‘In the course of time it came to be believed that Gotama had become Buddha as the fruit of good deeds performed in countless previous states of existence, especially deeds of generosity. At any time, had he desired, he might have uprooted craving for worldly pleasures and life and riches by meditation, and thus have escaped the sufferings of repeated status of existence. But this he deemed an unworthy course. Out of pity and compassion and friendliness for living creatures, he preferred to be reborn again and again, to suffer and to die again and again, in order that, by the accumulated merit of good works, he might himself become enlightened and thus be able to enlighten others.
In comparison with the career of the Future Buddha, devoted to the performance of good works, unselfish, generous to the point of sacrificing his own body and blood, the career of the monk, isolated from the world, selfish, seeking by meditation to uproot craving for worldly pleasures and life and riches, seemed low and mean. The disciple began to imitate his Master. Thus began the Higher Career or Vehicle of Mahayana or Catholic Buddhism, as distinguished from the Lower Career or Vehicle of the more primitive Hinayana Buddhism of the Pali Texts. Thus did the quest of Buddhahood supplant the quest for Nibbana. This development took place long before the beginning of the Christian era.’
(Buddhist Parables: Translated from Pali by Eugene Watson Burlingame – Pages xxix-xxx – of the Introductory Notes)
Ch’an Commentary: According to the Buddha, karma and rebirth cease at the point of total and complete enlightenment. This is to say that karma and rebirth cease when ignorance is completely uprooted from the mind. Applying Buddhist logic to the situation, it is clear that karma and rebirth (as well as the numerous gods), exist only in the realm of delusion. Therefore the teachings on karma and rebirth are applicable to the pre-enlightenment state and are not ultimately ‘real’ as they disappear with the realisation of profound emptiness. It is debatable that the Pali Suttas are ‘Hinayanic’, as all Mahayana thought clearly exists within their construct. The Mahayana simply chooses to emphasise the full extent of the Buddha’s teachings – whilst Hinayana thinkers choose to focus on a generally more narrow path. My vie is that one path is not necessarily better than the other, and that both have their faults and merits. Furthermore, each can lead directly to enlightenment – what humanity does with that enlightenment is entirely up to it. The confusion between Hinayana and Mahayana comes from confusing ‘sutras’ with ‘sastras’, or holy texts with their commentary. When we read a scripture, we invariably project what is in our mind onto its text. An ’empty’ mind does not project anything, but perceives the words in their original and pure intent.