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Chapter 1.

Theory and Practice of the Bodhisattva Ideal1

I. INTRODUCTION
The Pāli/Theravāda Tradition:
I am going to divide this course in two parts. The first part will be more or less of an
introductory nature and we will look into some of the preliminaries with which many
of us might be familiar. In the second part, we will be looking at some of the more
technical aspects of the Bodhisattva ideal of the Bodhisattva path, specifically,
aspects such as the Five Paths of the Mahāyāna and the Ten Grounds of the
Bodisattva path.
The first part is more introductory and covers general practical aspects such as the
generating of the mind of Enlightenment/Awekening (bodhicitta) in order to set out
for the Bodhisattva path. Since one cannot separate a theory from practice, I have
named the course as “Bodhisattva Ideal in Theory and Practice”. Throughout the
course we will concentrate more on the practical aspect than the theoretical aspect.
However, it is up to an individual to choose the theory out of practice or practice out
of theory. In my case, I am not going to make any special effort to separate the
theory from the practice. But today’s lecture might be more theoretical as we are
going to look into the origins of the Mahāyāna ideal.
The prescribed book for this course is the Buddhist tradition of Mental Development
(by Peter Della Santina). In addition to that book, we will also use the first five
chapters of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, the Bodhisattva's Way of Life by Śāntideva. I chose
the text translated by the Padmakara Translation Committee as it is very precise and
easy to follow. We will also use Mātṛceta or Aśvaghoṣa's eulogy to the Buddha, the
Śatapañcaśataka (an English rendering by Ven. S. Dhammika), which communicates
the spirit of Mahāyāna beautifully. Later on, we will read the last five chapters of the
Bodhicaryāvatāra along with the Madhyamakāvatāra of Candrakīrti.
I want to begin focusing on the time just after the passing away of the Buddha. We all
have some chances to familiarize with the general atmosphere that occurred after
the passing away of the Buddha. From the Theravāda historical accounts we know
about the events that called for the first Buddhist council. In this connection one
finds the name of a monk called Subaddha2 who is associated with the first council.
There were various reactions over the news of the passing away of the Buddha. One
of the reactions was the grief of the monks, but Subaddha's reaction was kind of an
extreme. He commented upon the parinibbāna of a master as a freedom from being

1 The “Theory and Practice of the Bodhisattva Ideal” course was given by Dr. Peter Della Santina at
the Songkha campus of IBC from March - May, 2006.
2 Note that according to the Mahisasaka version of the accounf of the first council this particular
monk who was happy about the demise of Buddha was known by the name Upananda:
https://sites.google.com/site/santipada/thefirstcouncil(mahisasakaversion).

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told what is to be done and what is not to be. Of course, his comment alarmed
Mahākassapa and other monks. In order to safeguard the Dhamma and the Vinaya a
council was, quickly, called upon. We do not know how many monks shared the
views of Subaddha, may be he was alone or there were many other who did not
express their views.
The second person mentioned in the list is Gavaṃpati, who may not be so well
known. He was a senior Arhat who, at the time of the Buddha's parinibbāna, was in
one of the heavens. He was informed about the demise of the Buddha and requested
to come back to earth in order to join the First Council as he was very well versed in
the teachings of the Buddha; perhaps even better than Ānanda. But Gavaṃpati's
reaction was very particular. Gavaṃpati said, “There is no more any purpose of
remaining in the world; the world without the Buddha is meaningless, no delight
without the Buddha. I want to enter into the parinibbāna directly from here.” And so
he did. There were many Arhats who followed Gavaṃpati. According to the
Sarvāstivāda account, there were thousands of Arhats who entered in the
parinibbāna after Gavaṃpati. Gavaṃpati auto-cremated himself and entered into
parinibbāna. This was another reaction that was reflected by the actions of those
monks who did not want to remain in the world after the passing away of the
Buddha. As I have said, we do not know how many of Arhats followed Gavaṃpati’s
example. Anyway, it appears that one of the most learned monks decided to leave
the world after the passing away of the Buddha. He did not care for the council; did
not care for preserving the teachings of the Buddha and so forth. If there is any
indictment of the “selfishness” on the part of the Arhats, the case of Gavaṃpati's can
be called for an account. Why was he so selfish to enter into the parinibbāna straight
away? Why being an Arhat he was talking about whether there is any pleasure in the
world or not? And yet he decided to enter into the parinibbāna. That was a loss for
the Buddhist community, because he was a very learned monk and many more
monks also followed his example. The opposite reaction was shown by the monk
Subaddha, who was glad that the Buddha was gone, because he could be free to do
whatever he liked.
The third reaction is reflected in the Gopakamogallāna Sutta (MN III. 1.8). This Sutta
is in a dialogue form between Ānanda and the Brahmin Gopakamoggallāna. This
occurred also just after the parinibbāna of the Buddha and at a time when
Ajātaśatru, the king of Magadha, was fortifying the city fearing an assault from the
King Pradyota. And at that time Gopaka was acting as a guard at the construction
site. Ven. Ānanda was early for his morning alms round, so he decided to visit the
Brahmin. Gopaka asked Ānanda, “is there anyone equal to the master in the
assembly?” Ānanda was very clear and replied, “There is no one equal to the
Buddha.” “So who is in charge of the community?” was Gopaka's second question.
Ānanda again was very clear to this question also and replied, “There is no one
venerable in charge.” Ānanda described Gopaka how the Saṅgha meet every two
weeks in various assemblies, discuss transgressions and deal all other business and
Ānanda clearly stated that there was no overhead of the order although monks who

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had attained certain qualities, such as, the ability of entering into various states of
concentrations, superiority of their moral conducts and so forth, are respected and
relied upon other monks, but there was no administrative head.
Now the picture emerged from the Sutta is quite an idealized one – that is, there is
no overhead in charge of the Saṅgha, yet it is going on accordingly as usual after the
passing away of the Buddha; there is no problem, no tension, no division. There is
still brotherhood, unity and consensus among the members of the Saṅgha.
So among these three attitudes of Subaddha, Gavaṃpati and Ānanda that one
observes after the passing away of the Master, Ānanda's attitude was most
conservative, and most idealized.3 Other than that in the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya, it is
stated that Mahākaśyapa/ Mahākassapa, actually, issued an injunction after
Gavaṃpati’s entry into parinibbāna that no Arhat should follow the example of
Gavaṃpati until they attend the first council. There was a real fear on the part of
Mahākassapa that all the Arhats were going to follow the example of Gavaṃpati, and
there would be nobody left to establish the teachings of the Master.
Coming back to the original point, let us now begin our discussion of the Bodhisattva
ideal by drawing your attention to the critical nature of the period just after the
passing away of the Buddha. Accepting the fact that the master is no longer among
them, the disciples of the Buddha, whatever the level of their development were,
had to decide how to go forward. It was the time when people made choices,
established ideals to follow. So this is the first point.
Next, I want to talk about some facts with regard to some of the Buddha's own
words. We find in the Pāli Theravāda sources that the Buddha referred to himself as
Bodhisattva before his enlightenment.4 He referred to himself as a Bodhisattva while
he was residing in the Tuṣita heaven before he entered the world and became the
Buddha Śākyamuni. So first of all we do have reference of the Buddha Śākyamuni as a
Bodhisattva in his own words. In the Dīgha Nikāya, we also have the Buddha
referring to the six previous Buddhas and one future Buddha, the Buddha Maitreya in
his own words. In other words, already in the Pāli canon we have mention of a
number of Buddhas, at least eight Buddhas. So here we already have a consensus of
a number of Buddhas; the Buddha Śākyamuni is not the only unique and only
Buddha. He is unique for our time, but he is not unique if we take it in the wider view
of time. So even in the very early conservative Buddhist tradition one finds the
admission of a multiplicity of Buddhas, the plurality of the Buddhas.

3 I say all these simply because, it would be naïve to accept Ānanda's attitude that everything was
perfectly alright after the Buddha's passed away. The passing of the Buddha must have been a
traumatic event for the Buddhist community – monastic as well as lay. People must have wondered
how they will manage. This concern was put into the mouths of the Gods. Arhats, ordinary monks
and the lay people were experiencing very strong feelings one way or other and those were
reflected in the attitudes of Upananda and Gavaṃpati. Ānanda became the captain of the ship after
the passing of the Buddha. He and Mahākassapa were the custodian and guardians who kept the
Buddhist community, the law on track. But there is no question that it was a very crucial time for
most of the community.
4 See the Ariyapariyesana Sutta of the MN 26.

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Besides, in the Pāli Theravāda tradition, there are a collection of over 500 Jātakas
which are the accounts of the previous lives of the Buddha Śākyamuni. These are the
lives in which Buddha Śākyamuni took all kinds of forms. In many of the Jātakas he
took the forms of animals and so on.5 Then there is a Jātaka in which the Bodhisattva
appeared as the wise merchant who outwits everyone in competition by his wisdom.
Of all the Jātakas, one Jātaka retells the last life of Bodhisattva before he went to the
Tuṣita heaven and before he descends on the earth to become the Buddha
Śākyamuni. And that is the Vessantara Jātaka. That Jātaka works like a bridge. It is
hugely popular throughout the South-East Asian countries. It is recited on the night
before the Vesak day. In this Jātaka, it is recounted how prince Vessantara practiced
the perfection of generosity. The story mentions of some happenings like he gives
away both his children and his wife, which from our perspectives in modern times is
a problem, which, however, was not the case at that time.
We also have in the authoritative Pāli tradition, in Buddhavaṃsa, the account of a
monk named Sumedha, who renounced the personal nibbana and he vowed to
become a fully enlightened one, a Buddha before the Buddha Dīpaṅkara. In this text
the Buddha Dīpaṅkara is identified as the twenty-fourth Buddha (of antiquity). So
here one begins to see the multiplicity of the Buddhas proliferating even according to
the Pāli Theravāda tradition. And here we have a beginning of the Buddha
Śākyamuni's career as a Bodhisattva culminating in his attainment of Buddhahood as
the Buddha Śākyamuni. So we cannot in any case deny that there is a germinal of the
Bodhisattva ideal in the Pāli Theravāda sources. (See Introduction: Acariya
Dhammapāla. A Treatise on the Paramis: From the Commentary to Caryapitaka,
trans. by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Kandy, Sri Lanka: The Wheel Publication, 409/411, 1978.) In
fact, we also have recognition of a Bodhisattva path to attain the Buddhahood as a
legitimate goal for which one may strive. The goal may not have been the most
popular one or encouraged to be pursued, but was an accepted goal. It is very much
surprising that even now people do ask whether Theravāda accepts the Bodhisattva
path. Of course, it does. It would be absurd if Theravāda does not accept the
Bodhisattva path or the goal of Buddhahood. This misunderstanding is quite wide
spread.
Now let us talk about the Mahāyāna pāramitās and the Theravāda pāramīs. In the
Pāli Theravāda tradition, there are ten pāramīs: giving, morality, renunciation,
wisdom, energy, meditation, truthfulness, determination, loving kindness and
equanimity. In the Mahāyāna, there are six perfections: giving, morality, patience,
energy, meditation and wisdom. Nevertheless, there are also a list of ten, though the
additional four are of different nature. The six are of primary perfections. One can
see that there are quite a few of them coincide with each other, for example, giving,
morality, meditation, energy and wisdom. But even according to the Pāli Theravāda
texts translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi, the ten pāramīs of the Theravāda can be included
into the six Mahāyāna perfections. It is included in the following way: Renunciation is

5 For example, see the Mahākappi Jātaka, the story of the monkey king, or the another Jātaka where
the Bodhisattva was born as a rabbit and sacrificed himself in order to feed a Brahmin.

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included in morality and meditation; truthfulness is included in morality and wisdom,
loving kindness is included in meditation, equanimity is included in meditation and
wisdom, and determination is included in all six. Thus, even according to the
Theravāda texts, it is possible to include the ten pāramīs in the six Mahāyāna
perfections. That is the plan of the perfections in general is compatible, whether we
look into the Theravāda tradition or in the Mahāyāna tradition.
Now let us turn our attention to the Sanskrit literature. Here I am not referring to the
Mahāyāna literature, but to the pre-Mahāyāna Sanskrit literature. I am talking about
the so called abhidhrma Schools in India – the Sarvāstivāda, Lokottaravāda in
particular. The texts of these pre-Mahāyāna Schools were written in Sanskrit.
First of all, in the pre-Mahāyāna or in the Sanskrit non-Mahāyāna traditions in India it
can observed that the three vehicles are recognized; the vehicle of the Śrāvakas, the
vehicle of the Pratyeka Buddhas and the vehicle of the Bodhisattvas. The
Sarvāstivādins even make claims of their foremost abbots, the masters of the
Sarvāstivāda School as Bodhisattvas, who are on the way to become Buddhas in the
future.
There are also six perfections in the Sarvāstivāda literature, and a large selection of
Jātaka and Avadāna stories. Basically, these two sets of literature cover the same sort
of ground. They cover the stories of the past lives of people who are on the way to
acquire a certain spiritual attainment; they may be on the way to become an Arhat, a
Pratyeka Buddha or a Buddha. The Jātaka stories are, of course, the stories of
Bodhisattva on the way to become the Buddha. The Pāli collection of Jātakas is also
of similar nature relating the previous lives of the Buddha Śākyamuni. The
Lalitavistara of the Sarvāstivāda/Lokottaravāda contains the entire biography of the
Buddha, the gods reminding prince Siddhārtha of his previous vow to renounce the
world. The gods were concerned that the prince would stay too long in the palace
and delay setting out on the path to become a Buddha. So they remind the prince of
his resolve, his vow to leave the whole world to become a Buddha. These are the
some of the pre-Mahāyāna elements in the Sanskrit tradition of India which are the
foundations of the Bodhisattva ideal.
The next, I am going to talk about a very interesting development which has not
received a lot of attention, but which is very important in the Sanskrit Mahāyāna
literature and continues to have certain popularity in the Theravāda countries of the
South-east Asia, not much in Sri Lanka though. This phenomenon continues to play a
prominent role among the Buddhists in countries like Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos.
Here I am referring to the Sanskrit account where the Arhats do not enter into
parinibbāna. This, from the Theravāda point of view, would be a contradiction. The
Arhats are supposed to enter parinibbāna. But in the Sanskrit Abhidharma tradition
such as the Sarvāstivāda and its sources there are a number of Arhats who do not
enter into parinibbāna. They do not enter into parinibbāna because they follow the
instruction of the Buddha. So, for example, the Buddha tells a number of Arhats not
to enter into parinibbāna until the coming of the next Buddha Maitreya. Among

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those arahats four are from the time of the Buddha and one 100 after the Buddha.
They are Mahākassapa, Piṇdola Bharadvāja, Rāhula and Upagupta respectively. All of
them are said to be remaining in the world until the coming of the Maitrya Buddha.
According to the Sarvāstivāda sources Mahākassapa is supposedly entombed in a
mountain in deep meditation. Now there are some discrepancies in the Sarvāstivāda
sources regarding the actual practice of Mahākassapa. According to one source,
Mahākassapa, after parinibbāna, his body so to speak, is in a tomb in a mountain
until the coming of the Buddha Maitreya. Buddha Maitreya will take the bowl and
robe from Mahākassapa who is already dead. According to the other story,
Mahākassapa is in deep trance in a tomb in a particular mountain and upon the
coming of the Buddha Maitreya, the mountain will open, and Mahākassapa will
emerge to hand over the bowl and the robe to Maitreya, the future Buddha, and only
then he will enter into parinibbāna.
The second story is with regard to Piṇdola Bharadvāja. Piṇdola Bharadvāja is as old as
the age of Upaniṣads. According to the Buddhist accounts, he demonstrated his
miraculous powers by catching the golden alms bowl on a pole which was set up by
the heretics as a test. Similarly, the Buddha's son Rāhula and Upagupta would
remain in the world until the coming of the next Buddha. The Arhat Upagupta's story
is very interesting. He is very famous in the countries like Burma, Laos and Thailand
but he does not seem to appear in Srilankan writings at all. He appeared in the
western India 100/150 years after the life-time of the Buddha. His cult is still widely
practiced in the countries like Burma, Laos and Thailand even though it is somewhat
marginal and not fully enforced. There are temples in Northern Thailand dedicated to
Upagupta. The purpose of the Arhats is to be protective of the Dharma; to overlook
and intercede on part of the human beings when they are in troubles. The particular
role of Upagupta in Burma, Laos and Thailand is to descend and to stop disturbances
during the celebrations. For example, Upagupta is invoked to come and watch over
the celebrations in such a way, so that it does not rain, or people do not get drunk
and create any problems , or so that the thieves are not too active and so on. Also he
is supposed to bring rain in the rainy season. That is his particular function in Laos
and Thailand.
The stories of the Arhats remained very interesting, because of one particular fact or
need. What is that particular need? Why do we need Arhats who remain in this
world? Why was it necessary for a number of Arhats to remain in the intermediate
period between the passing away of the Śākyamuni Buddha and the advent of the
future Buddha Maitreya?
The cult of Arhats is the reason. The five Arhats who remained in time grew in
numbers to nine. Later on, one finds that there are sixteen or even eighteen arhats in
the Chinese Mahāyāna tradition. The people felt the need of the presence of some
form of super mundane in the world that intercedes on their behalf that would guard
over them and protect them. The problem was when the Buddha entered into the
parinibbāna, many Arhats too entered into parinibbāna and the people were left

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alone; they were abandoned so to speak. Whom they could go to? They could go to
the monks, to the Arhats who remained. However, as time passed the number of
Arhats grew fewer. Some of the Arhats were in solitude and some were not able to
intercede on people's behalf, to fulfill their needs. So the Arhats who remained began
to take the role of the intermediaries. They began to take the role of holy
personalities to whom people could approach to safeguard and protect themselves.
They became the intermediaries between the ordinary people and super-mundane.
(This also happened in Christianity and in Islam. In Christianity we have angels.) It
also suggests an intermediate step on the way to the development of fulfilling a
provisional existence of a heavenly Bodhisattva. So, if you are still looking at the
Hīnayāna Abhidharma Buddhism, with the exception of the Buddha Maitrya, they did
not have Bodhisattvas like Mañjuśrī and Avalokiteśvara. But they had at least Arhats
who did not enter into parinibbāna and remained in the world as intermediaries. So
you see these Arhats as a kind of stepping stone between the entry of all the holy
saints into parinibbāna and the full-fledged Mahāyāna where you have a multiplicity
of divine Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to whom one can turns at the time of trouble for
spiritual or material benefit. The existence of the cult of Arhats is a very interesting
and significant development in the process of the development of the Bodhisattva
ideal in the Mahāyāna.
Returning to the Mahāyāna Sūtra literature, one can also find many indications of the
Bodhisattva ideal and that is extolled for all living beings. One of the principal sources
is, of course, the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtra or the Lotus Sūtra. In the third chapter
of the text one can find the prediction of Śārīputra's Buddhahood. There Śārīputra
danced in joy hearing that the goal of Buddhahood was not denied to him. Later on
in the other chapters of the same Sūtra we find the prediction of Buddhahood for the
most of the disciples of the Buddha like, Kauṇḍinya, Ānanda, Mahākāśyapa Rāhula.
One of the chapters describes how the 500 disciples were predicted for Buddhahood.
Śākyamuni explained the carriers of these disciples who would cultivate the
Bodhisattva path and eventually become Buddhas having such and such names and
qualities presiding over Buddha-fields. In the Sūtra we find in great details the outline
of the Bodhisattva path, Bodhisattva ideal with regard to the disciples, the Arhats
who were the companions of the Buddha Śākyamuni.
In other Mahāyāna texts such as the longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra, one can find about
the carrier of the Bodhisattva Dharmakāra and the evolution of the Sukhāvatī (Pure
Land) under the guidance of Buddha Amitābha of his time. There in the longer
Sukhāvatīvyūha we find the story of Dharmakāra, who awakens the bodhicitta to
attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all living beings in the presence of a Buddha
belonging to a very far far past. Here again it is the Buddha Śākyamuni, who recounts
the story. So we have historical as well as mythological accounts of the origin and the
development of Dharmakāra culminating in his attainment of Buddhahood as
Amitābha and the purification of his pure Land. Buddha Śākyamuni recounts the
story in the presence of the Buddha Lokeśvaravajra of a great antiquity. Dharmakāra
awakens the thought of enlightenment and resolves to attain enlightenment for the

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benefit of all living beings. His resolution is very special. He wants to preside over a
Buddha field with special and extensive qualities. His vows extend to 47. The essence
of the vows, in his career as a Bodhisattva, is that he will visit as many existing
Buddha fields as possible; he will choose the best qualities in each Buddha field and
incorporate them in his Buddha field. And through following the path he visits all the
Buddha fields. Incidentally, even in the Theravāda tradition, we have the accounts of
the Buddha traveling to the other world. For example, the account of Buddha visiting
heavens, Maudgalyāyana and other accomplished Arhats visiting heaven and other
worlds. So traveling to the other Buddha land is not something new in the Mahāyāna.
One of the accomplishment one attains on the Bodhisattva path ascending by stages
to attain Buddhahood is the ability to travel to the other Buddha lands. It is also said
in the Sarvāstivāda tradition that certain people have the ability to visit Maitreya in
the Tuṣita heaven. This of course reminds us of Ārya Asaṅga when he came in contact
with Mahāyāna, he went to Tuṣita heaven to receive the teachings from Maitreya.
This is an accomplishment that comes through stages from the progress on the
Bodhisattva path. So Dharmakāra visits different Buddha fields and masters all the
excellent qualities from the various Buddha lands and eventually, he attains
Buddhahood and comes to be known as the Buddha Amitābha and presides over his
Buddha field called Sukhāvatī or Happy Land.
There are also other aspects of Dharmakāra's resolution such as through the power
of his merits, he will be able to assist other living beings to reborn in his Buddha
Land. This is the notion of dedication and transference of merit. This notion is very
important in Mahāyāna. (In Theravāda tradition also one finds the account of
Aṅgulimāla relieving the pain of a pregnant woman while giving birth by means of an
active truth:if I not ever had any unwholesome thought with my conversion, may the
pain of the childbirth of this woman be removed. This is an early form of the notion
of dedication or the transference of merit.
So Dharmakāra in addition to the special qualities of his Buddha field, he also talks
about how he will dedicate his merit in order to facilitate the rebirth of human beings
who have devotion and faith in his Buddha Land. But let us not oversimplify the
concept of rebirth in the Sukhāvatī. One of the very common over simplification of
the practice of Pure Land tradition is that simply reciting the name of the Buddha
Amitābha or bringing the name of Amitābha to mind or the name of the Pure Land
and then someone's rebirth in the Pure Land is guaranteed. It is not simple as that.
Look at the discourse of the shorter and the longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra. In those
texts many other things are required. For example, besides many other requirements
the observances of the five precepts are required; observance of the law of karma is
required; avoidance of the unwholesome actions is required, and extensive study of
Mahāyāna is required. The repetition of the name of the Buddha Amitābha is only
one part of many different requirements. It is just the beginning. In other words, it
opens the way, but not the only thing. Then there are other things on what one is
supposed to do in the Pure Land. This Pure Land is also known as the Western
Paradise. However, it is not a paradise in ordinary sense. Rather it is a training camp

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for the future Buddhas. It is not a place where one can stay in eternity. It is not an
end in itself. It is not the heaven of the Christians. So these are the different concept.
Therefore, do not get confused with the term Western Paradise. It is not a paradise in
that sense.
In general we can say that the Bodhisattva ideal and the Bodhisattva path can be
divided into three or four general stages. The first stage is the initial resolution or the
vow to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings. In the Sūtrālaṅkāra
we have the reference of Śākyamuni recounting the vows of the monk Sumedha to
Buddha Dīpaṅkara and it is mentioned that the initial vow is to attain Buddhahood
for the benefit of all sentient beings. This is the first step on the Bodhisattva path. It
is stated in the Bodhicaryāvatāra that the resolution to attain Budhahood for the
benefit of all living beings can be made in various times. But it has a very particular
significance if it is made in the presence of a Buddha.
The initial vow (i.e., to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings) is
ideally accompanied by a prediction of a Buddha. The prediction is very important
and such prediction we see also in the Lotus Sūtra regarding the future Buddha, place
of attaining Buddhahood and his principal disciples, and so on. However, in the
Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra where it mentions about the resolution of Dharmakāra,
there is no particular prediction on the part of the the Buddha Lokeśvaravajra.
This is followed by the practice of Bodhisattva path which is essentially the practice
of the perfections for accumulation of merit and of knowledge. The practice of the
ten or six perfections of the Theravāda or of the Mahāyāna is done over the course of
countless lifetimes; countless eons, the time is beyond human comprehension. And
through the accomplishment of the practice of perfections, merits, virtues and
knowledge for countless eons there is the purification of the Buddha field. Thus the
steps of the Bodhisattva ideal or path are: the initial resolution or vow to attain
enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings, the prediction of Buddhahood on
the part of the Buddha, the practice of the perfections and the purification of
Buddha-field.
Here it is quite interesting. If the resolution to attain Buddhahood, generating the
thought of enlightenment (bodhicitta) can only be awakened in the presence of a
Buddha and only be confirmed by the prediction of Buddhahood by a Buddha, in that
case, can those of us who lived after the time of the Śākyamuni aspire to become a
Buddha or undertake the Bodhisattva path? There is no way we can take the initial
resolution of attaining Buddhahood for the benefit of all living beings in the presence
of a physical Buddha. Because according to the original notion of a Buddha we
haven't got a Buddha here at present. For the Theravāda tradition Buddha Śākyamuni
has entered into parinibbāna. So we cannot receive a prediction. So from the
Theravāda perspective, generating the thought of enlightenment to attain
Buddhahood for the benefit of all living beings, prediction of Buddhahood, and
following the Bodhisattva path are rather restricted.

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So following the Bodhisattva path in the later Mahāyāna tradition seems quite
problematic from this perspective. Although many were practicing for the awakening
the thought of enlightenment, such a formula is rarely in practice nowadays. In
practice those formal steps - awakening of the thought of enlightenment,
renunciation or the making the resolution of attaining Buddhahood for the benefit of
all living beings - before a living Buddha is no longer felt required. Instead giving rise
to the genuine awakening of the thought of enlightenment is required and so the
practice of the perfections.
Many of the historical and conceptual obstacles for following the Bodhisattva path
are overcome in the Vajrayāna tradition. The Vajrayāna tradition erases the temporal
and spatial distance between us and the living Buddha, because in this tradition the
Guru is regarded as the living Buddha. So the Master is in the position to listen to the
vow of attaining Buddhahood on the part of the disciple and he is in position to make
the prediction. As a matter of fact, the vow to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of
all living beings and the prediction are the part and parcel of many Vajrayāna rituals.
These are incorporated in the Vajrayāna practices. But even some of the few
Mahāyāna practices as we can see in the Bodhicaryāvatāra - the formal steps along
the Bodhisattva path to Buddhahood from the awakening of the thought of
enlightenment through the attainment of Buddhahood by means of the practices of
the perfections - become less important, and what becomes the most important
thing is the spirit or the genuine motivation. We have the ideal in one hand and on
the other hand we have the practice i.e, the actual embarking on the Bodhisattva
path, the awakening of the enlightenment thought, the practice of the perfections
etc. This is the actual manner in which the Bodhisattva path is pursued in the
Mahāyāna countries today.

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