable. This is based chiefly on my understand of the plan of salvation. Some will chose NOT to live a celestial law with FULL knowledge of the consequences.

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  14. Mike S on October 26, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    Will:

    You’re not vain – some of the comments were based on our discussions. :-)

    But I also don’t think you’re wrong either. While you might be in the minority on this particular site, I think your viewpoints are likely representative of the majority of the people in the Church. It think there is a role for both types of viewpoints.

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  15. dpc on October 26, 2011 at 3:12 PM

    Mike S

    If I understand your definitions, Theravada Mormons do things, even if self-interestedly motivated, while Mahayana Mormons don’t really have to do anything, except have vaguely defined loving feelings for others while insisting that they don’t have to live up to any cultural norms?

    I submit that to become a Mahayana Mormon you have to go through the Theravada phase first. How would you know what is “good” for others if you haven’t experienced it yourself?

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  16. Mike S on October 26, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    Miri / Heber13:

    I think there is a lot of overlap between the two, and ultimately the goal is the same. Someone who is working on perfecting themselves necessarily works towards a perfect love towards others. And someone who is focusing on giving their life for others needs to perfect themselves in order to be the most benefit to those others. So the two philosophies converge in many ways.

    I also think that the Church goes through phases emphasizing one or the other. In reading McKay’s biography, it seems that he was a Mahayana Mormon in many ways, eating rum cake, telling people on the hunt to excommunicate someone to back down, trying to be more inclusive towards blacks, etc.

    In the McConkie/J Fielding Smith era, I think there was a swing toward more of the Theravada philosophy. Talks on obedience became paramount. Programs and correlation became the guiding principle. We focused on the individual. We built temples for us. We built buildings for us. We sent out missionaries to get members for us. We built malls for us.

    My hope is that we are seeing the beginnings of a shift back towards a more Mahayana-type of Mormonism. I see Elder Uchtdorf much more focused on people rather than programs. I see the Church trying with the “I’m A Mormon” ads, even including such non-typical members as Brandon Flowers. I hope the shift continues. There do appear to be some stoic Theravada members still in the Q12, but they seem to be losing influence.

    We’ll see what happens.

    Most importantly, we all believe the same fundamental things. We all have the same goals. We all have the same end in sight.

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  17. jmb275 on October 26, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    Hmmm. Interesting to ponder. Actually (don’t flame me) I’m one who doesn’t really buy into the idea of pure altruism (or that it’s even entirely good). So the Mahayana Mormon to me is only fooling him/herself into thinking there is no (at least in part) selfish motive in doing things for others. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think even those who appear to be completely selfless subconsciously know there is a perceived payoff even if it’s only good feelings. Perhaps Jesus was an exception, I dunno. So I guess for me the analogy isn’t quite working. As a sidenote, I’m NOT saying that all service is motivated entirely by selfish desires, rather the opposite, that no service is entirely selfless.

    With the caveat of not understanding Buddhist philosophy that well, in your second to last paragraph, it seems to be phrased in a way that draws an incorrect demarcation between the Mahayana and Theravada Mormon. Perhaps for Buddhism that distinction is true. But for Mormonism, I don’t think it works. Nothing excludes someone like Will (who self-identified as a Theravada Mormon) from doing all the things you mentioned even if they’re ancillary to the primary goal of perfecting oneself. Indeed, I would argue that the Mahayana has the same issue (because of my aforementioned belief).

    I think the point you’re arguing for (putting other people and our relationship with them above rules, regulations, and doctrine) is a great one. I’m just not sure that this dynamic is being captured by the analogy. And I’m also sure I’m just being an analytical prick by pointing this out rather than just agreeing with the overall point with which I generally agree :-) .

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  18. Mike S on October 26, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    dpc:

    I wasn’t totally clear, but mostly for the sake of brevity. The life of a true Bodhisattva is actually much more rigorous than that of the staunchest Mormon. There are ideals that need to be followed in order to be of the most benefit to others.

    Translating this to being a Mahayana Mormon, it isn’t some wishy-washy all-you-need-is-love type of situation. Truly dedicating yourself to others is hard. You have to keep your own ideals and standards high in order to be of the most use to someone else.

    An example: suppose you’re a bishop. You feel a keen sense of responsibility for your “flock”. Suppose you feel that reading the scriptures each day is essential, not so you can “perfect” yourself, but so you can be of the most benefit for the members of your ward. And you might avoid a certain drink, not because you truly think it has any eternal significance, but because of the potential negative impact it might have on someone else. For the greatest example of all, I think of Christ. He remained perfect. Much of this is likely because of his Divine Nature. But I think even more of it was His love for us. He was literally willing to go to the depths of hell and give up His life, not that He was seeking it for Himself to be perfect, but for you and me and everyone else. It is the most pure motivation I can think of. It is very much in the Mahayana-type of thinking. And it was very hard.

    So, being a Mahayana Mormon is NOT just taking the “easy” way out. It is just as hard (or not harder) than being a Theravada Mormon. It’s just that the motivation for one’s actions is very different.

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  19. Mike S on October 26, 2011 at 3:48 PM

    jbm:

    No, you’re fine. It’s good to rigorously analyze things, and all analogies ultimately break down.

    Your comment reminds me of the one year I was at BYU before my mission. I was in the honors program, and as a part of the year, we all had to write a paper taking one side of something and trying to prove it. One of my friends worked off the thesis that Christ was the most selfish person that existed. Granted, he died for us, but it was so he could ultimately attain the highest reward. It was obviously written in an attempt to really look at that issue, and I don’t think we can ever really separate the two.

    In my own life, I’m sure the motivations are blended as well. But, I catch myself dozens and dozens of times a day catching myself and consciously thinking about what is best for the person with whom I am interacting rather than what is best for me. It’s taken years to work up to this point, studying, meditation, etc., and I still have a LONG way to go, but the change in my life and outlook is profound. I truly see everyone around me as a brother / sister / father / mother. My relationships have changed. It is a big difference. And while it was ironically driven by Buddhist philosophy and practices, I feel I am living Christ’s precepts to “Love my Neighbor” and to “serve the least of these” MUCH more fully in my life now than before I started these studies.

    So, perfect analogy – nope. But, a way to change our outlook at life – absolutely.

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  20. prometheus on October 26, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    Intriguing analogy, Mike. I went with Mahayana, but I think I maybe should have put both. On reflection, though, there is a huge monastic streak in me – a part that loves to be in silent, solitary communion with the divine. I think over much, and will often spend time thinking that perhaps could be spent serving. I am an introvert’s introvert.

    Those tendencies have increased my Mahayana-ism, however (during the times I am immersed in the lives of others). I am very much in favor of mercy over judgement, repentance over punishment, and I love, love, love the idea of “postpon[ing] their ultimate reward indefinitely until literally EVERYONE has also reached the same point.”

    Really thought provoking.

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  21. dpc on October 26, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    Mike S –

    So the difference between the two is merely differing mental states? You’ve basically dedcribed the difference between a deontological morality and a utilitarian morality. I won’t rehash that debate here, but why exactly is the utilitarian mindset better than the deontological one?

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  22. MH on October 26, 2011 at 5:01 PM

    Let me start with some general observations, and Mike I’m not trying to be contrarian here. Frankly, I pretty much agree with your point of view nearly always.

    But I must agree with Course Correction here. After reading this post, it seems clear that a Theraveda Mormon isn’t as good as a Mahayana Mormon.

    While I know all these posts have been quite popular (If I were in charge….) it seems to me that Mike really hates white shirts, home teaching, “outward appearances”, etc. If it isn’t explicitly written in the OP, Mike is sure to add it to the comments, along with a comment how blacks and the priesthood changed, garments changed, the Word of Wisdom changed, etc.

    I mean I get it. I want to be a Mahayana Mormon, and the way Mike paints it in the post, almost anyone is crazy to admit to wanting to be a Theraveda Mormon. But I don’t think it is an either/or. Can’t someone be both?

    It does seem to me that Mike has a real problem with Theraveda, because whether in a Buddhist context or not, almost all of his posts/comments have the same theme. I agree that the church is “too” Theraveda, and we need to be more Mahayana, but it seems like the same song keeps playing. (Of course, a lot of people like the song….much more than the esoteric stuff I write…so perhaps I should write more about tattoos or long hair.

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  23. SNeilsen on October 26, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    I don’t follow these definitions.
    If the Theravada Mormon is focused on perfecting themselves, then they wouldn’t be inclined to meddle in others lives because the only person they can change is themselves.
    And if the Mahayana Mormon is focused on others, then they’ll be obsessing on others bare shoulders and passing constitutional amendments to deprive others of Civil Rights.
    Because they love them.

    Or so it seems to me

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  24. LDS Anarchist on October 26, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    I chose “Neither – they are invalid categories.”

    Also, don’t you think there are enough labels going around already? Why would you want to invent new labels for people to wear? Yet another arbitrary standard that the self-righteous can use to judge another’s unworthiness.

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  25. Mike S on October 27, 2011 at 7:05 AM

    #22 MH:

    I absolutely agree with you and gave your comment a thumbs-up. My posts DO tend to have a common theme. But there are a few reasons why:

    1) This is a “Mormon” site. Others have gone through our philosophy, which I like, and I appreciate the wide range of topics and interests. At the same time, for my personal posts, I like to have a bit more of an overt Mormon-connection than just the fact that I am an LDS person writing about some economic theory or some political current event. This is not to say that’s what everyone else is supposed to do here, but it’s my own personal preference. So, yes, my posts all pretty much directly relate to the LDS Church.

    2) I write about what I like. My posts are all biased towards what I think and I recognize that. People can disagree with me in comments or in other posts, and I think that’s part of any healthy discussion. And the topics I choose are things that interest me. Around half my posts are about Science & Religion because that intersection is fascinating to me. Those posts aren’t terribly popular, but I write them for me as much as anything else. And, to be honest, I don’t think anyone really cares much about the Buddhist things I bring in, but that’s fine too.

    3) I’m somewhat of a contrarian. Perhaps it’s because of my engineering and medical backgrounds, but it doesn’t take much to “unprove” a case. When someone says something ALWAYS or NEVER has to be a certain way, it just takes a single example to prove them wrong. And I like to challenge assumptions. There are some things that are done with no rational basis, yet are held out to be “essential”. These things really bother me. Perhaps it is a character flaw, And perhaps it is a “Zen” aesthetic or a quest to find the “simplest” solution, but I always try to tend to focus on what is the “essential” in something and jettison the rest.

    4) I use examples. Talking about things in the abstract is sometimes difficult. Talking about Theravada vs Mahayana Mormonism can be challenging. Concrete examples makes the discussion easier. And here, I will admit, I have been intellectually lazy. Most of my comments, etc. are written in brief snatches of time in the middle of other things in life. And I often just pick the low-hanging fruit. I don’t have a tattoo or any earrings, and I’ll occasionally wear a white shirt because it looks best with my outfit, but as you pointed out, I often use these examples, but for a certain reason. They are obvious non-doctrinal cultural preferences of a certain generation and demographic which have been elevated to a pseudo-doctrinal status by many people in the LDS Church. And they are logically indefensible. So I tend to use them as easy to grasp examples of more complex principles. But I take your point to heart. I will try to stop being lazy and will use different examples in the future.

    So, thanks for your feedback. It doesn’t offend me. It doesn’t bother me. I agree with it and will change a few things for the future.

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  26. Mike S on October 27, 2011 at 7:45 AM

    #23 SNielsen: If the Theravada Mormon is focused on perfecting themselves, then they wouldn’t be inclined to meddle in others lives because the only person they can change is themselves.

    And if the Mahayana Mormon is focused on others, then they’ll be obsessing on others bare shoulders and passing constitutional amendments to deprive others of Civil Rights.
    Because they love them.

    It’s actually much more complex and deeper than that. For your first example regarding a Theravada Mormon: as someone in this group perfects themselves, their actions towards others will become “perfect”. They won’t “meddle” in others’ lives, but they will treat that person with respect, love and compassion in their interactions. And a natural love for others will flow from this.

    As far as your second example regarding a Mahayana Mormon, it completely missed the point, so I must have not been clear enough. The example you gave of someone focusing on shoulders or Civil Rights is actually the exact opposite of what I was trying to get across. Those are actually selfish examples of someone focusing on themselves and trying to impose their own values on someone else. The true idea of Mahayana Mormonism would be loving and accepting someone how they are. And in your interactions with others, this underlying love and concern drives the relationship. I’m having a hard time describing it in a few short lines as it’s a profound concept, but it is absolutely NOT as judgmental as your example.

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  27. Cowboy on October 27, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    “Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death… and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand.”

    When thinking on this scripture, or the chastisement that Jesus gave to Thomas:

    “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

    I can’t help but wonder how much space lay between “blessed” and Thomas’s state. Likewise with Jesus and the Nephite Apostles. How much difference is there between “blessed” and “more blessed”. Seeing as how they all presumably recieved the highest rewards, these extra actions may be subject to the law of diminishing returns.

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  28. Cowboy on October 27, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    I’m clearly am a Theravada from the above comment. That’s not a declaration, but a self observation.

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  29. Mike S on October 27, 2011 at 7:52 AM

    #24 LDS Anarchist: Why would you want to invent new labels for people to wear? Yet another arbitrary standard that the self-righteous can use to judge another’s unworthiness.

    I don’t really expect these to be new “labels”. There are merely a vehicle to examine attitudes of what may drive behavior. As I mentioned in prior comments, there probably isn’t a “pure” Theravada OR Mahayana Mormonism, and we are all blends of both qualities. For the sake of discussion, however, it is useful to look at both ends of the spectrum to look as different qualities that we might have. Hopefully, this allows us to take the pros of each approach and minimize the cons.

    And as far as “judging”, I don’t really know that one way is “better” than the other. As I mentioned in comment #16, I think the two approaches ultimately converge anyway – they are just two different paths.

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  30. Anonymous on October 27, 2011 at 8:23 AM

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the classic bodhisattva from LDS theology: The Holy Ghost. Here we have a member of the Godhead who volunteered to be the very last person to be resurrected so that (s)he could assist every other child of God to gain eternal life.

    To go along with this, does anyone know of any specific references to my claims (e.g., that the Holy Ghost was a voluntary position, that (s)he will be the last to be resurrected, etc.)?

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  31. Mike S on October 27, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    #30 Anonymous:

    That is a great point about the Holy Ghost.

    Here are some sources:

    Joseph Smith said that, “The Holy Ghost is yet a spiritual body and is waiting to take to himself a body, as the Savior did.”
    (Joseph Smith, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, edited by Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q. Cannon (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997))

    “The Holy Ghost is now in a state of probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has.” (Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 245; Sabbath address, Nauvoo, 27 August 1843. Reported by Franklin D. Richards.)

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  32. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 27, 2011 at 1:58 PM

    I think Mike offers some very valuable insights by using this approach, much like asking people to rethink their religion through Taoist vs. Confucian thought.

    First and foremost, the Theravada philosophy is a continuous analytical process of life, not a mere set of ethics and rituals.

    The ultimate theory of Theravada uses the Four Noble Truths, also known as the Four Sublime Truths. In the simplest form these can be described as the problem, the cause, the solution and the pathway to solution (implementation).

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  33. Heber13 on October 27, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Mike, I disagree with your response to MH…(See your 3rd point to MH)

    I like the Buddhist thoughts you bring to the discussion.

    Keep it up.

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  34. hawkgrrrl on October 31, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    I think your definition of a Theravada is way off, at least how you apply it to Mormonism. A Theravada is concerned with attaining individual achievement, with the spiritual self, but that’s nothing like someone who gets tied up in the rules of the community or seeks approval from others by adhering to outward observances.

    I think a more interesting question is whether Jesus is a Bodhisattva (savior of all mankind – waiting to save all) or a Theravada (be ye therefore perfect, even as I am – an example).

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  35. Mike S on October 31, 2011 at 9:43 AM

    I agree with you regarding the goal of a Theravada and individual achievement. In the examples I gave, I never meant that they did them for seek “approval” from others, but merely that they could be seen as actions towards others as a natural outcome of perfecting oneself.

    And I think Jesus was both – a perfect example himself (Theravada) as well as having perfect love for all mankind (Mahayana). And as I mentioned above, I think that the two paths ultimately converge into the “perfect” synthesis of the two, as in Christ. That being said, I do think that as mortals, we tend to emphasize one path or the other, although with characteristics of both.

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  36. Ray on October 31, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    “That being said, I do think that as mortals, we tend to emphasize one path or the other, although with characteristics of both.”

    Amen – and that is the heart of the issue, imo. Thomas Parkin is writing a series over on By Common Consent about doing away with the categorization of “conservative” and “liberal” Mormons – and he’s approaching it in kind of the same way, by focusing on growth toward perfection as a process of character acquisition, as opposed to walking one particular ideological path or another.

    I highly recommend looking up his first two posts and reading them. Comparing ourselves to a partially filled box of crayons, and our sins as coloring with the wrong crayon, is an interesting image – one which I really like.

    As for the title question of the post, I try primarily to be a Mahayana Mormon – since I believe, in the case of myself, that leads more naturally to the opportunity for me to become a Theravada Mormon than if I focused on being a Theravada Mormon and tried, from there, to become a Mahayana Mormon.

    I also see the idea expressed in Matthew 5:48 (with “perfect” meaning “complete, whole, fully developed”) as being in line with this post – that true “perfection” is moving from being “one or the other” to being “both” (truly “complete, whole, fully developed”). It is instructive, I think, to note that the injunction in 5:48 comes at the end of a list of character traits which bring about a “blessed” state – a list which concludes with active love of enemies.

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  37. Ray on October 31, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    I should have made it clearer in my last comment that I think the “progression” of characteristics in Matthew 5, concluding with perfect love, might make a really good case for the idea that most people need to work on a Theravada approach primarily in order, finally, to achieve a Mahayana state – that, for many people, the Mahayana state simply isn’t possible as anything but the “end-result” of their Theravada journey.

    I think that’s worth considering carefully, since I think that recognition can bring charity (or, at least, increased charity) toward those whose specific outlooks differ from ours but who are trying to reach the same end-result as the one we are pursuing.

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  38. hawkgrrrl on October 31, 2011 at 7:21 PM

    Mike S #35: “I never meant that they did them for seek “approval” from others, but merely that they could be seen as actions towards others as a natural outcome of perfecting oneself.” Well, if anyone thinks those things (wearing a white shirt was mentioned) are actually going to help them become a perfected spiritual being, I think they are missing the point entirely. What a strange substitute for spirituality and self-awareness! I think those types of things always lead one to look for (and gain) approval from the group, and once you receive praise, it changes your relationship with the group.

    Personally, I would expect a correlation between MBTI and these distinctions. Theravadas might be those with a Thinking preference (T) and Mahayanas would have a Feeling preference (F). As such, I would have to consider myself a Theravada type, someone seeking self awareness and personal growth, but as you say, I think eventually a Jesus had to be both.

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  39. Alan on November 2, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    How about a sixth option. Trying to be both, but not very good at either!

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  40. Adam BEDKE on March 19, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    Absolute rubbish. Study on your own and forget articles like these.

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