Monday, September 03, 2007

nyan thos - Shravaka

The first of the two practitioners in the Hinayana tradition that reaches Nirvana is called in Tibetan nyan thos, or Shravaka in Sanskrit. As how it's really translated into English, that's an interesting story, as you will see next.

nyan is to listen, and thos is to hear, such as listening while hearing teachings. One way this has been translated to English is Listener, but this then is odd when you look at the two words the Tibetans used for this kind of practitioner. One explanation I have heard, but I lost the reference to it, is that these practitioners first listen to teachings, actualize Nirvana with remainders (i.e still around with their body until it's worn down), and then they start teachings and others will hear their teachings, hence the double-word usage in Tibetan. Anyway, I used the Sanskrit term Shravaka in the title as maybe it's best to use this one when translating just now.

This practitioner will experience the emptiness of self, and by this force will reach Nirvana. There are different interpretations of experiencing emptiness. For example, the highest school states that there are no levels of emptiness, emptiness is emptiness. Anyway, the lower Middle Way school is using this as the way to define nyan thos practitioners. *)

Note again that someone does not need to belong to a certain clan, school, or monastery, to be this kind of practitioner. It's rather the mind set. For example, a nyan thos practitioner could teach bodhichitta, but not be able to directly practice this.

*) As a foot note, the philosophical schools of ancient India were really defined by the Tibetans. In ancient Tibet there was no formal system, rather, the teacher could teach on different levels based on the needs of the students.

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