1. From Leighton, Daniel. Bodhisattva Archetypes. New York: Penguin Akana, 1998:
“The archetypal bodhisattva figures are living and evolving as dynamic embodiments of spiritual life and activity, and are not the property of any particular tradition or religious institution.” ( Leighton, Bodhisattva Archetype, p. x)
“By featuring some of the people in our own world who are spiritual benefactors, I wish to encourage and foster recognition that, indeed, despite all the problems, cruelty, and despair of our world, we need not see the bodhisattva ideal as irrelevant, idealistic, or beyond our reach.” (ibid. xi)
“The examples herein include persons of our own time, and some still alive. This is not to demean the ageless ancient great cosmic bodhisattvas, but rather to incite deeper consideration of the meaning of awakening activity and awareness in the contemporary world. I hope these sometimes provocative examples will demonstrate that the timeless inclination toward awakening is still active. Spiritual development and awakening still occur in the world, and enlightening beings still walk among us, sometimes helping and inspiring us where we might least expect them.” (ibid. xi)
“Bodhisattvas are beings who are dedicated to the universal awakening or enlightenment of everyone. They exist as guides and providers of succor to suffering beings, and offer everyone an approach to meaningful spiritual life.” (ibid. 1)
“A bodhisattva, as distinct from a Buddha, vows not to personally settle into the salvation of final buddhahood until she or he can assist all of the beings throughout the vast reaches of time and space to fully realize this liberated experience.” (ibid. 1)
“A Buddha, or “awakened one,” has fully realized liberation from the suffering of afflictive delusions and conditioning. This liberating awakening of a Buddha is realized through deep experiential awareness of the inalienable undefiled nature of all beings and phenomena, all appreciated as essentially pristine and imbued with clarity.” (p. 1)
“The bodhisattva path is not restrictive or exclusive, but offers a wide array of psychological tools for finding our own personal path toward a meaningful, constructive lifestyle. By following teachings about generosity, patience, ethical conduct, meditative balance, and insight into what is essential, we can come to live so as to benefit others.” (pp. 1-2)
The point is that everyone has the capacity to act as a bodhisattva. Furthermore, everybody, at some times and in ordinary everyday ways, does act kindly and beneficially as a bodhisattva. All human beings, even great cultural heroes, may also at times act in unfortunate ways, out of small-mindedness and from petty concerns or desires. (5)
Bodhisattvas usually are unknown and anonymous rather than celebrities, and function humbly and invisibly all aroud us, expressing kindness and generosity in simple, quiet gestures. Having opened their hearts beyond delusions of craving and estrangement, bodhisattvas can just be themselves, not seeking out good deeds to perform, but in their very ordinariness presenting inspiring examples that help others. The glamour and wordly fame of celebrity are contrary to the approach of bodhisattvas. (5)
Many Mahayana scriptures, called sutras, include descriptions of numerous assemblies that have gathered to hear the Buddha’s teaching, sometimes including pages full of names of different bodhisattvas. Some of these bodhisattvas exist in our own realm and context, while some come from other “world systems,” which we might describe as other solar systems or galaxies. The Mahayana vision is vast. It includes many different dimensions of space, time, and mind. Some sutras clarify that there are innumerable bodhisattva, that in fact there is not a single place or time where there are not bodhisattvas and buddhas. Some of these bodhisattvas may be as immense as solar systems, some as tiny as molecules. (6)
Manjushri is the bodhisattva of wisdom and insight, who penetrates into the fundamental emptiness or the true nature of all things. He often rides a lion and wields a sword, which he uses to cut through delusion. He sits at the center of Zen meditation halls, encouraging deep introspection and the awakening of insight. Often depicted as a young prince, he also may manifest as a beggar. (7)
Samantabhadra is the bodhisattva of enlightening activity in the world, representing the shinning function and application of wisdom. His name means “Universal Virtue.” He rides on a six-tusked white elephant, but he is hard to encounter, often performing his beneficial purpose while hidden in worldly roles. Samantabhadra especially represents luminous vision of the interconnectedness of all beings. (7)
Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, is probably the most popular bodhisattva and appears in more different forms than any other bodhisattva. He is called Chenrezig in Tibet, the “Goddess of Mercy” Guanyin in China, and Kannon, Kanzeon, or Kanjizai in Japan. Sometimes he has a thousand hands and eyes, sometimes he is wrathful with a horse head. One meaning of his name is “Regarder of the World’s Cries,” implying empathy and active listening as primary practices of compassion. An emanation himself of the popular cosmic Buddha Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara’s own female complement, Tara, is also very popular. Both Bodhidharma, founder of Zen in China, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, are considered incarnations of Avalokiteshvara. (7-8)
Kshitigarbha is of lesser importance than the other bodhisattva archetypes in terms of philosophical doctrine, but is perhaps equal to Avalokiteshvara in popularity in Japan, where he is called Jizo. His name means “Earth Storehouse” or “Earth Womb.” Popularly considered a guardian of travelers and children, in Japan he is associated with ceremonies for deceased children. Traditionally he is guardian of the underworld and afterlife, and especially practices to benefit those in the hell realms. Jizo usually appears as a shaved-head monk, carrying a wish-fulfilling gem.
Maitreya is the disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha who the Buddha predicted would become the next incarnate buddha in the distant future. Awaiting his destiny as the future Buddha, the Bodhisattva Maitreya now sits in the meditation heavens of our own realm of desire, contemplating how to save all suffering beings. Many of his messianic followers believe it is our job to prepare the world for him. But he also has incarnated in the world as bodhisattva. In China, Maitreya is nearly synonymous with his incarnation as the historical Chinese Zen monk Hotei, who is still familiar as the fat, jolly buddha of Chinese restaurants.
Vimalakirti, the hero of a popular sutra, was a lay disciple of Shakyamuni whose wisdom and enlightenment surpassed those of all the other disciples and bodhisattvas. As a layman he practiced in the midst of the delusions of the world without being caught by them, all the while benefiting beings and outshining even Manjushri in eloquence and understanding. Famous for his thunderous silence, Vimalakirti fully expressed the inconceivable quality of the bodhisattvas. (8)
As inspirations, models, and spiritual resources, all these bodhisattva characters are alive and dynamic (…).As the bodhisattvas enter our culture, they will final new guises and evolving qualities. Each of us may bring them to life in our own way. (9)
Bodhisattva Inconceivable Vow:
A key aspect of bodhisattva practice is the commitment or dedication to the way of awakening, and to carrying out this commitment and practice for the benefit of all. The aspiration to care for and to awaken all beings (in Sanskrit bodhichitta, literally “enlightening mind”) is considered mysterious and auspicious. This heartfelt care for suffering beings and fundamental questioning into the meaning of our lives arises unaccountably amid the multitude of psychological conditionings in our experience, known and unknown. (9) (…)But although bodhisattva qualities may unfold over great stretches of time, the initial aspiration of beginners seeking the Way is said to be identical in nature and value to that of an advanced bodhisattva. (9)
The commitment to awakening developed from such original intention is expressed in terms of numerous different bodhisattva vows. Sometimes these are limited and specific, as in the vow to alleviate some particular social problem, or to help a situation of personal suffering in one’s purview. But the bodhisattva vow is also vast and all-inclusive. (9)
The awakening experienced by a Buddha is this realization that all beings are fundamentally open, clear, and totally integrated with the whole of existence. This experience, tasted by many yogis or spiritual practitioners throughout the ages, is not about becoming a different person than who we already are. It is not a matter of achieving some new state of being or of mind in some other, “higher” place or time. Rather, it is the nature of reality already present and always available to everyone. The problem is that we are obstructed from realizing and enjoying this reality, and then creatively embodying it. This obstruction comes from our confusion, our grasping, and our aversion, which are produced through the complex web of psychological and cultural conditioning affecting us throughout our whole lives. Our work, individually and collectively, is to break through or let go of the attachments that block our inherent freedom and radiance. (10)
…But desires in themselves are not the problem as much as our attachments and graspings activated by desires. Certainly it is very helpful to find satisfaction in the wonder of our life just as it is, without seeking to acquire more and more, of both material and spiritual goodies. Living simply, needing less, increases the richness of our lives as surely as, if not more than, accumulating wealth. But seeking to rid ourselves of all desires is just another desire. (11)
The bodhisattva way offers practices to help us face our passions and let go of our obsessiveness about them. We can acknowledge our feelings of likes and dislikes without trying to escape from ourselves, yet without having to reflexively act them out in the world. We can also experience that these objects of desire and aversion are not ultimately separate from ourselves, and do not have independent reality or power over us. (11-2)
In Mahayana understanding all dualities are seen as provisional, conceptual discriminations that may be functionally practical in specific situations, but that are barriers to openness and awakening if reified as ultimately real. The sacred is not seen as existing separate from, or outside, the ordinary worldly realm. Nirvana, the serene salvation from all struggle, exists right in the midst of samsara, the endless run-around of cause and effect and grasping for gain. Practitioners may retreat for some time into meditation hermitages or monastic enclosures, but the point of this training is to better equip one to emerge and work calmly and effectively to benefit all beings in the world. (14)
Ultimately we are each distinct expressions of one whole, not separate competing entities. It is impossible to be truly free and enlightened oneself if others down the street are in misery. To ignore the suffering of others is to ignore some part of oneself. This does not mean that we destroy the ego, or deny the presence of our particular body and mind, our own life situation. Rather, we more fully engage in and care for our own unique personhood by understanding the larger view as well. We begin to live and practice with awareness of the illusory nature of this self-other separation that is continuously produced by our conditioned mentality. (15)
If self and other are not separate, we need not discern whether bodhisattvas are inside or outside. The point is to effectively help beings, either as self or as others. We can see bodhisattvas as external forces when that is helpful, or we can see bodhisattvas as components of ourselves when that helps us to find spiritual well-being for self and others. The reality of our lives includes both attitudes. (15)
The particular mind and person we are now will not be reborn in some other body after death. But the sum of our spiritual and psychic energy and intention does have its effect. This spiritual vector, including our conscious and unconscious vows and predispositions, may be taken up and carried on by some other being born into a body in the world. In this way, also over the course of many lives, the bodhisattva vow is continued in the world. According to this understanding, an incarnate Tibetan lama does not invade and take over a new body after death like some parasitic alien. Rather, the lama passing away sends out his or her blessing of bodhisattva vows into the world. Then some new being with sufficient openness, clarity, and compassion takes on that intention. (18)
It maybe helpful to consider the relationship of bodhisattvas and buddhas, how they are different and how they work together. One account of the bodhisattva path might be described as ascending to buddhahood. Step by step, over seemingly endless lifetimes, the bodhisattva develops enlightening understanding and practice, and skillfulness in helping beings, until at some time she is finally ready to realize anuttara samyak sambodhi, Sanskrit for the “unsurpassed complete perfect enlightenment” of a buddha. In this practice of cultivation, through strenuous effort and diligent practice-whether by meditation, chanting, or intense faith-the bodhisattva works her way up to the stage of buddha. By stripping away delusions and realizing emptiness, in this practice one aims to achieve enlightenment. (19)
We might also describe the bodhisattva descending from buddha. The story goes that it was only at the urging of the Indian deity Brahma that Shakyamuni Buddha agreed to stay in the world to help teach those beings who were ready how to enter into the way of awakening. Although a buddha teaches and demonstrates this awakening, a buddha is also one who already sees the world as whole and perfected. In this sense, a buddha does not need to do anything, and has nothing to accomplish. Bodhisattvas, on the other hand, do the work of the buddhas in the world. (19)
All the bodhisattvas that we will discuss as primary archetypes are known as “tenth-stage,” or full developed, bodhisattvas (although Maitreya is sometimes described as abiding in the eighth stage). Practically speaking, they have the same understanding as a completely awakened buddha, but they take on the job of helping all suffering beings also to actualize, or make real, this awareness. Although they may have realized the equivalent awareness of a buddha, they return to the state of bodhisattva to perform beneficial work for beings. (19-20)
The descending bodhisattva practices in order to embody and express enlightenment, not to achieve it. There is nothing to gain; it is only a matter of all beings reintegrating and reconnecting with their own fundamental, inherent buddha nature. But the descending bodhisattva practices no less intensely than the one ascending, demonstrating cultivation for those who will be encouraged by it. The great cosmic bodhisattva figures may sometimes intentionally appear in a limited incarnate human body for some specific temporary purpose. But when bodhisattvas descend and return to delusion for the sake of beings, usually they actually return to delusion. A bodhisattva manifesting in the limitation of a particular body, in a specific time and place, necessary I fooled by the world of delusion. He does not just pretend to be in that world, but actually takes on and is gripped by delusion for the sake of demonstrating awakening in the midst of it. (20)
Bodhisattvas engaged in their beneficial work in the world take on whatever roles may be helpful. The Flower Ornament (Avatamsaka) Sutra offers very comprehensive and colorful accounts of the different practices of bodhisattvas. These narratives make clear that bodhisattvas may take on many guises aside from that of formal spiritual teacher: female or male, lay or priest, doctor, scientist, fortune-teller, king, beggar, engineer, bus driver, architect, construction contractor, laborer, songwriter, musician, magician, teacher, writer, janitor, gardener, farmer, actor, soldier, storyteller, athlete, dancer, housewife, courtesan, child – even politician or lawyer! Any of these may be great bodhisattvas. (21)
The Mahayana sutras appeared in written form for several centuries beginning around 100 B.C.E., and historians now believe that some were compiled in Central Asia or China. Like the Pali suttas, however, the Mahayana sutras claim to record events and sermons from the life of Shakyamuni Buddha. These sutras are said to have been transmitted orally or hidden because his followers were not yet ready to hear them. Along with the historical disciples, the assemblies of Buddha’s followers and students in these sutras are replete with cosmic bodhisattva figures from many different world systems, interacting with Shakyamuni. In some of these sutras the enlightened arhats, close disciples of the Buddha, are sharply criticized for misunderstandings or shallowness of practice, since they aspired only to personal rather than universal enlightenment, unlike the bodhisattvas. (23)
The Mahayana teachings are implicit in the Pali suttas, as the bodhisattva figure is presented in the early teachings in terms of the practice of Shakyamuni before he became the Buddha. Shakyamuni’s efforts as Siddhartha Gautama on the journey to buddhahood form a primary archetype for all of Buddhist practice. The term bodhisattva is used to designate Siddhartha in his life struggle, leaving his palace and princely position and undergoing austerities before finding the middle path to his awakening. Shakyamuni is also designated as bodhisattva in the early jataka tales, which are legendary stories about his many previous lives before the one in which he attained buddhahood, sometimes as an animal, during which he was deepening his capacity to benefit beings. (24)
The Madhyamika branch focused on the teaching of shunyata, usually translated as “emptiness.” Although the Madhyamika thinkers used a rhetoric of radical negation to make their point, this should not be confused with Western ideas of nothingness or nihilism that such term as “void” or “emptiness” may suggest. Buddhist emptiness does not mean that nothing matters, or just to live for the moment. This is not: “Whatever happens is okay; just go with the flow.” Rather, shunyata is a technical term denoting the emptiness of independent, inherent self-existence of all phenomena, or the ultimate nonseperation of phenomenal entities from each other. All things are totally interconnected; nothing exists independent of the intricate web of mutual causation. Shunyata may also be translated as “relativity,” indicating the interrelatedness of all things. (24-5)
The great Madhyamika master and philosopher Nagarjuna, who lived between 150 and 250 C.E. and venerated by all later branches of Mahayana, used the methodology of negation, but stressed that any fixed view of emptiness or of negation was itself the most dangerous delusion. Emptiness is not just another thing. Emptiness is most accurately a verb rather than a noun, referring to the dynamic process of abandoning or emptying out false conceptions and delusions. (25)
The word sutra means “thread,” related etymologically to our “suture,” referring to things kept together by threads piercing through them. Early sutras were written on palm leaves threaded together. The sutras also stitch together all beings with the teachings of that path that helps us find our interrelatedness, and our individual true place in the universe. (27)
The Prajnaparamita, or “perfection of wisdom,” sutras generally express the emptiness teaching of the Mahayana branch, although they are highly valued in all of Mahayana Buddhism. These texts date back to at least 100 B.C.E., and continued to be produced over the next millennium.
The prajnaparamita group includes a large number of sutras of different lengths, with four versions being most prominent and available in English. (…). The largest is the Perfection of Wisdom in One Hundred Thousand Lines. One of the oldest of the prajnaparamita texts is the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines. Other versions are of eighteen thousand or twenty-five thousand lines. Of much shorter length is the famous Diamond Cutter Sutra (Vajracchedika in Sanskrit), known commonly as the Diamond Sutra. This sutra clarifies that enlightenment, and the Buddha, cannot be identified or recognized by any particular characteristic or mark, and that the Buddha has nothing to teach and not a single, definable truth to proclaim. (28)
The most compressed prajnaparamita text is the one-page Great Perfection of Wisdom Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra is chanted daily in all Mahayana temples throughout East Asia and now in the West. It includes in highly capsulated form all Buddhist doctrinal strategies, each of which it “negates” Madhyamika fashion. This prajnaparamita “no” regarding each teaching is not the dualistic no of “no as opposed to yes.” Rather, this absolute negation acknowledges the teachings, but in their lack of ultimate, fixed status. (28)
The Heart Sutra ends with a six-word mantra, or incantation, which is said to be a distillation of the entire wisdom teaching. It goes: Gate (pronounced gah-tay), gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha (svah-hah). Its literal meaning is something like “Gone, gone, gone beyond, altogether gone beyond, awakened, hurrah!” But it also has many deeper levels of meaning, encompassing the letting go of all worldly and conceptual attachments. Manjushri Bodhisattva is emblematic of these prajna wisdom sutras, which cut through delusion by subtly negating all preconceptions. (29)
The great fourth-century Indian Buddhist philosophers, the brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu, wrote a number of commentaries and long verses, and are considered founders of the Yogacara School, although these teachings clearly have antecedents in Buddhism’s origins. The Samdhinirmochana (Unfolding the Intention) Sutra, from the first or second century C.E., presents basic Yogacara teachings, including the storehouse consciousness (see below), and the three levels of reality: the imaginary or conventional; the perfected or suchness; and the dependent or conditioned aspect of reality, which is an intersection of the first two illusory and absolute levels. (29)
One of the central doctrines of the Yogachara or “Consciousness Only” teachings involves a system of eight levels of consciousness. The first six are the awareness of the six senses, i.e., the five usually considered in the West – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch – along with the awareness of mental objects or thoughts. This latter awareness is equated with the sense perceptions. Encouraged by meditation, this viewpoint allows us the spaciousness to not necessarily identify with “our” thoughts (or objects of thought), but rather to see thought-objects in a more nonattached manner, as we might with color or sounds.
The seventh consciousness is our faculty for distinguishing and separating our self from our surroundings, and identifying the latter as objects, external and “other” from us. This mental capacity, although necessary to our conventional ego functioning, is also the source of our sense of estrangement and isolation from the world of which we are actually an integral part.
The eighth, storehouse consciousness (in Sanskrit alaya vijnana) is one of the most intriguing Buddhist psychological teachings. This consciousness is the repository of impressions from all our previous experience that in turn influence us as predispositions, affecting our conditioned tendencies. Awareness of these mental processes may allow their transformation into corresponding awakening qualities. (30)
An important development of Yogachara thought, although not adopted by all branches of the Yogachara School, is the Buddha womb or embryo, in Sanskrit tathagata garbha. The word tathagata is a standard epithet for a Buddha, and means “one who comes and goes in thusness.” Garbha means both the womb and the embryo, and also storehouse or treasury. This teaching was based on the idea that all beings are fundamentally endowed with Buddha nature, the potential and capacity to realize and find practical expression of their own unique openness and clarity. (31)
The sutra that most fully expounds the development of the teaching of the universal buddha nature is the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Great Passing into Nirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha, which expresses the Mahayana view of the Buddha’s final teaching before he passed away. This wide-ranging sutra, first translated into Chinese in the fifth century and at least a century older in India, also discourses on the dharmakaya or “reality body” of buddha, which is unconditioned, infinite, and eternal. Shakyamuni states that such an enduring, cosmic body is also attained by bodhisattvas when they perform acts of kindness toward beings and follow ethical practices. (31)
The Buddha womb teaching is developed in an early sutra, the Lion’s Roar of Queen Shrimala, which probably dates back o the third century in southern India, where there were Buddhist queens who ruled and other women in important social positions. In the sutra, Queen Shrimala is an adept practitioner whose future buddhahood and pure land are predicted by Shakyamuni, and whom we may now appreciate as an exemplar of the dharma capacity of women. She especially expounds buddha nature and buddha womb teachings. (31)
While the Madhyamika and Yogachara Schools were important doctrinally in the early spread of Buddhism throughout East Asia, the Vimalakirti nirdesha Sutra, “The Sutra of Displays (or Teachings) of Vimalakirti,” became widely popular without producing any particular school. One of the older Mahayana sutras, appearing in the first or early second century, it recounts the sickness of Shakyamuni’s great lay disciple Vimalakirti, and what happens when the Buddha asks his disciples and bodhisattvas to call at Vimalakirti’s sickbed. As an enlightened layman, Vimalakirti was a model for lay practitioners countering the earlier monastic emphasis. This sutra especially appealed to Chinese and other East Asians who wanted to find spiritual value in the mundane world, and it elaborated the basic Mahayana principle of nondualism and spiritual immanence and value in the world. (32)
The Vimalakirti Sutra with its teaching of the inconceivable aspect of bodhisattva awareness is highly entertaining as literature. The famous scene of the debate between Manjushri and Vimalakirti at his sickbed will be described in the chapter on Vimalakirti. In another scene, when his disciple Shariputra complains about the defilements of the world, Shakyamuni demonstrates the true wonder of reality by touching his toe to the ground. Thereupon the world is revealed to all in its fundamental purity as a buddha field, with awesome, resplendent attributes. The Buddha lifts his toe and the world again appears as in the disciple’s usual vision, filled with suffering and defilement. (32)
The layman Vimalakirti embarrasses the Buddha’s disciples by exposing the flaws in their practice. Later an awakened goddess-bodhisattva also shames Shariputra for his spiritual pride, notions of purity, and prejudice against women. When Shariputra asks why she doesn’t change out of her (supposedly inferior) female form, she explains that such a change is unnecessary, and then transforms Shariputra temporarily into a woman to raise his consciousness. Through such dramatic episodes, the Vimalakirti Sutra tricks us out of our conventional worldviews and demonstrates the inconceivable quality of bodhisattva activity. (33)
One of the most popular and influential sutras in East Asia is the Wonderous Dharma Lotus Sutra (in Sanskrit Saddharma pundarika). It is also among the oldest Mahayana sutras, dating back to the first century C.E., except for a few of its final chapters, which were added later. With many colorful parables, the Lotus Sutra emphasizes skillful means, or the importance of teachings appropriately tailored to particular students. When all useful approaches are valued as worthy for individual persons, then all teachings, whether judged Greater or Lesser from different vantage points, belong in the inclusive “One Vehicle” (in Sanskrit ekayana) expounded in the Lotus Sutra. (33)
The Lotus Sutra is also known for its teaching about the vast extent of Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime, that Buddha is always present, intentionally choosing to appear to pass away or else to reveal himself, whichever is most beneficial. Thanks to his cosmic omnipresence, bodhisattvas are also pervasive in time and space. Although we do not always know of them, when needed they can pop out of the ground, from the soil of the earth and from the ground or roots of our own being. (33)
Many of the Mahayana sutras are quite vast and visionary in their scope. Yet none is as profusely picturesque as the Flower Ornament Sutra (in Sanskrit Avatamsaka). This most psychedelic of all religious texts depicts the workings of bodhisattva practice from many and all perspectives. It is said to consist of the first awareness and expressions by Shakyamuni Buddha immediately after his enlightenment, which were too exalted for anyone at that time to comprehend. As for its historical emergence, some parts of the sutra may reach back to the first century B.C.E., and were first translated into Chinese in the late third century. (34)
Discourse on the Paramita of Wisdom: The following excepts from this discourse, giving the flavor of Manjushri’s orations, begins with the Buddha questioning Manjushri:
“How should one abide in the paramita of wisdom when cultivating it?”
Manjushri answered, “Abiding in no dharma is abiding in the paramita of wisdom.”
The Buddha asked Manjushri further, “Why is abiding in no dharma called abiding in the paramita of wisdom?”
Manjushri answered, “Because to have no notion of abiding is to abide in the paramita of wisdom.”
The Buddha asked Manjushri further, “If one thus abides in the paramita of wisdom, will his good roots increase or decrease?”
Manjushri answered, “If one thus abides in the paramita of wisdom, his good roots will not increase or decrease, nor will any dharma; nor will the paramita of wisdom increase or decrease in nature or characteristic.
“World-Honored One (Shakyamuni), one who thus cultivates the paramita of wisdom will not reject the dhammas of ordinary people nor cling to the Dharma of saints and sages. Why? Because in the light of the paramita of wisdom, there are no dharmas to cling to or reject.
“Moreover, one who cultivates the paramita of wisdom in this way will not delight in nirvana or detest samsara. Why? Because he realizes there is no samsara, let alone rejection of it; and no nirvana, let alone attachment to it…World-Honored One, to see that no dharma arises or ceases is to cultivate the paramita of wisdom…To see that no dharma increases or decreases is to cultivate the paramita of wisdom…To aspire to nothing and to see that nothing can be grasped is to cultivate the paramita of wisdom…
“Furthermore, if a person, when cultivating the paramita of wisdom, does not see any paramita of wisdom, and finds neither any Buddha-Dharma to grasp nor any dharmas of ordinary people to reject, that person is really cultivating the paramita of wisdom.” (quoted from Leighton 101)
In the relatively short sutra, The Prediction of Manjushri’s Attainment of Buddhahood, one of the assembled bodhisattvas inquires as to when Manjushri will attain supreme enlightenment and what his resulting Buddha land will be like. Manjushri diverts the question, asking rhetorically, and in detail, whether such items as form, the nature of form, the psychic constituents, or empty space can seek or attain enlightenment, and whether there can be any person to be enlightened apart from these qualities. Later Manjushri declared that he does “not urge any sentient beings to progress toward enlightenment,…because sentient beings are nonexistent and devoid of self-entity…Enlightenment and sentient beings are equal and not different from each other…Equality is emptiness. In emptiness, there is nothing to seek.” (102)
Many entertaining stories are told of pilgrims to Mount Wutai encountering Manjushri in quite unexpected forms. Although usually depicted as a young prince, Manjushri often masquerades as a beggar to guide, and test, pilgrims. Only after proceeding up the mountain might the pilgrims realize that the ragged, unwashed, homeless person they had encountered on the trail was Manjushri himself in disguise. Depending on how they had treated such beggars, the pilgrims would perhaps be worthy of a vision of the bodhisattva in his glorious form. Whenever we encounter a homeless beggar we might wonder if this is Manjushri incognito. (106)
In another Zen story, while the chief cook of a temple on Mount Wutai was busy making lunch, Manjushri repeatedly appeared sitting above the rice pot. This chief cook, who later became a noted master, finally hit Manjushri with his stirring spoon and drove him away, saying, “Even if old man Shakyamuni came, I would also hit him.” In Zen temples the position of chief cook is highly esteemed. This story denotes the priority of taking care of everyday life as practice, beyond attention to Manjushri’s rhetoric and understanding. Caring for the details of daily life is sometimes seen as more important than spending time in studying sutras or in concentration in the meditation hall, and many monks perhaps including this chief cook, have been encouraged to abandon any preference for mediation over ordinary work. (109)
2. From Chun-fang Yu, Kuan-yin: The Chinese transformation of Avalokitesvara. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001:
Bodhisattvas are beings dedicated to the salvation of everyone; in carrying out this noble task, they choose to become buddhas instead of seeking personal nirvana as arhats do. As such, they form new cultic objects for Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhists, while the early Buddhists only worship the historical Buddha, and use “bodhisattva” to refer only to the Buddha’s previous lives before his final enlightenment. Indeed, the early Buddhist belief in a very limited numbers of bodhisattvas, namely Sakyamuni Buddha in his previous existences and Maitreya, the Future Buddha, and the Mahayana belief in many bodhisattvas and the corresponding call for all people to give rise to bodhicitta (the thought for enlightenment spurring one onto the path of the bodhisattva) is one of the most significant differences between the two Buddhist traditions. If Avalokitesvara is worshiped in all the Buddhist countries, what does this do to the received wisdom? (p. 2)
- Called Lokesvara (Lord of the World) in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Java; Lokanatha (Protector of the World) in Burma; Natha Deivyo in Sri Lanka; and Chenresi (spyan-ras-gzigs, “One Who See with Eyes”) in Tibet, Avalokitesvara might not be identified by the same name, but all the South, Southeast, and East Asian Buddhist cultures have known and worshiped this bodhisattva. (p. 3)
- Kuan-yin (Perceiver of Sounds), or Kuan-shih-yin (Perceiver of the World’s Sounds) is the Chinese name for Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who has been worshiped throughout the Buddhist world. (p.1)
- One of the most distinctive features of the Mahayana tradition is its call for everyone to give rise to bodhicitta (the thought of enlightenment), and achieve enlightenment not just for oneself but for all living beings. This new aspiration is valued more highly than the earlier arhat ideal, which aims at entering nirvana upon attaining enlightenment. (7)
- The career of a bodhisattva is a very long and arduous one. After making vows, one trains oneself along the bodhisattva path by practicing virtues (with giving at the head of the list), mastering meditation, and penetrating into the wisdom of emptiness (which is understood as everything being devoid of self-nature). Because bodhisattvas vow to save everyone, they remain in the world and are always accessible. But only the bodhisattvas advanced in the path became objects of devotional cults for the faithful. Avalokitesvara is one of the “celestial” or “cosmic bodhisattvas” called Great Beings (Mahasattvas, ta-shih) of Mahayana Buddhism (Snellgrove 1986; Robinson and Johnson 1997; Basham 1981). Like Maitreya and Manjusri, he has reached the elevated tenth stage of the bodhisattva path. Regarded as the perfect embodiment of compassion, he became one of the most popular bodhisattvas in India. Developing alongside devotional Hinduism and competing with it, Mahayana sutras such as the Karandavyuha Sutra, composed during the fourth to seventh centuries (Winternitz 1927, 2: 306-7), used cosmic symbolisms reminiscent of Siva and Visnu in describing Avalokitesvara. The bodhisattva was venerated as a supreme deity in his own right. (7)
What is Bodhisattva?
In Tibetan Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is anyone who is motivated by compassion and seeks enlightenment not only for him/herself but also for everyone...
Becoming a Bodhisattva is a huge step in helping not only yourself, but also every other sentient being, both seen and unseen. Most people are self-motivated and work primarily to solve their own problems, keeping others a distant second. Should someone do an act of kindness, repayment is generally expected whether in the form of a thank you and/or further praise.
A Bodhisattva is motivated by pure compassion and love. Their goal is to achieve the highest level of being: that of a Buddha. Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit term which translates as: Bodhi (enlightenment) and sattva [being]. And their reason for becoming a Buddha is to help others. The Bodhisattva will undergo any type of suffering to help another sentient being, whether a tiny insect or a huge mammal. In Shakyamuni Buddha’s 'Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines' it states: “I will become a savior to all those beings, I will release them from all their sufferings.” If this sounds familiar to anyone not acquainted with Buddhism, then you only need to think of the example of Jesus Christ, a true Bodhisattva.
When someone first enters the way of the Bodhisattva, they develop Bodhicitta, or, mind of enlightenment. Even as a person strives towards such an exalted goal, they feel as though they are limited by the fact that they, too, are suffering. So that they can be of aid to others, they decide to become Buddhas for a Buddha is capable of unlimited compassion and wisdom. Also, Buddhas are able to relate to all others at whatever level is needed. To those of lesser intelligence, a Buddha will use simpler words; and to those of great intelligence, a Buddha can explain answers in a more exalted language.
By entering the Bodhisattva way, the mind must become enlightened. And so the training begins by generating the 6 Perfections.
The 6 Perfections:
The 6 Perfections are: 1] generosity, 2] ethics, 3] patience, 4] effort, 5] concentration, and 6] wisdom.
Generosity – How does one become more generous? Is it possible to rid oneself of materialistic tendencies, selfishness and a desire to want to be kind to others and give to those who lack? Being able to provide for people by starting a business and then hiring those who need jobs would be profitable not only for yourself but for those who were previously unemployed. Volunteering your time and talents to those who need them is also a way of cultivating generosity. To share Buddhist teachings so people are able to help themselves and in turn, others, is the finest gift you can offer. You have created a positive ripple effect. The ripples of the teachings will travel far and wide to allow many to be assisted.
The attitude behind your generosity is of the utmost importance; giving with anger or the desire for payment isn’t a good motivation. But if you have a humble motivation to help, then you’re on your way to become a Bodhisattva.
Ethics – Knowing the basic difference between right and wrong is imperative to generating the 6 Perfections. To practice the perfection of ethics means to refrain from doing harm to yourself and all those around you. Killing, sexual misconduct, consuming harmful substances such as alcohol or drugs, being deceitful, and using abusive language must be avoided. All harmful actions are caused by a mind that harbors them, therefore it’s highly important to be mindful of all your thoughts.
Patience – A lack of patience is prevalent in today’s society and this will change if we want to evolve into a Bodhisattva. Patience is the antidote to anger. In Chandrakirti’s 'Supplement to the Middle Way' he writes: “It makes us ugly, leads to the unholy, and robs us of discernment to know right from wrong.” When we become angry, our body stiffens, our blood pressure rises, our breathing is impaired, as is our reason. Far too many people languish in prisons due to a few seconds when they went out of control and their anger harmed someone. Anger directed at oneself can result in suicide. Anger causes wars of all sizes.
Patience creates a joyousness within us. Our features become relaxed and we can look many years younger. We are then tolerant and happy and much further along the path of becoming a Bodhisattva.
Effort – Enthusiastic effort is necessary if you want to achieve anything, but for something as noble and challenging as joining the ranks of the Bodhisattvas, effort is definitely a requirement. Who doesn’t want their efforts repaid instantly? However, the way of the Bodhisattva is arduous and requires virtues that many of us currently lack. Laziness is a huge fault that curtails effort. Tomorrow never comes so your effort is needed NOW!
Concentration – Developing a calm mind through meditation will sharpen our concentration. Being able to focus single-pointedly on one object with a non-wavering mind will be a great advantage. The calm-abiding mind develops clairvoyance and abilities to heal ourselves and others. When radiating inward and outward calm, you’ll become like a lighthouse in a stormy night. You’ll inspire others with your strong mental capabilities and they in turn will want the inner peace that you have found for yourself. Concentration is a form of mindfulness. This means that when you pay unwavering attention to what you’re doing, you avoid many frustrations. Lack of mindfulness in the kitchen might result in burning a casserole, which not only wasting the ingredients, but twice as much time will be spent cleaning up the mess. Not practicing mindfulness when driving causes accidents. As Lama Tsong Khapa writes in his 'Summary of the Stages of the Path': “Concentration is a king with dominion over the mind, once placed, immovable like the king of mountains.”
Wisdom – Wisdom is the root of all great qualities we can cultivate in this life. As the Sixth Perfection, it is the total of the other five. Meditation on wisdom is essential for entering into the stages of being a Bodhisattva. Buddhist texts emphasize two vital subjects when it comes to knowledge—selflessness and impermanence. Everything changes constantly. One day you leave work at 5:30, the next day it’s 5:45. Nothing is fixed; it’s variable. As for selflessness, we must first discover the location of the self. Is it in the body? If so, where—the mind? The physical world and all living beings are created by the mind. As we are the results of our past actions, so is the world we live in. Since there are places on earth that are like heaven, those areas where so much virtue has settled that people travel great distances to see such wonderful locations. Conversely, the hellish regions are dense accumulations of non-virtue and evil thrives there, keeping people captive to the negative states of consciousness.
To become a Bodhisattva is to be fearless. There is no aversion for those who are hostile and there is no obsessive clinging to those who are closest to us. There is no possessiveness, only love, compassion and discernment into the nature of reality.
Santideva, the 8th century Bodhisattva wrote a book entitled 'Bodhisattvacharyavatara,' which is one of the most important texts that students of Tibetan Buddhism study. The title has been translated into 'A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life' and is written in verse form. While there are only 10 chapters, dealing with the 6 perfections as well as developing the spirit of awakening, in chapter 10, verse 55 the entire essence of the meaning of Bodhisattva is beautifully expressed:
“For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.”