the mahayana bodhisattva

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the mahayana bodhisattva

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Feb 13, 2009 4:49 am

in the pali canon the buddha when talking about himself prior to awakening refers to himself as an unenlightened bodhisatta

as such was he in anyway similar to the mahayana notion of the bodhisattva found in figues such as kwan yin, manjusri, jizo, fugen etc?

these beings seem to be able to control their births, could an unenlightened bodhisatta do such a thing?

does the pali canon's idea of a bodhisattva make the existance of such beings an imposability?
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: the mahayana bodhisattva

Postby Ben » Fri Feb 13, 2009 5:10 am

Hi JC

I'm not familiar with the Mahayana literature. What I do recommend you do is have a look at MN 26 Ariyapariyesana Sutta to begin with as it deals with Gotama's life before he became enlightened. Also, if you have access to Bodhi's 'Great Disciples of the Buddha' there are anecdotes of the Buddha's former lives when was in close association with the former lives of Sariputta, Mahamoggalana and Devadatta. That should give you some material which should go some way to answer your question.
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Re: the mahayana bodhisattva

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Feb 13, 2009 5:46 am

jcsuperstar wrote:in the pali canon the buddha when talking about himself prior to awakening refers to himself as an unenlightened bodhisatta

as such was he in anyway similar to the mahayana notion of the bodhisattva found in figues such as kwan yin, manjusri, jizo, fugen etc?

these beings seem to be able to control their births, could an unenlightened bodhisatta do such a thing?

does the pali canon's idea of a bodhisattva make the existance of such beings an imposability?


The problem with the Mahayana position is that it a position that was developed by very small minority groups as one of opposition so as to make themselves look more wise and more compassionate when compared to those inferior Buddhists following inferior teachings. If one looks at the earliest Mahayana sutras such as the Ugra Sutra, where the bodhisattva practice was for only the very few men who opted to practice it, to what was to follow, there is a massive shift in the deification of the Buddha, the down playing of the arhat and the development of the bodhisattva as a necessity for everyone to attain awakening.

It is not surprising with the Mahayana that we get ersatz god-like figures who can supposedly do all sorts of things the Buddha never taught. There is much in the Mahayana, including the god-like bodhisattvas, that is a capitulation to the human religious impulse that the Buddha strongly resisted, as we see in the Pali suttas.

In other words, I cannot take the Mahayana bodhisattva idea seriously. It is inspiring to many because it appeals to the religious impulse of needing someone to watch out for them, among other things.

Now of course these are my opinions, which I certainly do not expect anyone to share.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.
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Re: the mahayana bodhisattva

Postby Rui Sousa » Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:32 am

I think Greek influence is also a relevant theory to consider when analyzing the origins of Mahayana, from a Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhism#Greco-Buddhism_and_the_rise_of_the_Mahayana:

Greco-Buddhism and the rise of the Mahayana

The geographical, cultural and historical context of the rise of Mahayana Buddhism during the 1st century BCE in northwestern India, all point to intense multi-cultural influences: "Key formative influences on the early development of the Mahayana and Pure Land movements, which became so much part of East Asian civilization, are to be sought in Buddhism's earlier encounters along the Silk Road" (Foltz, Religions on the Silk Road). As Mahayana Buddhism emerged, it received "influences from popular Hindu devotional cults (bhakti), Persian and Greco-Roman theologies which filtered into India from the northwest" (Tom Lowenstein, p63).

Conceptual influences

Mahayana is an inclusive faith characterized by the adoption of new texts, in addition to the traditional Pali canon, and a shift in the understanding of Buddhism. It goes beyond the traditional Theravada ideal of the release from suffering (dukkha) and personal enlightenment of the arhats, to elevate the Buddha to a God-like status, and to create a pantheon of quasi-divine Bodhisattvas devoting themselves to personal excellence, ultimate knowledge and the salvation of humanity. These concepts, together with the sophisticated philosophical system of the Mahayana faith, may have been influenced by the interaction of Greek and Buddhist thought:

The Buddha as an idealized man-god

The Buddha was elevated to a man-god status, represented in idealized human form: "One might regard the classical influence as including the general idea of representing a man-god in this purely human form, which was of course well familiar in the West, and it is very likely that the example of westerners' treatment of their gods was indeed an important factor in the innovation... The Buddha, the man-god, is in many ways far more like a Greek god than any other eastern deity, no less for the narrative cycle of his story and appearance of his standing figure than for his humanity".[23]

The supra-mundane understanding of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas may have been a consequence of the Greek’s tendency to deify their rulers in the wake of Alexander’s reign: "The god-king concept brought by Alexander (...) may have fed into the developing bodhisattva concept, which involved the portrayal of the Buddha in Gandharan art with the face of the sun god, Apollo" (McEvilley, "The Shape of Ancient Thought").

The Bodhisattva as a Universal ideal of excellence

Lamotte (1954) controversially suggests (though countered by Conze (1973) and others) that Greek influence was present in the definition of the Bodhisattva ideal in the oldest Mahayana text, the "Perfection of Wisdom" or prajñā pāramitā literature, that developed between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE. These texts in particular redefine Buddhism around the universal Bodhisattva ideal, and its six central virtues of generosity, morality, patience, effort, meditation and, first and foremost, wisdom.
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