Open main menu

In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva (/ˌbdˈsʌtvə/ BOH-dee-SUT-və)[1] is any person who is on the path towards Buddhahood but has not yet attained it.

Translations of
Bodhisattva
Englishenlightenment being
Paliबोधिसत्त
Sanskritबोधिसत्त्व
Bengaliবোধিসত্ত্ব
Burmeseဗောဓိသတ်
(IPA: [bɔ́dḭθaʔ])
Chinese菩提薩埵(菩薩), 菩提萨埵(菩萨)
(Pinyinpútísàduǒ (púsà) )
(Wade–Giles: p'u2-sa4)
(Jyutping: pou4 tai4 saat3 do3)
)
Japanese菩薩
(rōmaji: bosatsu)
Khmerពោធិសត្វ
(UNGEGN: Pothisat)
Korean보살, 菩薩
(RR: bosal)
Monတြုံလၟောဝ်ကျာ်
([kraoh kəmo caik])
Sinhaleseබෝධි සත්ත්ව
Tibetanབྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའ་
(byang chub sems dpa)
Thaiโพธิสัตว์
phothisat
VietnameseBồ Tát
Glossary of Buddhism

In the Early Buddhist schools as well as modern Theravada Buddhism, a bodhisattva (Pali: bodhisatta) refers to anyone who has made a resolution to become a Buddha and has also received a confirmation or prediction from a living Buddha that this will be so.[2]

In Mahayana Buddhism, a bodhisattva refers to anyone who has generated bodhicitta, a spontaneous wish and compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.[3] Bodhisattvas are a popular subject in Buddhist art.

Contents

Early Buddhism and the Nikāya schoolsEdit

 
Gandharan relief depicting the bodhisatta (future Gautama Buddha) taking a vow at the foot of Dipankara Buddha, Art Institute of Chicago.
 
Probable early image of a Bodhisattva (Bimaran casket, 50 CE).[4]
 
Modern depiction of the bodhisatta resolution (praṇidhāna) in front of Dipankara.
 
Bronze statue of the bodhisatta Avalokiteśvara. Sri Lanka, ca. 750 CE.

In early Buddhism, the term bodhisatta is used in the early texts to refer to Gautama Buddha in his previous lives[5] and as a young man in his current life in the period during which he was working towards his own liberation. During his discourses, to recount his experiences as a young aspirant he regularly uses the phrase "When I was an unenlightened bodhisatta..." The term therefore connotes a being who is "bound for enlightenment", in other words, a person whose aim is to become fully enlightened. In the Pāli canon, the bodhisatta is also described as someone who is still subject to birth, illness, death, sorrow, defilement, and delusion. Some of the previous lives of the Buddha as a bodhisattva are featured in the Jataka tales.

According to the Theravāda monk Bhikkhu Bodhi, the bodhisattva path is not taught in the earliest strata of Buddhist texts such as the Pali Nikayas (and their counterparts such as the Chinese Āgamas) which instead focus on the ideal of the Arahant.[6]

The oldest known story about how Gautama Buddha becomes a bodhisattva is the story of his encounter with Dīpankara Buddha. During this encounter, a previous incarnation of Gautama, variously named Sumedha, Megha, or Sumati offers five blue lotuses and spreads out his hair or entire body for Dīpankara to walk on, resolving to one day become a Buddha. Dīpankara then confirms that they will attain Buddhahood.[2]

The path is explained differently by the various Nikaya schools. In the In the Buddhavaṃsa, a 1st-2nd century BCE Sri Lankan Theravāda work, after receiving the prediction, Gautama took four asaṃkheyyas (‘incalculable aeons’) and a hundred thousand, shorter kalpas (aeons) to reach Buddhahood. Early Buddhist authors saw this story as indicating that the making of a resolution (abhinīhāra) in the presence of a living Buddha and his prediction/confirmation of one's future Buddhahood was necessary to become a bodhisattva. According to Drewes, "all known models of the path to Buddhahood developed from this basic understanding."[2]

The Sarvāstivāda school had similar models about how the Buddha Gautama became a bodhisattva. They held it took him three asaṃkhyeyas and ninety one kalpas (aeons) to become a Buddha after his resolution (praṇidhāna) in front of a past Buddha. During the first asaṃkhyeya he is said to have encountered and served 75,000 Buddhas, and 76,000 in the second, after which he received his first prediction (vyākaraṇa) of future Buddhahood from Dīpankara, meaning that he could no longer fall back from the path to Buddhahood.[2] Thus, the presence of a living Buddha is also necessary for Sarvāstivāda. The Mahāvibhāṣā explains that its discussion of the bodhisattva path is partly meant to “stop those who are in fact not bodhisattvas from giving rise to the self-conceit that they are.”[2]

The Mahāvastu of the Mahāsāṃghika-Lokottaravādins presents four stages of the bodhisattva path without giving specific time frames (though its said to take various asaṃkhyeya kalpas):[2]

  1. Natural (prakṛti), one first plants the roots of merit in front of a Buddha to attain Buddhahood.
  2. Resolution (praṇidhāna), one makes their first resolution to attain Buddhahood in the presence of a Buddha.
  3. Continuing (anuloma), one continues to practice until one meets a Buddha who confirms one's future Buddhahood.
  4. Irreversible (anivartana), at this stage, one cannot fall back.

Later TheravādaEdit

The Sri Lankan commentator Dhammapala in his commentary on the Cariyāpiṭaka, a text which focuses on the bodhisatta path, notes that to become a bodhisatta one must make a valid resolution in front of a living Buddha, which confirms that one is “irreversible” (anivattana) from the attainment of Buddhahood. The Nidānakathā, as well as the Buddhavaṃsa and Cariyāpiṭaka commentaries makes this explicit by stating that one cannot use a substitute (such as a bodhi tree, statue or stupa) for the presence of a living Buddha since only a Buddha has the requisite knowledge for making a reliable prediction. This is the generally accepted view maintained in orthodox Theravada today.[2] The idea is that any resolution to attain Buddhahood may easily be forgotten or abandoned during the aeons ahead. The Burmese monk Ledi Sayadaw (1846–1923) explains that though it is easy to make vows for future Buddhahood by oneself, it is very difficult to maintain the necessary conduct and views during periods when the Dharma has disappeared from the world. One will easily fall back during such periods and this is why one is not truly a bodhisatta until one receives recognition from a living Buddha.[2]

Because of this, it was and remains a common practice in Theravada to attempt to establish the necessary conditions to meet the future Buddha Maitreya and thus receive a prediction from him. Theravada literature and inscriptions report the aspirations of monks, kings and ministers to meet Maitreya for this purpose. Anagarika Dharmapala (1864–1933), and U Nu (1907–1995) both sought to receive a prediction from a Buddha in the future and believed meritorious actions done for the good of the Dhamma would help in their endeavor to become bodhisattas.[2]

Over time the term came to be applied to other figures besides Gautama Buddha in Theravada lands, possibly due to the influence of Mahayana. The Theravada Abhayagiri tradition of Sri Lanka practiced Mahayana Buddhism and was a very influential tradition until the 12th century.[7] Kings of Sri Lanka were often described as bodhisattvas, starting at least as early as Sirisanghabodhi (r. 247-249), who was renowned for his compassion, took vows for the welfare of the citizens, and was regarded as a mahāsatta (Sanskrit mahāsattva), an epithet used almost exclusively in Mahayana Buddhism.[8] Many other Sri Lankan kings from the 3rd until the 15th century were also described as bodhisattvas and their royal duties were sometimes clearly associated with the practice of the Ten Pāramitās.[9] In some cases, they explicitly claimed to have received predictions of Buddhahood in past lives.[2]

Theravadin bhikkhu and scholar Walpola Rahula stated that the bodhisattva ideal has traditionally been held to be higher than the state of a śrāvaka not only in Mahayana but also in Theravada Buddhism. He also quotes the 10th century king of Sri Lanka, Mahinda IV (956-972 CE), who had the words inscribed "none but the bodhisattvas will become kings of a prosperous Lanka," among other examples.[10]

But the fact is that both the Theravada and the Mahayana unanimously accept the Bodhisattva ideal as the highest...Although the Theravada holds that anybody can be a Bodhisattva, it does not stipulate or insist that all must be Bodhisattva which is considered not practical.

— Walpola Rahula, Bodhisattva Ideal in Buddhism[11]

Jeffrey Samuels echoes this perspective, noting that while in Mahayana Buddhism the bodhisattva path is held to be universal and for everyone, in Theravada it is "reserved for and appropriated by certain exceptional people."[12] Paul Williams writes that some modern Theravada meditation masters in Thailand are popularly regarded as bodhisattvas.[13]

In Mahāyāna BuddhismEdit

 
Wood carving of Avalokiteśvara. Liao China, 907-1125
 
Mural of Padmapani in Ajanta Caves. India, 5th century
 
Clay sculpture of a bodhisattva. Afghanistan, 7th century

Bodhisattva idealEdit

 
Twenty-five Bodhisattvas Descending from Heaven. Japanese painting, c. 1300

Mahāyāna Buddhism is based principally upon the path of a bodhisattva. According to Jan Nattier, the term Mahāyāna ("Great Vehicle") was originally even an honorary synonym for Bodhisattvayāna, or the "Bodhisattva Vehicle."[14] The Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra contains a simple and brief definition for the term bodhisattva, which is also the earliest known Mahāyāna definition.[15][16] This definition is given as the following.[17]

Because he has enlightenment as his aim, a bodhisattva-mahāsattva is so called.

The earliest depiction of the Bodhisattva path in texts such as the Ugraparipṛcchā Sūtra describe it as an arduous, difficult monastic path suited only for the few which is nevertheless the most glorious path one can take. Three kinds of Bodhisattvas are mentioned in the early Mahayana texts: the forest, city, and monastery Bodhisattvas - with forest dwelling being promoted a superior, even necessary path in sutras such as the Ugraparipṛcchā and the Samadhiraja sutras.[18] The early Rastrapalapariprccha sutra also promotes a solitary life of meditation in the forests, far away from the distractions of the householder life. The Rastrapala is also highly critical of monks living in monasteries and in cities who are seen as not practicing meditation and morality.[19] The Ratnagunasamcayagatha also says the Bodhisattva should undertake ascetic practices (dhutanga), "wander freely without a home", practice the paramitas and train under a guru in order to perfect his meditation practice and realization of prajnaparamita.[20] These texts seem to indicate the initial Bodhisattva ideal was associated with a strict forest asceticism.

Mahāyāna Buddhism encourages everyone to become bodhisattvas and to take the bodhisattva vows. With these vows, one makes the promise to work for the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings by practicing the six perfections.[21] Indelibly entwined with the bodhisattva vow is merit transference (pariṇāmanā).

In the Lotus Sūtra, life in this world is compared to people living in a house that is on fire. People take this world as reality pursuing worldly projects and pleasures without realizing that the house is ablaze and will soon burn down (due to the inevitability of suffering). A bodhisattva is one who has a determination to free sentient beings from samsara and its cycle of death, rebirth and suffering. This type of mind is known as the mind of awakening (bodhicitta).

A commonly repeated misconception in Western literature is that bodhisattvas delay their own liberation. This confusion is based on a misreading of several different scriptural concepts and narratives. One of these is the Tibetan teaching on three types of motivation for generating bodhicitta. According to Patrul Rinpoche's 19th century Words of My Perfect Teacher (Kun bzang bla ma'i gzhal lung), a bodhisattva might be motivated in one of three ways. They are:

  1. King-like bodhicitta - To aspire to become a Buddha first in order to then help sentient beings.
  2. Boatman-like bodhicitta - To aspire to become a Buddha at the same time as other sentient beings.
  3. Shepherd-like bodhicitta - To aspire to become a Buddha only after all other sentient beings have done so.

These three are not types of people, but rather types of motivation. According to Patrul Rinpoche, the third quality of intention is most noble though the mode by which buddhahood actually occurs is the first; that is, it is only possible to teach others the path to enlightenment once one has attained enlightenment oneself.[22] The ritualized formulation of the bodhisattva vow also reflects this order (becoming a buddha so that one can then teach others to do the same). A bodhisattva vow ritual text attributed to Nāgārjuna, of the second-third century CE, states the vow as follows: "Just as the past tathāgata arhat samyaksambuddhas, when engaging in the behavior of a bodhisattva, generated the aspiration to unsurpassed complete enlightenment so that all beings be liberated, all beings be freed, all beings be relieved, all beings attain complete nirvana, all beings be placed in omniscient wisdom, in the same way, I whose name is so-and-so, from this time forward, generate the aspiration to unsurpassed complete enlightenment so that all beings be liberated, all beings be freed, all beings be relieved, all beings attain complete nirvana, all beings be placed in omniscient wisdom." [23]

Another reason for the misconception that a bodhisattva "delays" liberation is that a bodhisattva rejects the liberation of the śravaka and pratyekabuddha, described in Mahāyāna literature as either inferior (as in Asaṅga's fourth century Yogācārabhūmi) or nonexistent (as in the Lotus Sūtra).[24] That a bodhisattva has the option to pursue such a lesser path, but instead chooses the long path towards buddhahood is one of the five criteria for one to be considered a bodhisattva. The other four are: being human, being a man, making a vow to become a buddha in the presence of a previous buddha, and receiving a prophecy from that buddha.

The six perfections that constitute bodhisattva practice should not be confused with the actual acts of benefiting beings that the bodhisattva vows to accomplish once he or she is a buddha. The six perfections are a mental transformation and need not actually benefit anyone. This is seen in the story of Vessantara, an incarnation of Śākyamuni Buddha while he was still a bodhisattva, who commits the ultimate act of generosity by giving away his children to an evil man who mistreats them. Vessantara's generous act causes indirect harm, however, the merit from the perfection of his generosity fructifies when he attains complete enlightenment as Śākyamuni Buddha.[25]

Ten groundsEdit

According to many traditions within Mahāyāna Buddhism, on the way to becoming a Buddha, a bodhisattva proceeds through ten, or sometimes fourteen, grounds or bhūmis. Below is the list of the ten bhūmis and their descriptions according to the Avataṃsaka Sūtra and The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, a treatise by Gampopa, an influential teacher of the Tibetan Kagyu school. (Other schools give slightly variant descriptions.)

Before a bodhisattva arrives at the first ground, he or she first must travel the first two of five paths:

  1. the path of accumulation
  2. the path of preparation

The ten grounds of the bodhisattva then can be grouped into the next three paths

  1. bhūmi 1 the path of insight
  2. bhūmis 2-7 the path of meditation
  3. bhūmis 8-10 the path of no more learning

The chapter of ten grounds in the Avataṃsaka Sūtra refers to 52 stages. The 10 grounds are:

  1. Great Joy: It is said that being close to enlightenment and seeing the benefit for all sentient beings, one achieves great joy, hence the name. In this bhūmi the bodhisattvas practice all perfections (pāramitās), but especially emphasizing generosity (dāna).
  2. Stainless: In accomplishing the second bhūmi, the bodhisattva is free from the stains of immorality, therefore, this bhūmi is named "stainless". The emphasized perfection is moral discipline (śīla).
  3. Luminous: The light of Dharma is said to radiate for others from the bodhisattva who accomplishes the third bhūmi. The emphasized perfection is patience (kṣānti).
  4. Radiant: This bhūmi it is said to be like a radiating light that fully burns that which opposes enlightenment. The emphasized perfection is vigor (vīrya).
  5. Very difficult to train: Bodhisattvas who attain this ground strive to help sentient beings attain maturity, and do not become emotionally involved when such beings respond negatively, both of which are difficult to do. The emphasized perfection is meditative concentration (dhyāna).
  6. Obviously Transcendent: By depending on the perfection of wisdom, [the bodhisattva] does not abide in either saṃsāra or nirvāṇa, so this state is "obviously transcendent". The emphasized perfection is wisdom (prajñā).
  7. Gone afar: Particular emphasis is on the perfection of skillful means (upāya), to help others.
  8. Immovable: The emphasized virtue is aspiration. This "immovable" bhūmi is where one becomes able to choose his place of rebirth.
  9. Good Discriminating Wisdom: The emphasized virtue is power.
  10. Cloud of Dharma: The emphasized virtue is the practice of primordial wisdom.

After the ten bhūmis, according to Mahāyāna Buddhism, one attains complete enlightenment and becomes a Buddha.

With the 52 stages, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra recognizes 57 stages. With the 10 grounds, various Vajrayāna schools recognize 3–10 additional grounds, mostly 6 more grounds with variant descriptions.[26][27]

A bodhisattva above the 7th ground is called a mahāsattva. Some bodhisattvas such as Samantabhadra are also said to have already attained buddhahood.[28]

School doctrinesEdit

Some sutras said a beginner would take 3–22 countless eons (mahāsaṃkhyeya kalpas) to become a buddha.[29][30][31] Pure Land Buddhism suggests buddhists go to the pure lands to practice as bodhisattvas. Tiantai, Huayan, Zen and Vajrayāna schools say they teach ways to attain buddhahood within one karmic cycle.[32][33]

Various traditions within Buddhism believe in specific bodhisattvas. Some bodhisattvas appear across traditions, but due to language barriers may be seen as separate entities. For example, Tibetan Buddhists believe in various forms of Chenrezig, who is Avalokiteśvara in Sanskrit, Guanyin in China, Gwan-eum in Korea, Quan Am in Vietnam, and Kannon in Japan. Followers of Tibetan Buddhism consider the Dalai Lamas and the Karmapas to be an emanation of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Kṣitigarbha is another popular bodhisattva in Japan and China. He is known for aiding those who are lost. His greatest compassionate vow is:

If I do not go to the hell to help the suffering beings there, who else will go? ... if the hells are not empty I will not become a Buddha. Only when all living beings have been saved, will I attain Bodhi.

The place of a bodhisattva's earthly deeds, such as the achievement of enlightenment or the acts of Dharma, is known as a bodhimaṇḍa, and may be a site of pilgrimage. Many temples and monasteries are famous as bodhimaṇḍas. Perhaps the most famous bodhimaṇḍa of all is the Bodhi Tree under which Śākyamuṇi achieved buddhahood. In the tradition of Chinese Buddhism, there are four mountains that are regarded as bodhimaṇḍas for bodhisattvas, with each site having major monasteries and being popular for pilgrimages by both monastics and laypeople. These four bodhimandas are:

4 Great Bodhisattvas (in Chinese Buddhism) 

四大菩薩.  (菩薩 is short for菩提薩埵)

In this order: Compassion, Wisdom, Vow and Practice.

悲 智 願 行 

1, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva 觀世音 菩薩 short: 觀音 菩薩

Stands for Great Compassion.

2, Manjusri Bodhisattva  文殊師利 菩薩 short: 文殊 菩薩

Stands for Great Wisdom.

3, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva  地藏 菩薩

Stands for Great Vow.

4, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva 普賢 菩薩

Stands for Great Practice.

GalleryEdit

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ "Bodhisattva". Collins English Dictionary.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Drewes, David, Mahāyāna Sūtras and Opening of the Bodhisattva Path, Paper presented at the XVIII the IABS Congress, Toronto 2017, Updated 2019.
  3. ^ The Bodhisattva Vow: A Practical Guide to Helping Others, page 1, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1995) ISBN 978-0-948006-50-0
  4. ^ "The crossroads of Asia", edited by Ellizabeth Errington and Joe Cribb, The ancient India and Iran Trust, 1992, ISBN 0951839918, p.189-190
  5. ^ Basham, A.L. (1981). The evolution of the concept of the bodhisattva. In: Leslie S Kawamura, The Bodhisattva doctrine in Buddhism, Published for the Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion by Wilfred Laurier University Press, p.19
  6. ^ "Arahants, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas".
  7. ^ Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Abhayagiri". Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, Illinois: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.
  8. ^ Holt, John. Buddha in the Crown : Avalokitesvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka. 1991. p. 59
  9. ^ Holt, John. Buddha in the Crown : Avalokitesvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka. 1991. pp. 59-60
  10. ^ Holt, John. Buddha in the Crown : Avalokitesvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka. 1991. p. 60
  11. ^ Rahula, Walpola. "Bodhisattva Ideal in Buddhism (from Gems of Buddhist Wisdom)". Buddhist Missionary Society, 1996.
  12. ^ Samuels, J. THE BODHISATTVA IDEAL IN THERAVAADA, BUDDHIST THEORY AND PRACTICE: A REEVALUATION OF THE BODHISATTVA-`SRAAVAKA OPPOSITION; Philosophy East and West Volume 47, Number 3 July 1997 P.399-415 (C) by University of Hawai'i Press
  13. ^ Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Taylor & Francis, 1989, page 328.
  14. ^ Nattier, Jan (2003), A few good men: the Bodhisattva path according to the Inquiry of Ugra: p. 174
  15. ^ Mall, Linnart. Studies in the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita and Other Essays. Motilal Banarsidass. 2005. pp. 53-54.
  16. ^ Hirakawa, Akira. A history of Indian Buddhism: from Śākyamuni to Early Mahāyāna. Motilal Banarsidass. 2007. p. 297.
  17. ^ Conze, Edward. The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines and its Verse Summary. Grey Fox Press. 2001. p. 89.
  18. ^ Ray, Reginald. Buddhist saints in India, page 252.
  19. ^ Ray, Reginald. Buddhist saints in India, page 265.
  20. ^ Ray, Reginald. Buddhist saints in India, page 255.
  21. ^ The Bodhisattva Vow: A Practical Guide to Helping Others, pages 4-12, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1995) ISBN 978-0-948006-50-0
  22. ^ Words of My Perfect Teacher: A Complete Translation of A Classic Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Translated by The Padmakara Translation Group. (Walnut Creek: Altamira, 1994), 218.
  23. ^ Nagārjuna. Byang chub mchog tu sems bskyed pa'i cho ga (Bodhicittotpadaviddhi, Ritual for Generating the Intention for Supreme Buddhahood). Toh. 3966 Tengyur, mdo, gi. (sems can thams cad bsgral ba dang/ sems can thams cad dgrol ba dang/ sems can thams cad dbugs dbyung ba dang/ sems can thams cad yongs su mya ngan las 'da' ba dang/ sems can thams cad thams cad mkhyen pa'i ye shes la dgod pa'i slad du ci ltar bla na med pa yang dag par rdzogs pa'i byang chub tu thugs bskyed pa de bzhin du bdag ming 'di zhes bgyi ba yang dus 'di nas bzung)
  24. ^ "bodhisattva" In The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 135.
  25. ^ "Vessantara" In The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 965.
  26. ^ "ԲϢ - Ŀ ļ". Archived from the original on 8 September 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  27. ^ 鄔金旺度. "吉祥鄔金密嚴寺". Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  28. ^ 459 因地菩薩和果地菩薩
  29. ^ 三大阿僧祇劫 Archived November 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ 成佛的目的是到每一個世界去度眾生. Archived April 11, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ 即身成就與三大阿僧祇劫之修行 Archived May 26, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ "顯教與密教". Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  33. ^ 「無諍之辯」導讀

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit