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ARHAT AND BODHISATTVA:

ROLES AND ASPIRATIONS WITH

REFERENCE TO THE STAGES OF PATH

Subject: Lam Rim Chen Mo


Instructor : Prof. Andrey Terentyev
Assistant Instructor : Sis. Chiew Suan Bee (sbee.chiew@gmail.com)

Mahendradatta Jayadi
74 Hillside Street, Springvale 3171, Australia
mjayadi@optusnet.com.au

International Buddhist College, Thailand


March 2012
Introduction
The doctrines of arhat (Sanskrit) or arahant (Pali) and bodhisattva (Sanskrit) or bodhisatta
(Pali) are well known in Buddha teaching and the ideals to which the Buddhist should follow.
Most of Buddhists seek the liberation either by arhat or bodhisattva paths. The arahant ideal
and the bodhisattva ideal are often considered the respective guiding ideals of Theravada
Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism (Bodhi, 2010). Each ideal provides some practical
guidance, characteristics and the stages of the path to the aspirants in order to gain their
ultimate goals, arhat or bodhisattva. This essay will outline and compare these two ideals
from doctrinal and academic perspectives.

Doctrine of Arhat in Theravada Buddhism


The Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Buswell, 2004) defines the arhat as follow:

The arhat (Pali: arahant) is a being who has attained the state of enlightenment that is the goal of
Theravada and other mainstream Buddhist schools. The arhat is fully human yet has reached a
transcendent state of wisdom and liberation that the texts describe as being almost identical with that of
the Buddha. In this way, the arhat fulfills a dual roles as both an ideal for imitation and an object of
veneration.

Dunnington (1974) provided some technical definitions of arahant:

a) Those who have reached the end of the Eightfold Path, and are enjoying the fruits of it,
the maggaphalattha. They have perfected themselves in each of the eight stages of the
Path: right views, aspirations, speech, conduct, mode of livelihood, effort, mindfulness,
and rapture.
b) An individual who through unremitting meditative efforts attains release from the “round
of becoming” for himself alone.
c) Those who have freed himself from their karmic bondages by following the Buddha’s
precepts (Samyutta Nikaya III, 83).

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The Stages of Path to Arahantship
The arahants have to destroy the asavas.1 They have to eliminate four asavas, i.e., sensuality
(kama), lust of life (bhava), speculation (ditthi) and ignorance (avijja). Theravada Buddhism
set guidelines that ten fetters (dasa samyojana) must be eliminated gradually in order to
attain arahantships. The ten fetters are known:

1) Sakkaya ditthi, the delusion of self or soul.


2) Viccikiccha, doubt.
3) Silabhata paramasa, dependence upon rites
4) Kamacchanda, sense-desire
5) Patigha, hatred or resentment
6) Ruparaga, desire for life in fine-material worlds
7) Aruparaga, desire for life in immaterial worlds
8) Mana, pride
9) Uddhacca, agitation
10) Avijja, ignorance

Theravada Buddhism provides the gradual path to the householder that leads from the stage
of an ordinary person, characterised by ignorance, to that of enlightened person endowed
with wisdom. The path is open to all beings who could master the attainment required. They
have to complete the path in four stages over many lifetimes. These four stages are termed
the four path (marga, Pali: magga ) or the four noble person (arya-pudgala, Pali: arya-
puggala). The four stages and its relationships with fetters are (Buswell, 2004; Dunnington,
1974; Narada, 1988):

1) The path of stream-attainment (srotapanna marga, Pali: sotapanna magga). The


stream entrant has eliminated the first three fetters. The stream entrant is no more an
ordinary people (Pali: puthujjana) but an Ariya (noble). For the eradication of the
remaining seven fetters, srotapanna (Pali: sotapanna) will be reborn seven times at
the most. He gains implicit confidence in the Triratna. He would not for any reason

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Asavas means floods, overflows, leakages, cankers or intoxicant.

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violate any of the five precepts (pancasila). He is not a subject to rebirth in states of
woe as he is destined to Enlightenment.
2) The path of once-returning (sakrdagami marga, Pali: sakadagami magga). The once-
returner has been weakening the fourth and the fifth fetters. He is born in the human
realm only once, should he not attain Arahantship in that birth itself.
3) The path of non-returning (anagami marga, Pali: anagami magga). The non-returner
has eliminated the fourth and the fifth fetters. When a laymen becomes an anagami,
he leads a celibate life. After death he will be reborn in the pure abodes (Pali:
suddhavasa), an environment reserved for anagamis. There he will attain Arahantship
and lives till the end of his life.
4) The path of the arhat (Pali: arahant). The arhat has cut the last five fetters.
Arahantship or Stage Four is equivalent to liberation and free from samsara.

Bodhisatta in Theravada Buddhism


Theravada Buddhism, as explained by Narada (1988), mentions bodhisattta in its scriptural
teaching. It is believed that there are three modes of Enlightenment (bodhi). They are
savaka-bodhi, pacceka-bodhi and samma-sambodhi.

a) Savaka-bodhi is the enlightenment of a disciple, this is also known as the Arahant


ideal. They seek the guidance of a superior enlightened instructor. One of Buddha’s
disciple, Sariputta, attained the first stage of sainthood after hearing only half a stanza
from the Arahant Assaji.

b) Pacceka-bodhi is the independent enlightenment of a highly evolved person who


achieves his goal by his own efforts without seeking external aid.

c) Samma-sambodhi or fully self-enlightened is the supreme enlightenment of a most


developed, most compassionate, most loving, all knowing perfect being. He
comprehends the Dhamma by his own efforts and wisdom and also expounds the
doctrines to seeker of truth in order to purify and save them from samsara.2 He who

2
Samsara is ever-recurring cycle of birth and death.

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aspires to attain samma-sambuddhahood is called bodhisatta.3 The spirit of selfless
service is one of the main characteristics of all bodhisattas.

Kariyawasam (2009) referred to the Commentary of Suttanipata that to become a bodhisatta,


one has to qualify himself with a firm resolution (panidhana). As it is the first resolution
(mula panidhana) and it is called abhinihara; the aspirant of bodhisatta should have the
following attributes: (a) A human being, manussata; (b) a male4, linga sampatti; (c) he should
be able to become an arahant in that very life, hetu; (d) he should be able to see a live
Buddha, satthara dassana; (e) he should be a recluse at that time or he should get his
declaration, pabbajja; (f) jhana should be possessed by him, guna sampatti; (g) he should be
able to sacrifice his life (adhikara) to a Buddha; and (h) he should be willing to follow the
Bodhisattva path, chandata.

Theravada Buddhism acknowledges three types of bodhisattas, namely, intellectual


bodhisattas (pannadhika), devotional bodhisatta (saddhadhika) and energetic bodhisattas
(viriyadhika).

In order to attain Samma-sambuddhahood, bodhisattas have to practice ten trancendental


virtues (Pali: parami5) into perfection states. They are generosity (dana), morality (sila),
renunciation (nekkhamma), wisdom (panna), energy (virya), patience (khanti), truthfulness
(sacca), determination (adhitthana), loving kindness (metta) and equanimity (upekkha).

All bodhisattas must practice five great sacrifices (panca maha pariccaga): (a) giving up
wife; (b) giving up children; (c) giving up kingdom; (d) giving up life and (e) giving up
limbs. According to Theravada Buddhism when the Bodhisatta completes his practice of
paramitas he is liable to become a Buddha. Prince Siddhartha Gautama had made the great
sacrifices, he was known as the first Bodhisattva according to both Theravada and Mahayana
tradition, then he became the Buddha at his lifetime.

3
The Pali term bodhisatta is composed of bodhi which means “wisdom” or “enlightenment”, and satta which
means “devoted to” or “intent on”. A bodhisatta means one who is devoted to, or intent on, wisdom or
enlightenment (Narada, 1988).
4
Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism do not mention that only male can become a bodhisattva. Avalokistevara
Bodhisattva is depicted as female in East Asia, known as Guan Yin. Iconographies on bodhisattvas have male
and female traits.
5
According to the Cariya Pitaka Commentary, parami are those virtues which are cultivated with compassion,
guided by reason, uninfluenced by selfish motives, and unsullied by misbelief and all feelings of self-conceit.

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Doctrine of Bodhisattva
The Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Buswell, 2004) defines the bodhisattva (Pali: bodhisatta;
Tibetan: byang chub sems pa; Chinese: pusa; Korean: posal; Japanese: bosatsu) as follow:

A sattva (person) on a Buddhist marga (path) in pursuit of bodhi (awakening) or one whose nature is
awakening. In the Mahayana tradition, a bodhisattva is a practitioner who, by habituating himself in the
practice of paramita (perfection), aspires to become a Buddha in the future by seeking
anuttarasamyaksambodhi (complete, perfect awakening) through prajna (wisdom) and by benefiting all
sentient beings through karuna (compassion). A bodhisattva is one who courageously seeks
enlightenment through totally and fully benefiting others (parartha), as well as himself (svartha).

The origin of bodhisattva doctrine may be traced back, and it seems that this doctrine has
been derived from Candrakirti (6th century CE). In his Madhyamakavatara, Candrakirti
observed that the Hinayana knows nothing of the vehicle of the bodhisattva which is the
characteristics trait of the Mahayana (Krishan, 1984). The bodhisattva is known by different
appellations in the sutras.6

It is believed that the followers of the Mahayana set up the ideal of the bodhisattva instead of
that of the arhat of the followers of Hinayana (Theravada). The monks of Hinayana were
self-centred and contemplative and consequently became ‘inactive and indolent’. The
bodhisattva doctrine was promulgated as a protest against a ‘theory of arhatship which was
regarded as doubly effective. It disregarded the higher duty of acquiring the perfect wisdom
of a Buddha; and it deprived the world of the services of holy men and women who had
attained nirvana and passed away (Krishan, 1984). A bodhisattva was defined as one who
strove to gain bodhi and refused to enter nirvana, as he wished to help human beings in the
world of sorrow, sin and impermanence.

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In Mahayana-sutralamkara, there are fifteen names as synonims for bodhisattva: (1) mahasattva, great being,
(2) dhimat, wise, (3) uttamadyuti, most splendid, (4) jinaputra, Buddha’s son, (5) jinadhara, holding to the
Buddha, (6) vijetr, conqueror, (7) jinankura, Buddha’s offspring, (8) vikranta, bold, (9) paramascarya, most
marvelous, (10) sarthavaha, caravan leader, (11) mahayasas, of great glory, (12) krpalu, compassionate, (13)
mahapunya, greatly meritorious, (14) isvara, lord, (15) dharmika, righteous (Buswell, 2004).

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Three types of aspirant in Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism believes in bodhisattva doctrine. Tsong-kha-pa’s Stages of the Path to
Enlightenment (lam rin chen mo), completed in 1402, set the agenda in regard to the nature of
and role for morality, meditation, and a correct understanding of ultimate reality for many
Tibetan Buddhist thinkers and practitioners. The arguments move from the reliance on
scriptural authority to reliance on personal investigation, in the beginning by logic, but in the
end by meditative insight. Tsong-kha-pa also mentioned that the model of the ascetic
monastic remains basic. Further, monastic and bodhisattva viewpoints need not be at odds
(Wilson, 1996).

Wilson (1996) explained that in the mid-eleventh century, the Indian scholar Atisa (982-
1054)--while living and teaching in Tibet-- wrote Bodhipathapradipa (Lamp for the Path to
Enlightenment; Tibet: byang chub lam gyi sgron ma) introducing three types of persons with
three different scopes of mind:

1) Those of narrow scope, interested mainly in the pleasures of this life and in
improving the odds for attaining a pleasant rebirth after death.
2) Those of broader scope, having turned their backs on the pleasures to be had in this
and future lifetimes, nonetheless seek nirvana only for themselves.
3) Those of universal scope, seeking to become enlightened as Buddhas in order to
liberate others from the cycle of death and rebirth.

The third person may be identified as those who seek the path of the bodhisattva. Tsong-kha-
pa’s Lam rin chen mo provided guidelines for the paths shared with persons of small,
intermediate, and great capacity.

1) Persons of small capacity. They are motivated to turn away from short-term pleasure
and “seek the purpose of future lives” by understanding mindfulness of death and
contemplation of the sufferings in the bad rebirths. These persons will be taking refuge in
three jewels (Triratna: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) and developing conviction in the
cause and effect of actions.

2) Persons of intermediate capacity. Those who have become persons of small capacity
are to extend their aspirations further; realising that future lifetimes will be no more
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satisfactory that the present one, they have to cultivate an aspiration to achieve liberation
from the cycle of death and rebirth. They will learn and progress in the following
doctrines: the first of the four noble truths, the unsatisfactoriness of cyclic existence; the
way in which cyclic existence operates; the nature of the path of enlightenment.

3) Persons of great capacity. Those who are free from continued sufferings and rebirth, and
also are able to help others to attain a similar liberation. Their goals are no longer to
achieve their own liberations but to become Buddhas for sake of others. This may be seen
as a path of bodhisattva. Lam rin chen mo provided detailed doctrines to be mastered by
persons with great capacity: (a) the mind of enlightenment (bodhicitta; Tibet: byang chub
kyi sems); (b) the way in which the mind of enlightenment is developed following the
seven precepts of cause and effects from Atisa; (c) the way in which the mind of
enlightenment is developed following the practice of “exchange of self and other” coming
from Santideva7; (d) the behaviour in which a bodhisattva is to engage--including the
perfection of ethics and the perfection of patience; (e) the development of the “calming
and stability” meditation (samatha; Tibet: zhi gnas); (f) the development of rational
analysis of and meditative insight (vipasyana; Tibet: lhag mthong) into ultimate reality.

Bodhisattva Vows
Tibetan Buddhists believe in Bodhisattva Vows8 that the vows have the blessing and they will
collect merits after. The promise to keep the Bodhisattva Vows applies not only to this life,
but also to each subsequent lifetime until enlightenment. They believe that the vows have a
valid sources from Buddha Sakyamuni himself so that they will receive blessing from the
Buddha himself.

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Santideva composed a text in Sanskrit called Entering Upon the Practice of Awakening (Bodhicaryavatara).
Santideva stressed on the perfection of dhyana in twofold necessity: first, for isolating the body (kaya) from the
world, and then for similarly isolating the mind (citta). Tranquility (samatha) is the first thing to be sought in the
pursuit of isolating oneself from the attraction of the worldly life. When both body and mind have been isolated
in this way the practitioner is enjoined to inculcate the “decision for enlightenment” (bodhicitta) (Griffith,
1995).
8
The late tenth-century Indian master Atisha received the version of the bodhisattva vows from his Sumatran
teacher Dharmamati of Suvarnadvipa and transmitted them to Tibet. This version derives from the Sutra of
Akashagarbha (nam-mkha’i snying-po mdo), as cited in the Compendium of Training (bSlabs-btus, Skt:
shikshasamuccaya), compiled in India by Santideva in the eighth century (Terentyev, 2011).

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After establishing the desire to learn the bodhisattva precepts and to begin practice of the six
paramitas, the aspirants are required to take the bodhisattva vows (Terentyev, 2011). In
essence in the Bodhisattva Vows the aspirants keep promises as:

“May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings”.

In order to follow the bodhisattva path, Tibetan Buddhists take bodhisattva vows (byang-
sems sdom-pa) promising to restrain from two sets of negative acts that Buddha prohibited:
18 actions that if committed constitute a root of downfall (byang-sems-kyi tsa-ltung) and 46
types of faulty behaviour (nyes-byas); or speaking in modern terms as 18 primary vows and
46 secondary vows.9 “A root downfall” means a loss of the entire set of Bodhisattva Vows; it
leads to a decline in spiritual development and hinders the growth of positive qualities.

9
From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhisattva_vows; accessed 20 February 2012): Asanga (circa
300 CE) delineated 18 major vows and forty-six minor vows. These Bodhisattva vows are still used in all four
major traditions of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. The eighteen major vows (as actions to be abandoned), they have to
refrain themselves from: (1) Praising oneself or belittling others due to attachment to receiving material
offerings, praise and respect; (2) Not giving material aid or (due to miserliness) not teaching the Dharma to
those who are suffering and without a protector; (3) Not listening to others' apologies or striking others; (4)
Abandoning the Mahayana by saying that Mahayana texts are not the words of Buddha or teaching what appears
to be the Dharma but is not; (5) Taking things belonging to Buddha, Dharma or Sangha; (6) Abandoning the
holy Dharma by saying that texts which teach the three vehicles are not the Buddha's words; (7) With anger
depriving ordained ones of their robes, beating and imprisoning them or causing them to lose their ordination
even if they have impure morality, for example, by saying that being ordained is useless; (8) Committing any of
the five extremely negative actions: [a] killing one's mother, [b] killing one's father, [c] killing an arhat, [d]
intentionally drawing blood from a Buddha or [e] causing schism in the Sangha community by supporting and
spreading sectarian views; (9) Holding distorted views (which are contrary to the teaching of Buddha, such as
denying the existence of the Three Jewels or the law of cause and effect etc.); (10) Destroying towns, villages,
cities or large areas by means such as fire, bombs, pollution or black magic; (11) Teaching emptiness to those
whose minds are unprepared; (12) Causing those who have entered the Mahayana to turn away from working
for the full enlightenment of Buddhahood and encouraging them to work merely for their own liberation from
suffering; (13) Causing others to abandon their Pratimoksha vows; (14) Belittling the Śrāvaka or
Pratyekabuddha vehicle (by holding and causing others to hold the view that these vehicles do not abandon
attachment and other delusions); (15) Falsely stating that oneself has realised profound emptiness and that if
others meditate as one has, they will realize emptiness and become as great and as highly realized as oneself;
(16) Taking gifts from others who were encouraged to give you things originally intended as offerings to the
Three Jewels. Not giving things to the Three Jewels that others have given you to give to them, or accepting
property stolen from the Three Jewels; (17) Causing those engaged in calm-abiding meditation to give it up by
giving their belongings to those who are merely reciting texts or making bad disciplinary rules which cause a
spiritual community not to be harmonious; and (18) Abandoning either of the two types of Bodhicitta (aspiring
and engaging).
According to Atisha the Pratimoksha vows are the basis for the Bodhisattva vows. Without keeping one of the
different sets of Pratimoksha vows (in one of existing Vinaya schools), there is no Bodhisattva vow.

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These vows are collected and compiled from many Mahayana sutras by Tibetan Buddhist
masters such as Atisha, Nagarjuna, Asanga, Santideva, Tsong-kha-pha and so on. These vows
may represent most of the teaching of bodhisattva doctrines by the Buddha. In these vows,
the practitioners have to fulfill six perfections (paramita) and also respect the three
vehicles.10 They have commitments not to undermine other paths of liberation, sravakayana
and pratyekabuddhayana.

The Six Paramitas


Tsong-kha-pa explained that the six perfections are the basic principles of bodhisattva
practise. The aspirants must not separate the six perfections in practice. It means that while
practising one perfection all the six must be practised together (Terentyev, 2011). The
aspirants must practise the following perfections:

1) Generosity (sbyin-pa, Skt: dana)


2) Ethical self-discipline (tshul-krims, Skt: sila)
3) Patient tolerance (bzod-po, Skt: ksanti)
4) Joyful perseverance, positive enthusiasm (brtson-grus, Skt: virya)
5) Mental stability, meditative concentration (bsam-gtan, Skt: dhyana)
6) Discriminating awareness, wisdom (shes-rab, Skt: prajna)

Terentyev’s (2011) handouts provide the summary of faulty actions that will be detrimental
to the Bodhisattva practice.11 The number of Tsong-kha-pa’s guidelines for faulty actions is
the same number of the bodhisattva secondary vows.

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Tibetan Buddhism, as stated in Bodhisattvabhumi, believes that the bodhisattvayana (spiritual path of a
bodhisattva) is superior than both the sravakayana (spiritual path of the disciples) and the pratyekabuddhayana
(spiritual path of a self-awakened buddha) because a bodhisattva is destined to attain enlightenment by
removing the klesajneyavarana (emotional and intellectual afflictions), whereas those on the other two spiritual
paths aspire for nirvana, that is, extinction of emotional affliction only.
11
Seven faulty actions for dana, nine for sila, four for ksanti, three for virya, three for dhyana, eight for prajna,
and twelve faulty actions that contradict working to benefit others. There is 46 in total, the same number for
bodhisattva secondary vows.

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Conclusions
Buddhists all over the world acknowledge that there are two paths of liberations, one through
Arahantship and the other through Bodhisattva path. Theravada Buddhism put emphasis on
the Arahantship, to gain liberation by becoming an arhat and attaining nirvana (nibbana).
Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism take Bodhisattva paths and vows that they will attain
Buddhahood for the benefits of all sentient beings. They postpone the entry to nirvana in
order to save more beings in samsara. Theravada Buddhism mentions about bodhisatta in
their doctrines, however, the practical teaching and the vows can only be found in Mahayana
and Tibetan teaching. The aspirants who take bodhisattva vows must respect other vehicles
taken by other streams of Buddhism.

Theravada Buddhism implicitly indicate that the path of arhat can be quickly attained by
renunciating the world. Living as a celibate, an ascetic and in monastic life as a monk or a
nun is the ideal way to attain arahantship. Meanwhile, Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism
proclaim that bodhisattva status can be achieved by both who are taking monastic disciplines
and householders.

References
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Cutler, J. W. C. (Ed.). (2000). The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment
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