Sulak Sivaraksa on Buddhist Ecumenism
Today I accidentally encountered Sulak Sivaraksa at my school. Was very fortunate not to have missed his talk despite its not being advertised ahead of time!
At the 43:25 mark of the video, he calls on me. I ask the following:
Q: In relation to your comment that it’s not okay to just be focusing on inner stability and peace, that we have to radiate it outward—that, from a very traditional, or the common understanding between Theravada and Mahayana in this country, people tend to see the difference between the arhat and the bodhisattva and say that Theravadans don’t care about anyone else, they’re just concerned with their own salvation or their own awakening, and they aren’t concerned with anyone else.
I’m curious if you see your understanding as a traditional Theravadan view or do you feel that it has been influenced by the northern teachings? Could you respond to that? I don’t necessarily agree with that distinction, I’m just curious.
A: I think that is the usual Mahayana slander against Theravada. Theravada = small vehicle, which is true. Very small vehicle, small beautiful! To say that Theravada only care for yourself is not possible. Because the Buddha’s teaching on anatta is selflessness, not selfishness. And the Buddha teaches, in all schools, that we are interconnected.
In my last exile, I was teaching at Ryukoku University in Kyoto. Before I left there, I had to give one formal lecture. Hundreds of people came to my lecture, interpretation, and they were surprised. Theravada—we thought you only care for yourself, but what you’re talking is very similar to us. All schools of Buddhism have something very similar. Different stress, that’s all. So, Mahayana is sometimes special. Theravada sometimes special. But if you stress on the wrong thing, it could be wrong. If Theravada says, we are the only authentic [Buddhism], Pali is the sacred language spoken by the Buddha. It’s all bullshit. The Buddha never spoke Pali. I think one has to be honest, and we have to learn from Mahayana, Vajrayana, Theravada.
The uniqueness of Thich Nhat Hanh, he’s from Vietnam, he understands Mahayana, Chinese, Sanskrit, he also studied Pali. He’s from Vietnam [Mahayana country], which is next to Cambodia [Theravada country]. We all have to learn from each other.