Are all sentient beings Bodhisattvas?

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  • Myozan Kodo
    Friend of Treeleaf
    • May 2010
    • 1901

    Are all sentient beings Bodhisattvas?

    Dear all,
    In the Pali canon ‘Bodhisattva’ appears to refer to the Buddha before his full awakening (the personality of the Jataka Tales, for example). But in the Mahayana all who have taken the Bodhisattva vows are Bodhisattvas.

    My question is: if all sentient beings are Buddhas-to-be, does that mean that ALL sentient beings are Bodhisattvas?

    Gassho,
    Myozan
    Last edited by Myozan Kodo; 10-31-2012, 01:55 PM.
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39474

    #2
    All Sentient Beings are Buddha too ... but can't all see so.

    Historically, "Bodhisattva" has a few meanings in Buddhism. Yes, there was Buddha in his earlier incarnations on the way to being, well, "Buddha" (even though he was, according to the Mahayana, Buddha all along, like the rest of us! ).

    In the Mahayana, it came to be anyone who undertook the Vow to Save All Sentient Beings ... and that includes you and me in this Sangha. Not sure if that includes folks who did not take the Vow, or who are driven primarily by greed, anger and ignorance. I will let Buddhist Philosophers debate that one. Certainly, all of us have Buddha-Nature and Boddhisattva potential, even when hidden.

    Then, of course, their are the Great "Maha-Boddhisattvas" ... Kannon, Manjusri and the rest. They could have chosen to become Buddha at any time (even though they were each Buddha all along too! ), but rather choose to remain in this mucky Samsara world until the last Sentient Being is saved (even though, of course, none of them really need saving ultimately cause they are Buddha all along too ... though not realizing so! The Bodhisattva's job is to help them realize so).

    I would point folks to the series of little talks called ...

    Whattsa Who'sa Bodhisattva? (A Sit-a-Long Series)


    Also check out Taigu's Bodhisattva-Basics


    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-31-2012, 12:59 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    Comment

    • Omoi Otoshi
      Member
      • Dec 2010
      • 801

      #3
      Originally posted by Myozan Kodo
      My question is: if all sentient beings are Buddhas-to-be, does that mean that ALL sentient beings are Bodhisattvas?
      In my view, all sentient beings (humans, animals, rocks, trees) are Buddhas from the beginning (what beginning? ), not Buddhas-to-be. And Bodhisattva for me has the two meanings Jundo explains above.

      Gassho,
      Pontus
      In a spring outside time, flowers bloom on a withered tree;
      you ride a jade elephant backwards, chasing the winged dragon-deer;
      now as you hide far beyond innumerable peaks--
      the white moon, a cool breeze, the dawn of a fortunate day

      Comment

      • Seiryu
        Member
        • Sep 2010
        • 620

        #4
        Buddhas....Bodhisattvas....are all just labels, concepts....too many words...just put them all down....

        I really like (I believe it was Hyon Gak Sunim) one teacher's explanation
        of what a Buddha is and what a bodhisattva

        A Bodhisattva is what awakens you. Whatever brings you back to the present moment, whatever pulls you out of your constant chasing of your thinking is a Bodhisattva
        That which gets awakened to this is Buddha
        Humbly,
        清竜 Seiryu

        Comment

        • Kyonin
          Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
          • Oct 2010
          • 6742

          #5
          All beings are Buddha... but I think it goes a little further than that.

          Everything in the universe is Buddha and has Buddha nature. The rocks, the air, the mountains, the city, coffee, you and me.

          But it takes a peaceful mind to be open and see it.

          Gassho,

          Kyonin
          Hondō Kyōnin
          奔道 協忍

          Comment

          • disastermouse

            #6
            I heard a Steve Hagen talk where he likened Bodhisattvas to pedestrians. When Bodhisattva activity is being done, the actors are Bodhisattvas. The activity itself is primary, the actor is transient.

            I liked the comparison.

            Chet

            Comment

            • Jundo
              Treeleaf Founder and Priest
              • Apr 2006
              • 39474

              #7
              Originally posted by Kyonin
              All beings are Buddha... but I think it goes a little further than that.

              Everything in the universe is Buddha and has Buddha nature. The rocks, the air, the mountains, the city, coffee, you and me.
              The following note is for Dharma history geeks & wonks ONLY ...

              The vision that "all is Buddha", and that mountains and wall tiles and stones are also "sentient beings" having "Buddha nature", was likely not the Buddha's original vision and is probably a minority view among most Buddhists ... South Asian or Mahayana ... even today. Some early Zen (Chan) folks and the great Tendai (Tiantai) teachers in China developed the view. Possibly, there was the influence of Taoism and native Chinese sensibilities here, although arising from some statements in Sutras that "All is Buddha".

              An essay by Taigen Leighton recently mentioned in the forum on Koan stories ascribed to Dongshan (said to be one of the founders of the Soto line) describes this ...

              Dongshan first inquired about this question with the great teacher Guishan Lingyou (771-853; Jpn.: Isan Reiyû), who was to be considered founder of one of the other five houses of Chan. Dongshan repeated to Guishan a story he had heard about a lengthy exchange with a student by National Teacher Nanyang Huizhong (d. 776; Jpn.: Nan'yô Echû), who maintained that non-sentient beings did indeed expound the Dharma, constantly, radiantly, and unceasingly.[vi] Huizhong states, perhaps ironically, that fortunately he himself cannot hear the non-sentient beings expounding, because otherwise the student could not hear his teaching. The National Teacher provides a scriptural source for the expounding by non-sentient beings from the Avataµsaka Sûtra (Flower Ornament; Ch.: Huayan; Jpn.: Kegon), citing the passage, "The earth expounds Dharma, living beings expound it, throughout the three times, everything expounds it."[vii]

              After narrating this story, Dongshan asked Guishan to comment, and Guishan raised his fly-whisk. When Dongshan failed to understand and asked for further explanation, Guishan averred that, "It can never be explained to you by means of one born of mother and father." Dongshan would later refer to such non-explanation with appreciation. Guishan finally suggested that Dongshan visit Yunyan for further illumination on this question.

              This issue of non-sentient beings' relation to the Dharma had arisen over the previous couple centuries in Chinese Buddhist thought in relationship to the teaching of Buddha nature, which describes the potentiality for awakening in beings. This potentiality of Buddha nature is also sometimes presented as an aspect of the nature of reality itself. A century before Dongshan, Tiantai scholar Zhanran (711-782; Jpn.: Tannen) articulated the teaching potential of grasses and trees, traditionally seen as inanimate and thus inactive objects.[viii] Zhanran devoted an entire treatise to explicating the Buddha nature of non-sentient things, though previously the Sanlun school exegete Jizang (549-623; Jpn.: Kichizô) had argued that the distinction between sentient and non-sentient was empty, and not viable.[ix] Jizang says that if one denies Buddha nature to anything, "then not only are grasses and trees devoid of buddha-nature, but living beings are also devoid of buddha-nature."[x] Zhanran's view of non-sentient beings' Dharmic capacity reflected in part his interest in Huayan cosmology, with its vision of the world as a luminous ground of interconnectedness and with the mutual non-obstruction of particulars. This anticipated Guishan's citation of the Huayan Avatamsaka Sutra to Dongshan. Zhanran cited the Huayan school patriarch Fazang's dynamic view of "suchness according with conditions" to support his own teaching of the Buddha nature of non-sentient beings, and was the first to connect "the co-arising of suchness and the essential completeness of Buddha nature."[xi] For Zhanran, "the very colors and smells of the world around us constitute the Assembly of the Lotus [Sutra]; they are the immediate and undefiled expression of buddhahood."[xii] Thus a central inference of the discussion of non-sentient beings expounding the Dharma presented in Dongshan's stories is the limitation, and ultimate inaccuracy, of usual and conventional human notions of sentient and non-sentient, and of awareness.

              ...

              A noteworthy implication of the historical background context to this story is the degree to which Chan discourse responds and comments on scholarly Chinese Buddhist teaching. This is so despite the widely proclaimed Chan slogan of "going beyond words and letters," attributed to Bodhidharma long after his lifetime. Sharf claims that the Chinese native philosophical concern with human "nature" contributed to this discussion in Chinese Buddhism. "I do not know of any Indian references to mundane objects such as roof tiles or stones becoming buddhas and preaching the dharma. In other words, the extension of buddha-nature to the insentient appears to have been a distinctively Chinese innovation."[xiii] According to recovered documents from Dunhuang, as early a Chan figure as the fourth patriarch, Daoxin (580-651; Jpn.: Dôshin) proclaims that walls, fences, tiles, and stones preach the dharma and so must possess buddha nature.[xiv] Nanyang Huizhong, cited by Dongshan, was considered the greatest Chan exponent of the Buddha nature of nonsentient beings. When asked whether "mind" and "nature" were different or not, he replied that, "To the deluded mind they are different; to the enlightened they are not different."[xv]

              Returning to Dongshan's story, when he finally arrived at Yunyan after leaving Guishan he asked who was able to hear the Dharma expounded by non-sentient beings. Yunyan said that "Non-sentient begins are able to hear it." When asked if Yunyan could hear it, he told Dongshan that if he could, then Dongshan could not hear him. Then Dongshan asked why he could not hear it. Yunyan raised his fly-whisk, and then asked if Dongshan heard it yet. When Dongshan replied that he could not, Yunyan said, "You can't even hear when I expound the Dharma; how do you expect to hear when a non-sentient being expounds the Dharma?"[xvi]

              Although there is no indication of any communication between Guishan and Yunyan aside from the person of Dongshan inquiring before them, Yunyan intriguingly performed the same action as Guishan, raising his fly-whisk. Rather than seeing this as an exotic example of mystical accord or extra-sensory perception between Guishan and Yunyan (they had no e-mail available), this exemplifies simply using what was at hand, literally. Such whisks were symbols of teaching authority and Dharma, commonly carried by Chan masters. But more directly, their whisk was the conventionally inanimate object most immediately on hand. If all non-sentient beings proclaim the Dharma, there was no need to seek further.

              After the above exchange, Yunyan gave as scriptural citation for Dongshan not the Huayan Sutra, as did Nanyong Huizhong, but, interestingly for a Chan teacher, the Pure Land Amitabha Sutra, "Water birds, tree groves, all without exception recite the Buddha's name, recite the Dharma."[xvii] Thereupon Dongshan reflected on this, and composed a verse that he presented to Yunyan:

              "How marvelous! How marvelous!
              The Dharma expounded by non-sentient begins is inconceivable.
              Listening with your ears, no sound.
              Hearing with your eyes, you directly understand."[xviii]



              The proposal was developed in the Chinese Tendai/Tiantai school that carried over to Japan ...



              Dogen was a Tendai monk in his youth and remained greatly influenced by many of the Tendai Teachiings and Perspectives in his later life. Here is what he wrote in Shobogenzo-Mujo-Seppo, tossing the whole vision of Sentient vs. Insentient into the funky-electric Buddha-blender in Dogen's Jazzy, syncopated Way ...

              To snatch away the voices of the sentient realm and liken them to the voices of the insentient realm is not the way of the buddha. The insentient preaching the dharma is not necessarily sound, just as preaching the dharma by the sentient is not sound. We should make concentrated effort to study this a while, asking ourselves, asking others, what is “the sentient,” “what is the insentient”?

              Such being the case, we should carefully put our minds to and study in what manner it is that the insentient preach the dharma. One who considers, as the foolish think, that the rustling branches of the forests, the opening and falling of leaves and flowers, are the insentient preaching the dharma — this is not a man who studies the buddha dharma. If this were the case, who could not know the preaching of the insentient, who could not hear the preaching of the insentient? We should reflect a while. In the realm of the insentient, are there grasses, trees and forests? Is the realm of the insentient mixed into the realm of the sentient? Still, those who consider grasses and trees, tiles and pebbles as the insentient have not studied extensively; those who consider the insentient as grasses and trees, tiles and pebbles have not studied their fill. Even if, for now, we were to accept the plants seen by humans and treat them as the insentient, grasses and trees are also not what is fathomed by common thinking. Why? There is a vast difference between the forests of the heavens and those among humans; what grows in central countries and marginal lands is not the same; the grasses and trees in the ocean and in the mountains are all dissimilar. Not to mention that there are forests growing in the sky, forests growing in the clouds. Of the hundred grasses and myriad trees that grow in wind, fire, and the rest, there are in general those that should be studied as sentient, those that are not recognized as insentient. There are grasses and trees that are like humans and beasts; whether they are sentient or insentient is not clear. Not to mention the trees and rocks, flowers and fruits, hot and cold waters of the transcendents — though when we see them we have no doubts, when we would explain them, is it not difficult?

              Later Chinese innovation or not, this vision of "Everything in the universe is Buddha and /hasis Buddha nature" speaks to my heart too, and rings true.

              Gassho, J
              Last edited by Jundo; 11-01-2012, 03:38 AM.
              ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

              Comment

              • Myozan Kodo
                Friend of Treeleaf
                • May 2010
                • 1901

                #8
                Jundo (and everyone),
                Some great insights. Thank you.

                But are all things just labels and concepts? What about 'murder' and 'kindness', 'war' or 'terrorism'? Do these labels matter? Do they refer to something in the real world? Are they therefore more than just labels? Does language matter in some way from the perspective of conventional truth? Can we so easily just dismiss them as labels?

                Respectfully in gassho,
                Myozan

                Comment

                • Omoi Otoshi
                  Member
                  • Dec 2010
                  • 801

                  #9
                  In my view, as long as we can see past the labels, there's nothing wrong with them. We couldn't function in our everyday lives without categorizing and labeling things. We do so effortlessly and automatically. One person's murder is another persons kindness. One person's terrorism is another person's fight for what is right and true. But when we believe that the ideas, the labels, are an objective, permanent truth, that's where we're deluding ourselves in my opinion. We need to be able to sometimes drop all labels and see what is, without judgement. Then, when we start labeling again, perhaps we do so a little more wisely and less categorically, mindful of the Buddha's mind in the background of the monkey mind.

                  Thank you for your questions, they are most helpful.

                  /Pontus
                  Last edited by Omoi Otoshi; 11-01-2012, 08:47 AM.
                  In a spring outside time, flowers bloom on a withered tree;
                  you ride a jade elephant backwards, chasing the winged dragon-deer;
                  now as you hide far beyond innumerable peaks--
                  the white moon, a cool breeze, the dawn of a fortunate day

                  Comment

                  • disastermouse

                    #10
                    Originally posted by Myozan Kodo
                    Jundo (and everyone),
                    Some great insights. Thank you.

                    But are all things just labels and concepts? What about 'murder' and 'kindness', 'war' or 'terrorism'? Do these labels matter? Do they refer to something in the real world? Are they therefore more than just labels? Does language matter in some way from the perspective of conventional truth? Can we so easily just dismiss them as labels?

                    Respectfully in gassho,
                    Myozan
                    Are you under the impression that Buddhism is just a philosophy? Supposing for a moment that people actually made decisions along lines of philosophy instead of whatever haphazard clusterfuck of imprints, subconscious messaging, outright manipulation, and karmic echoes that are bee-bopping around in their minds - supposing all that, would a philosophical line of rules be found that could be considered cogent and workable?

                    The philosophy and boundaries of Buddhism are about as refined and elegant a set of boundaries as you are likely to find - and yet, they don't quite encapsulate the truth - and real liberation requires a suspension (not necessarily permanent) of preconditioned assumptions. I don't think it's so much that these concepts have no meaning, it's simply that they don't encapsulate the actual reality of each moment as it's being lived.

                    Chet

                    Comment

                    • Myozan Kodo
                      Friend of Treeleaf
                      • May 2010
                      • 1901

                      #11
                      Thanks Pontus and Chet.
                      Nothing is just a philosophy, not even philosophy. It is never cut off from life lived in the moment, although it is a common misconception that it is, in my view. Do we discount all the sutras as mere philosophy? I think they are living and breathing. They are my lungs and the air in my lungs.

                      Gassho,
                      Myozan

                      PS: please take my questions with salt and a little vinegar. :-)

                      Comment

                      • Jundo
                        Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                        • Apr 2006
                        • 39474

                        #12
                        Though I posted a little Buddhist history lesson above for interest, let's not make the mistake of getting caught up in words and philosophizing about what is and what is not a "Bodhisattva".

                        Perhaps, we might just say that whatever serves to save sentient beings is a "Bodhisattva" in it's way. We all have the potential within us.

                        Gassho, J
                        ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                        Comment

                        • disastermouse

                          #13
                          Originally posted by Myozan Kodo
                          Thanks Pontus and Chet.
                          Nothing is just a philosophy, not even philosophy. It is never cut off from life lived in the moment, although it is a common misconception that it is, in my view. Do we discount all the sutras as mere philosophy? I think they are living and breathing. They are my lungs and the air in my lungs.

                          Gassho,
                          Myozan

                          PS: please take my questions with salt and a little vinegar. :-)
                          Myozan - I LOVE your questions! It's not bad to think about these things, I think.

                          The sutras are the corpses of other persons' living and breathing minds - but they are reborn in our lives in our honest contemplation of them - and also our dropping of them.

                          IMHO.

                          Chet

                          Comment

                          • Daitetsu
                            Member
                            • Oct 2012
                            • 1145

                            #14
                            Hi Myozan,

                            Originally posted by Myozan Kodo
                            Jundo (and everyone),
                            But are all things just labels and concepts? What about 'murder' and 'kindness', 'war' or 'terrorism'? Do these labels matter? Do they refer to something in the real world? Are they therefore more than just labels? Does language matter in some way from the perspective of conventional truth? Can we so easily just dismiss them as labels?
                            When the Tesshu was a young man he called on the Zen master Dokuon. Wishing to impress Dokuon he said, “The mind, the Buddha, and all sentient beings after all do not exist. The true nature of phenomenon is emptiness. There is no realisation, no delusion, no sagacity, no mediocrity, nothing to give and nothing to receive.

                            Dokuon promptly hit him with a bamboo stick. Tesshu became quite furious.
                            Dokuon said quietly: “If nothing exists, where did this anger come from?”





                            Gassho,

                            Timo
                            no thing needs to be added

                            Comment

                            • Myozan Kodo
                              Friend of Treeleaf
                              • May 2010
                              • 1901

                              #15
                              Ouch!

                              If there were two beakers, one labeled water and one labeled acid, I know which I'd choose if I were thirsty!

                              Gassho
                              Myozan

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