Is it normal for Buddhism followers to be involving in worldly things as working, writing e-mail posts and performing daily routines?


Q: Is it normal for Buddhism followers (e.g. monks and other strict followers who are looking for enlightenment) to be involving in worldly things as working, writing e-mail posts and performing daily routines?

A: For Hinayana – No; for Mahayana - Yes.

Part one, for Hinayana - No;
For a Buddhist practitioner, the goal is to break free (liberation) from the cycle of births and deaths (reincarnation) to transcend the three realms (Hinayana 小乘), and eventually to achieve the ultimate Buddhahood (Mahayana 大乘).

The reasons why a Buddhist practitioner is called Hinayana are: they view the worldly phenomena are indeed impermanent thereby virtually all things change and would become empty, thus human life is meaningless and full of sufferings; they have decided not to have more future lives, though they have faith in the Buddha’s teachings that everyone innately possesses the Buddha nature; therefore after Buddhist cultivations to eliminate self-view and self-attachment, they would be able to terminate the cyclic births-and-deaths to achieve the state of nirvana after death, which is not nihility.

In order to successfully substantiate the practice of eliminating self-view and self-attachment, they practice tranquillity and insight 止觀 [samatha and vipassana], as well as detach themselves from the worldly affairs and the general public; they are determined to attain the Fourth Fruit 四果and become an arhat 阿羅漢—the highest achievement of Hinayana as soon as possible. They would certainly simplify their possessions to a begging bowl and keep three sets of kasaya (三衣一缽) and have shaven hair. From their appearances, the public would understand that they are sangha who are full time Buddhist practitioners, and they were not allowed to do business dealing or keep money during Buddha’s time.

We can conclude that Hinayana practitioners will definitely not be involving in worldly things, this is the first reply.

Part two, for Mahayana - Yes.

The Buddhist practitioners who aim to achieve the Buddha’s ultimate teachings would choose the Buddhahood-Way (Mahayana). Apart from the basic knowledge and observations of the Liberation-Way, they pursue further to foster correct comprehension of the prajna wisdom 般若智慧 (the second round of the dharma transmission that focuses on the general and specific introduction of Buddha nature - Alaya vijnana) and to get enlightenment in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings.

Thus, the Mahayana practitioners will not seek for nirvana as the Hinayanas do. Instead, they would choose to stay within the cyclic births-and-deaths to transform their defiled karmic seeds through cultivating their daily deeds, speeches, and thoughts.

They also understand that the worldly phenomena are indeed impermanent, and virtually all things change and would become empty; yet all these impermanent manifestations are substantiated by the Buddha nature. So the major difference between the practitioners of Mahayana and the Hinayana is that the former would knowingly experience the Buddha nature alive via cultivating the prajna wisdom, while the latter would transcend the three realms and attain the state of nirvana without actually knowing what exactly the Buddha nature is!

The Mahayana practitioners are to experience and purify all the stored-seeds in order to complete the fifty-two stages of the bodhisattva cultivation (the third round of the dharma transmission) and eventually to bring forth the ultimate Buddha wisdom (All-Seed-Prajna 一切種智). Among all cultivation methods, both the dharma and the auxiliary dharma 次法 are equally important for every practitioner.

The Mahayana practitioners are not necessarily clothed as sangha; on the appearance, they are the same as laymen and earn their own living like ordinary people; it is because they have to accumulate enormous amount of merits and virtue (次法) to facilitate their path to attain enlightenment that leads to ultimate Buddhahood. They do not accept offerings from others, but keep contact with the society. In doing so, they experience all situations to bring forth the flow of karmic seeds and gradually transform their seeds and latent seeds through mindfully observing the functional distinctions (how and why) of the six sense-roots 六根,six- sense-objects六塵, and six-vijnanas六識 (eighteen sense-realms dhatavahs 十八界).

So the Mahayana practitioners are to involve with the society during their daily lives, but their major focus will still be on the Buddhist cultivation rather than the usual subjects of money, position, fame, and luxury etc.


1. The Hinayana practitioners merely focus on the cultivation of deeds and speeches, while the Mahayana practitioners must include that of their thoughts.

2. The statements here are simplified for easy understanding, more elaborations will be given upon request.

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