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I have read about different types of paths for spiritual aspirants. Namely:

  • Śrāvakayāna
  • Pratyekabuddhayāna
  • Bodhisattvayāna

Of the first, Asanga states their faculties are limited:

"These people are described as having weak faculties [...]"

Of the second, he states they have medium faculties:

"[T]hey are said to have medium faculties [...]"

Finally, he describes the bodhisattva as with sharp faculties. In the Sutra on the Ten Levels, it says the sravaka will have practised:

[...] through fear of cyclic existence and without [great] compassion, [...]


I know that this is mainly a Mahayanist view. Nevertheless, my questions are :

(1) Should I conclude from this that faculties can really be different between practitioners? That, some individuals have greater facility for the dharma, and that enlightenment is not always feasible in one lifetime?

(2) Does this imply that following a Buddhist path doesn't always result in great compassion? Can one follow a Buddhist path while neglecting compassion, and end up lacking it in the end? Or, can compassion always be developed, even at some later point?

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I always feel guilty giving interpretative answers with no references, but since that's exactly what you seem to be asking here, here we go.

Sure, there are people of different skills and capacities. I wouldn't blame it on them, it's just a matter of circumstances, previous lives karma, old ignorance, we all were ignorant at some point.

But yeah, as my teacher explained, there are people who get it immediately, people who never seem to get it and just keep worshiping it as religion, and most of us in between, who get it with enough instructions and practice. As Buddha said, it is for this category that we teach.

Enlightenment is feasible in one lifetime if one makes it a priority and stays honest with oneself. I can't say some people are hopeless, that would not be fair. But yeah, for some it's more difficult, because of conceptual stereotypes, karmic inertia, or emotional blockages.

Traditionally, it is said that Buddhist path does not always result in awakening of compassion. Traditionally, you can be an isolated Buddha, who just can't stand the pain of engaging, and keeps to the peaceful abiding at all times.

However in practice, I just don't see how someone who really gets it can help but develop grand, immense compassion for all sentient beings. So if you ask me, I'd say, if you're honest with yourself, compassion always arises. But then again, I'm a Mahayana guy, maybe it's my bias, maybe I should learn to feel less pity for everyone :))

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Let's consider the scenario of students in university.

The ordinary student, just studies what is taught in the lectures and does not put in extraordinary effort. Along the way, he might help one or two of his fellow students, who are his close friends, but he does not have the capacity or willpower to help many students. He graduates with a bachelor's degree in 3 years, but with a mere pass. He is now liberated from the student life.

The outstanding student, puts in extraordinary effort, including additional research and project work. Although not required, along the way, he helps many fellow students as a teaching assistant. He graduates with a bachelor's degree in 4.5 years, with first class honours or summa cum laude. He graduates at the top of his class. He continues further for another 5 years to complete his doctorate with high honours, and becomes a lecturer. He too is now liberated from the student life.

The goal for most people is to simply become liberated from the student life and start working. For this, becoming an ordinary student is good enough.

However, for the select few who are very ambitious, they would go the extra ten miles to graduate at the top of their class, earn a doctorate and become a lecturer, to teach others.

Similarly, the sravaka is like the ordinary student, and the Bodhisattva is like the outstanding student.

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"(1) Should I conclude from this that faculties can really be different between practitioners? That, some individuals have greater facility for the dharma, and that enlightenment is not always feasible in one lifetime?"

The faculties definitely are different between people and some practitioners do have greater facility for somethings than others, dharma topics included. This is both modern understanding and buddhist understanding. There are many suttas talking about "X kinds of people in the world" where some of these talk about people who understand quickly and people who understand slowly, etc.

There are also a suttas describing difficulties peculiar to certain disciples -- drowsiness, sensual delight, difficulties attaining jhāna, etc.

But any conclusion about the possibility or impossibility of enlightenment in one lifetime is pure conjecture. I believe thinking about this only serves to convince ourselves we can't, or try to convince others that they can't. These don't sound like beneficial thoughts.

"(2) Does this imply that following a Buddhist path doesn't always result in great compassion? Can one follow a Buddhist path while neglecting compassion, and end up lacking it in the end? Or, can compassion always be developed, even at some later point?"

I'm don't think it's possible for an arahant to not have compassion developed, though this is just my opinion. I can't remember texts that clearly state either way.

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(1) The motivation and meditative ability of a practitioner generally depends upon past experience acquired in previous lifetimes. If a person has experienced Enlightenment many times in previous lifetimes, then he or she will have the “faculty” to make rapid progress in the present lifetime. If a person has never meditated in a previous lifetime, then he or she will have the “faculty” to make very slow progress in the present lifetime. Indeed, enlightenment is not always feasible in one lifetime. (2) As infants, we all have an innate capacity for compassion. If a person has experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse as a child, then the capacity for compassion can be very suppressed, making compassionate feelings or relationships almost impossible to achieve. Part of developing compassion consists of becoming a friend with integrity towards everyone. This is the deeper meaning of the fourth vow (sikkhapada) taken by the novice monk (Samanera) to “refrain from lying (musavada).” It is one of the ten precepts (dasa-sila). To refrain from lying means to value truth, honesty, and the well-being of others (the opposites of lying). This vow consists of a contemplation on the impact of one’s actions upon others and making appropriate adjustments. It means putting others first on the basis of compassion and the support of others. It means carefully taking into account the views, feelings, motives, and experiences of other people. It means you actively look for ways in which you can be helpful to others.

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