Khalil Bodhi wrote:Hi Everyone,
In the few traditions I have studied within the Mahayana (Soto Zen, Korean Seon and Kagyu), I have noticed and been uncomfortable with the vows to save all beings. I have often wondered where this comes from as the Lord Buddha himself made no such asseveration (at least according to the Pali canon). I find much to admire and practice in all of the traditions mentioned parenthetically above but the vow to save all beings makes me uncomfortable whether it is a vow made in earnest or a rhetorical device.
I would appreciate your thoughts on the question and my apologies if I have offended anyone. Mettaya!
Hi, Khalil Bodhi.
How one might relate the Bodhisattva Vow(s) in any of its forms to the Nikāyas/ Āgamas is a good question. I've been thinking about this. Here's what has occurred to me thus far:
In the discourses of the four "major" Nikāyas/ Āgamas we don't find a bodhisattva vow, but we do read that the Buddha became a buddha out of compassion for the world. In the Aṅguttara Nikāya the Buddha speaks of himself as the one "who arises in the world" for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world (AN 1.13.1/ sutta 170; cf. MN 4.21, 12.63). The two verbs translated here as "arises" by Bhikkhu Bodhi mean "to come into existence" or "to be produced" (or in some contexts "to be reborn"). In other words, a (samyaksaṁ)buddha comes to be a buddha out of compassion for the world and to benefit "the many" by teaching the way to liberation. He becomes a buddha in order to liberate beings and not only for his own benefit. He doesn't only teach
out of boundless compassion. He attains unsurpassed awakening out of boundless compassion for the world of suffering beings. A bodhisattva vow to liberate all beings seems compatible with what we read here, if one thinks that the vow can eventually be fulfilled.
A vow to become a buddha in order to liberate beings appears in the admittedly late scripture the Buddhavaṁsa (Bu. 2.56) in the Khuddaka Nikāya of the Pāli Tipiṭaka and in the Pāli commentarial literature, such as the Nidānakathā and the Cariyāpiṭaka-aṭṭhakathā. This later Theravāda material might be seen as more of an interpretation or explanation of the earlier material instead of necessarily contradictory to it.
In Mahāparinibbāna Sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya (at DN 16.3.22-23) the Buddha hints at the immeasurable scope of his compassionate, liberative activity. He says that he appeared in various assemblies of kṣatriyas, brahmins, householders, śramaṇas, devas of the Catur-Mahārāja, devas of the Trāyastriṃśa, māras, and Brahmās, manifesting the appearance and speech of those in the respective groups in which he appeared, and taught them the Dharma. Similarly, in the Majjhima Nikāya (at MN 26.21) he examines the whole world with compassion from the seat of his awakening to see whom he might teach and, after observing individuals easy to teach and those difficult to teach, he declares, "Open for them are the doors to the Deathless..." In the Apadāna of the Khuddaka Nikāya and in the commentaries the Buddha is called lokagaru, "Teacher of the World." The title seems to imply that the Buddha seeks to liberate the world of beings.
Historically, many Theravāda kings, monks, copyists (of scripture), and writers of commentaries have taken a bodhisatta vow to liberate all beings (see http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/jeffrey2.htm
). Therefore, it seems that it must be possible to read the Pāli Tipiṭaka in a way that is compatible with such a vow.