Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
A Bodhisatta is a being devoted to
a 'Compassionate Being', a Bodhisatta is destined to attain Buddhahood,
and become a future Buddha, through the cultivation of his mind.
In order to gain Supreme
Enlightenment, he practices transcendental virtues (Parami) to perfection.
The virtues are generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy,
patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and even
mindedness. He cultivates these Parami with compassion and wisdom, without
being influenced by selfish motives or selfconceit. He works for the
welfare and happiness of all beings, seeking to lessen the suffering of
others throughout the series of his countless lives. In his journey to
perfection, he is prepared to practice these virtues, sometimes even at
the expense of his own life.
In the Pali
scriptures, the designation 'Bodhisatta' is given to Prince Siddhartha
before His Enlightenment and to His former lives. The Buddha Himself used
this term when speaking of His life prior to Enlightenment. According to
the Pali texts there is no mention of Buddha Bodhi being the only way to
attain the final goal of Nibbanic bliss. It was very rare for a disciple
during the Buddha's time to forgo the opportunity to attain sainthood and
instead declare bodhisattahood as his aspiration. However, there are some
records that some followers of the Buddha did aspire to become Bodhisattas
to gain 'Buddhahood'.
In the Mahayana school of
thought, the Bodhisatta cult however, plays an important role. The
Mahayana ideal regards the Bodhisatta as a being who, having brought
himself to the brink of Nibbana, voluntarily delays the acquisition of his
prize so that he may return to the world to make it accessible to others.
He deliberately chooses to postpone his release from Samsara in order to
show the path for others to attain Nibbana.
Buddhists respect Bodhisattas, they do not regard them as being in the
position to enlighten or save others before their own enlightenment.
Bodhisattas are, therefore, not regarded as saviors. In order to gain
their final salvation, all beings must follow the method prescribed by the
Buddha and follow the example set by Him. They must also personally
eradicate their mental defilements and develop all the great virtues.
Buddhists do not subscribe to the belief that everyone must strive to
become a Buddha in order to gain Nibbana. However, the word 'Bodhi'
is used to refer to the qualities of a Buddha, or Pacceka Buddha and
Arahant in expressions such as Sammasmbodhi, Pacceka Bodhi and Savaka
Bodhi. In addition, many of the Buddhas mentioned in the Mahayana school
are not historical Buddhas and are therefore not given much attention by
Theravada Buddhists. The notion that certain Buddha and Bodhisattas are
waiting in Sukhawati (Pure Abode) for those who pray to them is a notion
quite foreign to the fundamental Teachings of the Buddha. Certain
Bodhisattas are said to voluntarily remain in Sukhawati, without gaining
enlightenment themselves, until every living being is saved. Given the
magnitude of the universe and the infinite number of beings who are
enslaved by ignorance and selfish desire, this is clearly an impossible
task, since there can be no end to the number of beings.
Must a Bodhisatta always
be a Buddhist? We may find among Buddhists some self-sacrificing and ever
loving Bodhisattas. Sometimes they may not even be aware of their lofty
aspiration, but they instinctively work hard to serve others and cultivate
their pristine qualities. Nevertheless, Bodhisattas are not only found
among Buddhists, but possibly among the other religionists as well. The
Jataka stories, which relate the previous birth stories of the Buddha,
describe the families and forms of existence taken by the Bodhisatta.
Sometimes He was born as an animal. It is hard to believe that He could
have been born in a Buddhist family in each and every life. But no matter
what form He was born as or family he was born into. He invariably strived
hard to develop certain virtues. His aspiration to gain perfection from
life to life until final birth when he emerged as a Buddha, is the quality
which clearly distinguishes a Bodhisatta from other beings.
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