Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

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Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Sāvaka » Tue Feb 01, 2011 2:48 am

First of all I feel I should say that I'm not a Mahāyānist, but I'm not here to proselytize or debate doctrine. I consider Mahāyāna practitioners to be companions in the dha(r/m)a, albeit of a somewhat different strain, while I would fall into the Śrāvakayāna category, thus my choice of moniker. But I would like to have a more firm grasp of what, precisely, the Mahāyāna is about, for the sake of having a better understanding of my fellow Buddhists. The problem is that the Mahāyāna is an awfully diffuse thing, which is no secret. While I'm familiar with a wide smattering of Mahāyāna it's not very cohesive... I accept that there is probably not a single satisfactory answer to my question.

So, I am familiar with the concept of bodhicitta, the desire to achieve samyaksambuddhahood for the benefit of all beings, correct? Now, I see a paradox in this. To work for the benefit of all beings requires that one not exit saṃsāra, however this is the natural result of awakening. So, there's a few trains of thought that diverge from this.

Firstly, what exactly is asserted by "for the benefit of all beings"? Perhaps English translations don't necessarily do justice the concept of bodhicitta. Does this require continued saṃsāric existence in order to continue one's work, or rather, is it simply to reach the optimal state in saṃsāra for bringing sentient beings to the dha(r/m)a, and yet then pass out of it? I can understand how samyaksambuddhahood fulfills that role, more than mere arhatship, what with bringing the dhamma to a time where it has been forgotten, the mastery of siddhis and the superb ability to teach others.

If that's not the case, then how is it said that one avoids exiting saṃsāra entirely? Is a Buddha said to posses the ability to continue to wander through saṃsāra, be it by siddhis, mastery of the mind, or pure bodhicitta? Though my kneejerk reaction would be to think that any desire strong enough to lead to further becoming and birth would be strong enough to be a barrier to awakening. But that leads to another possibility, that full awakening is not actually the goal, but to gain knowledge yet postpone awakening. But then, how is it possible to gain deep knowledge of the dha(r/m)a and yet avoid becoming a srotāpanna or beyond? Perhaps unrelenting bodhicitta is the antidote?

Hopefully you understand the various points that I am not clear on. Weather or not the Mahāyāna-specific points and elaborations agree with me is not the issue, I really do not plan to argue, I simply would like to hear from the horse's mouth what the goal of Mahāyāna practice is. And I'm fully aware that different horses will have different things to say!
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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Jnana » Tue Feb 01, 2011 3:48 am

As you imply, this is a somewhat complex question. But basically, a buddha is said to have attained non-abiding nirvāṇa (apratiṣṭha nirvāṇa) which doesn't abandon the sentient beings of saṃsāra. Through the accumulation of gnosis one realizes the dharmakāya. Through the accumulation of merit one perfects the form bodies (rūpakāya) which are the beatific body (saṃbhogakāya) and the emanation body (nirmāṇakāya). The dharmakāya is realized for the benefit of oneself and the saṃbhogakāya and nirmāṇakāya are perfected in order to teach and benefit others, i.e. benefiting others means teaching sentient beings the paths of the Śrāvakayāna and Bodhisattvayāna according to beings' needs. And finally, yes, it is bodhicitta and the bodhisattva vow(s) which keep a bodhisattva from entering Śrāvakayāna stream entry. At the time of the path of seeing a bodhisattva enters the first noble bodhisattva level instead of supramundane stream entry of a noble disciple.

All the best,

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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Dexing » Tue Feb 01, 2011 4:29 am

Sāvaka wrote:To work for the benefit of all beings requires that one not exit saṃsāra, however this is the natural result of awakening.


Yeshe D. wrote:But basically, a buddha is said to have attained non-abiding nirvāṇa (apratiṣṭha nirvāṇa) which doesn't abandon the sentient beings of saṃsāra.


Agree with Yeshe D. on this. The nirvāna of an arhat is first nirvāna with remainder, and then without remainder upon death.

For the Mahāyāna however, it is nirvāna with no fixed abode, free to move about in saṃsāra benefiting all beings, yet not subject to the views and suffering of beings in such states. It is also not an unwillful rebirth as a result of karma.

Awakening as the attainment of an arhat's nirvāna should not be conflated with awakening as the attainment of bodhi, as in a samyaksambuddha, which does not ever result in nirvāna without remainder, but nirvāna with no fixed abode.

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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Sāvaka » Tue Feb 01, 2011 5:02 am

Thanks for your replies.

Yeshe D. wrote:Through the accumulation of gnosis one realizes the dharmakāya. Through the accumulation of merit one perfects the form bodies (rūpakāya) which are the beatific body (saṃbhogakāya) and the emanation body (nirmāṇakāya).
I'll admit I had to look up some of those terms. So then, this is the Trikāya doctrine. A docetic emanation kind of thing. (unless there are more interpretations?) This certainly answers some of the questions that I've raised. How universal is this to the Mahāyāna as a whole? Are there other explanations for "how it all works"? I would guess that there are.

Edit: After reading further I've come across a wiki quote that there is a Zen perspective takes the trikāya non-literally, if true that adds an alternative look.

At the time of the path of seeing a bodhisattva enters the first noble bodhisattva level instead of supramundane stream entry of a noble disciple.
Is it possible to say what the difference between these is, in terms of content? Or is the difference not in content but in intention?


Dexing wrote:Awakening as the attainment of an arhat's nirvāna should not be conflated with awakening as the attainment of bodhi, as in a samyaksambuddha, which does not ever result in nirvāna without remainder, but nirvāna with no fixed abode.
I suppose that the bodhi of the Buddha and Arhat are the same is something that I have become accustomed to taking for granted. Is it possible to say precisely what the difference is? I suppose this question can probably be packed in with my previous one.

Also, the emboldened bit is quite new to me. So the nirvāṇa of the samyaksambuddha does not ever result in an-upādiśeṣa-nirvāṇa? I must admit this sounds suspicious to me, since it appears to violate the universal of anitya/impermanence.
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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby ground » Tue Feb 01, 2011 5:28 am

Sāvaka wrote:Firstly, what exactly is asserted by "for the benefit of all beings"? Perhaps English translations don't necessarily do justice the concept of bodhicitta. Does this require continued saṃsāric existence in order to continue one's work, or rather, is it simply to reach the optimal state in saṃsāra for bringing sentient beings to the dha(r/m)a, and yet then pass out of it?

Whereas the sravaka aims at stopping rebirth the bodhisattva aims at stopping rebirth driven by karma and replace it by re-birth driven by pure aspiration which is wisdom. Therefore this continued existence is neither samsara nor nirvana.
A Buddha does not lose the bodhisattva nature however since "Buddha" is perfection of form bodies through accumulation of merits "Buddha" activities are not restricted to the base human vision calls "birth". "Buddha" is beyond birth and death, beyond existence and non-existence. The "transition" from "bodhisattva" to "Buddha" actually is no "transition". Why? Because the bodhisattva is accumulating merits for three immeasurable kalpas which actually means "beyond time".
Once all beings are liberated Buddha "passes out".
When there is the arising of suffering there is the arising of "Buddha", with the cessation of all sufferings of all beings there is the cessation of "Buddha". So like all phenomena "Buddha" is a dependent arising.
"Buddha" activity is "skill in means" which stands for conventional "teaching" and non-conventional "teaching".

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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Jnana » Tue Feb 01, 2011 10:49 am

Sāvaka wrote:How universal is this to the Mahāyāna as a whole? Are there other explanations for "how it all works"? I would guess that there are.

It is universal.

Sāvaka wrote:After reading further I've come across a wiki quote that there is a Zen perspective takes the trikāya non-literally, if true that adds an alternative look.

This may be true of some modern Zen teachers, but traditionally the trikāya was and is accepted quite straightforwardly.

Sāvaka wrote:
At the time of the path of seeing a bodhisattva enters the first noble bodhisattva level instead of supramundane stream entry of a noble disciple.
Is it possible to say what the difference between these is, in terms of content? Or is the difference not in content but in intention?

The path of seeing is the penetration of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths. These sixteen aspects are common to both the śrāvakayāna and bodhisattvayāna. (They are explained differently in the Theravāda Paṭisambhidāmagga than in the Sarvāstivāda sources.) These sixteen aspects (four aspects for each truth) are said to be penetrated sequentially according to many sources. Some mahāyānikas agree with the Theravāda understanding that the four truths are penetrated all at once.

Sāvaka wrote:I suppose that the bodhi of the Buddha and Arhat are the same is something that I have become accustomed to taking for granted. Is it possible to say precisely what the difference is?

A buddha realizes the gnosis of all aspects (sarvākārajñatā, often translated as "omniscience") after having realized the knowledge of paths (mārgākārajñatā) as a bodhisattva. An arhat disciple doesn't realize these two types of knowledge, but realizes the knowledge of bases (vastujñāna), which is the full understanding of the aggregates, etc. The Theravāda also accepts that a buddha realizes omniscience, which a disciple arahant doesn't.

Sāvaka wrote:So the nirvāṇa of the samyaksambuddha does not ever result in an-upādiśeṣa-nirvāṇa? I must admit this sounds suspicious to me, since it appears to violate the universal of anitya/impermanence.

A buddha's continuum is still a momentary mind-stream. And according to some Mahāyāna sūtras, buddhas all eventually enter parinirvāṇa. This is why one of the limbs of the seven-limb prayer is to request that the buddhas remain.

All the best,

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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby catmoon » Tue Feb 01, 2011 10:55 am

There is a common Tibetan prayer, which I have copied from elsewhere on this site:

Until I am enlightened,
I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Through the virtue I create by practising giving and the other perfections,
may I become a Buddha to benefit all sentient beings.

It seems to set the goal at Buddhahood, with the path of the bodhisattva as the method. Besides, once Buddhahood is attained, one can manifest as many bodhisattvas as you like! So what benefit there would be to delaying Buddhahood is beyond me.
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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby KeithBC » Tue Feb 01, 2011 8:50 pm

I am not 100% sure that I know what I am talking about here, but there seems to me to be a strong implication in the Mahayana - it comes closest to being expressed in Zen - that the destination is not different from the path. So exiting samsara and being on the way to the exit are not different.

With that in mind, I don't find there to be a big difference between a Bodhisattva and a Buddha.

Om mani padme hum
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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby swampflower » Thu Feb 03, 2011 12:20 am

If one examines Buddha, does this not mean awakened one or enlightened one?
And Bodhisattva, from bodhi as awakened or knowing, and sattva as reality or existence, is also awakened existence.
One important aspect of the Mahayana is bodhicitta, but equally important is wisdom relating to the true nature of existence in a pure state of luminosity. As all things arise in dependent co emergence as the magical dance of Dakinis there is no difference between samsara and nirvana. If we are living in Samsara we are also in Nirvana...we just do not realize this. The Mahayana is a rapid method to brush the dust from the mirror of consciousness. Nirvana is to enter the non dual state. This is the cessation and leaving all behind. om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha
Even the Buddha chose to remain in this Earthly realm to bring the Dharma forth. How is this different from a Bodhisattva?
These are only my subjective views :tongue:
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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Will » Thu Feb 03, 2011 2:49 am

Nagarjuna teaches that ultimate realization of nirvana would prevent one from continuing on the bodhisattva path. One would sink into that bliss and forget about one's vows. These verses are from Bodhisambara Shastra, Kalavinka Press edition.

“In this matter of nirvāṇa,
I must not immediately invoke its realization.”
One should initiate this sort of resolve,
For one must succeed in ripening the perfection of wisdom.

One generates just this sort of thought: “I shall bring about the
benefit and liberation of all beings. Although I shall cultivate the
three gates to liberation, it shall be with the exclusive aim of ripening
my practice of the perfection of wisdom. Hence I must refrain
from opting for the ultimate realization of emptiness, signlessness,
wishlessness, and nirvāṇa.”

069
Just as an archer might shoot his arrows upwards,
Causing each in succession to strike the one before,
Each holding up the other so none are allowed to fall—
Just so it is with the great bodhisattva.

This is analogous to a hypothetical instance wherein a welltrained
archer might release his arrows into the sky in succession,
continuously releasing them so that each succeeding arrow supports
the one before and none are allowed to fall.

070
Into the emptiness of the gates to liberation,
He skillfully releases the arrows of the mind.
Through artful skillful means, arrows are continuously held aloft,
So none are allowed to fall back down into nirvāṇa.

The bodhisattva, like a great archer, releases arrows of mind into
the emptiness of the three gates, also using skillful means arrows of
compassion. He continues to release them into the emptiness of the
three realms, causing them to remain suspended and hence unable
to fall down into the city of nirvāṇa.
Revealing one essence: this means the inherently pure, complete, luminous essence, which is pure of its own nature. -- Fa-tsang
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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby ground » Thu Feb 03, 2011 5:23 am

Will wrote:Nagarjuna teaches that ultimate realization of nirvana would prevent one from continuing on the bodhisattva path.

Actually what is written there is that the motivation has to be bodhicitta and not to realize the ultimate. So this does not exclude realizing the ultimate on that basis. It is "just" the motivation that makes the difference. It is this motivation and what follows from that what entails the form bodies and prevents complete "extinguishment" when the ultimate is realized without this realization having been aimed at directly on grounds of equality of samsara and nirvana.

Will wrote:One would sink into that bliss and forget about one's vows.

The one who "would sink into bliss" would be propelled toward the deva realm but not toward liberation.


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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Nighthawk » Thu Feb 03, 2011 6:32 am

I think I remember reading from Paul William's book Doctrinal foundations of Mahayana that int the Lokottaravada school it was thought that if there were infinite sentient beings liberated there would be an infinite more deluded sentient beings still in samsara. So according to this belief Buddhas/Bodhisattvas cannot ever pass into Parinirvana.
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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby swampflower » Thu Feb 03, 2011 11:42 pm

maestro wrote:I think I remember reading from Paul William's book Doctrinal foundations of Mahayana that int the Lokottaravada school it was thought that if there were infinite sentient beings liberated there would be an infinite more deluded sentient beings still in samsara. So according to this belief Buddhas/Bodhisattvas cannot ever pass into Parinirvana.


there would be infinitely more deluded sentient beings still in samsara
Which is why Avalokiteśvara's head exploded...

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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Fri Feb 04, 2011 12:56 am

KeithBC wrote:I am not 100% sure that I know what I am talking about here, but there seems to me to be a strong implication in the Mahayana - it comes closest to being expressed in Zen - that the destination is not different from the path. So exiting samsara and being on the way to the exit are not different.

With that in mind, I don't find there to be a big difference between a Bodhisattva and a Buddha.

Om mani padme hum
Keith


This is my understanding :namaste:
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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Fri Feb 04, 2011 1:00 am

swampflower wrote:there would be infinitely more deluded sentient beings still in samsara
Which is why Avalokiteśvara's head exploded...

:buddha2: :buddha2: :buddha2:


Long ago, his profound compassion for all beings compelled him to make the following vow: "May I be able to establish in emancipation all the living beings in the barbaric Land of Snow [Tibet], where beings are so hard to discipline and none of the Buddhas of the three times has stepped ... May I be able to mature and emancipate them, each according to his own way. May that gloomy barbaric country become bright, like an island of precious jewels".

He repeated this vow in front of Amitabha, his spiritual father. He vowed: "Until I relieve all living beings, may I never, even for a moment, feel like giving up the purpose of others for my own peace and happiness. If I should ever think about my own happiness, may my head be cracked into ten pieces ... and may my body be split into a thousand pieces, like the petals of a lotus."

Avalokiteshvara then entered a profound state of meditation, directing his compassionate intention to every sentient being, wishing that all of them would be free of their suffering. After a very long time he emerged from his meditation, and was deeply disappointed to see that the vast majority of beings remained trapped within their delusions. His meditation and prayers had helped very few beings out of their misery.

In desperation, he cried out; "What is the use? I can do nothing for them. It is better for me to be happy and peaceful myself." At that moment, by the power of his previous vow, his head split into 10 pieces and his body into one thousand, filling him with unbearable pain. He cried out to Amitabha who immediately appeared before him. Amitabha told him:

All circumstances come from cooperative causes
Conditioned at the moment of intent.
Every fortune which arises to anyone
Results from his own former wish.
Your powerful expression of supplication
Was praised by all the Buddhas;
In a moment of time
The truth will certainly appear.

Amitabha then restored Avalokiteshvara's body, transforming his torn flesh into 1000 hands, each with it's own wisdom eye. He transformed the shattered head into 10 faces, 9 peaceful and one wrathful, so that he could look in all directions and reach out compassionately and forcefully to all beings. To show how pleased he was with Avalokiteshvara, he crowned the 10 faces with a replica of his own.

http://www.kalsangdawa.com/gallery/1000arm.htm

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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Jnana » Fri Feb 04, 2011 1:23 am

swampflower wrote:If one examines Buddha, does this not mean awakened one or enlightened one?
And Bodhisattva, from bodhi as awakened or knowing, and sattva as reality or existence, is also awakened existence.
Even the Buddha chose to remain in this Earthly realm to bring the Dharma forth. How is this different from a Bodhisattva?

There is a hierarchy of ten bodhisattva stages for a reason. A first stage bodhisattva doesn't have the same capacities and realization as an eighth stage bodhisattva, and an eighth stage bodhisattva doesn't have the same capacities and realization as a buddha.

All the best,

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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Dexing » Fri Feb 04, 2011 3:36 am

swampflower wrote:Nirvana is to enter the non dual state. This is the cessation and leaving all behind. om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha


It's odd to see the prajñāpāramitā mantra after such a statement.
That sort of nirvāṇa is not the equivalent of bodhi.

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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby ground » Fri Feb 04, 2011 5:59 am

Actually with an altruistic mind intent on the liberation of all beings all these thoughts would vanish. The weakness of bodhicitta is the cause of the arising of all these discursive thoughts. This is one (of many) paradoxa resulting from the meeting of Mahayana teachings, sense faculties and consciousnesses.

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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby Astus » Fri Feb 04, 2011 3:31 pm

Sāvaka wrote:After reading further I've come across a wiki quote that there is a Zen perspective takes the trikāya non-literally, if true that adds an alternative look.


The only difference there is is that in Zen buddha-mind contains all three bodies thus realising the buddha-mind one is a buddha - this is the concept behind sudden enlightenment. Although there are other interpretations too but not as popular as this one.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Paradox of Buddhahood in Mahayana (newbie's questions)

Postby swampflower » Fri Feb 04, 2011 10:52 pm

Dexing wrote:
swampflower wrote:Nirvana is to enter the non dual state. This is the cessation and leaving all behind. om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha


It's odd to see the prajñāpāramitā mantra after such a statement.
That sort of nirvāṇa is not the equivalent of bodhi.

:namaste:


I am here to learn.
Please explain my error.
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