questions on bodhisattva vow

mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU
Thu Dec 18 08:29:55 UTC 2008

The discussion needs to distinguish carefully
between the generalized aspiration to become
a buddha and the formal vow of a bodhisattva,
as elaborated in the rather different tranditions
of the Bodhisattvabhuumizaastra (where the vow
is directly modelled on the ordination)
and of the Bodhicaryaavataara and related works,
where the vow does not presuppose the
In the latter tradition, the vow is taken
aabodhima.n.da- , "up to the point of enlightenment,"
with a deliberate double-entendre in the use of
"bodhima.n.da" as the temporal culmination of one's
path and the site of the vajraasana. Nothing is stated
as to whether this is reached before, during or after
the enlightenment of others. As Tenzin Thurman 
rightly notes, tradition regards there as being
three types of aspiration in this regard -- king-like (leading
others), like a ferryman (with others) and shepherd-like 
(following others) -- but this is not formally inscribed
in the vow. 

As to whether sentient beings newly arise or not,
this interesting question was indeed debated, without
decisive conclusion so far as I am aware. My work on 
the second Karma pa hierarch Karma Pakshi (1204/6-83)
alludes to such debates.

Matthew T. Kapstein
Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies
The University of Chicago Divinity School

Directeur d'études
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list