This issue of Sensual Desires is a view from the mind’s attachment to this very body that we are in. In Zen, the Mahayana view, we do not run away from comfort, deny it, or chase it away – for that is just the flipside of the comfort seekers that the Theravadins despise. I knew Theravadin monks that would not drink anything hot, would not sit on anything soft, would avoid eating anything spicy or sweet – all of this in the fear of comfort, in that they believed that any comfort would lead them back into the realms of samsara. And, in this, they viewed the suffering of the hardships they endured…sitting in cold caves on hard cold rocks, as the Path to Buddhahood. Now if you are thinking that they just flipped into the extremes, you are right. They even rewrote the sutras to validate their positions.
We know that the Theravadins are editors, and authors, of their own suttas, for the Chinese sutras that stem from much older suttas, say very different things.
Mahayana takes the view that ‘All you need, you already have’ the path is a no-cultivation path, were sitting in cold caves on hard rocks to deny oneself of comfort is actually gaining you anything at all! Mahayana would come along and say “Nothing is gained by such austerities” – and even the Siddhartha Gautama realized that, for all his years of hard asceticism was for not, nothing was gained that would help him achieve enlightenment.
Alas, the differences between Southern and Northern Buddhism. In Burma and Shi Lanka (Southern Buddhism), a monk is told to do many things for ‘merits’, to create merits, and to avoid things that would hinder the creation of merits. The Mahayana (Northern Buddhism) comes along, with the Bodhisattva view, and says that no merits are needed, for you only have to cut through your own delusions and fog of your own mind to see what is innately there – Buddha Nature – tathāgatagarbha!
In the Mahayana, the Monk is not likened at all to the Southern Buddhist bhikkhus. In the Mahayana, a monk is viewed as one devoted to the spiritual way, who single purpose is to cut through the delusions of mind to see for themselves the Light of the Mind, thus ‘Enlightenment’. The Mahayana Bodhisattva does not seek merits, blessings, deeds, and ranks (as the bhikkhu does). The Bodhisattva does not seek enlightenment for just oneself, but for all, and to return to the worldly ways to help all sentient beings to ‘enlighten’ their own minds.
In this view, of the Bodhisattva, we retreat from the world to enlighten our minds, then return to the world to bring that LIGHT to all others. This is the Mahayana! We are not to just gain enlightenment and then sit in a cave till the body dies! We are not to know the cosmic truths, the Wisdom, and Knowledge of the Buddhas to just hide in monastic centers and behind temple walls. No, we go forth and spread the Wisdom to all in any way we can. Some may choose to create families, to bring in sentient beings into this world and teach them the dharma, others may choose to work in areas where they can bring peace and love to others, and some may engage in activities that bring about conditions for all to learn the dharma, to become buddhas themselves.
The Mahayana calls out to the bhikkhu, to take the higher path. According to scriptures, Buddha in his last days pleaded with the bhikkhus to harken to the Bodhisattva path, for this is his highest revelation.