Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

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Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Arjan Dirkse » Tue Jun 25, 2013 2:41 am

Usually I'm not that bothered about the exact nature of what Buddhahood or Bodhisattvahood entails, but I couldn't get this out of my mind and I didn't find the answer for it on the web or any other resource available to me...so I thought someone here should know the official answer.

I thought that in Mahayana Buddhism, a Bodhisattva was a being that was awakened but postponed their own final step towards Buddhahood to stay in samsara and help other beings achieve Buddhahood. But if that is the case, then why is it that Shakyamuni Buddha did make that final step from Bodhisattva towards Buddhahood? I mean there are still sentient beings suffering, so how come he did not "stay behind" as a Bodhisattva being until all sentient beings are saved?
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Nilasarasvati » Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:21 am

That's a really good question. I mean I'm always confused too on the boundary line of Buddha/Bodhisattva. It may be helpful for you to learn about the Bhumis. There are levels of bodhisattvas and the final one (11) is the level of a perfectly enlightened Buddha. BTW just because Shakyamuni became a Buddha doesn't mean he doesn't continue to help/benefit sentient beings or that he "Retired" so to speak into nirvana.

The scriptural gurus will be here soon to give you better, more official help!
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby LastLegend » Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:21 am

I think Buddhas still work to help sentient beings. And it is a matter of choice, if one vows to help sentient beings as a Bodhisattva before becoming a Buddha. Earth Store Bodhisattva, for example, vowed to liberate all beings from hell before becoming Buddha. When Bodhisattvas complete their vows, they can become Buddhas. Though I don't know what the standard work requirements a Bodhisattva has to do before becoming a Buddha.
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Arjan Dirkse » Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:31 am

Nilasarasvati wrote:That's a really good question. I mean I'm always confused too on the boundary line of Buddha/Bodhisattva. It may be helpful for you to learn about the Bhumis. There are levels of bodhisattvas and the final one (11) is the level of a perfectly enlightened Buddha. BTW just because Shakyamuni became a Buddha doesn't mean he doesn't continue to help/benefit sentient beings or that he "Retired" so to speak into nirvana.

The scriptural gurus will be here soon to give you better, more official help!


Thanks! The bhumis are new to me. So, ten more stages to go through...I better get practicing then, I guess.

Do the most prominent Bodhisattvas, like Manjushri, Avalokitesvara, or Ksitigarbha, have an established ranking on the bhumi scale, or is that left undetermined? Is it assumed that at some point in time, perhaps infinitessimally far away, they will be full Buddhas, like Shakyamuni?
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Anders » Tue Jun 25, 2013 1:17 pm

Bodhisattvas don't as a rule postpone Buddhahood.

They postpone parinirvana, final cessation, in order to be able to attain full Buddhahood. It is just that the requisites for Buddhahood tend to take quite a while to accumulate and parinirvana is a far quicker and more accessible option before that can happen.

As for the Bodhisattvas on the highest bhumi who can attain Buddhahood when they please but nevertheless postpone it, this is due to the nature of their personal vows. Manjushri has guided countless beings to Buddhahood but has vowed to create an uber pureland that makes sukhavati look like an old garden shed in comparison before he will attain Buddhahood. Shakyamuni attained Buddhahood fairly quickly. Both service sentient beings.

It's worth remembering that just as there are countless skilful means to address the variety of sentient beings Buddhas also manifest as Buddhas in many various ways in accordance with the huge variety of sentient beings and karma.
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I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Simon E. » Tue Jun 25, 2013 1:34 pm

This you know Sir ? Can I ask how ?
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Jikan » Tue Jun 25, 2013 1:45 pm

Simon E. wrote:This you know Sir ? Can I ask how ?


"Thus have I heard..."

Anders' explanation is more or less identical to how it has been explained to me on the basis of the Mahayana sutras.
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Simon E. » Tue Jun 25, 2013 1:48 pm

May it be a good idea to ( routinely ) name the source ? Not everyone knows the sources and not everyone holds the same literal interpretation.


:namaste:
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby seeker242 » Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:49 pm

I don't think the term "Bodhisattva" is specifically limited just to an enlightened being, Avalokiteshvara for example. It can also refer to an unenlightened person who "motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.". In other words, a person who is traveling the Bodhisattva path, who still has more traveling to do and has not necessarily reached the final destination yet. They can still be called a Bodhisattva, but not a Buddha, until they reach the end. When they reach the end, they can be called either. Perhaps not all of them though. For example, A Buddha who chooses to enter "parinirvana", I don't think can be called a Bodhisattva. That is how I understand it anyway. :smile:
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby kirtu » Tue Jun 25, 2013 8:31 pm

Arjan Dirkse wrote:I thought that in Mahayana Buddhism, a Bodhisattva was a being that was awakened but postponed their own final step towards Buddhahood to stay in samsara and help other beings achieve Buddhahood. But if that is the case, then why is it that Shakyamuni Buddha did make that final step from Bodhisattva towards Buddhahood? I mean there are still sentient beings suffering, so how come he did not "stay behind" as a Bodhisattva being until all sentient beings are saved?


Shakyamuni Buddha is the Buddha of this dispensation of the Dharma. So it's kind of like he's the Lord of the Universe (in a way, but that's probably not that great an analogy). Buddha's of dispensations reestablish the Dharma after the previous dispensation has totally passed away. In doing so, they are all said to perform 12 deeds, one of which is passing into Parinirvana. So in the end, they all pass away. The only thing that differs are the details of their birth, clan they are born into (all established from an Indian perspective of course), length of time it takes them for enlightenment (both in their final birth and in the period between when they become a Bodhisattva and demonstrate enlightenment), length of their lives (Maitreya is supposed to live for tens of thousands of years for example), their retinue, some of their teachings tailored to the beings of the time (as Malcolm reminds was, Buddha Sikhin didn't establish a monastic order), etc. But in the end, they all pass away in order to demonstrate impermanence and to spur "lazy disciples" to action.

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“All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood.”
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Nilasarasvati » Tue Jun 25, 2013 9:52 pm

Do the most prominent Bodhisattvas, like Manjushri, Avalokitesvara, or Ksitigarbha, have an established ranking on the bhumi scale, or is that left undetermined? Is it assumed that at some point in time, perhaps infinitessimally far away, they will be full Buddhas, like Shakyamuni?


Yeah actually, although there are supposedly infinite 10th bhumi Bodhisattvas, the "eight great close sons" are especially held as dear examples: Ksitigarbha, Akasagarbha, Maitreya, Manjusri, Avalokitesvara, Nivaranaviskambhin, Vajrapani, and Samantabhadra. Arya Tara is also a really popular Mahasattva, but she's not included in the "8 Greats" I guess because she's supposed to be synonymous with Avalokitesvara. Technically they are all synonymous with Avalokitesvara though, so I don't know why she should be excluded. :P

My understanding however is that in the Vajrayana, we see them as already fully enlightened Buddhas who are pretending/manifesting as 10th bhumi bodhisattvas in order to show us how excellent it is to be one.

The whole "time" question is weird. Because the Dasabhumika Sutra http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Stages_Sutra and commentaries on it usually say..once you hit the first bhumi...it's like a lightning flash thereafter to become a Buddha, or "like ones feet ascending a staircase" the stages come almost effortlessly and almost inevitably. You only end up "hanging out" on one of the Bhumis because it might benefit beings, not because you have obscurations that prevent you from going higher.

But yes, they will eventually be Munis like Shakyamuni. Maitreya is next.
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby jeeprs » Wed Jun 26, 2013 1:14 am

It is more that the bodhisattva continues to live voluntarily, even having passed beyond the factors which generally bind beings to the wheel of existence. So their lives are a gesture of compassion and generosity, they are not born from compulsion but from compassion.

//edit// - what is beyond existence is also beyond conception.
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Arjan Dirkse » Wed Jun 26, 2013 1:54 am

Thanks for the answers, this has cleared up a lot.

Personally I'm happy with a vagueish explanation, it's not that important for me to have the whole hierarchy figured out...I was just getting confused about the current status of Shakyamuni in Mahayana, if he is still present in our current age in a way. So if I understand correctly, the general consensus in Mahayana is that despite his parinirvana, Shakyamuni is still able to help us, by being omnipresent in the form of the Dharma, in a way? More or less similar perhaps to the Holy Spirit in Christianity?

Nilasarasvati, that's a good point about time getting a bit weird; isn't Shakyamuni also supposed to have time traveling powers? By virtue of this you could also claim he is still present, at any particular point in time.
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Huifeng » Wed Jun 26, 2013 3:19 am

Arjan Dirkse wrote:Usually I'm not that bothered about the exact nature of what Buddhahood or Bodhisattvahood entails, but I couldn't get this out of my mind and I didn't find the answer for it on the web or any other resource available to me...so I thought someone here should know the official answer.

I thought that in Mahayana Buddhism, a Bodhisattva was a being that was awakened but postponed their own final step towards Buddhahood to stay in samsara and help other beings achieve Buddhahood. But if that is the case, then why is it that Shakyamuni Buddha did make that final step from Bodhisattva towards Buddhahood? I mean there are still sentient beings suffering, so how come he did not "stay behind" as a Bodhisattva being until all sentient beings are saved?


The Mahayana is a huge tradition, spanning centuries, and with a large number of different perspectives.

The notion that a bodhisattva is already awakened does appear in some traditions, but not all. Originally, whoever aspires to awakening (ie. arises bodhicitta) is a bodhisattva. But obviously, that doesn't make them awakened. The very term "bodhisattva" has a number of different interpretations, but actually seldom "awakened being". That would be "buddha-sattva". "Bodhi" is "awakening", not "awakened". So, "a being for awakening", or "one fixed on awakening", are other definitions. Likewise too, the idea that they will awaken all other beings is not always taken literally. Otherwise, it entails the logical fallacy that you point out.

Personally, I'm more inclined toward earlier Mahayana systems. Here, a bodhisattva is one who has aspiration to become a Buddha. They don't "postpone" awakening, per se. However, they don't prematurely realize nirvana before they have fulfilled the various qualities of a full awakened Buddha, either. Once those qualities are fulfilled, then they realize nirvana, and spend their last life teaching as a fully awakened one. In this explanation, I find the explanation via the three types of gnosis, ie. sarvajnata, margakarajnata, and sarvakarajnata, to be very helpful and internally consistent.

It's help to distinguish between rhetorical conventional expressions in teachings which require interpretation or exegesis, and those which are fully explicit and can be taken literally without much ado (whatever that really means in a hermeneutical context...)

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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Will » Wed Jun 26, 2013 3:58 am

Simon E. wrote:May it be a good idea to ( routinely ) name the source ? Not everyone knows the sources and not everyone holds the same literal interpretation.

:namaste:


Nor does everyone recalls exactly which sutra taught this or that, but some, I for one, do recall that Anders is presenting notions all found in the Mahayana sutras of Buddha.

If one wishes to know what the Mahayana is - study the sutras.

A bodhisattva wondered if the 80 years of Gautama was the end of his helping beings. Chapter two of the Golden Light Sutra teaches that is not the case at all. He will be helping beings for many aeons to come.
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby kirtu » Wed Jun 26, 2013 4:29 am

Huifeng wrote:In this explanation, I find the explanation via the three types of gnosis, ie. sarvajnata, margakarajnata, and sarvakarajnata, to be very helpful and internally consistent.


And what are these, Venerable?

Thanks!

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“All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood.”
Hevajra Tantra
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Huifeng » Wed Jun 26, 2013 6:16 am

kirtu wrote:
Huifeng wrote:In this explanation, I find the explanation via the three types of gnosis, ie. sarvajnata, margakarajnata, and sarvakarajnata, to be very helpful and internally consistent.


And what are these, Venerable?

Thanks!

Kirt


Being lazy, and knowing that I've posted about this before...
viewtopic.php?f=39&t=2849&p=21649&hilit=sarvakarajnata#p21649

In Mahayana Buddhism, the English word "omniscience" is a common translation for the Sanskrit term "sarvajnata", which is "the state of all knowledge". There are other related terms such as "sarvakarajnata", "the state of the knowledge of all modes" - sometimes this is also referred to as "omniscience" as well; and also "margajnata", "the state of knowledge of paths".

One of the most basic definitions of the former is that it is a knowledge of the "common characteristics" (samanya-laksana) of phenomena. Though what constitutes "common characteristics" of everything is a matter of dispute amongst schools, if one said impermanence, dissatisfactoriness, emptiness and not self, it wouldn't be a bad place to start.

The second term is often defined as knowledge of phenomena in "all their modes" (sarvakara). This means not just the common characteristics (as above), but also the "specific characteristics" (svalaksana), too. For instance, that material form is of the characteristic of occupying physical space; that sensation is of the characteristic of experiential reception of phenomena; etc.

The last term refers to knowing the various paths of living beings, and thus how to guide them along these paths.


Sarvajna basically equates to nirvana, and is shared by all the liberated aryas, the sravaka arhats, the pratyekabuddhas, and the Buddhas. It is the unconditioned.

Margakarajna is knowledge of the paths of beings, and is what the bodhisattvas work on to be able to guide sentient beings. It is conditioned.

Sarvakarajna is the fulfillment of margakarajna combined with sarvajna, and is realized by the fully awakened buddhas alone. It thus has both conditioned and unconditioned aspects.

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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Anders » Wed Jun 26, 2013 7:39 am

Simon E. wrote:May it be a good idea to ( routinely ) name the source ? Not everyone knows the sources and not everyone holds the same literal interpretation.


:namaste:


There is no one source for such a view. But I think it reflects more or less the traditional Mahayana view.

There is more to it than that of course, when you look at the Seed of Bodhi theory vs Ekayana theory (in the latter model, there doesn't seem to be any reason for the mahasattvas to hold off full buddhahood till their vows are completed as documented in many other sutras) and that's before going into Buddhahood-in-a-few-lifetimes model or considering pre-mahayana models of the bodhisattva path.

But I think what I wrote above gives the basic gist of why Bodhisattva and Buddhas do what they do in general Mahayana lore.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Anders » Wed Jun 26, 2013 7:45 am

Arjan Dirkse wrote:Thanks for the answers, this has cleared up a lot.

Personally I'm happy with a vagueish explanation, it's not that important for me to have the whole hierarchy figured out...I was just getting confused about the current status of Shakyamuni in Mahayana, if he is still present in our current age in a way. So if I understand correctly, the general consensus in Mahayana is that despite his parinirvana, Shakyamuni is still able to help us, by being omnipresent in the form of the Dharma, in a way? More or less similar perhaps to the Holy Spirit in Christianity?


The Lotus Sutra expouses this view, yes. That is basically the central message of that sutra.

Earlier sutras tend to go with the view that when a Buddha dies, he attains parinirvana and doesn't come back. But because Buddhas are basically so super-duper compared even to the highest bodhisattvas, the merit of becoming a Buddha is still greater than just being a bodhisattva forever. But the impression one gets from these sutras is that the when and why of it is more to do with the personal inclinations that shaped a given bodhisattva's personal vows than some universal calculation of "this route to buddhahood is always the best one."
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: Problem understanding Buddhahood/Bodhisattvahood

Postby Huifeng » Wed Jun 26, 2013 8:12 am

The question of the status of Sakyamuni--as either a human in his last life, or as a manifestation that continues for perpetuity--is one found also in non-Mahayana thought. In general, later Mahayana tended toward the latter explanation, but earlier forms of Mahayana often echo the former.

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