The Origins of the Bodhisattva Bhumis

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The Origins of the Bodhisattva Bhumis

Postby Indrajala » Sat May 14, 2011 1:59 pm

I found this recording of a lecture given by Dr. Jan Nattier on the origin of the Bodhisattva bhumis. Very well done and informative. Excellent scholarship.

Lecturer: Prof. Jan Nattier, International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University.

The first lecture from the conference "Buddhism in Asia", that took place at the East Asian Studies Department, Tel Aviv University.

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Re: The Origins of the Bodhisattva Bhumis

Postby Indrajala » Sat May 14, 2011 2:00 pm

John McRae's lecture on Bodhidharma is also available:
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Re: The Origins of the Bodhisattva Bhumis

Postby Nicholas Weeks » Sat May 14, 2011 4:09 pm

Nattier's lecture is over an hour and a half - how about the key bullet points on those "origins"?
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Re: The Origins of the Bodhisattva Bhumis

Postby pueraeternus » Sun May 15, 2011 2:14 am

This is an excellent talk. Thanks for the intro, Huseng.

These are my brief notes taken from listening to the video. I highly recommend listening to the entire clip:

The existence of the 10 bhumis imply that the Mahayanist conception of progress is gradual

4 stages of sainthood in the Hinayana are the 1st set of “stages of development”

The idea of Bodhisattvas was first introduced in the Jataka tales.

The original developers of the bodhisattva doctrine probably derived the basic structure of the bodhisattva paths from the Jatakas.

However, the ideas of 6 paramitas are not known in the Jatakas. The Jatakas also lack a structure or sequential progression of path.

Lokaksema - sutra of the 6 paramitas:
seems to be the earliest collection of Jatakas according to the 6 paramitas.
is the structure of the 6 paramitas a product of China?
the stories are Indian, but the table of contents might be chinese?

8000 prajnaparamita:
talks about bhumis, but in terms of sravakabhumi, pratyekabhumi, bodhisattvabhumi.
no mention of 10 stages

The earliest usage of the stratification of bhumis are twofold:
avarvitika bodhisattvas - irreversible
non-avivartika bodhisattvas - reversible to sravaka stage

Han period text - Buddhavamtasaka - translated by Lokaksema, earliest Chinese text to talk about 10 Bhumis.
taisho 280, 282, 283 can be reconstructed to be Lokaksema’s translation of the Buddhavamtasaka.

From this proto-avatamsaka (Buddhavamtasaka) sutra:
Bodhisattva Dharmamati learned about the 10 stages from Buddhas from the 10 directions during samadhi.

Dasabhumikasutra - the composer knew of the smaller buddhavamtasaka, and developed the idea of the 10 stages further. It does this by associating the 6 paramitas to the bhumis. This is the first time the paramitas are associated with the bhumis.

Q&A section
Nattier feels the Dasabhumika is quite incoherent, while the Buddhavamtasaka has clear instructions on how to practice, etc. The Dasabhumika assigns evocative names to the ten stages, rather than clear, descriptive labels (as per the Buddhavamtasaka).

In the later traditions, the ten bhumis start from the darsanamarga, whereas in the Buddhavamtasaka, the bhumis start before darsanamarga.

The mapping of the darsanamarga onto the ten bhumis is the result of a separate movement (than the one mentioned here).

In the Dasabhumika, the paramitas are linked to the ten stages, but not in a very clear or effective manner. The later commentators would refine this structure.

Why is the account of a vision accepted and preserved in a text like the Buddhavamtasaka? There are a lot of evidences in early Mahayana sutras that Mahayanists treasured visions.
In India, the idea that there are other universes and world systems like ours, appeared first in Buddhist literature, rather than Hindu literature (which one would expect). In fact, such an idea appeared exclusively in Mahayana literature. Such an idea (that there are other world systems to explore and learn from) is very important to the Mahayanist, because:
1. Since the next Buddha is Maitreya, and the estimated time between Sakyamuni’s Parinirvana and the arrival of Maitreya is about 5.5 billions years, how far back in the queue are you, as an aspirant?
2. In the early Mahayana sutras, the point where a Bodhisattva becomes irreversible is when a living Buddha grants a vyakarana. Since Sakyamuni has passed into Nirvana, where are you going to get a prediction? In early Mahayana sutras, some of these predictions appear to have been granted in said visions.

1. visions were accepted as legitimate.
2. Buddhas from the ten directions were accepted as real.
3. The authors of these early Mahayana sutras/vision-accounts were most likely considered authoritative and/or highly accomplished by their peers, hence they were recorded down.

When the earliest prajnaparamita sutras were composed, the idea of other Buddhas in other world systems were already prevalent. In the Asta, that Buddha is Akshobhya.

Early non-Mahayana commentators resisted the idea that there are Buddhas and world systems in the ten directions. For eg., the Mahavibhasa rejected this idea, asking that if it were so, then there would be heavens of world systems in our nadir, that would be below our hells.
If you believe certain words, you believe their hidden arguments. When you believe something is right or wrong, true of false, you believe the assumptions in the words which express the arguments. Such assumptions are often full of holes, but remain most precious to the convinced.

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Re: The Origins of the Bodhisattva Bhumis

Postby Jnana » Sun May 29, 2011 11:51 am

Thanks for posting the video Huseng.

And thanks for adding your notes Pueraeternus.

All the best,

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