Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Wide Path and the Narrow One

When I studied comparative religions in college, I learned the terms Mahayana and Hinayana, meaning the Wide Path and the Narrow Path.  I understood that the Hinayana path meant becoming a monk and living in a monastery.  I thought maybe the Mahayana path meant going to religious services once a week.

The Mayahana path was for most people and the Hinayana path was for a few people who were simply cut out for it.

Not being cut out for the life of a monk, I was interested to learn more about the Mahayana path, but nothing I could find made much sense.  Until yesterday when I stumbled on a website that wasn’t even talking about Hindu religion or different paths.

The website focused on thinking.  When we see dirty dishes in the sink we can think “I’ll wash them now,” or “I won’t wash them now,” or “I wish there weren’t dirty dishes in the sink.”  That’s pretty much it, as far as choices of what to think. (Okay, there are alternative: I think I’ll paint a picture of the dirty dishes, or I think I’ll write a poem about the dirty dishes, or I think I’ll write a story about somebody who has dirty dishes in his sink, but ultimately, the artist will decide – to wash or not to wash – that is the question.)  The first two choices are realistic choices.  They see the truth – the sink has dirty dishes.

In other words, the Mahayana path is the path of choices – what do we do NOW?  And the easier we make it on ourselves – sticking to the action choices, the simpler the path becomes.

It’s all a matter of choices. It’s hard to train the brain not to wish reality was different. That is the big challenge of the Mahayana path.

The Hinayana path is the path of no choices.  The monastery has a routine. Monks follow that routine. The only breaks in a monk’s routine come when the unexpected happens, like illness or natural disaster.  I’m sure the monastery has guidelines for these unexpected events, too. Yes, a monk could think “I wish there were no dirty dishes in the sink” but that thought would not affect his actions. And when thoughts cannot affect actions, they serve no practical function.  The one choice – to give up all choices – is the challenge of the Hinayana path – and that choice can be made an infinite number of times.

My choice was to blog about this topic which has intrigued me for decades.

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