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Transcript of Essay Bodhisattva

Huixing Shi/ 2001150


Graduate Department of Religious Studies School of Research and Graduate Studies International Buddhist College

The Development of Bodhisattva Ideal By Huixing Shi (ID: 2001150)

M.A. in Buddhist Studies 2007- 2008 ME6102. Mahyna Buddhism

Huixing Shi/ 2001150

2 (Dr. Fa Qing)

The Bodhisattva Doctrine


1- Introduction.

2- Etymology.

3- The Bodhisattva Concept.

4- The Buddha Concept.

5- The ideal Man of Theravda and Mahyna.

6- Influence of other religions.

7- The Transcendental Bodhisattvas.

8- Notes.

9- Bibliography.

Huixing Shi/ 2001150


1- Introduction:

The Bodhisattva doctrine is a complex phenomenon that probably originated in the Second century B.C. The word bodhisattva occurs not infrequently in the Pli Canon. Although in Theravda tradition there was an embryo proposal, its real development owns to Mahyna Buddhism. Mahynists elaborated this model into an ideal during the course of several centuries (2nd cent. B.C. to 7th cent. A.D.) 2- Etymology: The Sanskrit word bodhisattva has been explained in many different ways. It has two parts, bodhi, which means Enlightenment, perfect Wisdom, and sattva. Several interpretations have been offered for this word. I present here the final conclusion about its meaning given by Har Dayal1, who sustains that is safer to have an accurate understanding of the word, to go back to the Pli rather than to later lexicographers and philosophers. Hence bodhisatta in the Pli texts means a bodhi being. But satta seems to mean not an ordinary being but a warrior, a hero, a valiant man. The same1

Har Dayal. The Bodhisattva Doctrine in the Buddhist Sanskrit Literature. Delhi. Motilal. 1975. Page 9.

Huixing Shi/ 2001150


meaning has the equivalent Tibetan pda. Satta in Pli should be interpreted as heroic being, a spiritual warrior. Both ideas of existence and great effort are suggested. The term sattva, in Dayals view, may be a wrongly Sanskritized of the Pli word satta. Therefore Bodhisattva can be rendered as a spiritual warrior or a spiritual hero, who aspires to Buddha-hood.

3- The Bodhisattva Concept: It is of interested to observe how the Bodhisattva concept has developed down the ages. In the Theravda Pli Canon the term is primarily restricted to Gotama Buddha. The use of the term "bodhisatta" occurs in a number of the sttas in the Majjhima, Anguttara, and Samyutta Nikyas, where the Buddha referred to Himself as a bodhisattva before His enlightenment.2 In later canonical texts, the Bodhisattva idea is further developed and associated with others concepts. The Buddhavasa [1] shows more maturity of the model. Here, the bodhisattva construction refers to an ideal being that makes a vow to become a perfect enlightened Buddha (sammsambuddha), out of compassion for all sentient beings, who performs several acts of merit, and who receives a prophecy of his future Buddhahood by a living2

Jeffrey Samuels. The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravda Buddhist Theory and Practice: A Reevaluation of the Bodhisattva-rvaka Opposition. Philosophy East and West. Volume 47, Number 3, July 1997. University of Hawaiis Press.Page 401.

Huixing Shi/ 2001150


Buddha.3 Consequently another thought arises in parallel, i.e., a Bodhisattva needs to complete a number of Perfections (pramit), during his career. Besides the Buddhavasa, also in the Cariypitaka are delineated ten perfections [2], in contrast with the six ones asserted in the Mahyna stras, like the Aashasrik-Prajnpramitstra and the Ratnaguasam- cayagth. The Buddhavasa and the Cariypiaka discuss as well, how each of the ten Perfections may be practiced at three different levels: a common degree, a higher degree, and an ultimate degree of completion. Although the most of the uses of the term bodhisattva refers to Shakyamuni Buddha or the Buddhas who preceded him, there is also some reference in the Pli Canon about the future Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. As example, can be cited the Cakkavatishanda Stta of the Dgha Nikya; where the Buddha predicts Metteyya bodhisattva as the Sammsambuddha of the future.4 Based in the former data, one might affirm that Mahynas bodhisattva ideal was completely shaped within Hnayna Schools, particularly between the Sarvastivdins, who had given a careful attention to the career of a bodhisattva, proven by the fine description of a bodhisattvas mentality in the Abhidharmakoa of Vasubandhu. Nevertheless, in name of justice, one has to affirm also that the Mahynists evolved a doctrine valid to everyone; and this was their3 4

Ibid. Page 402. Ibid. Page 403.

Huixing Shi/ 2001150


innovation. The Sadharmapuarika (Sad. Pu.) mainly teaches that every being has the possibility of becoming a bodhisattva and in consequence a Buddha, even the insects and worms as ntideva declared.5 The ideal of the bodhisattva was partially due to social pressure on the Order, which had become closed to the ordinary people, but the most important factor was the necessity of adapting to the changing circumstances of the age. The Bodhisattva Doctrine was the necessary conclusion of two ideas that had been developed by Early Buddhism: Faith (saddh in Pli) and the idealization of the Buddha. Faith was originally directed towards the triple gem. In the AN X.61, the Buddha said that faith has for its nutriment hearing the exposition of the true Dharma. Therefore saddh, the kind of faith that comes into being as a result of hearing the exposition of the true Dharma, is essentially an attitude of trust and commitment directed to ultimate emancipation, which is grounded in an objective capable of eliciting it such as the triple gem. After his Parinirvna the Buddha was soon idealized, spiritualized and universalized. The original saddh turned into devotion. The faith not

blind and critical of the earlier period was converted into belief and hope of liberation by other power. Then the Buddha himself became a5

Har Dayal. The Bodhisattva Doctrine. Page18.

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distant object of devotion for the doctrine followers and thus the invention and the adoration of the bodhisattvas fulfilled that defect.6 4- The Buddha Concept:

As a bodhisattva is a germ of a Buddha, both concepts depend on each other and they developed in parallel. For Theravda Buddhism the Buddha is a man who by his own effort and dedication has realized the Truth of the existence and actualized himself in the highest degree possible for a human. Despite the theravdins considered the Buddha as a man, this man is an extraordinary one, one who appears in the world in very rare occasions and as a unique manifestation. The Buddha is the person who realized the Highest Truth for the first time by his own effort and proclaimed it to the world and hence, he is the Teacher. The life of a Buddha commenced only from the time of his enlightenment and his life or lives before this event was that of the bodhisattva. So in Theravda tradition there is only one living Buddha and in correspondence only one bodhisattva, the one who will become the Buddha. The Avadna- ataka describes a Buddha as having ten Powers or blani, related with Omniscience, four Grounds of Self-confidence or vairadyni and three Fields of Mindfulness or smity-upasthnni. In other hand, the Mahyna literature [3] describes6

Ibid. Page. 30.

Huixing Shi/ 2001150


eighteen attributes or veika-dharmas, which distinguish a Buddha from other beings and that shows him as a super-natural being. This list is not found in the Pli canon. There are other qualities describes by Buddhist Sanskrit writers in relation to Buddhahood, there are the foundation for the production of a bodhisattva. These characteristics have to be understood and appreciate before to strive for bodhi. They are: Mah- karu; unblemished purity; a Buddha has his Buddha-ketra or field; when He appears in the earth His existence never ceases; a Buddha is superhuman, His conception is not produce by physical union of His parents; a Buddha has three bodies or kyas (rpa, nirmna and dharma-kya); His real body is the cosmic Absolute, which means that all the Buddhas are united in the dharma-kya and all of them are One. This conception of Buddhahood developed in the Mahyna- strlakra, asserts a kind of Pan-Buddhism, in contrast with the Pantheism of Hinduism. The Buddhas became immortal, universal, deified and unified.7 5. The ideal Man of Theravda and Mahyna:

The teachings of the Buddha collected in the Pli canon stress the way to nirvna, which allows the people to free themselves from7

Ibid. Page. 28.

Huixing Shi/ 2001150


suffering and rebirth or liberation from sasara. The method used to achieve that goal is insight and to acquire the habit of regarding all phenomena, include other beings as dharmas or impersonal forces which arise and pass away moment to moment. The Buddha advised His disciples to practice sla, samdhi and pa, to restrain sense contact

and live a life of aloofness, stressing the solitary meditation practice. Thus the arahants are represented as very austere, selfrestrained, dispassionate ascetics and in some way rigid and selfcentered. The Mahayanist declared that the ideal of arahanship was inferior to that of Buddhahood. They argued that arahants hence achieved liberation form sasra; they cannot destroy the jeyavaraas or traces of defilements which avoid them to achieve perfect Buddhahood. The four stages of sotappana, sakadgmi, angmi and arahant, which correspond to the Theravda Path to Enlightenment, are considered as preliminary of the bodhisattva career. When those four stages are completed it is said that all the fetters (sayojana) ha