Obama is a Mahayana Buddhist, not a Theravada Buddhist by mattsteinglass
May 26, 2008, 9:02 am
Filed under: Buddhism, President | Tags: ,

Ezra Klein points to Obama’s magnificent commencement address yesterday at Wesleyan, where he made clear just what kind of Buddhist he is:

There’s no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care. You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should by. You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America’s.

But I hope you don’t. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, though you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all those who helped you get here, though you do have that debt.

It’s because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation.

So it’s clear Obama is a Mahayana Buddhist, who rather than cash in his own individual salvation and achieve Nirvana, remains behind as a teaching Bodhisattva in order to hasten the collective salvation of all mankind. From Graeme Lyall’s “The Rise of Mahayana”:

The Mahayana, on the other hand, emphasises the Bodhisattva Ideal of postponing one’s liberation so that one may bring all sentient beings with you to that state of Nirvana by becoming a fully enlightened Buddha. The Mahayanists, perhaps, wrongly claim that the Arahant Ideal of the Theravadins is selfish because it limits the release to oneself….Karuna or Compassion is considered by the Mahayana to be as important as Wisdom. They are the Supreme Combination. Compassion may be considered as feeling the sorrows of others as one’s own with the wish that one could take them on to oneself to relieve that suffering in others. Skill in Means is the ability to use the appropriate means to help each individual case.

Unfortunately in a country that still maintains a certain Hayekian insanity, where some people seem to believe that saying “Let’s do this together!” is the first step on the road to Communist dictatorship, this kind of rhetoric may elicit paradoxical reactions in some quarters. Probably safer to stick with the Theravadans. Also a shift towards Mahayana might upset the balance between US support of Theravada Thailand and Mahayana Vietnam.

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