Re: Names

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Posted by David S. ( on October 15, 2000 at 04:32:32:

In Reply to: Names posted by Jon on October 14, 2000 at 04:14:21:

Good question Jon. And I am only going to do my best according to my knowledge. People from others schools of Buddhism than my own (Chan/Zen) may have some different idea about this.

Buddhas and Tathagatas are the same. Tathagata is just another way to refer to a Buddha. They say there are 10 ways to address a Buddha (of which I can not recall all right now), Tathagata is one of those 10, as is the term Buddha. If you see an English translation of these 10 ways, "thus come one" is a common translation of "Tathagata."

Bodhisattvas are those on the Mahayana path to Buddhahood, but who have not yet attained Buddhahood. Bodhisattvas range from those who have just given rise to Bodhi mind and taken the four great vows all the way up to the great bodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara, Ksitigarbharaja, Manjushri, Maitreya, etc. The great bodhisattvas are fully liberated beings. I can not intimately explain the differnce between these great bodhisattvas and Buddhas because I am not one myself, but according to my understanding of what I have read in the Mahayana Sutras and been taught there is some extremely subtle karma that remains from innumerable past lives that is still being converted into absolute purity by the selfless compassionate actions of a great bodhisattva. They say that a Buddha is the perfection of merit and wisdom. The great bodhisattvas have already perfected wisdom, but perfecting merit I guess takes longer. The bodhisattva path is the Mahayana path.

Arhats are those who have attained liberation by way of the Theravada path. To my understanding, the liberation of an Arhat is mainly wisdom based, although of course they must have a certain degree of very good merit to do that!

How does an Arhat differ from a Bodhisattva and from a Buddha?

An Arhat differs from a Bodhisattva in at least two ways. First, the Arhat attains liberation from the Samsara and remains outside of Samsara whereas the Bodhisattva also attains this liberation from Samsara but remains in (some say returns to) Samsara in order to liberate us unenlightened sentient beings. Does this mean Arhats are selfish? Personally, I don't think so. They help many many people while they are attaining their personal liberation. Plus, as a Theravada master once said, some people want to be cured, some want to be cured and to become doctors to cure others. So it is.

The second difference between Arhats and Bodhisattvas is a difference in the wisdom they attain to. An Arhat views Nirvana (liberation) as real. A bodhisattva views Nirvana as empty just like everything else. That is why the bodhisattva does not mind remaining in Samasara to help others after liberation. Because the bodhisattva sees Nirvana as fundamentally no different from Samasara. But this non-difference is that seen only by an enlightened being with complete wisdom. For us, Samsara and liberation are different and we need to practice accordingly!

Finally, how do a Buddha and an Arhat differ? Simply, a Buddha is the stage of completion of the bodhisattva path, which you might say goes further than the Arhat path. Again, though.. I do not make a judgemental comparison here. One is not better than the other, they are just different. Interestingly, in the Pali Canon, which is the Theravada Sutra collection used for the Arhat path, Shakyamuni Buddha says explicitly that if he had gone to the Pure Abode Heaven he would never have become a Buddha. The Pure Abode Heaven is the "land" of Nirvana of Arhats, it is where Arhats stay that is outside of Samsara, outside of conditioned existence. The Buddha did not go there when he obtained liberation because he saw that Nirvana is also empty, so he remained in Samasara as a bodhisattva until full Buddhahood was attained. And thus he established the Dharma for us all to learn, whether we are learning the path of the Arhat or of the Bodhisattva.

Hope that helps. Hopefully others can give there knowledge on this too.

Best wishes,

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