The Buddha Types

Am presently reading an excellent study on the generation of bodhicitta by Dorji Wangchuk in his work, The Resolve to Become a Buddha, A Study of the Bodhicitta Concept in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Themed closely is the actual account of what firstly constitutes being a Buddha. The following for your perusal are some of his preliminary accounts of such an understanding.

Becoming a buddha (‘Awakened One’) under the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) was undoubtedly the most significant event in the career of the historical Buddha, and may be considered the starting point of Buddhism. According to both Mahayana (‘Greater Vehicle’) and Hinayana (‘Lesser Vehicle’) or non-Mahayana, the historical Buddha had sometime in the distant past resolved to become a buddha, thereby launching out on the career of a bodhisattva, that is, a sentient being who strives to attain the highest state of awakening. A major distinction between non-Mahayana and Mahayana, however, is that for the former the status of being a bodhisattva or buddha is confined to the historical Buddha (or a few others like him), while the ultimate soteriological goal of a disciple is Arhatship (that is, the final state of a saint who has attained release from the cycle of birth and death) primarily for oneself. For the latter, by contrast, even an ordinary sentient being is capable of undertaking the long and arduous career of a bodhisattva by generating bodhicitta and finally becoming a buddha (just like the historical Buddha himself), primarily for the sake of many other sentient beings. In sum, a person who possesses or has generated bodhicitta is considered to be a bodhisattva, and the form of Buddhism concerned with the theory and practice of a bodhisattva is known as Mahayana…

The concept of bodhicitta, regardless of its type, invariably involves in one way or another the idea of becoming a buddha. This in turn involves a host of other  concepts pertaining to Buddhology (i.e. the theory of the Buddha or a buddha), soteriology (i.e. the theory of salvation), ontology (i.e. the theory of being or reality as such), epistemology (i.e. the general theory of knowledge)-particularly gnoseology (i.e. the theory of jnana ‘liberating insight’) and axiology (i.e. the theory of values, primarily ethicality or morality), all of which are, unsurprisingly, conceived of differently in different Buddhist systems and scriptures…

Let us first of all consider the term buddha itself. It hardly bears mentioning that buddha means ‘Awakened One’ and that ‘awakening’ (bodhi, a verbal noun which, like the noun buddha, is derived from budh) is a metaphor for ‘eye-opening’ comprehension or realisation. It has been noted that the term buddha  is also used in the Jaina scriptures to designate an insightful person. In the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition it is customary to explain the term as ‘one who has awakened from the sleep of disorientation’ (mohanidra: gti mug gi gnyid) or ‘sleep of ignorance’ (avidyanidra rna rig pa ‘i gnyid). The term, according to Candrakirti and others, can be used to designate all three types of Buddhist saints, namely, sravaka saints, pratyekabuddhas, and buddhas (or, to be precise, samyaksambuddhas). A pratyekabuddha is explicitly referred to as a ‘middling buddha’ (sangs rgyas ‘bring), and thus, analogously, a sravaka saint and a buddha may be described as ‘minor’ and ‘major’ buddhas, respectively. According to the eleventh-century Tibetan scholar Rong-zom Choskyi-bzang-po (or Rong-zom-pa), however, the term is applicable to a pratyekabuddha, a bodhisattva of the tenth stage, and a samyaksambuddha….

I would suggest that the various types of buddhas may be classified as: (a) historical (i.e. the Buddha Sakyamuni), (b) mythical (e.g. Diprupkara, who is said to have lived on earth, like Sakyamuni himself), (c) celestial or transcendental (e.g. Amitabha, who is said to reside in the paradise-like realm of Sukhavati, or the Medicine Buddha), (d) gnoseological (i.e. nirvikaipajnana, advayajnana, etc.), (e) ontological (i.e. dharmata, dharmadhatu, bhutakoti, sunyata, tathagatagarbha, etc.), (f) symbolical or representational (Le. Physical symbols or representations, such as relics and footprints of the historical Buddha; verbal symbols or representations, such as letters and mantras; and mentally envisaged buddhas, i.e. through samadhi), (g) manifested or emanated (i.e. as animate beings, such as bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas, sravakas, kings, teachers, hunters, prostitutes, and animals, or as inanimate objects, such as bridges and islands). One also finds the idea of a buddha manifesting himself as dharma and the samgha; dharma manifesting itself as a buddha and the samgha; or the samgha manifesting itself as a buddha and dharma.

Of particular interest here for a Lankavatarian is the ontological Dharmatā Buddha, one that played a dominant position in our most previous blog-post. Of course, this ontological/beingness is of a Sambhogakayic dimension. We will return to this excellent study from time to time.

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