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Thread: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

  1. #1

    Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    Hello everyone,

    I have a question about the difference between a Buddha and a Bodhisattva. A Buddha is one who awakes to their true nature, free from suffering, and will not be reborn in samsara; according to some of the texts out there. Now, a Bodhisattva is one that chooses to liberate all beings and forgo their own liberation until all beings are free from suffering. So, would this mean that a Bodhisattva is a Buddha that will be reborn? I believe this is the only distinction, but I wanted to ask the sangha. I've also read that the Buddha himself chose not to achieve Nirvana so that he could return to help all sentient beings. I ask this because I'm currently reading The Diamond Sutra, translated by Red Pine, and it is focused on the role of a Bodhisattva. Thanks for reading.

    Gassho,

    Adam

  2. #2

    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam
    I've also read that the Buddha himself chose not to achieve Nirvana so that he could return to help all sentient beings. I ask this because I'm currently reading The Diamond Sutra, translated by Red Pine, and it is focused on the role of a Bodhisattva. Thanks for reading.
    Technically speaking, IMHO, we must always keep in mind on "what the Buddha said" bidness that there is core Pali Buddhist canon, The Tipitaka which supposedly is the written account of the oral tradition on the "historical" Buddha. Then you have the Mahayana sutras which are the "revealed" works that most agree are not "historical" in so far as a traditional view. Now. That being said. I haven't read the Diamond Sutra. I have the Red Pine translation, but have not read it. So. AFAIK, most Mahayana schools accept that the Buddha attained Nirvana.

  3. #3

    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    Adam, I'm glad you raised this point because I get hung up on this as well.

    For instance, for Mahayana, the Bodhisattva ideal is where it's at.. that is postponing Nirvana until everyone's realized liberation.

    So how are we supposed to postpone anything? I mean it's kind of odd that when we die, we tell someone or thing, "Hold the phone. I don't want to proceed, I need to come back." lol

    Or is it more like (and this is how I currently understand it) an ideal that we aspire to in our practice? Because if we just go into practice with the idea of liberating ourself and not worry about anyone or anything else, then we're not doing real practice. First of all there is no self that independently exists (without everything else). So in a way it's impossible to be on the path if we only care about ourself (or rather the idea of self that we have about ourself).

    Is that somewhere in the ballpark?

  4. #4

    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    Quote Originally Posted by cyril
    For instance, for Mahayana, the Bodhisattva ideal is where it's at.. that is postponing Nirvana until everyone's realized liberation.

    So how are we supposed to postpone anything? I mean it's kind of odd that when we die, we tell someone or thing, "Hold the phone. I don't want to proceed, I need to come back." lol
    A bodhisattva "postpone" parinirv??a because of his strong need or urge to free everyone from suffering.

    It's not about telling someone when we die that we want to come back, because we create this for ourselves. A bodhisattva, stipulated by the path he has chosen, is to be reborn. That's cause and effect, and pretty much mainstream Mah?y?na thought. If he's awakened, but is not following the Bodhisattva path, he is not reborn, since there in that case is nothing preventing him from reaching parinirv??a.

    If you accept literal rebirth, as well as it's roots, karma-vip?ka, this is how one could understand the idea of Bodhisattva.

    If you don't (it's by no means mandatory), there are others on this forum who don't believe in literal rebirth: I'm sure they could give you an idea of how you could understand the concept of a Bodhisattva. I'm guessing you're not far-off when considering it to be an ideal of sorts.

  5. #5

    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    I think in the early days a lot of Buddhists spent to much time in samadhi/nirvana so they realized that its better to help/ save all beings. The being reborn is happening as we speak IMO.
    /Rich

  6. #6

    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    Boy oh boy ... several BIG questions tangled up here!

    Well, to start, the emphasis in Zen Buddhism ... in comparison to other flavors of Buddhism ... became, over the centuries, much more to "simply focus on this present life, this present moment ... and let any future lives take care of themselves. After all, if there are future lives, they are determined by our words, thoughts and deeds in this moment". If there are future lives, their course will be determined by what happens in this one.

    As well, 'Life and death' is occurring endlessly in this moment, the cessation of life and death happens endlessly in this moment.

    Many modern Buddhist teachers (such as me) take this a step further. I am a doubter and skeptic concerning overly mechanical and detailed, fanciful and literal depictions of rebirth. All is possible, but (more likely, I feel) the most detailed accounts are fairy tales cooked up by wonderfully creative human imaginations. On the other hand, I know for a fact that we are reborn endlessly, not only in the future ... but in each present moment, and with every child and star and blade of grass too. The concept of "future lives after death" is relatively unimportant, provided we focus on fetching water and chopping wood right here and now.

    Live the Buddha's teaching here ... and this is the Pure Land.

    As I often say ... I do not know about "heavens and hells" in the life to come, but I have seen enough people build hells for themselves in this life ... for themselves and others around them, and heavens too ... and I have seen for a fact the efficacy of these Buddhist Teachings in this very life. So, I am not much concerned what happens in lives to come. It is not that I deny future lives after death, but I am rather disinterested as it is not vital to practice here and now ...

    If you would like to read more on these topics, here are two special threads ... on Karma and on "Birth-Death":

    viewtopic.php?p=20191#p20191
    viewtopic.php?p=17953#p17953

    As well, the focus of Buddhism in the Mahayana, and in Chan/Zen in particular, became more and more "enlightenment in this very life/world" rather than "Nirvana that is more an escape from this life and the cycle of future lives". In a very very too small nutshell ... enlightenment" is rather "seeing through, and being free of, 'birth and death' whether in this life or after this current life ... even right here and now". "Nirvana" was traditionally more about "getting out and escaping this painful life, and ending the cycle of rebirth in future lives after this one."

    If you would like to read a very helpful (if somewhat ill informed on certain points) essay on the many ways that nirvana/enlightenment were framed by various schools of Buddhism ... look here. It is highly recommended to folks newish to Buddhism.

    viewtopic.php?p=24753#p24753

    Guatama Buddha, by the way, was a man of his times ... living 2500 years ago in a myth based world, growing up with the beliefs of the Vedic religions which, quite often, he incorporated whole hog into his beliefs (much as Jesus arose from Judaism) ... so he is not to be faulted for having some quaint beliefs. I have no problem with that, since the other 90% of his teachings are worth the whole price of the ticket! In fact, in many writings, the Buddha said that much of this speculation was a side issue ... (the famous "poison arrow" story, for example):

    viewtopic.php?p=27399#p27399

    In my view, "Buddhas" are symbols for human potential. The historical Buddha was a human being.. A Buddha or Ancestor (Jesus or any Saint in any religion) dies and ... century by century ... those in the religion (looking from afar at what those attainments actually were on the part of their "religious heroes" and with need to depict their power) start to imagine, fantasize and exaggerate the wonderful nature of the teacher and teaching into something super-human. What was merely "Great, Profound and Wonderful" must become "Mysterious, Wondrous and (often) Ridiculous". The result is called an "hagiography"

    A hagiography is a biography, usually of a saint or saintly person, and usually written to idealize their life or justify their sainthood. In other words, a hagiography is usually a positive presentation of a life, rather than an objective or critical biography. When using a hagiography as a research source, the purpose and style must be taken into consideration, as the writer probably omitted negative information and exaggerated or even created positive information about the subject of the hagiography. Lives of the saints are typically hagiographies.
    I have no doubt that Buddha and the Ancestors, Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi too, were great human beings. But over the centuries, a Buddha who was a man ... with early stories that show he was of flesh & blood ... becomes a god-like figure floating in the air. Statues are carved, dipped in gpld and placed on a pedestal.


    That does not mean that his teachings were not wondrous, that does not mean that there are not true miracles of liberation in this practice ... It just means that people may be looking for miracles afar when they are right before our eyes.

    For "Buddha" is also that which sweeps all question of "birth and death" away ... YES, a Buddha is one who awakes to their True Nature, free from suffering, and will not be reborn in samsara! YES, a Buddha is that source by which one awakens back to that never left, is one's True Nature, is freedom from Suffering, is free of Samsara (oh, and is Samsara too, when seen as such). DO NOT DOUBT HOW WONDERFUL BUDDHAS ARE!!

    Anyway, to get back to the original question ...

    A Buddha is a perfectly realized being. "Buddha" also means the inherent perfection and beauty in all of us. "Buddha" is, no less, that wonderful whatever that is the source of all, tasted in Zazen as all the clutter and chaos is dropped from mind. A "Bodhisattva" is a concept which developed over time, and became prominent in Mahayana Buddhism (the "Great Vehicle" ... of which Zen is part) more than in the earlier Hinayana (the "Lessor Vehicle" ... what the "Great Vehicle" folks liked to snidely call the earlier traditions of India and South Asia as a put down. The Great Vehicle folks traditionally taught that Gautama Buddha was preaching a lessor "Buddhism for the Unready" in India, saving the best for later, i.e., the Great Vehicle. ). It was said that the earlier Buddhists ... the Arhats and Pratyeka Buddhas ... were too wrapped up in their own liberation. In contrast, the Bodhisattva ideal was to "Save all Sentient Beings" ahead of, and simultaneously with, one's own Liberation. (Of course, this was also something of a put down of the Hinayana by the Mahayana ... for certainly the early Buddhists and Arhats spread their teachings to save humanity too).

    Anyway "all sentients beings" are just you, and "you" all sentient beings.

    No less, we are all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, right now and always ... although we may not realize it as so.
    We can realize it (meaning realize both as "to come to know" and realize as "to make real") in our life here and now.

    Save All Sentient Beings ... Here and Now!

    Too big topics ... hard to do them justice ...

    Gassho, J

  7. #7
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    Hi all,

    I will come in my own way at Jundo's rescue and complement his great post by a vid on Monday: What is a Buddha?
    And yes this whole story of rebirth and getting free from the cycle of birth and deaths...Although I don't totally deny the possibility, it does not really matter in my eyes. I am far more interested in this life, this moment and finding Buddha in his countless forms that are not looking like the Eastern stuff we would expect.

    And first and foremost let's remember that a Buddha is a sitting buddy, butts on the cushion or something like it, making the mind seal real and visible, beyond good or bad, high or low, this life or the next. This is our way to manifest a living Buddha

    Be well

    gassho

    Taigu

  8. #8
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    Quote Originally Posted by cyril
    Adam, I'm glad you raised this point because I get hung up on this as well.

    For instance, for Mahayana, the Bodhisattva ideal is where it's at.. that is postponing Nirvana until everyone's realized liberation.

    So how are we supposed to postpone anything? I mean it's kind of odd that when we die, we tell someone or thing, "Hold the phone. I don't want to proceed, I need to come back." lol

    Or is it more like (and this is how I currently understand it) an ideal that we aspire to in our practice? Because if we just go into practice with the idea of liberating ourself and not worry about anyone or anything else, then we're not doing real practice. First of all there is no self that independently exists (without everything else). So in a way it's impossible to be on the path if we only care about ourself (or rather the idea of self that we have about ourself).

    Is that somewhere in the ballpark?
    It's an attitude - an orientation, if you will. To me, the Bodhisattva ideal is encompassed by the realization of the Buddha that at the moment of his realization, the entire world awakened with him.

    The problem is that this may not make much sense for a very long time. Best to sit and look at what's there, including this confusion. The biggest barrier is the expectation of some sort of grand idealogical resolution- as if enlightenment had anything to do with the delineation of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

    What is a Buddha? What is a Bodhisattva?

    Well, what is a pedestrian? And where does the pedestrian go when he or she arrives at work or at home and sits down at the office or in front of his or her evening meal? If you say the pedestrian was never there, you are obviously wrong. But things like Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and pedestrians do not have persistent identities as those things - those names are descriptions of functional identities, not persistent ones.

    Chet

  9. #9

    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam
    I ask this because I'm currently reading The Diamond Sutra, translated by Red Pine, and it is focused on the role of a Bodhisattva. Thanks for reading.

    Gassho,

    Adam
    I once heard a Ch'an teacher saying that it was the first few sentences in the Diamond sutra that was the most important. They are:

    Thus have I heard. Once, the Buddha was staying in the Jetavana Grove in ?r?vast? with a community of 1250 monks. Then, at mealtime, the World Honored One put on his robe, took his bowl, and went into the great city of ?r?vast? to seek alms food, going from house to house within the city. Finishing, he returned home and took his meal. He then put away his robe and bowl, washed his feet, arranged his seat, and sat down.
    The rest of the sutra is just intellectualization: the first verse is showing the practical, and no-nonsense workings of a Buddha. It was meal time, so he begged for alms. He was hungry, so he ate. And then he sat down. Not very mystical, not very interesting, not very important, and yet, his whole teaching presented right there.

  10. #10

    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    I once heard a Ch'an teacher saying that it was the first few sentences in the Diamond sutra that was the most important. They are:


    Thus have I heard. Once, the Buddha was staying in the Jetavana Grove in ?r?vast? with a community of 1250 monks. Then, at mealtime, the World Honored One put on his robe, took his bowl, and went into the great city of ?r?vast? to seek alms food, going from house to house within the city. Finishing, he returned home and took his meal. He then put away his robe and bowl, washed his feet, arranged his seat, and sat down.



    The rest of the sutra is just intellectualization: the first verse is showing the practical, and no-nonsense workings of a Buddha. It was meal time, so he begged for alms. He was hungry, so he ate. And then he sat down. Not very mystical, not very interesting, not very important, and yet, his whole teaching presented right there.
    Anista,

    Thanks for this. This is my point. To be a Buddha is to be a human being. Nothing special; just not preoccupied with delusion. I just have always wondered why there is a separation between Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. IMHO, they are the same. If one is a Buddha, wouldn't he/she want to help others reach their own liberation? Assisting those with the awakening that is needed is a Bodhisattva ideal. The Bodhisattvas make the choice not to achieve Nirvana, so why don't Buddhas do the same? Maybe this separation is to give Buddhism followers an example for how to live their lives, but I still don't really think there is a distinction. We are all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas; we just don't know it yet. Thanks for all the replies.

    Gassho,

    Adam

  11. #11

    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    When did the concept of a Bodhisattva start? Did Buddha speak about it?

  12. #12

    Re: Buddhas vs. Bodhisattvas

    Quote Originally Posted by cyril
    When did the concept of a Bodhisattva start? Did Buddha speak about it?
    It depends on what you mean by "speak about it", since no one can actually know that, and it depends on wether you're referring to a bodhisatta as mentioned in the suttas, or a bodhisattva mentioned in the s?tras. They are different.

    The bodhisattva, or rather bodhisatta, is mentioned in the P??i suttas, and is defined as a not fully awake buddha - he is merely on his way. See for example Supina sutta (AN 5.196), which says: "When the Tathagata worthy & rightly self-awakened was still just an unawakened bodhisatta". Thus, Buddha was a bodhisatta in earlier lives. Here, an arahant (the self-awakened buddha) is instead the ideal.

    In the Sanskrit s?tras, however, a bodhisattva has become the goal instead of an arahant. Here, the arahant is awakened, but not to the extent of a bodhisattva. There are numerous s?tras about the bodhisattva, for example the Vimalak?rti Nirde?a and the Diamond.

    So yes, one could probably assume that Buddha spoke of Bodhisattvas, but since a bodhisattva can mean different things, the point is somewhat moot.

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