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THE BUDDHA AND HIS TEACHINGS

Venerable Nārada Mahāthera


CHAPTER 40

THE BODHISATTA IDEAL

"This body of flesh and blood I bear
Just for the world's good and welfare."
-- SRI SANGABODHI

In the teachings of the Buddha, for the realization of the ultimate Goal, there are three modes of Enlightenment (Bodhi) one of which an aspirant may choose in accordance with his particular temperament. They are Sāvaka [1]- Bodhi, Pacceka-Bodhi and the Sammā-Sambodhi.

Sāvaka-Bodhi is the Enlightenment of a disciple. This is known as the Arahant [2] ideal. He who aspires to become an Arahant usually seeks the guidance of a superior enlightened instructor. A slight indication from an understanding teacher would alone be sufficient for a morally advanced aspirant to progress on the upward path of Enlightenment. Venerable Sāriputta, for instance, attained the first stage of Sainthood, hearing only half a stanza from the Arahant Assaji. The sorrow-afflicted Patācāra, who lost all those dear to her under tragic circumstances, attained Arahantship by watching the water that washed her feet. The child-like Kisāgotamī who implored the Buddha for a cure for her dead infant, attained Sainthood by watching a lamp that was being extinguished. Cūla Panthaka, who could not memorize a verse for four months, attained Arahantship by meditating on imper-manence while handling a clean piece of white cloth in his hand, gazing at the sun.

After achieving his goal, an Arahant devotes the remainder of his life to serving other seekers of peace by example and by precept. First he purifies himself, and then he tries to purify others by expounding to them the teachings which he himself has followed. An Arahant is more qualified to teach the Dhamma than ordinary worldling teachers, who have no realization of Truth, since he speaks from personal experience.

There is nothing selfish in the noble ideal of Arahantship, for Arahantship is gained only by eradicating all forms of selfishness. Self-illusion and Egoism are some of the fetters that have to be discarded in order to attain Arahantship. The wise men and women who lived in the time of the Buddha, and others later, benefited by the golden opportunity offered by Him to gain their enlightenment in this present life itself.

Pacceka-Bodhi is the independent Enlightenment of a highly evolved person who achieves his goal by his own efforts without seeking any external aid. Such a holy person is termed a Pacceka (Private) Buddha because he lacks the power to purify and serve others by expounding the Dhamma which he himself has discovered. Nevertheless he teaches morality.

Pacceka Buddhas arise only during those periods when the Teaching does not exist. Their number is not limited only to one at a particular time as in the case of Sammā-Sambuddhas.

Although the Buddha Gotama of the present era has passed away we are still living in a Buddha cycle, for the Teaching still exists in its pristine purity. Accordingly no Pacceka Buddhas arise during this period. In the Khaggavisāna Sutta of the Sutta Nipāta are treasured some beautiful sayings of Pacceka Buddhas. A few of their wise utterances are quoted below:--

1. Leaving aside the cudgel towards all beings, harming none of them, let him not yearn for sons or friends, but wander alone like a rhinoceros.

2. Affection arises from intimacy, and sorrow results thereby. Realizing the evil born of affection wander alone like a rhinoceros.

3. We certainly praise the value of comradeship. One should associate with superiors or equals. Failing them, lead a blameless life and wander alone like a rhinoceros.

4. Variegated, sweet, and enchanting are sensual pleasures. In diverse forms they seduce the heart. Recognizing their menace, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

5. Cold and heat, hunger, thirst, wind, sun, mosquitoes and snakes -- overcome them all, and wander alone like a rhinoceros.

6. Like a lion that does not tremble at every sound, like the wind that does not cling to the meshes of a net, like the lotus that is unsoiled by the mud, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

7. In due season cultivate loving-kindness, equanimity, compassion, release, appreciative joy, and unthwarted by the world, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Sammā-Sambodhi is the supreme Enlightenment of a most developed, most compassionate, most loving, all-knowing perfect being. He who attains this Bodhi is called a Sammā-Sambuddha, literally, a fully self-enlightened One. He is so called because he not only comprehends the Dhamma by his own efforts and wisdom but also expounds the doctrine to seekers of truth to purify and save them from this ever-recurring cycle of birth and death. Unlike the Private Buddhas, only one Supreme Buddha arises at a particular time, just as on certain trees one flower alone blooms.

He who aspires to attain Sammā-Sambuddhahood is called a Bodhisatta. This Bodhisatta ideal is the most refined and the most beautiful that could ever, in this ego-centric world, be conceived for what is nobler than a life of service and purity?

Those who, in the course of their wanderings in Samsāra, wish to serve others and reach ultimate perfection, are free to pursue the Bodhisatta ideal, but there is no compulsion that all must strive to attain Buddhahood, which, to say the least, is practically impossible. Critics who contend that the Bodhisatta ideal was evolved to counteract the tendency to a cloistered, placid and inert monastic life, only reveal ignorance of the pure Buddha-Dhamma.

The Abbisamayālankāra-Āloka, a later Samskrit work, a sub-commentary to the Prajnā Pāramitā, states:-

"The great disciples (Srāvakas), having attained the two kinds of Enlightenment (i.e., of the Srāvaka proper and the Pratyeka Buddha) with and without residue, remain with their minds full of fear, since they are deprived of great compassion and highest wisdom (uru karunā prajnā vaikal-yena). Owing to the cessation of the force of life, produced by the previous Biotic force, the attainment of Nirvana becomes possible. But in reality (the Hinayānist saints) are possessed only of that seeming Nirvana which is called the Nirvana resembling an extinguished light. The births in the three spheres of existence have ceased, but, after their worldly existence has taken an end, the Arahants are born in the most pure sphere of Buddhist activity in the unaffected plane (anāsravadhātu), in state of perpetual trance and abiding within the petals of lotus flowers (padmaphutesu jāyante). Thereafter the Buddha Amitābhā and other Buddhas resembling the sun arouse them in order to remove the undefiled ignorance (akilishta āna). Thereupon the Arahants make their creative effort for Supreme Enlightenment and, though they abide in a state of deliverance, they act (in the phenomenal world) as if they were making a descent to hell. And gradually, having accumulated all the factors for the attainment of Enlightenment, they become teachers of living beings (i.e., Buddhas)."

This is an absolutely fantastic view completely foreign to the spirit of the original teachings of the Buddha.

It is argued that Arahantship is selfish and that all must strive to attain Buddhahood to save others. Well, one might ask:-- What is the object of attaining Buddhahood ? Is it to make others attain Arahantship and save them? If so, the logical conclusion is that Buddhahood itself fosters selfishness which is absurd.

Buddhahood is indisputably the best and the noblest of all the three ideals, but all are not capable of achieving this highest ideal. Surely all scientists cannot be Einsteins and Newtons. There must also be lesser scientists who help the world according to their capabilities.

The Pāli term Bodhisatta is composed of Bodhi which means "wisdom" or "enlightenment", and "Satta" which means "devoted to" or "intent on." A Bodhisatta, therefore, means one who is devoted to, or intent on, wisdom or enlightenment. The Samskritised form should be Bodhishakta but the popular term is Bodhisattva which means "wisdom being" or a being aspiring to become a Buddha.

This term is generally applied to anyone who is striving for Enlightenment, but, in the strictest sense of the term, should be applied only to those who are destined to become supremely Enlightened Ones. [3]

In one sense all are potential Buddhas, for Buddhahood is not the special prerogative of specially graced persons.

It should be noted that Buddhists do not believe that there lies dormant in us all a divine spark that needs development, for they deny the existence of a Creator, but they are conscious of the innate possibilities and the creative power of man.

Buddhism denies too the existence of a permanent soul that transmigrates from life to life, acquiring all experiences. Instead of an unchanging soul, the so-called essence of man, it posits a dynamic life-flux where there is an identity in process.

As a man Prince Siddhārta, by his own will, wisdom and love, attained Buddhahood, the highest state of perfection any being could aspire to, and He revealed to mankind the only path that leads thereto. A singular characteristic of Buddhism is that anyone may aspire to the state of the teacher himself if only he makes the necessary exertion. The Buddha did not claim any monopoly of Buddhahood. It is not a sort of evolutionary process. It may be achieved by one's own effort without the help of another. The Buddha does not condemn men by calling them wretched sinners, but, on the contrary, encourages them saying that they are pure in heart at conception. Instead of disheartening followers, creating an inferiority complex, and reserving the exalted state of Buddha to Himself, He encourages them and inspires them to emulate Him.

A Bodhisatta need not necessarily be a Buddhist. We may find ever-loving Bodhisattas among Buddhists today, though they may be unaware of their lofty aspirations, and Bodhisattas may also be found among other religionists as well.

Three Types of Bodhisattas

According to Buddhism there are three types of Bodhisattas -- namely, Intellectual Bodhisattas (Paā-dhika). Devotional Bodhisattas (Saddhādhika) and Energetic Bodhisattas (Viriyādhika). These three kinds of Bodhisattas correspond to māna Yogi, Bhakti Yogi and Karma Yogi of the Hindus.

Intellectual Bodhisattas are less devotional and more energetic; devotional ones are less energetic and more intellectual; energetic ones are less intellectual and more devotional. Seldom, if ever, are these three characteristics harmoniously combined in one person. The Buddha Gotama is cited as one of the intellectual group.

According to the Books the intellectual ones attain Buddhahood within a short period, devotional ones take a longer time, and energetic ones take longer still.

Intellectual Bodhisattas concentrate more on the development of wisdom and on the practice of meditation than on the observance of external forms of homage. They are always guided by reason and accept nothing on blind belief. They make no self-surrender, and are not slaves either to a book or to an individual. They prefer lonely meditation. With their silent but powerful thoughts of peace radiating from their solitary retreats they render moral help to suffering humanity.

The element of piety -- Saddhā or Trustful Confidence-- is predominant in the Devotional Bodhisattas. With Saddhā as their companion they achieve their goal.

These Bodhisattas take a keen interest in all forms of homage. The image of the Buddha is a great inspiration to them.

It should be understood that Buddhists do not worship an image. They pay homage to what it represents and reflect on the virtues of the Buddha. The more they think of the Buddha the more they love Him. This is the reason why Buddhism does not denounce these external forms of homage (āmisa pūjā) though undoubtedly practice (patipatti pūjā) is more commendable and indisputably superior. But dry intellect has to be flavoured with Saddhā (faith) to obtain satisfactory results. As excessive Saddhā might also sometimes be detrimental, it has to be restrained by wisdom.

The energetic ones always seek opportunities to be of service to others. Nothing gives them greater delight than active service. "For them work is happiness, and happiness is work." They are not happy unless they are active. As King Sanghabodhi of Sri Lanka said they "bear this body of flesh and blood for the good and happiness of the world." They live not only for themselves but for others as well.

This spirit of selfless service is one of the chief characteristics of all Bodhisattas.

With relentless energy they work not as slaves but as masters. They crave for neither fame nor name. They are interested only in service. It is immaterial to them whether others recognize their selfless service or not. They are utterly indifferent to praise or blame,

They forget themselves in their disinterested service to others. They would sacrifice even life itself could such action save another fellow-being.

A Bodhisatta who forgets himself in the service of others should practise Karunā and Mettā (compassion and loving-kindness) to an exceptionally high degree.

A Bodhisatta desires the good and welfare of the world. He loves all beings as a mother loves her only child. He identifies himself with all. To him nothing gives more delight than to think that all are his brothers and sisters. He is like a mother, a father, a friend, a teacher, to all beings.

"The compassion of a Bodhisatta consists in realizing the equality of oneself with others (para ātma-samatā) and also the substitution of others for oneself (para-ātma-parivartana)." When he does so he loses his I-notion and finds no difference between himself and others. He returns good for evil, and helps even unasked the very persons who have wronged him, for he knows that "the strength of a religious teacher is his patience."

"Being reviled, he reviles not; being beaten, he beats not; being annoyed, he annoys not. His forgiveness is unfailing even as the mother earth suffers in silence all that may be done to her."


[1] Literally, a hearer.

[2] Literally, a Worthy or Passionless One.

[3] Prof. Rhys Davids writes in his Buddhist Birth Stories (p. xxxiv):--  "There is a religious romance called Barlaam and Joasaph, giving the history of an Indian prince who was converted by Barlaam and became a hermit. This history, the reader will be surprised to hear, is taken from the life of the Buddha; and Joasaph is merely the Buddha under another name, the word Joasaph, or, Josaphat, being simply a corruption of the word Bodisat." "Joasaph is in Arabic written also Yudasatf; and this, through a confusion between the Arabic letters Y and B, is for Bodisat". See Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 6, p. 567.

-ooOoo-

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Sincere thanks to Mr Pham Kim Khanh - Nārada Center, Seattle, U.S.A.,
for making this digital version available (Binh Anson, September 2002).

(See also: Vietnamese translation - "Đức Phật v Phật Php")


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last updated:
01-09-2002