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A statue of the Bodhisattva Akasagarbha.

In Buddhism, a bodhisattva (Sanskrit: बोधिसत्त्व, IAST: bodhisattva; Bengali: বোধিসত্ত্ব, Bodhishotto, Tibetan: བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའ་Wylie: byang chub sems dpa; Burmese: ဗောဓိသတ် Bawdithat; Indonesian: Bodhisatwa; Vietnamese: Bồ Tát; Pali: बोधिसत्त, bodhisatta; Thai: โพธิสัตว์, phothisat; Japanese: 菩薩, bosatsu; simplified Chinese: 菩萨traditional Chinese: 菩薩pinyin: púsà) means either "enlightened (bodhi) existence (sattva)" or "enlightenment-being" or, given the variant Sanskrit spelling satva rather than sattva, "heroic-minded one (satva) for enlightenment (bodhi)." Another translation is "Wisdom-Being."[1] It is the name given to anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all living beings.[2]

Contents

Theravada Buddhism

The term Bodhisatta (Pali language) was used by the Buddha in the Pāli Canon to refer to himself both in his previous lives and as a young man in his current life, prior to his enlightenment, in the period during which he was working towards his own liberation. When, during his discourses, he recounts 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 Pali 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.

In the Pāli Canon, the Bodhisatta Siddhartha Gotama is described as thus:[3]

before my Awakening, when I was an unawakened bodhisatta, being subject myself to birth, sought what was likewise subject to birth. Being subject myself to aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, I sought [happiness in] what was likewise subject to illness... death... sorrow... defilement.
—Ariyapariyesana Sutta

While Maitreya (Pali: Metteya) is mentioned in the Pāli Canon, he is not referred to as a bodhisattva, but simply the next fully-awakened Buddha to come into existence long after the current teachings of the Buddha are lost.

In later Theravada literature, the term bodhisatta is used fairly frequently in the sense of someone on the path to liberation. The later tradition of commentary also recognizes the existence of two additional types of bodhisattas: the paccekabodhisatta who will attain Paccekabuddhahood, and the savakabodhisatta who will attain enlightenment as a disciple of a Buddha. According to the Theravada teacher Bhikkhu Bodhi the bodhisattva path was not taught by Buddha [2].

Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand, regards the Bodhisattva as a person who already has a considerable degree of enlightenment and seeks to use their wisdom to help other human beings to become liberated. In this understanding of the word the Bodhisattva is an already wise person who uses skillful means to lead others to see the benefits of virtue and the cultivation of wisdom.

The Mahayana 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.[4] Indelibly entwined with the Bodhisattva Vow is parinamana (Sanskrit; which may be rendered in English as "merit transference").

In Mahayana Buddhism life in this world is compared to people living in a house that is on fire[5]. They take this world as reality pursuing worldly projects and pleasures without realising that the house is on fire and will soon burn down (the inevitability of death). A Bodhisattva is the one who has determination to free sentient beings from samsara with the cycle of death, rebirth and suffering. This type of mind is known as bodhicitta; Sanskrit for mind of awakening. Bodhisattvas take bodhisattva vows in order to progress on the spiritual path towards buddhahood.

There are a variety of different conceptions of the nature of a bodhisattva in Mahayana. According to some Mahayana sources a bodhisattva is someone on the path to full Buddhahood. Others speak of bodhisattvas renouncing Buddhahood. According to the Kun-bzang bla-ma'i zhal-lung, a bodhisattva can choose either of three paths to help sentient beings in the process of achieving buddhahood. They are:

  1. King-like Bodhisattva - one who aspires to become buddha as soon as possible and then help sentient beings in full fledge;
  2. Boatman-like Bodhisattva - one who aspires to achieve buddhahood along with other sentient beings and
  3. Shepherd-like Bodhisattva - one who aspires to delay buddhahood until all other sentient beings achieve buddhahood. Bodhisattvas like Avalokiteshvara, Shantideva among others are believed to fall in this category.

Tibetan doctrine (like Theravada, for different reasons) recognizes only the first of these, holding that Buddhas remain in the world, able to help others, so there is no point in delay. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso notes: "In reality, the second two types of bodhichitta are wishes that are impossible to fulfil because it is only possible to lead others to enlightenment once we have attained enlightenment ourself. Therefore, only king-like bodhichitta is actual bodhichitta. Je Tsongkhapa says that although the other Bodhisattvas wish for that which is impossible, their attitude is sublime and unmistaken."[6]

East Asian doctrinal traditions tend to emphasize the second and/or third, the idea of deliberately refraining from becoming a Buddha, perhaps forever.

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

Before a bodhisattva arrives at the first ground, he or she first must travel the first two of the 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. Bhumi 1 the path of insight
  2. Bhumi 2-7 the path of meditation
  3. Bhumi 8-10 the path of no more learning
Prince Siddhartha Gautama as a bodhisattva, before becoming a Buddha. He is characteristically depicted as a nobleman, posing with left hand on the hip, Gandhara, 2nd-3rd century.

The chapter of ten grounds in the Avatamsaka Sutra refers 52 stages, with the following 10 grounds

  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 bhumi the bodhisattvas practice all virtues (paramita), but especially emphasizing generosity (dana).
  2. Stainless
    • In accomplishing the second bhumi, the bodhisattva is free from the stains of immorality, therefore, this bhumi is named 'Stainless'. The emphasized virtue is moral discipline (śila).
  3. Luminous
    • The third bhumi is named 'Luminous', because, for a bodhisattva who accomplishes this bhumi, the light of Dharma is said to radiate from the bodhisattva for others. The emphasized virtue is patience (kṣanti).
  4. Radiant
    • This bhumi is called 'Radiant', because it is said to be like a radiating light that fully burns that which opposes enlightenment. The emphasized virtue is vigor (virya).
  5. Very difficult to train
    • Bodhisattvas who attain this bhumi 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 virtue is meditative concentration (dhyāna).
  6. Obviously Transcendent
    • "By depending on the perfection of wisdom awareness, he [the bodhisattva] does not abide in either saṃsāra or nirvāṇa, so it is 'obviously transcendent'". The emphasized virtue is wisdom (prajña).
  7. Gone afar
    • Particular emphasis is on the perfection of skilful means, or upaya-kaushalya, to help others.
  8. Immovable
    • The emphasized virtue is aspiration.
    • This, the 'Immovable' bhumi, is the bhumi at which 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.
Chinese wood carving of Guanyin; Shanxi Province (A.D. 907-1125)
Japanese wood carving of Jizo Bosatsu; Late Heian period, 12th century

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

With the 52 stages, the Shurangama Sutra in East Asia recognizes 57 stages. With the 10 grounds, various Vajrayana schools recognize 3-10 additional grounds[7], mostly 6 more grounds with variant descriptions.[8]

A bodhisattva above the 7th ground is called a Mahâsattva. Some bodhisattvas such as Samantabhadra are also said to have already attained buddhahood.[9]

Some sutras said a beginner would take 3-22 Mahaasaṃkhyeya Kalpa to become a buddha.[10][11][12] Pure Land Buddhism suggest buddhists to go to the pure lands to practise. Tiantai, Huayan, Zen and Vajrayana schools said they teach ways to attain buddhahood within one karmic cycle.[13][14]

Various traditions within Buddhism believe in certain 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 Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit, Guanyin (other spellings: Kwan-yin, Kuan-yin) in China and Korea, Quan Am in Vietnam, and Kannon (formerly spelled and pronounced: Kwannon) in Japan. Jizo or Ti Tsang is another popular bodhisattva in Japan and China (Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit). Jizo is known for aiding those who are lost. His greatest compassionate Vow being: "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."

Many followers of Tibetan Buddhism consider the 14th Dalai Lama and the Karmapa to be an incarnation of that same bodhisattva Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The bodhisattva is a popular subject in Buddhist art.

The place of a bodhisattva's earthly deeds, such as the achievement of enlightenment or the acts of dharma, is known as a bodhimanda, and may be a site of pilgrimage. Many temples and monasteries are famous as bodhimandas; for instance, the island of Putuoshan, located off the coast of Ningbo, is venerated by Chinese Buddhists as the bodhimanda of Avalokitesvara. Perhaps the most famous bodhimanda of all is the bodhi tree under which Shakyamuni achieved buddhahood.

Important Bodhisattvas

Teaching story

Pollock (2005): p. 43) provides a teaching story that evocatively describes the "nature of a Bodhisattva" and mentions 'circumambulation' (Tibetan: skor ba):

The nature of the Bodhisattva is apparent from a teaching story in which three people are walking through a desert. Parched and thirsty, they spy a high wall ahead. They approach and circumnavigate it, but it has no entrance or doorway. One climbs upon the shoulders of the others, looks inside, yells "Eureka" and jumps inside. The second then climbs up and repeats the actions of the first. The third laboriously climbs the wall without assistance and sees a lush garden inside the wall. It has cooling water, trees, fruit, etc. But, instead of jumping into the garden, the third person jumps back out into the desert and seeks out desert wanderers to tell them about the garden and how to find it. The third person is the Bodhisattva.[15]

See also

A Chinese wooden Bodhisattva, Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD), Shanghai Museum.

Notes

  1. ^ Coomaraswamy, Ananda (1975). Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism. Boston: University Books, Inc.. pp. 225. 
  2. ^ The Bodhisattva Vow: A Practical Guide to Helping Others, page 1, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1995) ISBN 978-0-948006-50-0
  3. ^ "Ariyapariyesana Sutta". Access to Insight. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.026.than.html. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  4. ^ The Bodhisattva Vow: A Practical Guide to Helping Others, pages 4-12, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1995) ISBN 978-0-948006-50-0
  5. ^ A simile from the Lotus Sutra
  6. ^ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Joyful Path of Good Fortune: the Complete Buddhist Path to Enlightenment, p. 422
  7. ^ 大圆满隆钦宁提派前行念诵文 编一遍智妙道注释
  8. ^ 大圆藏密要诀大圆满心性休息颂
  9. ^ 459 因地菩薩和果地菩薩
  10. ^ 三大阿僧祇劫
  11. ^ 成佛的目的是到每一個世界去度眾生.
  12. ^ 即身成就與三大阿僧祇劫之修行
  13. ^ 顯教與密教
  14. ^ 「無諍之辯」導讀
  15. ^ Pollock, Neal (2005). Practices Supporting Dzogchen: The Great Perfection of Tibetan Buddhism. Source: [1] (accessed: January 8, 2008)

References

  • Gampopa; The Jewel Ornament of Liberation; Snow Lion Publications; ISBN 1-55939-092-1
  • White, Kenneth R.; The Role of Bodhicitta in Buddhist Enlightenment: Including a Translation into English of Bodhicitta-sastra, Benkemmitsu-nikyoron, and Sammaya-kaijo; The Edwin Mellen Press, 2005; ISBN 0-7734-5985-5
  • Lampert, K.; Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism. Palgrave-Macmillan; ISBN 1-4039-8527-8
  • Buddhanet.net tstang text
  • Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, The Bodhisattva Vow: A Practical Guide to Helping Others, Tharpa Publications (2nd. ed., 1995) ISBN 978-0-948006-50-0
  • Shantideva: Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life: How to Enjoy a Life of Great Meaning and Altruism, a translation of Shantideva's Bodhisattvacharyavatara with Neil Elliott, Tharpa Publications (2002) ISBN 978-0-948006-88-3

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to bodhisattva article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Contents

English

Alternative spellings

Etymology

Sanskrit बोधिसत्त्व (bodhi-sattva), enlightened existence).

Pronunciation

Noun

Singular
bodhisattva

Plural
bodhisattvas

bodhisattva (plural bodhisattvas)

  1. (Buddhism) An enlightened person or being; one who is on the road to perfect knowledge; specifically, one who foregoes personal nirvana in order to help others achieve enlightenment.

Synonyms

Translations


Simple English

Buddhism


Basic terms

Three Jewels
Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
Buddhahood
Enlightenment
Nirvana

People

Gautama Buddha
Dalai Lama
Bodhisattva
Sangha

Schools

Theravada
Mahayana
Zen
Vajrayana
Nyingma Kagyu Sakya Gelug

Practices

study Dharma
Meditation
Metta

A bodhisattva according to Buddhism is a Buddhist who has attained enlightenment, but who as a selfless act, delays his or her entry to Nirvana (non-existence) for the sake of others.

The word Bodhisattva can also refer to certain specific bodhisattvas such as Chenrezig, Manjushri and Vajrapani.


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