Article of the Month - Nov 2022

This article by Tanvi Mehta

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The Buddha Dharma is based on the enlightening teachings of Gautam Buddha and is followed by seven percent of the global population. It is predominant in the regions of Southeast Asia including Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan, Northeast parts of India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. The principle of Buddhism is to wake people up from the illusion of this material world and be situated in real wisdom.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the term Bodhisattva is a person who chooses to be on the path of Buddhahood or spiritual awakening. He has a compassionate heart and works selflessly to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings in this world. In Theravada Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is someone who has generated a spontaneous wish to become a Buddha and has also received a confirmation or prediction from a Buddha about it. These beings are spiritually elevated and possess some important spiritual qualities known as the “four divine abodes” of loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), empathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha). It is believed that they also possess special powers that they employ in helping ordinary living beings.

The Mahavastu (a text from the Lokattaravada school of Early Buddhism) describes four stages of the Bodhisattva path:

1. Natural (Prakriti) – One first plants the roots of merit in front of a Buddha to attain Buddhahood.

2. Resolution (Pranidhana) – One makes a sincere desire or a valid resolution to attain Buddhahood in the presence of a Buddha.

3. Continuing (Anuloma) – At this stage, one endeavors to practice until one meets a Buddha who confirms one’s future Buddhahood.

4. Irreversible (Anivartana) – In this final stage, one is fully fixed up in his consciousness and does not fall back.

Tibetan Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) | Brocadeless Thangka

Types of Bodhisattvas

According to the Sutta Nipata, a Buddhist scripture, there are three types of Bodhisattvas:

1. Bodhisattvas who are predominant in Wisdom (pannadhika)

2. Bodhisattvas who are predominant in Faith (saddhadhika)

3. Bodhisattvas who are predominant in Vigor (Viriyadhika)

Only a few selected individuals can become a Bodhisattva and some highly advanced Bodhisattvas are revered throughout the Buddhist community.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara: The Personification of Compassion

There are many kinds of Bodhisattvas ranging from ordinary persons to divine Bodhisattvas. One such highly venerated divine Bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara who is considered the embodiment of great compassion (Mahakaruna) and unconditional love toward all conditioned souls. The Sanskrit term Avalokiteshvara is a combination of three words – Ava meaning “down”, Lokita meaning “to gaze, notice or observe”, and Ishvara meaning “lord”. Thus, the combined words refer to “lord who gazes down – at the world or the living beings”. It is believed that Avalokiteshvara has 108 Avatars and is variably depicted, portrayed, and described as either male or female. He looks at all the people of this world with his eyes of compassion and perceives their lamentations and sufferings. Avalokiteshvara is loved throughout the Buddhist community due to his causeless mercy and compassion upon the conditioned souls of this material world. In the Mahayana Buddhism tradition, the Lotus Sutra has a whole chapter on the doctrines of Avalokiteshvara. It describes him as a highly compassionate Boddhisattva who chooses to stay in this material world and works selflessly to relieve the sufferings of those who call upon his name.

28" Large Size Chenrezig, or the Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan Buddhist Deity) In Brass | Handmade | Made In India

Avalokiteshvara is portrayed in a multitude of forms and several manifestations are described that suit the minds of different people. Out of all the deities of Avalokiteshvara in the Tibetan Pantheon of Buddhism, Chenrezig is the most renowned. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is believed to be an incarnation of this Bodhisattva, a living symbol of boundless compassion. Chenrezig is conceptualized and visualized in various forms, with many faces and arms. He sits on a full-blown lotus crossing his legs. He is usually depicted having four arms that represent the four immeasurables; Immeasurable Compassion, Immeasurable Kindness, Immeasurable Joy, and Immeasurable Equanimity. His two arms join together at the heart in a prayer position holding a wish-fulfilling gem in between. With his upper left arm, he holds a lotus flower and with his other right arm, he holds a crystal rosary (mala) which he uses to count the repetitions of the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”, which means “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus, which is capable of liberating all beings from their suffering”. His meditation is practiced by all the Buddhists in the lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. What Is The Purpose Of A Thangka?

Bodhisattva Manjushri: The Embodiment Of Transcendental Wisdom


Manjushri - Buddha of Infinite Wisdom (Brocadeless Thangka)

In the Mahayana Buddhist literature, Manjushri, “meaning Gentle Glory”, is depicted as a male and is considered the most significant Bodhisattva. In Vajrayana Buddhism, he is described as a meditational deity and in some Buddhist traditions, he is considered one of the thirteen Buddhas who have several disciples. He is commonly known as one of the closest followers of Buddha Shakyamuni. The Bodhisattva Manjushri is usually portrayed on a lotus throne which represents purity and compassion. He wields a flaming sword in his right hand. The sword represents the transcendental wisdom that cuts off ignorance and illusion. With his left hand, he holds a scripture called Prajnaparamita Sutra representing his attainment of self-realization from wisdom. He wears loose robes that befit a youthful prince. Also, he is sometimes depicted in a trinity with Avalokiteshvara and Varjrapani. Is Avalokiteshvara Male Or Female?

Bodhisattva Vajrapani: Buddha’s Power


16" Tibetan Buddhist Deity - Vajrapani From Nepal

Vajrapani is considered one of the oldest Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. He represents the power of all the Buddhas in a wrathful aspect. The term Vajrapani means the one who holds the thunderbolt (Vajra) as his weapon. He is considered the Buddhist God of rain, as is Lord Indra in Hinduism. He is often depicted as one of the protective deities surrounding the Buddha along with Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri. His deities can be found in many Buddhist temples as Dharma protectors guarding monasteries and temple gates. Vajrapani is always represented in a wrathful form. He is often seen sporting a third eye on his forehead and wears a five-pointed Bodhisattva crown on his head. The crown symbolizes the power of the five Dhyani Buddhas or fully awakened Tathagatas. He carries a Vraja in his right hand that represents analytical knowledge. In his left hand, he holds a ghanta (bell). Vajrapani is often believed to be the manifestation of Vajradhara, the ultimate primordial Buddha. He grants his protection to any Bodhisattva who is on the path to Buddhahood, making them invincible to any attacks by either humans or ghosts. The Bodhisattva Ideal - Buddhism and the Aesthetics of Selflessness.

Conclusion

A Bodhisattva is a person who is on the path toward awakening or liberation from material bondage by following the principles of Buddhism. He is the personification of the compassion of all the Buddhas. The Buddhist literature describes him as a highly compassionate Boddhisattva who works selflessly to relieve the sufferings of those who call upon his name. These beings are imbued with various Bodhisattva perfections such as Prajnaparamita (transcendental knowledge) and Upaya (skillful means). The key elements of the Bodhisattva path are – vow, wish, prayer, resolution, aspiration, and determination.  

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