| There is a collection of stories in the Sutra Pitaka of the Pali scripture about twenty-four Buddhas who lived before Gautama Buddha. The collection entitled the Buddhavarmsa
begins with Sariputra asking Gautama Buddha when it was that he first
resolved to become the Buddha and what were the virtues of perfection he
achieved to attain this goal. The Buddha then relates how eons ago he
was a hermit named Sumedha. One day, he heard that there was a Buddha
teaching in a nearby town. He went to that town and saw Dipankara
Buddha approaching him at the head of a long procession of monks.
Sumedha was moved to deep reverence for Dipankara. He realized that
while he could follow this Buddha and become an arhat, he could benefit the world more by becoming a Buddha. In that moment, he made a vow to become a Buddha in a future life.
Over time, he came to understand that he would need to perfect ten
virtues to achieve this goal. The Pali text lists these ten virtues,
later referred to as the Ten Perfections in early Buddhism: generosity (dana), moral virtue (sila), renunciation (nekkhamma), wisdom (panna), energy (viriya), patience (khanti), truthfulness (sacca), determination (adhitthana), loving kindness (metta), and equanimity (upekkha).
Gautama Buddha concludes this story by relating to Sariputra how he
perfected these virtues life after life until his full Awakening in his
present life. ...|
story expressed an alternative to the path to Arhatship and Nirvana ,
namely what would become known as the Bodhisattva Path to Buddhahood.
Indeed, the early schools of Buddhism that we introduced in the
previous chapter all recognized this Bodhisattva Path, but
taught that it is a heroic path for only the very few. It is
best, they argued, to follow the shorter path leading to Nirvana than
the more arduous path over eons of time leading to Buddhahood. However,
some Buddhist monastics did eventually resolve to follow the
Bodhisattva Path. ...
By the first century B.C.E., the experience of
this bodhisattva practice was expressed in a new literature. New sutras
began to appear that claimed to be discourses of Gautama Buddha that
presented the wisdom and the practice of the Bodhisattva Path. These sutras
taught that the Bodhisattva Path is superior to that of original
Buddhism because it leads to a greater attainment, namely, full
Buddhahood. The qualities gained in the process of further growth
beyond Arhatship could be used to benefit all living beings in ways not
possible for an arhat. The Bodhisattva
Path was therefore referred to as the Mahayana,
meaning “Great Vehicle,” “Great Course,” or “Great Journey.” Followers
of Mahayana also referred to the earlier forms of Buddhism as Hinayana, or “Lesser Vehicle,” as they do not lead all the way to full Buddhahood. (BIBE, 115-116)
the Theravada tradition maintains that there is no difference between
the enlightenment of an arhat and that of a buddha, Mahayana Buddhism
maintains that arhats only eliminate emotional obscurations (i.e.
attachment to the self), whereas buddhas eliminate both emotional and
cognitive obscurations. To put it another way, arhats eliminate the
attachments that lead to rebirth, but buddhas harmonize with the
totality of time and space! (cf. The Five Paths to Liberation and Enlightenment)
The Three Bodies (Trikaya) of the Buddha
The Buddha as a human being existing in time and space, like the Historical Buddha Sakyamuni.
A supramundane body that is not limited by time and space, and hence accessible through meditation and visions.
The inconceivable essence of reality without boundaries or limits. This is the ultimate source of Buddhahood itself.
Four Characteristics of Mahayana Buddhism
While the different sutras contribute
a variety of ideas to Mahayana, there are some characteristic ideas
that have become associated with Mahayana. Here, we mention four .... (BIBE, 116)
I. The Bodhisattva Path
third characteristic of Mahayana teaching concerns the nature of
consciousness. We have seen that one view of consciousness found in
early Buddhist texts teaches that the mind is naturally pure and clear,
having been stained by mental defilements. While in Mahayana there are
many and sometimes conflicting notions concerning consciousness, we
find a similar strand of thought. It claims that consciousness, prior
to being affected by defilements, is the luminous clarity nirvanic
status of enlightened Buddhahood. This pure luminosity as the true
essence of consciousness gives people the potential for Buddhahood. But
ordinary conscious life generates conceptualizations and other mental
formations that frustrate this potential. In the end, it is the mind
that enslaves people in a life that is untrue and unsatisfying (duhkha); and it is also the mind that can set people free. (BIBE, 118) The first characteristic notion found in developed Mahayana is the view that a Buddha, rather than an arhat,
is the person who can be of most help to people who are suffering and
in need of liberation. To achieve this condition of Buddhahood, one
needs to follow the Bodhisattva Path. This bodhisattva life begins with
what is called the “arising of the thought of Awakening,” or bodhicitta. This bodhicitta
is really the altruistic desire, or heartfelt aspiration, to attain
Buddhahood so that one can help others gain freedom from suffering. (BIBE, 117)
II. The Perfection of Wisdom
that time the Bodhisattva Infinite Thought rose up from his seat, and
baring his right shoulder and folding his hands toward the Buddha,
spoke thus: “World-honored One! For what reason is the Bodhisattva
Avalokitesvara named Regarder of the Cries of the World?”|
The Buddha answered the Bodhisattva Infinite
Thought: “Good son! If there be countless hundred thousand myriad kotis
of living beings suffering from pain and distress, who hear of this
Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World, and with all their mind
call upon his name, the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World
will instantly regard their cries, and all of them will be delivered. ...
Listen to the deeds of the Cry Regarder,
Who well responds to every quarter;
His vast vow is deep as the sea,
Inconceivable in its eons.
Seeing many thousands of kotis of buddhas,
He has vowed a great pure vow.
Let me briefly tell you.
[He who] hears his name, and sees him,
And bears him unremittingly in mind,
Will be able to end the sorrows of existence.
Though [others] with harmful intent
Throw him into a burning pit,
Let him think of the Cry Regarder’s power
And the pit will become a pool.
Or driven along a great ocean,
In peril of dragons, fishes, and demons,
Let him think of the Cry Regarder’s power,
And waves cannot submerge him. ...
Regarder of the World’s Cries, pure and holy,
In pain, distress, death, calamity,
Able to be a sure reliance,
Perfect in all merit,
With compassionate eyes beholding all,
Boundless ocean of blessings!
Prostrate let us revere him.
A second characteristic of Mahayana teaching is the notion of a “higher wisdom” (prajnaparamita) realizing “emptiness” (sunyata).
This notion has to do with the awakened experience of the Buddhas and
bodhisattvas. For Mahayana, what one experiences with awakened
consciousness is that all the “factors of existence” (dharmas), which we have seen were so carefully analyzed in the Abhidharma Pitaka, are “empty” (sunya)
of existing independently, or “on their own.” ... This is another way of
saying what the Buddha himself taught, namely, that all things arise
dependently. To experience this dependently arisen nature of
things — their “emptiness” of independence — is the core of wisdom
experience according to Mahayana. It is this profound wisdom realizing
emptiness that, coupled with a compassionate motivation to save all
living beings, furthers one’s Great Journey to the goal of Buddhahood. (BIBE, 117)
Praise to the blessed and noble perfection of wisdom! The noble
Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva was moving in the deep journey of the
perfection of wisdom. When he looked down at the Five Aggregates, he
saw that they are empty of own-being.|
Here, O Sariputra, form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form is
not different from emptiness, emptiness is not different from form.
What is form is emptiness, what is emptiness is form. The same is true
for sensations, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.
Here, O Sariputra, all dharmas are characterized by
emptiness; they are neither produced nor cease, they are neither
defiled nor pure, they are neither deficient nor complete. ... Therefore,
one should know the great mantra of the perfection of wisdom, the mantra of great knowledge, the unsurpassed and unequaled mantra, the mantra that allays all duhkha — it is true, for there is nothing lacking in it. By the perfection of wisdom is this mantra spoken. It is the following: Gone, gone, gone beyond, utterly gone beyond; Awakening; O joy! [Sanskrit: gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha](BIBE, 122; cf. Chinese Religion: An Anthology of Sources, 135)
|Nirvana is the storehouse-consciousness
where a reversion takes place by self-realization. ... When a reversion
takes place in the practitioner of yoga, the [varieties of]
consciousness cast off discrimination between [subject and object] in
what is realized as the [nature of] mind itself. Here, one enters
the Tathagata stage, attaining the realization of noble wisdom; and in this
stage, there is no thought of existence or nonexistence. ... When all
these [varieties of consciousness] go through a reversion, I and all the
other Buddhas declare that there is Nirvana. The mode and nature of
this Nirvana is emptiness, which is the status of reality. ...|
because the storehouse-consciousness] is like a great ocean in which
waves roll on constantly, but the [depths] subsist unaffected, free
from the faults of impermanence ... thoroughly pure in its
essence. ... The storehouse-consciousness is [thus] known by the name of
the Tathagata-garbha. (BIBE, 125-6)
IV. Buddha Realms
the fourth characteristic notion has to do with the nature of
Buddhahood, the goal of the Bodhisattva Path. While the early Buddhist
texts claim that the cosmos includes realms of hells, ghosts, gods,
and Brahma beings,
Mahayana expanded this vision of the cosmos by claiming that it also
contains countless Buddhas residing in Buddha realms. In following the
Bodhisattva Path, one can be reborn in one of these realms, where one
can progress toward Buddhahood under the guidance and with the
blessings of the Buddha of that realm. When one attains Buddhahood, one
will also create a Buddha realm from where one will help others
throughout the cosmos. In the meantime, one can receive guidance and
blessings in this world, as well as visualize these “celestial” Buddhas
and their realms and the advanced bodhisattvas that abide in them in
ways that are spiritually transforming. These Buddhas and advanced
bodhisattvas develop special skillful means (upaya)
that they use to appear in the many world systems of the cosmos in
order to help other beings become free from suffering and progress in
the journey to Awakening and Buddhahood. (BIBE, 118)
Land of Bliss, Ananda, which is the realm of Lord Amitabha, is rich and
prosperous, comfortable, fertile, delightful and full of many gods and
people. In this realm, Ananda, there are no hells, no animals, no
ghosts or asuras — no
inauspicious places to be reborn. ... If any beings, Ananda, over and
over reverently devote themselves to this Buddha, if they plant a
large ... root of goodness, having raised their thoughts to Awakening, if
they vow to be born in that realm, then, when the hour of their death
approaches, Amitabha Buddha ... will stand before them, surrounded by
hosts of monks. Then having seen that Lord, and having died with serene
hearts, they will be born in precisely that realm of the Land of
Bliss. (BIBE, 131)|
The BuddhistTransformation of China ...
... or a Chinese Transformation of Buddhism?
the course of their mutual encounters and multifarious interactions,
which were not without occasional tensions and conflicts, Buddhism and
Chinese traditions were each challenged and transformed. Buddhism added
new features to Chinese civilization and contributed to the ongoing
evolution of native cultural norms and expressions. On the other hand,
in the process of its Sinification, which entailed adaptation to
China’s social ethos and cultural milieu, Buddhism underwent
significant changes that reflected distinctly Chinese worldviews and
spiritual predilections. That made it into a multifaceted tradition
that was perceived as both foreign and domestic, incorporating complext
mixtures of alien and native elements and practices, which over the
last two millennia has been a prominent and integral part of China’s
multifaceted religious landscape. (ICR, 114)