Buddhism has a history of establishing real values and grounds of humanity and the ideals for a fulfilling life. Bodhisattva is yet another concept to achieve inner peace and show compassion.
The word compassion has always been used to encourage mankind to feel, to introspect and to nurture. Without compassion, mankind fails a stand to grow, to learn, or to survive, and with compassion travels the true sense of understanding and bonding.
A Bodhisattva’s emphatic trait ‘compassion’ is so profound that it has been debated that Bodhisattva led to the development of these values amongst humans. After all, according to the oldest Mahayana Buddhism tradition, a living being or a Bodhi who carries altruistic practices to gain enlightenment or Sattva is the torchbearer of compassion.
Stories have been written about Buddha’s students falling ill when the humans around him or her fall sick, because a Bodhisattva feels what they feel, joy or pain, both alike. A Bodhisattva stays to bring morality, humbleness, wisdom, and self-sacrifice into the earth’s roots and enriches our home.
A person walking on the path of Buddhahood, and has made a resolution to become a Buddha, is called Bodhisattva.
In the truest form of Buddhist teaching, a Buddhist deity who has attained enlightenment and decides to help earthbound, is a Bodhisattva. They delay their entry into paradise, just to use mercy and compassion, to protect and help mankind on earth.
The Bodhisattva represents warmth and awakening as well, with a Status of the deity with 11 heads and 8 arms present in Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden, Netherlands. The power to see everything and help everyone lies in the hands of a Bodhisattva.
A Bodhisattva knows there cannot be any separation between them and mankind. As a sentient being, they pursue a vital posture to live life, share it with the needy, and never have a limited mindset.
They strive to uphold all precepts but also understand if they need to be broken. Once broken, they make peace with the consequences and have faith in their actions. This ensures they always stand with mankind, even if it means embracing hell.
History of Bodhisattva
Bodhisattva’s history lies in its Sanskrit name, Avalokiteśvara, mentioned in one of the foundations of Mahayana Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra text. As a part of the 25th chapter, originating in India back in the first century AD, Bodhisattva is known to be present in both female and male forms.
However, in other interpretations in east Asia, like the Chinese Guanyin, Bodhisattva is a female ‘perceiver of sounds’, who walks towards cries of human sorrow, to help them on the path of salvation. Surprisingly, Chinese and Japanese Literatures have multiple references to the deity, like in The Tale of Genji. Currently, the example of this influence sits well in St Louis Art Museum, a statue made in China back in the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) period.
In Nichiren Buddhism, Bodhisattva is a practice of compassion for themselves and others. This is a practice in twins, where courage changes a Bodhisattva’s life first and builds vitality in them. Only after attaining enlightenment, with wisdom and compassion, a Bodhisattva can truly fulfill his/her destiny.
Interpretations of Bodhisattva Around The World
The dynamic presence of Bodhisattva’s across countries, centuries and cultures have proved their greatness.
Theravada, the present form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka has stories (‘The Jatakas’) where Gautama Siddhartha is called a Bodhisattva at an early age. It centers around the belief that anyone on the right path to attain the Buddha is a Bodhisattva.
Mahayana culture brings out ‘celestial’ Bodhisattva’s who have been walking the earth ever since its birth. These are people who have trained for years to gain supernatural powers and wisdom, making their actions miraculous.
Moreover, beings who have been a part of folklore, humans who somehow saved the day, but are portrayed as humble common men/women, have also been interpreted to be Bodhisattva’s.
In East Asia, Tara in Tibet and Jizo in Japan have emerged as localized interpretations, not just being part of mythology, but being valued like modern-day beings.
What stands common across all interpretations is the non-heroic meaning of a Bodhisattva, the journey in tradition, and the dignity of their purpose. A Bodhisattva is fearless and thus never quivers from their duty-path, and remains away from the web of personal eccentricity.
The Lineage of Bodhisattva
The Lineage of Bodhisattva’s arises from members of history, like Vajrapani and Manjushri. This lineage proves their incessant dedication was never dedicated to self-preservation but for the wellbeing of the human species.
Bodhisattva lineage brings nirvana in order to ensure that it stays unbroken, because nobody has ever broken the vows to assist humanity. What makes one surprised is that this lineage, extraordinary on its own, has never been considered a myth, it thrives as a realistic story of guidance.
The Lineage has also often attracted jealousy of those who chose not to join it. This comparison arises because Bodhisattva’s are said to work amidst riches, a consequence of their vows.
However, only very few understand that with these blessings, a Bodhisattva faces challenges unlike any other sentient being. These challenges are about meeting the demands that their role in society wins.
The demand of a Bodhisattva’s duty towards society is to not just with their own ‘other; but also the ‘other’ surrounding them. Their own ‘other’ is their own comfort, own sense of individuality, and privacy along with their image projection.
The ‘other’ that engulfs them is the world around them, with its expectations, confusion, and resolve. A Bodhisattva has to find their own center amidst all of the chaos while bringing peace.
When an ordinary person wants to take responsibility to remove confusion and pain, to deal with evils, they choose to become a part of this lineage. A bodhisattva takes a step back, observes, and ensures that they never ruin this lineage, never add to the perils of mankind.
For an ordinary human being, even one who might not be a ‘True adult’ like a Bodhisattva, the lineage of Bodhisattva’s gives inspiration to them, to be the best version of themselves. To escape individual grandiosity and know the art of selflessness.
Who is Bodhisattva Maitreya?
A Bodhisattva Maitreya is the Buddha of the future, a being who will rise to bring salvation and light to the next age. Since Bodhisattvas are in existence amongst the day to day lives, Maitreya follows the same path, taking on the mantle of Buddha.
Just like Buddha was the first-born Bodhisattva, Maitreya will be the Buddha of the next world, helping fellow human beings with the ideal traits of Bodhisattva. With Maitreya, it is believed that the future age would shine and feel true happiness.
With Bodhisattva Maitreya, one understands the motive of the Mahayana teaching, to welcome anyone who wishes to, into Buddhahood. Not only that, it also makes this path less difficult as compared to other Buddhist texts.
History of Bodhisattva Maitreya
We rely on history and discoveries to understand how Bodhisattva’s dressed and how they were interpreted in art to be different from the Buddha. A Bodhisattva Maitreya sculpture, the infamous statue at the Asian Art Museum tells the true story.
When it comes to Bodhisattva’s, they stand highly adorned in robes, jewelry, exquisite hairdos, and accessories. While, on the other hand, a Buddha is the epitome of simplicity, found only in a single plain draped robe.
The only possible justification for this arises from Buddha’s historical life, as a prince, while also ensuring that a Bodhisattva is never believed to be the same as the Buddha. When Buddha renounced his kingdom, he represented simplicity, found even in his attire. While for Bodhisattva’s they still lived amongst the evils and the perils of society.
The sculpture is made from schist stone, with extremely minute and unparalleled carving. With a small flask in a Bodhisattva’s hand, it shows Gandharan sculpting, where huge emphasis is given to anatomical details.
The flask, even though believed to carry the portion of immortality, adds a realistic touch to a Bodhisattva’s presence. Buddhist art has examples of wonderful imagery and worldwide appeal, with a Bodhisattva Maitreya sculpture adding fame.
Maitreya’s reference in Buddhist art
Even though Bodhisattvas are present in multiple stories and exist in multiple beliefs, there is no doubt that their beginning is rooted in Buddhism. So, when Buddhism art found presence, in approximately 560-480 B.C.E with sculptures of Buddha, Buddhist Maitreya was also found with it.
The renowned sculpture of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, a part of the Avery Brundage Collection of the Asian Art museum now, is said to be from 100-300 B.C.E. In the ancient region of Gandhara, it accompanies many other Buddhist arts found in the region.
Since a Bodhisattva is not God but common human beings, it can connect to the common mass that further made faith more accessible to the larger masses.
The process of becoming a Bodhi, who walks the difficult path, to bring happiness to the world, is known to involve four vows. These vows, daunting and unique, hold their importance because the concept of a Bodhisattva is not magic. It finds strength and existence in ordinary men and women on earth.
These vows turn compassion as the sole motive behind all actions of a Bodhisattva, leading to enlightenment for the sake of human care. Each vow secures Buddhist teaching, making the goal of a Bodhisattva a continual pursuit.
These vows represent the aim of a Bodhisattva; while they walk towards the direction of truly living their lives, as a part of mankind. A Bodhi believes that everything, fate or meaning, is a part of them, for all of humanity.
These vows bring a Bodhisattva closer to self-mastery, where learning and efforts are entrusted in the Bodhisattva to self-attain knowledge. This wisdom is used to contribute to Bodhi’s difficult journey, to remove the sufferings of man.
“However innumerable sentient beings are, I vow to save them; however inexhaustible the passions are, I vow to master them; however limitless the teachings are, I vow to study them; however infinite the Buddha-truth is, I vow to attain it.”
The vows strictly mean that the term Bodhisattva and its acceptance do not mean self-appreciation or growth, but to bring joy to sad faces.
With individual liberation, a Bodhisattva grows by learning within the human society, contributing to society, and instilling humanity around themselves. The six perfections that these vows bring are – generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and transcendental knowledge.
The Humble Abodes of Bodhisattva
Bodhisattva and its vows, attain existence and meaning because of the four abodes that each Bodhisattva exemplifies with their mind and presence. These abodes take years of practice and skill to harness, to control, and to emit, giving a Bodhisattva the right virtue of mind.
The first abode is, loving-kindness or ‘metta’ which means that a Bodhisattva should strike a balance between love and kindness. Their hearts should always be filled with love for others, instilling the thought of kindness towards others. However, only with love and acceptance of oneself, can a Bodhisattva master this abode.
The second abode is compassion or ‘karuna’, without which we know a Bodhisattva cannot join the path of Buddhahood. It is only with compassion that all abodes can come together and bring warmth to the world.
The third abode is empathetic joy or ‘Mudita’, which means that a Bodhisattva spreads joy, but only after understanding the feelings of others around them. When Bodhisattva masters seeing a situation by the eye of others, they can spread true joy.
The fourth abode is, equanimity or ‘Upekkha’ where a Bodhisattva has to treat all of mankind equally. It means that it values all types of emotions, all kinds of situations, all kinds of concerns at par, giving equal importance to everything they face or do.
It is only with these abodes; a Bodhisattva’s work finds meaning and is often called as Buddha’s way of giving back to the society.
The Four Stages of The Bodhisattva Path
After understanding various stories of how Gautama become a Bodhisattva, the four stages of Bodhisattva in the Mahavastu of Mahāsāṃghika–Lokottaravādins were found.
To understand these four stages, one needs to know how the stories of the first Bodhisattva have developed and how each story impacts a belief system amongst all Bodhisattvas.
The earliest story is of the encounter between Gautama Buddha and Dipankara, where a future Bodhisattva needed to take his vow and receive confirmation of his future destiny from a Buddha first.
More stories talk about this same norm, but with additional pure elements like lotuses acting as a blessing and the long duration of ninety-one aeons to become a Buddha. Once a Buddha confirms the future of a man into Buddhahood, they cannot ignore this prediction or try to escape it.
The first stage is of Natural roots being used in front of a Buddha, by anyone vying to achieve Buddhahood. The second stage is to take the first Resolution to attain Buddhahood in front of the same Buddha.
The third stage assures continuum, where after this, one has to practise Buddhahood till they meet a Buddha who approves of their deeds, granting them the permission to be a Buddha. The fourth stage is Irreversibility, where a Buddha can never go back to their old self.
The reason this story makes sense is that it keeps the sanctity of Buddhism intact. A Buddha will most effectively assess anyone who is seeking the path to Buddhahood. This assessment is crucial so that no one who is selfish or evil becomes a part of the lineage.
To attain Bodhisattva, different books and evidence across history, have signified a path of 10 stages. Only when a human completes all these stages, they get to emerge as a Bodhisattva.
These ten grounds are themselves unique, mentioned in the Avatamsaka Sutra. However, they also come with a clause, to claim control over two paths before stepping into the first ground.
The two paths, of accumulation and preparation, allows one to focus their energy and set the right mindset. Without a prepared mind and accumulated wisdom, a Bodhisattva cannot start the grounds, with the ten levels.
Bodhisattva Level 1: Great Joy
The first ground is ‘Great Joy’, bringing forth the joy a Bodhisattva should get when they help others. In this ground or Bhumi, generosity plays a lead role, to bring joy to others by actions and feel joy as a reward.
Bodhisattva Level 2: Stainless
This ensures that a Bodhisattva is free from the chains of immortality. Essentially, a Bodhisattva should not be stained with immortality, by practicing moral discipline.
Bodhisattva Level 3: Luminous
The third ground is Luminous, where the Bodhisattva emits the light of Dharma. This light generates from Bodhisattva’s principle of patience. The light brings togetherness and warmth to oneself and the environment.
Bodhisattva Level 4: Radiance
The fourth ground of ‘Radiance’ means the energy that surrounds a Bodhisattva. The true purpose of this energy is to burn everything which works against enlightenment. A bodhisattva with vigor can only attain this ground.
Bodhisattva Level 5: Very difficult to train
As a step to become a Bodhisattva, one has to use meditative concentration and train oneself. This training is crucial if you want to be mature first and then help others achieve the same feat.
Bodhisattva Level 6: Obviously Transcendent
The ‘obviously transcendent’ stage arises from the state of existence of a Bodhisattva. With the right use of wisdom, this allows them to be in transcendence, throughout the time on earth.
Bodhisattva Level 7: Gone afar
The seventh bhumi is ‘Gone afar’ which portrays the willingness of a Bodhi to take the next step. The principle of skillful means should be used by a Bodhisattva to cross all boundaries in order to help the needy.
Bodhisattva Level 8: Immovable
The ‘immovable’ ground means that a Bodhisattva is able to choose the place of rebirth. This instills the responsibility of choice and allows them to utilize the virtue of aspiration.
Bodhisattva Level 9: Good Discriminating Wisdom
The ninth ground is of ‘Good discriminating wisdom’. Even though a Bodhisattva never differentiates between humans, they should possess the capability to set self and non-self apart. Without this, they can be too emotionally involved with themselves.
Bodhisattva Level 10: Cloud of Dharma
The ground of ‘Cloud of Dharma’ allows the use of primordial wisdom to learn dharma. Infact, it highlights the importance of teaching others, the passage to Dharma, and to Buddha. But, never forcing these teachings on anyone.
These grounds are often linked to a principle or trait, that a Bodhisattva vows to attain and follow. The achievement of these vows is through passages of insight and meditation, till the true Bodhi reaches a path of no more learning which are the last three grounds.
Where Does The Seed of Bodhisattva Lie in An Ordinary Person?
It is believed that the desire to practice Buddhism and for any individual to develop the wish to help others, a personal connection is needed. This means that one enters the world of Buddhism due to a personal struggle, loss, or cross a life challenge.
However, with patience and virtue, they turn their insights of Buddhism to rise in support of mankind. To become a Bodhisattva. In Mahayana pretext, bodhicitta, or a spontaneous wish that is generated, is the seed of a Bodhisattva’s life.
At the end of the day, a Bodhisattva is an ordinary human, who chooses to live by vows. So, anyone who desires to follow the path of Buddhism decides to sacrifice desires, to not let past actions control them, connects a Bodhi to their true destiny. A true interpretation would be anyone who seeks to become a ‘Dainin’ or ‘True Adult’ represents a Bodhisattva in the making.
However, when a Bodhisattva takes a decision, it is never for their own, always for others. A true Bodhi puts others before themselves, without having any own individual boundaries. This is where the wish starts, to be open to the world, to hold responsibility, and to be great teachers.
What is The Time To Achieve Bodhisattva?
In some sutras, it is said that it can take 3-22 eons to lead oneself to Buddha. Sometimes, it is a matter of a karmic cycle for the attainment of Buddhahood.
When a Bodhisattva finds their place of deed and dharma, it becomes a sacred site. Often called as the Bodhimanda, its history shows the tenure of a Bodhi and their lessons. An example is the famous Bodhi tree where Sakyamuni achieved Buddhahood.
What makes Bodhisattva exclusive and rare?
With compassion at heart and mindfulness in the soul, a Bodhisattva sets themselves apart with their initiative, direction, and purity. Their work and their approach to solving problems, handling situations, and finding peace, it all makes their existence a rare occurrence. Here’s a detailed dig into it.
Bodhisattva work of Liberation
With liberating everyone around them, a Bodhisattva takes forward the ideal methodology of benevolence. Liberation is achieved by expanding the horizon, thinking beyond the usual, and considering everything in the universe.
When you try to liberate others, you learn a little about their life and take forward their learnings. As a human bound by selfishness, we tend to use these little by little knowledge for our own growth.
However, a Bodhisattva never takes this road. They never use their wisdom for personal gains, but only build it to support the planet. Infact, you will never find a Bodhisattva asking for credit because it stands against their motive.
No appreciation is the last concern of a Bodhisattva, but ensuring their efforts bring kindness around them, that remains as their topmost priority. This lack of need for credit, it makes them genuine and graceful.
The reason a Bodhisattva vision covers everything is to ensure their limited views never bring any self-centeredness in their work. This way, a Bodhisattva not only feels compassion for friends or family but even for those who were earlier considered enemies.
However, it isn’t like a Bodhisattva is not emotionally strong and involved in their tasks, but their first guiding emotion is always compassion. This allows a Bodhisattva to always make the first move, to help first, apologize first, to learn first.
An end to human suffering
A Bodhisattva is aware of the sufferings of the world, from egoism, neurotic behavior to wars. They use patience and meditation to gain this awareness and use it in their purpose.
Across countries, billions of people suffer, in some form or another. A Bodhisattva acknowledges that but doesn’t give up on the world. They believe in their efforts to heal the world, to make it a better place.
The world is healed without any aggression of expectations. No Bodhisattva that walks the earth will ever try to convert anyone around them or force them to follow Buddhism. It is their actions that prove their worth.
A Bodhisattva practices the teachings of Lord Buddha in day to day activities, implanting them into their lives. They fuse their talents into their vows, removing any ills from their defining roles. This gives them the unlimited potential to share and to be able to trust themselves first.
To end global suffering, a Bodhisattva lets go of their ‘ape instinct’, willing to sleep on an empty stomach if someone else can have a hearty meal. These actions become stepping-tools for anyone who wants to discard evil and become selfless.
A Challenging Task
The first challenging problem on the journey to Bodhisattva is to find life with a lack of humor. With a particular regime and set goal, the humor never finds a place in the life of a Bodhisattva.
However, living a military regime and forgetting happiness, counters the guiding of Bodhisattva lineage. You have to leap continuously, towards joy and cheerfulness.
If a Bodhisattva stands grim and looks strict, man fears to approach them, going against the contract of openness that Bodhisattva signs. A Bodhi attains salvation when they vow to settle into this world.
The second challenge is to not let go of oneself and find harmony, to get rid of poverty and famine. When this challenge is accomplished, every human being can find the enlightenment within.
The third challenge is to focus on commitment because a Bodhisattva cannot let fear be a roadblock. When you take the path of a Bodhisattva, you have to bypass any doubts and associate yourself with the goal.
The only ambition for a Buddhist is to achieve enlightenment and nirvana but Bodhisattvas have the heart to even give up on that for the sake of others.
A Bodhisattva signifies true promise, honesty, and emotions. Their actions are pure, bringing serenity to the world. They become like the elements we see around us, the sun, the earth, the air, and the water – flowing freely amongst mankind, selflessly helping them, and never wishing for anything in return.
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