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The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism - Dhamma Wheel

The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

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Just Dave
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The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Just Dave » Sun Oct 18, 2009 9:45 pm

Hello friends.

Several weeks ago I came upon an internet link which featured the blurb "the Bodhisattva ideal in Theravada" but unfortunatley the link did not work.

I was wondering if any one could say a little something about this.

My initial feelings on seeing the blurb were to the effect of "if a being is enlightened, he or she will be naturally motivated by great compassion for their fellow beings, and probably were motivated by great compassion prior to realising their enlightenment. They are not likely to say screw you guys, I'm going home - entering into a nirvana that is devoid of any thought for the non-enlightened in samsara, leaving them to simply get on with it.

I am not as well-versed in the Suttas as I should be. It is something I am working on.

What do they say, if anything, about compassion in regards to being a pre-requisite for enlightenment; about vows to remain and not enter Nirvana until the "lower realms are emptied" and so forth?

Thank you.

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Oct 18, 2009 10:14 pm

In Theravada, bodhisattva is bodhisatta in Pali and refers to a being on the way to buddha-hood. The Buddha of our time, Gotama (or Shakyamuni as he is sometimes called in Mahayana) was perfecting the paramitas over countless lifetimes, literally tens of thousands of lifetimes.

Karuna (compassion) is one of the ten paramitas in Theravada Buddhism. The Buddha was perfecting dana (generosity) and compassion in his most recent lives before being born the final time.

Becoming a Buddha or a fully enlightened arahant is no easy task and so there are countless lifetimes to perfect the paramitas and to help others. In my opinion, waiting until all beings are liberated is sort of apocalyptic thinking, such as the thinking that one day the world will end, not just the physical world, but the spiritual too, that all beings will be liberated and there won't be any more beings at all anymore. Physically it would mean that all animals, insects, reptiles, birds, fish, and sea mammals would be dead and re-born as humans who would all enter nirvana at once? In the last days, there would only be humans and no other animals of any kind? In my opinion, I just don't see that happening.

There will always be some sort of living beings in this world system or another. But we can be compassionate and do what we can to assist others. Since enlightenment is most likely a long way off, we can show compassion in any way we can along the long journey, as a Theravadin or a Mahayanist.
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Just Dave
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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Just Dave » Sun Oct 18, 2009 10:30 pm

Thanks for that, David.

Your post has helped.

In my six years practicing Buddhism (within a Mahayana school) I was never led to the understanding, via any teacher or community, that there was a "bodhisatta" in the Pali canon.

So is the main difference between Theravada thought and Mahayana thought that the Bodhisatta, in the former, is a being working towards Buddhahood, and in the latter, a being working towards a Buddhahood that will work towards liberating all?

I am intrigued by what you say about the unlikelyhood about a total liberation of beings. I have never looked at the notion from that angle.

It follows then that the Buddha in the Suttas will not have mentioned the neccesity of any vows regarding achieving enlightenment for the benefit of all beings?

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Oct 18, 2009 10:43 pm

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Just Dave » Sun Oct 18, 2009 10:55 pm


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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Oct 18, 2009 10:59 pm

"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Just Dave » Sun Oct 18, 2009 11:09 pm

Thanks Retro, both for the clarification and a new word: 'hagiography' (I had to look it up :tongue: )

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby BlackBird » Sun Oct 18, 2009 11:15 pm

"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." -

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Just Dave » Sun Oct 18, 2009 11:24 pm

Cheers Black bird.

This article does help.

*Bookmarked*

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Individual » Mon Oct 19, 2009 6:55 am

The best things in life aren't things.


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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Oct 19, 2009 7:08 am

My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: .

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Oct 19, 2009 7:15 am

My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: .

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Oct 19, 2009 7:41 am

My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: .

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby BlackBird » Mon Oct 19, 2009 8:19 am

"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." -

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Oct 19, 2009 8:26 am


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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Oct 19, 2009 8:48 am

My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: .

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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Oct 19, 2009 8:55 am


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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Oct 19, 2009 9:12 am


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Re: The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravada Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Oct 19, 2009 9:40 am

My recently moved Blog, containing some of my writings on the Buddha Dhamma, as well as a number of translations from classical Buddhist texts and modern authors, liturgy, etc.: .


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