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  • Bodhisatta

The name given to a being who aspires to Bodhi or Enlightenment. The Commentaries (e.g., DA.ii.427) define the word thus: Bodhisatto ti panditasatto bujjhanakasatto; bodhisankhātesu vā catusu maggesu āsatto laggamānaso ti Bodhisatto. See also AA.i.453. For a discussion of the meaning of the word see Har Dayal: The Bodhisativa Doctrine, pp.4ff.

A Bodhisatta

The word can therefore be used in reference to all those who seek Nibbāna, including Buddhas, Pacceka Buddhas, and the disciples of Buddhas (Buddha-paccekabuddha-buddha-sāvakā), but is commonly used only of those beings who seek to become Buddhas. The word may have been used originally only in connection with the last life of a Buddha, in such contexts as "in the days before my Enlightenment, when as yet I was only a Bodhisatta”. E.g., M.i.17, 114, 163; so also in the Mahāpadāna Sutta (D.ii.13) and the Acchariyaabbhutadhamma Sutta (M.iii.119).

But already in the Kathāvatthu (e.g., 283 90, 623) the previous lives of Gotama Buddha and other saints had begun to excite interest and speculation.

In the developed form of the ideas regarding Bodhisattas, a Bodhisatta's career started with his making a resolution before a Buddha (abhinīhārakarana or mūlapanidhāna) to become a Buddha for the welfare and liberation of all creatures. In later literature, the abhinīhāra is preceded by a period during which the Bodhisatta practises manopanidhi, when he resolves in his mind to desire to become a Buddha without declaring this intention to others.

For the abhinīhāra to be effective, eight conditions should be fulfilled (Bu.ii.59; explained at BuA.75f. and SnA.i.48f): the aspirant should be

  • (1) a human being,
  • (2) a male,
  • (3) sufficiently developed to become an arahant in that very birth,
  • (4) a recluse at the time of the declaration,
  • (5) he should declare his resolve before a Buddha,
  • (6) should be possessed of attainments such as the jhānas,
  • (7) be prepared to sacrifice all, even life, and
  • (8) his resolution should be absolutely firm and unwavering.

In the case of Gotama Buddha, his abhinīhāra was made at Amaravātī in the presence of Dīpankara Buddha. His name at that time was Sumedha (q.v.). The Buddha, before whom the abhinīhāra is made, looks into the future and, if satisfied, declares the fulfilment of the resolve, mentioning the particulars of such fulfilment. This declaration is called vyākarana, and is made also by all subsequent Buddhas whom the Bodhisatta may meet during his career. Having received his first vyākarana, the Bodhisatta proceeds to investigate the qualities which should be acquired by him for the purposes of Buddhahood (buddhakārakadhammā), in accordance with the custom of previous Bodhisattas. These he discovers to be ten in number, the Ten Perfection, (dasapārami):

  • dāna, = generosity
  • sīla, = morality
  • nekkhamma, = withdrawal
  • paññā, = understanding
  • viriya, = energy, enthusiasm
  • khanti, = tolerance, patience, endurance
  • sacca, = truthfulness, honesty
  • aditthāna, = determination, resolution
  • mettā, = friendliness, goodwill
  • upekkhā, = equanimity, indifference 

Bu.ii.116ff. Sometimes thirty pāramī are spoken of, each of the ten being divided into three, varying in kind and degree. Thus, in the case of

  • dāna, the dānapārami in giving away one's possessions,
  • dāna upapārami is giving one's limbs or organs away,
  • dānapāramatthapāramī in giving one's life, this last being the most excellent.

In the case of Gotama Buddha, examples of births in which the ten pārami were practised to the highest degree are as follows: the Ekarāja, Khantivādī, Cūlla-Sankhapāla, Mahājanaka, Mahāsutasoma, Mūgapakkha, Lomahamsa, Sattubhattaka, Sasa, and Sutasoma Jātakas (BuA. 50; J.i.44f).

He also develops the four Buddhabhūmi (catasso buddhabhūmiyo) - (commentarial interpretation)

  • ussāha, = striving effort.
  • ummagga, =  a tunnel; tricky or difficult way.
  • avatthāna = position; posture.
  • hitacariyā = minor teachings

explained respectively as zealousness (viriya), wisdom (paññā), resolution (adhitthāna) and compassion (mettābhāvanā).

He cultivates the six ajjhāsayas which conduce to the maturing of Enlightenment (bodhiparipākiyā samvattanti), these six being:

  • nekkhammajjhāsaya, = intending withdrawal
  • pavivekajjhāsaya, = intending seclusion
  • alobhajjhāsaya, = intending non-greed
  • adosajjhāsaya, = intending non-hate
  • amohajjhāsaya, = intending non-ignorance
  • nissaravajjhāsaya, intending escape.

A Bodhisatta, during his career, escapes from being born in eighteen inauspicious states (atthārasa abhabbatthānāni). He is never born blind, deaf, insane, slobbery (elamūga) or crippled, or among savages (milakkkesu), in the womb of a slave, or as a heretic. He never changes his sex, is never guilty of any of the five Ānantarikakammas, and never becomes a leper. If born as an animal, he never becomes less than a quail or more than an elephant. He is never born either among various classes of petas nor among the Kālakañjakas, neither in Avīci nor in the lokantaraka nirayas, neither as Māra, nor in worlds where there is no perception (asaññibhava), nor in the Suddhāvāsas, nor in the Arūpa worlds, nor ever in another Cakkavāla. SnA.i.50 f.

Besides practising the (thirty) pārami, all Bodhisattas must make the five great sacrifices (mahāpariccāgā) -  giving up

  • wife,
  • children,
  • kingdom,
  • life and
  • limb (J.vi.552)  

and must fulfil the three kinds of conduct (cariyā)

  • ñātatthacariyā, = striving to help
  • lokatthacariyā, = striving to save the world
  • buddhiatthacariyā, = striving for Buddhahood

and the seven mahādanas as practised by Vessantara, which caused the earth to quake seven times. DA.ii.427; DhA.iii.441; the BuA. (116 f.) gives a story about Mangala Buddha which corresponds to that of Vessantara in regard to Gotama Buddha. See Kharadāthika.

The length of a Bodhisatta's career varies; some practice the pāramī for at least four asankheyyas and one hundred thousand kappas, others for at least eight asankheyyas and one hundred thousand kappas, and yet others for sixteen asankheyyas and one hundred thousand kappas. The first of these periods is the very least that is required and is intended for those who excel in wisdom (paññā). The middle is for those who excel in faith (saddhā); and the last and highest for those whose chief feature is perseverance (viriya) (SnA..i.47 f).

In their penultimate life all Bodhisattas are born in Tusita (see Buddha), where life lasts for fifty seven crores and six million years, but most Bodhisattas leave Tusita before completing their life span. Vipassī, e.g., was among the exceptions (DA.ii.427).

As the time for the announcement of their last birth approaches, all is excitement because of various signs appearing in the ten thousand world systems. The devas of all the worlds assemble in Tusita and request the Bodhisatta to seek birth as a human being, that he may become the Buddha. The Bodhisatta withholds his reply until he has made the Five Great Investigations (pañcamahāvilokanā) regarding time, continent, place of birth, his mother and the life span left to her. Buddhas do not appear in the world when men live to more than one hundred thousand years or to less than one hundred. They are born only in Jambudīpa and in the Majjhimadesa, and only of a khattiya or brahmin clan. The Bodhisatta's mother in his last birth must not be passionate or given to drink; she should have practised the pārami for one hundred thousand kappas, have kept the precepts inviolate from birth, and should not be destined to live more than ten months and seven days after the conception of the Bodhisatta.

Having satisfied himself as to these particulars, the Bodhisatta goes with the other devas to Nandanavana in Tusita, where he announces his departure from their midst and disappears from among them while playing. On the day of his conception, the Bodhisatta's mother takes the vows of fasting and celibacy at the conclusion of a great festival, and when she has retired to rest, she dreams that the Four Regent Gods take her with her bed, bathe her in the Anotatta Lake, clad her in divine garments, and place her in a golden palace surrounded by all kinds of luxury. As she lies there the Bodhisatta in the form of a white elephant enters her womb through her right side. The earth trembles and all the ten thousand world systems are filled with radiance. Immediately the Four Regent Gods assume guard over mother and child. Throughout the period of pregnancy, which lasts for ten months; exactly, the mother remains free from ailment and sees the child in her womb sitting crossed legged (like a preacher on a dais, says the Commentary DA.ii.436). At the end of the ten months; she gives birth to the child, standing in a grove, never indoors. Suddhāvāsa brahmins, free from all passion, first receive the child in a golden net, and from them the Four Regent Gods take him on an antelope skin and present him to his mother. Though the Bodhisatta is born free of the mucous otherwise present at birth, two showers of water -  one hot, the other cold -  fall from the sky and bathe mother and child. The child then takes seven strides to the north, standing firmly on his feet, looks on all sides, and seeing no one anywhere to equal him, announces his supremacy over the whole world and the fact that this is his last birth. (Gotama Buddha as the Bodhisatta, spoke, in three different births, as soon as born -  as Mahosadha, as Vessantara, and in his last birth, J.i.53).

Seven days after birth his mother dies. She dies because she must bear no other being. The Bodhisatta's time of conception is so calculated that the mother's destined life span completes itself seven days after his birth. From the Commentary (DA.ii.437; UdA.278) account it would appear that the age of the Bodhisatta's mother at the time of his birth is between fifty and sixty (majjhimavayassa pana dve kotthāsā atikkamma tatiyekotthāse).

The Bodhisatta's last birth is attended by various miracles. The Commentaries see, in the various incidents connected with the Bodhisatta's last birth, signs of various features, which came, later, to be associated with the Buddha and his doctrine; for details see DA.ii.439ff.

Soothsayers, being summoned, see on the child's body the thirty two marks of a Great Man (mahāpurisa), (for details of these see D.ii.17ff.; M.ii.136f. The reasons for these marks are given at D.iii.145ff ) and declare that the child will become either a Cakkavatti or a Buddha. His father, desiring that his child shall be a Cakkavatti rather than a Buddha, brings him up in great luxury, hiding from him all the sin and ugliness of the world. But the destiny of a Bodhisatta asserts itself, and he becomes aware of the presence in the world of old age, disease, death and the freedom of mind to be found in the life of a Recluse. In the case of some Bodhisattas (e.g., Vipassī) these four signs (nimittāni as they are called) are seen by them at different times, but in the case of others on one and the same day (DA.ii.457).

Urged by the desire to discover the cause of suffering in the world and the way out of it, the Bodhisatta leaves the world on the day of his son's birth.

  • Some Bodhisattas leave the world riding on an elephant (e.g., Dīpankara, Sumana, Sumedha, Phustsa, Sikhī and Konāgamana),
  • some on a chariot (e.g., Kondañña, Revata, Paduma, Piyadassī, and Kakusandha),
  • some on a horse (e.g., Mangala, Sujāta, Atthadassī, Tissa, Gotama), and
  • some in a palanquin (e.g., Anomadassī, Siddhattha and Vessabhū).
  • Some, like Nārada, go on foot,
  • while Sobhita, Dhammadassī and Kassapa travelled in the palaces of their lay life.

Having left the world, the Bodhisatta practises the austerities, the period of such practices varying.

  • In the case of Dīpankara, Kondañña, Sumana, Anomadassī, Sujāta, Siddhattha and Kakusandha it was ten months;
  • for Mangala, Sumedha, Tissa and Sikhī it was eight;
  • for Revata seven;
  • for Piyadassī, Phussa, Vessabhū and Konāgamana six;
  • for Sobhita four;
  • for Paduma, Atthadassī and Vipassī two weeks;
  • for Nārada, Padumuttara, Dhammadassī and Kassapa one week;
  • and for Gotama six years (for the reason for this great length in the last case, see Gotama).

On the day the Bodhisatta attains to Buddhahood, he receives a meal of milk rice (pāyāsa) from a woman and a gift of kusagrass, generally from an Ājīvīka, which he spreads under the Bodhi-tree (the Bodhi tree is different for each Bodhisatta) for his seat. The size of this seat varies;

  • the seats of Dīpankara, Revata, Piyadassī, Atthadassī, Dhammadassī and Vipassī were fifty-three hands in length;
  • those of Kondañña, Mangala, Nārada and Sumedha fifty seven hands;
  • that of Sumana sixty hands;
  • those of Sobhita, Anomadassī, Paduma, Padumuttara and Phussa thirty eight;
  • of Sujāta thirty two;
  • of Kakusandha twenty six;
  • of Konāgamana twenty;
  • of Kassapa fifteen;
  • of Gotama fourteen (BuA. 247).

Before the Enlightenment the Bodhisatta has five great dreams:

  • (1) that the world is his couch with the Himālaya as his pillow, his left hand resting on the eastern sea, his right on the western, and his feet on the southern;
  • (2) that a blade of tiriyā(kusa) grass growing from his navel touches the clouds;
  • (3) that white worms with black heads creep up from his feet, covering his knees;
  • (4) that four birds of varied hues from the four quarters of the world fall at his feet and become white;
  • (5) that he walks to and fro on a heap of dung, by which he remains unsoiled.

For the explanations of these dreams see A.iii.240f.; these dreams are referred to at J. i.69.

The next day the Bodhisatta sits cross legged on his seat facing the east, determined not to rise till he has attained his goal. The gods of all the worlds assemble to do him honour, but Māra (q.v.) comes with his mighty hosts and the gods flee. All day, the fight continues between Māra and the Bodhisatta; the pārami alone are present to lend their aid to the Bodhisatta, and when the moment comes, the Goddess of the Earth bears witness to his great sacrifices, while Māra and his armies retire discomfited at the hour of sunset, the gods then returning and singing a paean of victory. Meanwhile the Bodhisatta spends the night in deep concentration; during the first watch he requires knowledge of past lives, during the second watch he develops the divine eye, while during the last watch he ponders over and comprehends the Paticca-samuppāda doctrine. Backwards and forwards his mind travels over the chain of causation and twelve times the earth trembles. With sunrise, omniscience dawns on him, and he becomes the Supremely Awakened Buddha, uttering his udānā of victory, while the whole world rejoices with him.

For the Paticca-Samuppada see D.ii.31ff.; for the other details see J. i.56ff., where the story of Gotama is given. DA.ii.462ff gives similar details regarding Vipassī; BuA.248 says it is the same for all Bodhisattas.

The above is a brief account, as given in the books, of certain features common to all Bodhisattas. In addition to these, particulars of the personal career of the Bodhisatta who became Gotama, are found, chiefly in the Buddhavamsa and the Jātakatthakathā. It has already been stated that each Bodhisatta receives the vyākarana from every Buddha whom he meets, and Gotama was no exception.

  • He received his first vyākarana as the ascetic Sumedha, from Dīpankara;
  • and then, as a cakkavatti, from Kondañña;
  • as the brahmin Suruci, from Mangala;
  • as the Nāga king Atula, from Sumana;
  • as the brahmin Atideva, from Revata;
  • as the brahmin Ajita, from Sobhita;
  • as a yakkha chief, from Anomadassī;
  • as a lion, from Paduma;
  • as an ascetic (isi) from Nārada;
  • as a governor (Mahāratthiya) Jatila, from Padumuttara;
  • as the youth Uttara, from Sumedha;
  • as a Cakkavatti, from Sujāta;
  • as the youth Kassapa, from Piyadassī;
  • as the ascetic Susīma, from Atthadassī;
  • as Sakka, from Dhammadassī;
  • as the ascetic Mangala, from Siddhattha;
  • as Sujāta, from Tissa;
  • as King Vijitāvī, from Phussa;
  • as the Nāga king Atula, from Vipassī;
  • as King Arindama, from Sikhī;
  • as King Sudassana, from Vessabhū;
  • as King Khema, from Kakusandha;
  • as King Pabbata, from Konāgamana;
  • and as the youth Jotipāla, from Kassapa.

The Jātakatthakathā gives particulars of other births of the Bodhisatta (to the births given below and taken from the Jātakatthakathā should be added those given in the Pubbapilotikhanda of the Apadāna i.299ff.; also UdA, and given Gotama )   e.g., as

  • Akitti,
  • Ajjuna,
  • Atthisena,
  • Anitthigandha,
  • Ayoghara,
  • Araka,
  • Arindama,
  • Alīnacitta,
  • Alīnasattu,
  • Asadisa,
  • ādāsamukha,
  • Udaya,
  • Udayabhadda,
  • Katthavāhana,
  • Kanhadīpāyana,
  • Kanhapandita,
  • Kapila,
  • Kappa,
  • Kassapa,
  • Kārandiya,
  • Kālingabhāradvāja,
  • Kunāla,
  • Kundakumāra,
  • Kuddālaka,
  • Kusa,
  • Komāyaputta,
  • Khadiravaniya,
  • Guttila,
  • Ghata,
  • Canda,
  • Candakumāra,
  • Campeyya,
  • Cittapandita,
  • Cullaka setthi,
  • Culladhanuggaha,
  • Chaddanta,
  • Chalangakumāra,
  • Janasandha.
  • Junha,
  • Jotipāla (= Sarabhanga),
  • Takkapandita,
  • Takkāriya,
  • Tirītavaccha,
  • Temiya (=Mūgapakkha),
  • Dīghāvu,
  • Duyyodhana,
  • Dhanañjaya,
  • Dhamma,
  • Dhammaddhaja,
  • Dhammapāla (prince and brahmin),
  • Nārada,
  • Nigrodha,
  • Nimi,
  • Pañcālacanda,
  • Pañcāvudha,
  • Pandita,
  • Padumakumāra,
  • Baka,
  • Bodhikumāra,
  • Brahmadatta (in several births),
  • Bhaddasāla,
  • Bharata,
  • Bhallātiya,
  • Bhūridatta,
  • Bhojanasuddhika,
  • Makhādeva,
  • Magha,
  • Mandhātā,
  • Mahākañcana,
  • Mahājanaka,
  • Mahādhana,
  • Mahābodhi (= Bodhi),
  • Mahāsīlava,
  • Mahāsudassana,
  • Mahimsāsa,
  • Mahosadha,
  • Mātanga,
  • Mūgapakkha (= Temiya,)
  • Yuvañjaya,
  • Rakkhita,
  • Rāma,
  • Lomasakassapa,
  • Vacchanakha,
  • Vidhura,
  • Visayha,
  • Vessantara,
  • Sankicca,
  • Sankha,
  • Santusita,
  • Sambhava,
  • Sarabhanga,
  • Sādhīna,
  • Siri,
  • Suciparivāra,
  • Sujāta,
  • Sutana,
  • Sutasoma,
  • Suppāraka,
  • Suvannasāma,
  • Susīma,
  • Senaka,
  • Seruva,
  • Sona,
  • Soma,
  • Somadatta,
  • Somanassa,
  • Hatthipāla and
  • Hārita.

In these and other births the Bodhisatta occupied various stations in life, such as that of an

  • acrobat (Dubbaca Jātaka);
  • ājīvaka (Lomahamsa Jātaka);
  • ascetic (numerous births);
  • barber (Illīsa Jātaka);
  • caravan leader (Kimpakka and Mahāvānija Jātakas);
  • carpenter (Samuddavānija Jātaka);
  • chaplain (various births);
  • conch blower (Sankhadhamana Jātaka);
  • councillor (Kacchapa, Kalāyamutthi, Kukku, Giridanta, Dhūmakāri, Pabbatūpatthara, Pādañjali, Putabhatta, Vālodaka Jātakas);
  • courtier (Bāhayi, Sālittaka, etc., Jātakas);
  • dice player (Litta Jātaka);
  • drummer (Bherivāda Jātaka);
  • elephant trainer (Sangāmāvacara Jātaka);
  • farmer (Kañcanakkhandha, Kummāsapinda, Sīhacamma, Suvannakakkata Jātakas);
  • forester (Khurappa Jātaka);
  • gardener (Kuddālaka Jātaka);
  • goldsmith (Kunāla Jātaka);
  • hawker (Seriva Jātaka);
  • horse dealer (Kundakakucchisindhava Jātaka);
  • householder (Gahapati and Jāgara Jātaka, also as Kundaka, Sutana and Hārita);
  • judge (Kūtavānija, Rathalatthi Jātakas);
  • king (numerous births, e.g. Arindama, Ādasamukha, etc.);
  • mariner (Suppāraka Jātaka);
  • merchant (several births, e.g. as Pandita, etc.);
  • minisiter (numerous births, e.g. as Senaka, Vidhura);
  • musician (Guttila); physician (Kāma, and Visavanta Jātakas);
  • potter, (Kacchapa, Kumbhakāra Jātakas);
  • robber (the scholiast, J. ii.389, explains that when a Bodhisatta is born as a wicked man it is due to a fault in his horoscope ) (Kanavera, Satapatta Jātakas);
  • smith (Sūnci Jātaka);
  • squire (e.g., Nanda Jātaka);
  • stonecutter (Babbu Jātaka);
  • teacher (numerous births, e.g. Anabhirati, Durājāna, Losaka Jātakas);
  • treasurer (e.g. as Cullaka, Visayha, Sankha and Suciparivāra);
  • tumbler (Ucchitthabhatta Jātaka); and
  • valuer (Tandulanāli Jātaka).

The Bodhisatta was born

  • as a candāla in several births (e.g., as Citta and Mātanga);
  • in several instances as Sakka, (e.g.in the Kāmanīta, Kelisīla, Mahāpanāda and Vaka Jātakas;).
  • He was born several times in the deva world (e.g. as Dhamma and Bhaddasāla, also in the Kakkāru, Kāmavilāpa and Mittavinda Jātakas.)
  • He was a Brahmā of the Ābhassara world (Candābha and Janasodhana Jātakas);
  • and a Mahābrahmā (Parosahassa and Mahānārada Kassapa), in the latter his name was Nārada.
  • He was an air spirit (Puppharatta Jātaka) and a mountain spirit (e.g. Kāka and Samudda Jātakas);
  • a treespirit in numerous births (e.g. Āyācitabhatta, Baka, Matakabhatta, Rukkhadhamma Jātakas);
  • and a forest spirit (Kandina and Gūthapāna Jātakas).

Many Jātakas mention the birth of the Bodhisatta among animals -  e.g.,

  • as buffalo (Mahisia Jātaka);
  • bull (as Ayyakālaka, Nandivisāla, Mahālohita, Sārambha);
  • cock (in the two Kukkuta Jātakas, Nos. 383, 448);
  • crow (as Vīraka and Supatta and in Kāka Jātaka);
  • dog (Kukkura Jātaka);
  • elephant (e.g., Chaddanta and Sīlava Jātakas;);
  • fish (Mitacintī);
  • frog (Haritamāta Jātaka);
  • garuda (e.g., Sussondi Jātaka);
  • goose (e.g. Ulūka, Cakkavāka, Neru, Palāsa Jātakas);
  • hare (Sasa Jātaka);
  • horse (ājañña, Bhogājānīya Jātakas and as Vātaggasindhava);
  • iguana (Godha Jātaka);
  • jackal (Sigāla Jātakas);
  • kinnara (as Canda);
  • lion (e.g., Guna, Sigāla Jātaka (No.152), Sūkara Jātakas);
  • mallard (Nacca Jātaka);
  • monkey (Kapi, Nalapāna, Mahākapi, Sumsumāra Jātakas and as Nandyia);
  • parrot (e.g. as Jambuka, Pupphaka, Potthapāda, and Rādha);
  • peacock (Nos. 42, 375, Mora, Bāveru, and Mahāmora Jātakas);
  • pig (Mahātundila Jātakas);
  • pigeon (Kapota, Kāka No.395, Romaka, Lola Jātakas);
  • quail (the three Vattaka, and Sammodamāna Jātakas);
  • rat (Aggika and Bilāra Jātakas);
  • snake – nāga   (as Cāmpeyya, Bhuridatta, Mahādaddara, Sankhapāla);
  • vulture (as Aparanna and in the three Gijjha Jātakas, Nos. 164, 399, 427), and
  • woodpecker (as Khadiravaniya and in Javasakuna Jātaka).

The Bodhisatta was born several times in the purgatories (Ap.i.299 ff). The wishes of Bodhisattas are generally fulfilled (J.iii.283; v.282, 291; vi. 401, 405, etc.), chiefly because of their great wisdom (J.iii.282) and zeal (J.iii.425). The wisdom of a Bodhistatta is greater than that of a Pacceka Buddha (J.iv.341).

See also Buddha.

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