Bodhisattvas Mahā-sattvas | Definition
The term Bodhisattva (Pāli, Bodhisatta; Tibetan, byang chub sems pa; Chinese, pusa; Korean, posal, Japanese, bosatsu) refers to a sattva (person) on a Buddhist mārga (path) in pursuit of Bodhi (awakening) or one whose nature is awakening.
In the Mahāyāna tradition, a Bodhisattva is a practitioner who, by habituating himself in the practice of the Pāramitā (perfection), aspires to become a Buddha in the future
by seeking Anuttara-Samyak-Saṁbodhi (complete, perfect awakening) through Prajñā (wisdom) and by benefiting all sentient beings through Karuṇā (compassion).
A Bodhisattva is one who courageously seeks Enlightenment through totally and fully benefiting others (parārtha), as well as himself (svārtha).
A Bodhisattva is also termed a Mahā-sattva or “Great Being” because he is a Mahāyāna practitioner who seeks Anuttara-Samyak-Saṁbodhi
and who is equipped with the necessities for Enlightenment:
- puṇya-sambhāra (accumulation of merits) and
- jñāna-sambhāra (accumulation of wisdom) –
- and the quality of Upāya-kauśalya (skilful means);
that is, he knows how to act appropriately in any situation.
According to the Bodhisattva-bhūmi,
the Bodhisattva-yāna (spiritual path of a Bodhisattva) is considered to be superior to both:
the Śrāvaka-yāna (spiritual path of the disciples) and
the Pratyeka-Buddha-yāna (spiritual path of a self-awakened Buddha)
- because a Bodhisattva is destined to attain Enlightenment by removing the kleśa-jñeyāvaraṇa (emotional and intellectual afflictions), whereas those on the other 2 spiritual paths aspire for Nirvāṇa, that is, extinction of emotional afflictions only.
The Bodhisattva is known by different appellations:
for example, in Mahāyāna-sūtra-alaṁkāra XIX: 73-74, the following 15 names are given as synonyms for Bodhisattva:
1. Mahā-sattva (great being)
2. Dhīmat (Wise)
3. Uttamadyuti (Most Splendid)
4. Jinaputra (Buddha’s Son)
5. Jinādhāra (Holding To the Buddha)
6. Vijetṛ (Conqueror)
7. Jināṅkura (Buddha’s Offspring)
8. Vikrānta (Bold)
9. Paramāścarya (Most Marvellous)
10. Sārthavāha (Caravan Leader)
11. Mahāyaśas (Of Great Glory)
12. Kṛpālu (Compassionate)
13. Mahā-Puṇya (Greatly Meritorious)
14. Īśvara (Lord)
15. Dhārmika (Righteous).
Bodhisattvas are of 10 classes:
1. Gotrastha (one who has not reached purity yet)
2. Avatīrṇa (one who investigates the arising of the enlightenment mind)
3. Aśuddhāśaya (one who has not reached a pure intention)
4. Śuddhāśaya (one who has reached a pure intention)
5. Aparipakva (one who has not matured in the highest state)
6. Paripakva (one who has matured in the highest state)
7. Aniyatipatita (one who although matured has not yet entered contemplation)
8. Niyatipatita (one who has entered contemplation)
9. Ekajātipratibaddha (one who is about to enter the supreme enlightenment)
10. Caramabhavika (one who has entered supreme enlightenment in this life).
Regarding the Bodhisattva’s practice, different texts use different categories to discuss the process:
the Daśabhūmika sūtra refers to the Daśa-bhūmi (10 spiritual stages) of a Bodhisattva,
while the Bodhisattva-bhūmi makes reference to 12 vihāra (abodes),
adding 2 vihāra to the list of 10 bhūmi:
- gotra-vihāra (abode of the Bodhisattva family) and
- adhi-mukti-caryā-vihāra (abode of firm resolution),
- the latter of which continues throughout the next ten abodes.
The last 10 of the vihāras essentially correspond to the 10 Bodhisattva stages of the Daśabhūmika-sūtra, although each has a name different from the names of the stages.
In each of the 10 stages of the Daśabhūmika-sūtra, a distinct pāramitā is practiced so that the Bodhisattva gradually elevates himself to the final goal of Enlightenment.
The stages of practice according to the Daśabhūmika-sūtra,
with their corresponding Pāramitās, are as follows:
1. pramudita-bhūmi (joyful stage):
Dāna-pāramitā (perfection of charity)
2. Vimala-bhūmi (free of defilements stage):
Śīla- pāramitā (perfection of ethical behaviour)
3. prabhākarī-bhūmi (light-giving stage):
Dhyāna- pāramitā (perfection of contemplation)
4. arcīṣmatī-bhūmi (glowing wisdom stage):
Kṣānti-pāramitā (perfection of patience)
5. sudurjayā-bhūmi (mastery of utmost difficulty stage):
Vīrya-pāramitā (perfection of energy)
6. abhimūkhī-bhūmi (wisdom beyond definition of impure or pure stage):
Prajñā-pāramitā (perfection of wisdom)
(proceeding afar stage [in which a Bodhisattva gets beyond self to help others]):
Upāya-kauśalya-pāramitā (perfection of utilizing one’s expertise)
8. acala-bhūmi (calm and unperturbed stage):
Praṇidhāna-pāramitā (perfection of making vows to save all sentient beings)
9. sadhumati-bhūmi (good thought stage):
Bala-pāramitā (perfection of power to guide sentient beings)
10. dharmamagha-bhūmi (rain cloud of dharma stage):
Jñāna-pāramitā (perfection of all-inclusive wisdom)
However, the numbers of stages of a Bodhisattva are inconsistent from Sūtra to Sūtra and from commentary to commentary:
52 stages in the Pusa yingluo benye jing (Taisho no. 1485),
51 in the Humane Kings Sūtra, (Taisho no. 245),
40 in both the Brahma’s Net Sūtra, (Taisho no. 1484) and
40 in the Avataṁsaka-sūtra (Huayan jing, Taisho no. 278),
57 in the Śūraṅgama-Samādhi-sūtra (Taisho no. 642),
54 in the Cheng weishi lun (Taisho no. 1591),
4 in the Mahāyāna-saṁgraha (Taisho no. 1594), and
both 13 & 7 stages in the Bodhisattva-bhūmi (Taisho no. 1581).
There are other classifications of Bodhisattvas, such as:
those who enter enlightenment quickly and those who enter gradually;
those who are householders and those who are not,
- each divided into 9 classes;
- those who are extremely compassionate, such as Avalokiteśvara;
- and those who are extremely wise, such as Mañjuśrī.
Maitreya Bodhisattva is considered to be the future Buddha who is prophesized to appear in this world.
Śākyamuni himself is understood to have been a Bodhisattva in his past lives and is so called in the accounts of his previous births (Jātaka).
In order to distinguish him from the Śrāvakas and Pratyeka-Buddhas, who benefit only themselves, a Mahāyāna Bodhisattva is characterized as one who makes vows to benefit all sentient beings, as well as himself:
In the Pure Land tradition, for example, according to the Larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra, the Bodhisattva Mahā-sattva Dharmakāra makes 48 vows
and becomes the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life (Amitābha or Amitāyus), who resides in the Western Quarter and functions as a salvific Buddha.
Among the well-known Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteśvara and Maitreya are probably the most popular in East Asia:
In the East Asian Buddhist tradition, Avalokiteśvara, better known by the Chinese name Guan Yin (Korean, Kwanseum; Japanese, Kannon), is worshiped by both clergy and laity as a Mother figure, a saviour, and a mentor, who responds to the pain and suffering of sentient beings.
In Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is considered to be an incarnation of Avalokiteśvara.
Maitreya (Pāli, Metteyya) Bodhisattva, who is said to dwell in Tuṣita heaven, is known as the “future Buddha” because he will appear in this world to re-establish Buddhism after all vestiges of the current dispensation of Śākyamuni Buddha have vanished.
Tradition holds that Asaṅga went to Tuṣita to study under Maitreya, where he received 5 treatises from him that became the basis for establishing the Yogācāra School.
Worship of Maitreya as the future Buddha has also contributed to Millenarianism and Millenarian Movements in several Buddhist traditions.
Mañjuśrī and Samantabhadra are Bodhisattvas who are often depicted in a triad together with the primordial Buddha Vairocana:
Samantabhadra stands on Vairocana’s right side and Mañjuśrī on his left.
Samantabhadra is also often shown seated on the back of a white elephant, holding a wish-fulfilling jewel, a lotus flower, or a scripture, exemplifying his role as the guardian of the teaching and practice of the Buddha.
Mañjuśrī, by contrast, represents wisdom, and is depicted wielding a flaming sword that cuts through the veil of ignorance.
Buddhist scholars and savants of India, such as Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu, have been referred to as Bodhisattvas; in China, Tao-an (312–385), for example, is known as Yinshou pusa.
In more modern times, founders of new Buddhist movements in China, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States are considered by followers to be Bodhisattvas and, in some cases, even Buddhas.