On the Bodhisattva
"May I be an island for those who seek one
And a lamp for those desiring light,
May I be a bed for all who wish to rest
And a slave for all who want a slave."
Śântideva : A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, III:19.
"bodhi-being" or "enlightenment being", the
ideal of the
Mahâyâna replacing the
Hînayâna ideal of the Arhat, seeks Buddhahood
for the sake of the enlightenment of all sentient beings or
Bodhicitta. In the Lesser Vehicle,
the designation "Bodhisattva" is given only to Siddhârtha before his
The Bodhisattva practices the perfect virtues ("pâramitâ") or Six Perfections. The sole intent
for his or her skillful
methods & actions is
compassion supported by the
The Bodhisattva provides active help, and is ready to take the
suffering of others upon himself, transferring
merit to other beings. To be able
to really benefit as many sentient beings as possible, he or she
wants to attain full enlightenment, awakening or
The Bodhisattva is
committed to or intent upon "Bodhi", "enlightenment". In the
Hînayâna, the goal was the
state of the Arhat, membership of the Ârya-Sangha. Then the "Pratyekabuddha"
appears, one who enters "nirvâna"
on his own and for himself alone. But this Buddha does not teach and so
does not benefit anybody except himself. Embryonic in
the teachings of the Buddha, the
Mahâyâna ideal received outer form some five centuries after his
"parinirvâna". This was not a separate lineage, code or "vinaya", but an
"extension" of the Lesser Vehicle, both qua
Someone pursuing the goal of perfect (full)
enlightenment for the benefit for all sentient beings is a "Bodhisattva
Mahâsattva". "Bodhisattva" refers to their personal aspiration to
Buddhahood and "great being", to their wish to help all possible sentient
beings, not only themselves. Technically however, this title also refers
to Great Bodhisattvas (beyond the Seventh Stage). This wish is aspiring Bodhicitta, sincerely
intending the happiness of all sentient beings.
If such a wish can not be
generated, the Mahâyâna cannot and should not be entered. More
renunciation is then required.
The creation, mental fabrication or conceptual generation of this wish is
not easy, for all possible sentient beings must be included. After having
extended this aspiration to those we love, we turn to those we hate and to
those we could not care less. Upon simple analysis, the authenticity of
aspiring Bodhicitta needs to be (self) established. In that sense, an
active summary of the Lesser Vehicle should be presupposed. When at a
given point, enough equanimity is part of the mindstream, producing
aspiring Bodhicitta leads to genuine minds actualizing (materializing) the
happiness of sentient beings. Imagining one has generated
Bodhicitta while immersed in self-chershing, is like swimming in mud after
having taken a shower. Pointless.
At the core of the Bodhisattva ideal is the generation of "Bodhicitta",
the mind, consciousness or will towards enlightenment for the sake of all
sentient beings. It is a force or urge entirely outside the five "skandhas"
and thus supramundane. Various
methods were developed to generate it, but the most powerful
one is the cultivation of
In order to help sentient beings to the full of his or her capacity, the
Bodhisattva wishes to attain full enlightenment as soon as possible.
Without Buddhahood, no omniscience and so no best possible help ! The
popular idea, prevalent in the West, saying the Bodhisattva vows to
postpone his own enlightenment until all sentient beings attain theirs,
is a misrepresentation based on two admirable but mainly devotional
forms of the Bodhisattva intent (called the shepherd-like & boatman-like
Bodhicitta). Monks & nuns, who need to serve, are naturally attracted to
these devotional forms.
In terms of the Buddhadharma, Bodhicitta must be called
"king-like". The Bodhisattva first does all to become enlightened and then uses
his or her enlightened resources to help others. One suffering sentient
being cannot bring another suffering being to the other shore of wisdom,
the core insight of the teachings of Buddha. To oversee conventional
reality and therefore the universal interconnectedness between all
phenomena, the mind of a Buddha is necessary.
The Bodhisattva vows to generate
"mind of enlightenment for all" and to complete the Ten Stages
of the Bodhisattva training, involving deeper probing into the real,
ultimate nature of phenomena, eliminating innate self-grasping. He
or she vows to become a Buddha. Nothing else. Meanwhile, compassionate
activity is ongoing.
Before being able to begin truly understanding & seeing emptiness, the
Bodhisattva has to accumultate merit (compassion) & wisdom (insight into
emptiness) and prepare conceptually for the direct perception of
emptiness. Mind training, ritual actions, devotion, Calm Abiding, Insight
Meditation etc. based on the Perfection of Wisdom Sûtras make the mind
pliant, supple, fresh, clean and clear.
The Sutric Bodhisattva understands
how the texts reveal the crucial role of wishing true happiness,
Bodhicitta & emptiness. Aspiring & engaging Bodhicitta have to be
The path of the Sutric Bodhisattva is said to demand many
It is pursued by two major methods : (a) training in the Ten Stages
(b) practicing the "pâramitâs" or Six Perfections : (1) generosity
("dâna"), (2) ethics ("śîla"), (3) effort ("vîrya"), (4) patience
("ksânti"), (5) meditation ("samâdhi") and (6) wisdom ("prajñâ"). To
correlate these perfections with the Ten Stages ("bhûmis"), four
perfections are added : (7) skillful means ("upâya"), (8) vow to achieve
Buddhahood ("pranidhâna"), (9) power ("bala") and (10) knowledge
The first five perfections are sealed by wisdom. Hence, the Bodhisattva
realizes the ultimate reality (or conventional unreality) of the beings he
or she saves. This is "mahâkarunâ" or "Great Compassion".
Perfections also explain the two "accumulations" ("bodhi-sambhâra" or
"equipments for Bodhi") : the accumulation of merit ("punya-sambhâra")
or the generation of the first five perfections, while the
accumulation of wisdom ("jñâna-sambhâra") is achieved through the
perfection of wisdom, the sixth perfection. Because wisdom is perfected by
understanding and seeing emptiness, giving, morality, joyous effort,
patience & meditation can be perfected.
Relative Bodhicitta is based on wishing
the suffering of all sentient beings to cease. This may be aspiring and engaging,
or both, and is
wholly turned to otherness. Absolute Bodhicitta, like the wisdom
understanding emptiness, understands & directly perceives the true nature
of all conventional events & happenings, of all phenomena inner and outer,
namely their dependent-arising and absence of inherent existence. This is
full-emptiness, all things being empty of itself but full of otherness.
Absolute Bodhicitta is an ultimate wisdom because it reveals the true
nature of the mind of enlightenment manifested for and dedicated to the
benefit of all sentient beings, namely true cessation of (a) emotional
afflictions & (b) gross, subtle & very subtle mental delusions, both
intellectual (acquired) & innate.
The absence of own-nature, of an entity devoid of inherent existence
("nihsvabhâva"), is the ultimate nature of all possible phenomena. It is
not another nature or another phenomenon. It is the same (conventional)
phenomenon devoid of inherent existence, viewed in terms of fugal &
functional interconnectedness. Absolute Bodhicitta is the ultimate nature
of relative Bodhicitta, allowing every action done in the spirit of the
latter to be dedicated to interrelationality, holism & continuum-thinking,
seeing every thing done as an empty but functional form emerging out of
the emptiness of this form. Although form and its emptiness are nominally
not identical, i.e. different, they are the same entity (and so two
epistemic isolates of that entity). This view is the
heart of wisdom (cf. Heart Sûtra) of the Consequence School.
Absolute Bodhicitta brings to the fore the importance of mind.
The last step in the process underlining the stages of the path to
enlightenment always involves a radical rethinking of oneself, the others
and the world. An epistemological turn pertains. To prepare for the
radical thinking of the Consequence School, emptiness is first touched
upon in the lower tenet systems.
These incomplete views allow realist or idealist "exits". Such
metaphysical groundings always shape
ontological illusion and its antinomies.
Because of the conflicts between the tenets, the intelligent mind
continues to seek
answers. When all of this has matured by study, reflection & meditation, the whole conceptual field is
addressed and emptiness is comprehensive and defined as "absence of
inherent existence" (cf. the Mâdhyamaka-Prâsangika). At this point, both
the "I" and outer phenomena no longer exist "from their own side", as
substantial ontic entities, but they "arise from emptiness" as a gold coin
arises from its gold. Emptiness is not some "ground", "fundamental
nature", "immortal me" or "Supreme Being" outside conventional realities
(and so the emptiness of emptiness pertains),
but the same interdependent & impermanent subcontinuum (the gold coin)
understood & seen as devoid of inherent existence, i.e. fully, completely
and inexhaustibly interrelated and process-like (the gold). This view is
in accord with Western
Kamalaśîla (ca. 700 - 750 CE), integrated the "pâramitâs" & "bhûmis" in
five "paths". These form the basis for the understanding of the Path of
the Bodhisattva in Tibetan schools like the Gelugpas. The smooth
integration of these various complex insights evidences a high scholastic
level. This classification proves the point made, for the process involves
the epistemology of emptiness and the excellent sublimity of mixing the
mind with it until both finally merge.
Path of Accumulation
: entered upon the arising of the mind of enlightenment for all
sentient beings (Bodhicitta), the practice of the perfections (paramitas)
causes the two baskets (of merit and wisdom) to be filled, thereby
producing favourable conditions to study, reflect & meditate on emptiness. Understanding of emptiness is gross &
conceptual, but self-cherishing is abandoned. As a yogi, one is able to analyze
emptiness without leaving meditative equipoise (the fruit of Calm Abiding),
i.e. "superior seeing"
or "special insight". Self-cherishing is halted ;
Path of Preparation : as
soon as "superior seeing" is acquired, a
deep conceptual insight into emptiness, the fundamental nature of all
phenomena, is on its way. Then, the complete conceptual understanding
of emptiness is irreversible. The subtle conceptual aspects of emptiness
(related to the reification of the higher self) are
integrated. The supreme Dharma mind nearly completely mixes with
emptiness, prompting the highest inferential (proximate, categorized,
contrived, indirect) realization of emptiness possible with the conceptual
mind. Thus acquired self-grasping stops and the conceptual mind can be
halted and reflected (made aware) ;
Path of Seeing : after
full understanding, the direct experience of emptiness in meditation is at hand.
Then the Bodhisattva enters the first "bhûmi" & the Ârya-Sangha and
eliminates all remaining intellectually based conceptions of inherent
existence. Because innate self-grasping is not yet removed, this Superior
valid cognitions while meditating only ;
Path of Meditation : here,
thanks to continuous meditation, this direct experience is developed and stabilized
by going though the remaining nine stages. The experience of emptiness of
the Hînayâna Arhat is identified with the Sixth Stage. Beyond the Seventh
Stage dwell the Mahâsattva Bodhisattvas and Dhyâni Bodhisattvas. When the last
innate delusion is removed, Buddhahood is nearly at hand ;
Path of No More Learning : the simultaneous experience of
conventional & ultimate truth, of "samsâra"
wisdom offers complete insight
into the relative and ultimate nature of all possible phenomena, leading to
the state of Buddhahood.
Taking into account the accomplishments of linguistics, philosophy of
language, geneto-cognitive theory, system-theory, cybernetics as well as
anthropology, history, archeology, economics etc., my
esthetics) conjectures a spectrum of
seven strata, planes, levels or
modes of cognition, called : mythic,
pre-rational & proto-rational (forming together ante-rationality, as
Ancient Egyptian thought) and formal,
critical, creative & nondual cognition (cf.
Critique of a Metaphysics of Process).
Together, formal & critical thought constitute scientific knowledge,
whereas creative thought is an
immanent metaphysical inquiry, but one staying
within the boundaries of conceptuality. Moving beyond this, nondual
thought is non-conceptual. When the Buddha urged us to inquire into the
ultimate nature of things and discover their emptiness, i.e. their lack of
inherent existence, nondual cognition was the cognitive mode called for.
Because Yoga was part of India's culture, the possibility of directly
perceiving reality-as-such was not a priori rejected. Although
Indian thought and Kant both agree conceptual cognition cannot move
beyond its own categories, yogis knew from experience nondual thought was
possible. Kant was not oblivious of this fact, but because "intellectual
perception" (the Western name for intuitive, direct, non-conceptual
knowledge) was not given to everyone, he rejected it altogether.
Moreover, in the West, intuition had been largely recuperated by the Roman
Church, identifying it with the "grace of the Holy Spirit", an
identification hardly lauded by Protestants like Kant. It took another two
centuries before Western intellectuals no longer identified "intuition"
with a church-bound religious dogma. Only then was a secular approach of
"higher states of consciousness" possible (cf. psychic research at the end
of the 19th century, parapsychology and transpersonal psychology in the 20th). However, the impact
of this remained rather shallow.
In all vehicles of the
Buddhadharma, a direct, non-conceptual,
nondual cognition of emptiness, or the ultimate nature of phenomena is
deemed possible & necessary. The noumenon is known by a valid yogic perceiver,
i.e. one discovering emptiness directly. These minds are
beyond conceptual, discursive, analytical thought, but also beyond the
emotional, totalising, synthetical mode. They express themselves
bi-hemispherically, allowing for multiple
transferences between analysis & synthesis (between analytical Insight
& Calm Abiding). They perceive without conceptualization and so are
called "direct" (without means). Although beyond
conceptualization, some yogis consider them as non-cognitive (Gorampa, Shentong,
Dzogchen), while for
yogi-scholars, like Tsongkhapa, they are cognitive. Indeed, the highest
mode of cognition !
Because Great Bodhisattvas finish the Paths of Seeing & Meditation,
they develop all possible mundane & psychic abilities to help
others, and so their resulting accomplishments are progressively less different
from those of a fully awakened Buddha. Hence, they are worshipped to
the same degree as a Buddha. Since they have been practicing for countless
lifetimes and have been reborn in more refined realms of "samsâra"
numerous times, these Bodhisattvas are no longer common humans or ordinary