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The term - bodhisatta

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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The term "bodhisatta" (Pāli language) was used by the Buddha in the Pāli canon to refer to himself both in his previous lives and as a young man in his current life, prior to his enlightenment, in the period during which he was working towards his own liberation. When, during his discourses, he recounts his experiences as a young aspirant, he regularly uses the phrase "When I was an unenlightened bodhisatta..." The term therefore connotes a being who is "bound for enlightenment", in other words, a person whose aim is to become fully enlightened. In the Pāli canon, the bodhisatta is also described as someone who is still subject to birth, illness, death, sorrow, defilement, and delusion. Some of the previous lives of the Buddha as a bodhisattva are featured in the Jātaka tales.

In the Pāli canon, the bodhisatta Siddhartha Gotama is described thus:

before my Awakening, when I was an unawakened bodhisatta, being subject myself to birth, sought what was likewise subject to birth. Being subject myself to aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, I sought [[[happiness]] in] what was likewise subject to illness... death... sorrow... defilement.
Ariyapariyesana Sutta

While Maitreya (Pāli: Metteya) is mentioned in the Pāli canon, he is not referred to as a bodhisattva, but simply the next fully awakened Buddha to come into existence long after the current teachings of the Buddha are lost.

In later Theravāda literature, the term "bodhisatta" is used fairly frequently in the sense of someone on the path to liberation. The later tradition of commentary also recognizes the existence of two additional types of bodhisattas: the paccekabodhisatta who will attain Paccekabuddhahood, and the savakabodhisatta who will attain enlightenment as a disciple of a Buddha. According to the Theravāda teacher Bhikkhu Bodhi the bodhisattva path was not taught by Buddha .

Theravadin bhikku and scholar Walpola Rahula (Sri Rahula Maha Thera) has stated that the bodhisattva ideal has traditionally been held to be higher than the state of a śrāvaka not only in Mahāyāna, but also in Theravāda Buddhism. He also quotes an inscription from the 10th Century king of Sri Lanka, Mahinda IV (956-972 CE) who had the words inscribed "none but the bodhisattvas would become kings of Sri Lanka", among other examples.

There is a wide-spread belief, particularly in the West, that the ideal of the Theravada, which they conveniently identify with Hinayana, is to become an Arahant while that of the Mahayana is to become a Bodhisattva and finally to attain the state of a Buddha. It must be categorically stated that this is incorrect. This idea was spread by some early Orientalists at a time when Buddhist studies were beginning in the West, and the others who followed them accepted it without taking the trouble to go into the problem by examining the texts and living traditions in Buddhist countries. But the fact is that both the Theravada and the Mahayana unanimously accept the Bodhisattva ideal as the highest.
Walpola Rahula, Bodhisattva Ideal in Buddhism

Paul Williams writes that some modern Theravada meditation masters in Thailand are popularly regarded as bodhisattvas.

Cholvijarn observes that prominent figures associated with the Self perspective in Thailand have often been famous outside scholarly circles as well, among the wider populace, as Buddhist meditation masters and sources of miracles and sacred amulets. Like perhaps some of the early Mahāyāna forest hermit monks, or the later Buddhist Tantrics, they have become people of power through their meditative achievements. They are widely revered, worshipped, and held to be arhats or (note!) bodhisattvas.