This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Two branches

When Ashoka convened the first Buddhist council in 240 B.C. it was in order to settle sectarian disputes, which goes to show that these disputes arose very early in the history of Buddhism, even during the life of the Buddha himself. The council is evidence of this sectarian development and marks its beginning rather than its end. This should not alarm us, since it is the way of ‘missionary religions’ and we can see the same process at work throughout the history of Christianity, and the very power of these ambulatory Revelations is that they are susceptible to a multitude of adaptations.

In truth, the Buddhist landscape cannot easily be divided into primary and secondary groups. Nonetheless, in order to begin somewhere, we will begin with the distinction between the Hinayana and Mahayana forms of Buddhism. This starting place, and the terms themselves, are not without drawbacks. It would perhaps be more politically correct, in the contemporary Buddhist world, to speak of ‘Theravada Buddhism’ instead of Hinayana, since the latter has come to be seen as a pejorative.  We will use Theravada in more specific discussions but here at the outset Hinayana seems historically more appropriate and, if nothing else, useful for our introductory purposes.

Hinayana means, ‘Little Raft’ or ‘Lesser Vessel’, while Mahayana ‘Great Raft’ or ‘Greater Vessel’.

Hinayana Buddhism is distinguished by a) its scriptures being preserved in Pali, b) its claim as representatives of the ‘pure and original’ teaching of Gautama, and, whatever truth there is in this claim, c) its emphasis on the monastic, puritanical, and rationalistic elements of it.

The Mahayana scriptures, on the other hand, are a) recorded in Sanskrit, and b) its doctrine has developed in a markedly theological way, expressing itself through devotion and the basic level and mystical experience at the more advanced, and c) for this reason it addresses itself to the world at large and not only to an elite.

It is a mistake to categorize these schools geographically, as Northern and Southern, since this gives the impression that they are the product of political and situational factors and not expressions spiritual temperament that are found in all traditions. Nonetheless, this categorization can be considered accurate insofar as the Hinayana school grew prominent in southern regions such as Ceylon and Burma, while the Mahayana flourished in Nepal and China and Tibet.

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