Anatta & The Bodhisattva Ideal

The Bodhisattva ideal is one who, like the Buddha-to-be of the Jataka tales, seeks enlightenment for the explicit purpose of leading all other beings to enlightenment. This brings up an interesting question.

If there is no self (anatta), then doesn’t it make sense that we’d seek the enlightenment of all beings (including ourselves), rather than simply for ourselves?

If there is no separate, unchanging self, then the distinction between ourselves and all other beings is a delusion of the ego, including the notion of personal enlightenment.

If dependent origination is true, then my personal enlightenment is mutually dependent on the enlightenment of all other beings.

Rather than renouncing or postponing personal enlightenment, the Bodhisattva is simply the one who realizes that we’re all in this together.

The myth of Amida attaining Buddhahood through five kalpas of intense practice illustrates that the Bodhisattva ideal is reflective of and rooted in the Ultimate Reality itself.

There is no self in a stone, just as much as in a human. Are all stones united into one entity, then? The only difference between living and non-living is mind. Mind gives you self-consciousness, but why would it unite you with other beings? Besides, the Liberation is explained as dissolution of the aggregates which form a mind-bearing living being. Why would it be dependent on other mind-bearing living beings?

Why would dependent origination be true for anything at all?

I don’t care if Buddhists are Mahayana or Theravada. Buddhism is Buddhism.

It just so happens that the Bodhisattva ideal is logically consistent with, rather than purely contrary to, Buddhism’s original teachings such as anatta and dependent origination.

People can take it or leave it, depending on their personal inclinations.

Me neither.

It may be, but not according to the logic you presented, because it’s faulty. Dependent origination relies only to one stream of consciousness. There’s not a single case in the early texts where it would be explicitly stated that beings are somehow united and interconnected. This interconnectedness between 12 elements of DO lies only there - between 12 elements of DO. The “all is interconnected” idea is a later invention, and comes from early Hinduism, and was imported into Mahayana. Besides, enlightment of infinite number of beings would require an infinite amount if time, which is kind of ridiculous. So either the universe/multiverse is finite, or bodhisattva ideal in its most popular formulation is faulty, albeit noble.


According to scholars, the influence of Mahayana Buddhism on Advaita Vedanta has been significant.[457][465]…

Both traditions hold that “the empirical world is transitory, a show of appearances”,[468][469] and both admit “degrees of truth or existence”.[470] Both traditions emphasize the human need for spiritual liberation (moksha, nirvana, kaivalya), however with different assumptions.[471][note 39] Adi Shankara, states Natalia Isaeva, incorporated “into his own system a Buddhist notion of maya which had not been minutely elaborated in the Upanishads”.[466] Similarly, there are many points of contact between Buddhism’s Vijnanavada and Shankara’s Advaita.[473]

According to Frank Whaling, the similarities between Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism are not limited to the terminology and some doctrines, but also includes practice. The monastic practices and monk tradition in Advaita are similar to those found in Buddhism.[457]
Dasgupta and Mohanta suggest that Buddhism and Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta represent “different phases of development of the same non-dualistic metaphysics from the Upanishadic period to the time of Sankara.”[474][note 40] The influence of Mahayana Buddhism on other religions and philosophies was not limited to Vedanta. Kalupahana notes that the Visuddhimagga of Theravada Buddhism tradition contains “some metaphysical speculations, such as those of the Sarvastivadins, the Sautrantikas, and even the Yogacarins”.[477] According to John Plott,

We must emphasize again that generally throughout the Gupta Dynasty, and even more so after its decline, there developed such a high degree of syncretism and such toleration of all points of view that Mahayana Buddhism had been Hinduized almost as much as Hinduism had been Buddhaized.[478]

One might as well say that Mahayana Buddhism influenced Hinduism, rather than the other way around. Perhaps it was even a dependent co-origination. Thanks, though, for oversimplifying things.

Judging by Buddhaghosa’s Path of Purification, Mahayana even influenced Theravada, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s even devotion to Avalokitesvara, by another name, in Theravada countries:śvara#Theravāda_Account

We’re all in this together.

Anything that leads to the distortion of Dhamma is a bad thing.

See? From Upanishads. It doesn’t really matter what influenced what, because non-duality is contradictory to the early teaching.

It doesn’t matter, actually, whether an idea comes from theravada or mahayana, it’s either closer to the original teaching, or farther away. For instance, theravada firmly stands on momentary rebirth, while mahayana stands on antarabhava. And from early texts, it seems that antarabhava idea is more likely to be closer to the Buddha’s words.
The thing is, non-duality and interconnectedness of me and some ant in Madagascar is far from Buddha’s word.

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The most significant commentary on the path to enlightenment in Theravada history is a distortion of the Dhamma?

The “Upanishanic time period” refers to the time of Indian history in which the Upanishads were first written and spread. The article doesn’t say that Mahayana is based on the Upanishads.

I think DZTs points are excellent.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, or Cheng Yen (founder of the world’s largest Buddhist charity), posted on a forum like this. These are what one might call shining examples of Mahayana Buddhism in action. I’m just a dumb guy with a keyboard in comparison.

They’re probably also good enough judges of when a situation is likely to be a fruitful inter-Buddhist dialogue or likely instead to be a cumbersome sectarian endeavor well enough in advance as to choose their actions accordingly. I only wish that, if you were to meet these people in real life, you would treat them respectfully.

I’m sorry for not being as good of examples of the Buddha’s teaching as these people are.

Are you sure that enlightenment is dependent upon anything at all in a Mahāyāna context? Let alone everyone/all other beings?

As in, how does this interact with believing in an “original mind”, however technically one might contextualize that belief?

Why does Śākyamuni Buddha go out from the Śakya clan’s castle, go to Bōdh Gayā not distant from there, sit in the bodhimaṇḍa, & attain anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi and not anyone else, if all enlightenment is mutually dependent upon all other enlightenment?

This conclusion is only possible if someone thinks there is ‘No self’; however if someone thinks that which is experienced (aggregates, sense bases etc.) are Not self, it would be different. There would be personal enlightenment.

with metta

This is the premise that leads to the conclusion that there is no ‘personal’ enlightenment. It strikes me as a Zen teaching, but perhaps I am wrong. I have been reading more on this subject recently, as they are a very interesting sect, with a very interestingly distinct way of expressing the dharma through their language.

The nonduality of object-subject is predicated on the subsumption of the object into the sensory world of the subject, the ‘true reality’ of the object being ungraspable by the senses, unaccessible to the subject.

That does not mean that the object does not exist. I think that this is true from the perspective of Zen as well, influenced as it is by Yogācāra.

From the Yogācāra Master Dharmakīrti in Saṃtānāntarasiddhināmaprakaraṇa (Proof of Others’ Continua) 2:

The Cittamātra perspective also accepts that those representations, in which other’s actions and speech appear to us, would not have existed, if the special processes of other consciousnesses were not there.

& similarly in 76:

Having known, through this inference, the existence of other mind, the mind as subject successively produces the effects which lead to the desired aim.

Translation Ramesh Kumar Sharma. His translation is not available online, but you can read a paper that he wrote on the text here if you wish.

In short, mind-continuity (心相續/*cittasaṃtati) is distinct, in most Mahāyāna at least, and I can only say that as far as I am aware, and I most definitely presume for the Buddhadharma of the EBTs, though the word cittasantāna (*cittasaṃtati is a hopefully-scholarly reconstruction of my own, do not quote it if you want people to recognize it, cittasantāna is the ‘proper’ form) is unlikely a vocabulary item of that dispensation.

If it were not the case that mind-continuity 心相續 is collectively distinct, then how can the Buddha have an enlightened continua and you an unenlightened continua if enlightenment is dependent on others’ enlightenment? Your enlightenment is dependent on the Buddha’s. The Buddha is enlightened, why aren’t you, or me, for that matter?

Personal enlightenment implying there is a self got enlightened , however , Buddha teachings only suggest that aggregates by itself is not self and we don’t really sure if there is a self or not !

There is no need for a self, for enlightenment to happen. Aggregates are adequate.

Aggregates aren’t equal to self.

with metta

Yes , but enlightenment is not Personal , since there is no self claiming it !

The Buddha became enlightened but we are still stuck in samsara- this means enlightenment does have a ‘personal’ (yes, words are limited to describing reality via a lense of ignorance) aspect. An arahanth becoming enlightened doesn’t mean everyone and everything becomes enlightened. That should be obvious. There are strings of causes and effects in which the aggregates are bound in. It is a process. This process can cease temporarily or as in the case of the death of an arahanth, permanently.

With metta

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Like Mat, I don’t understand why the non-existence of an unchanging self entails that one attainment of nibbana cannot be distinguished from another attainment of nibbana. Both Ananda and Sariputta were heaps and streams of changing mental aggregates, and neither possessed an unchanging self. But at the death to the Buddha, we are told Sariputta was awakened and Ananda was not.

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If personal referring to an self-aware entity(independent existence) , then that is something really personal !
However , as you said that’s seeing through ignorance . In reality , through wisdom there is not an independently Entity attaining enlightenment !
Enlightenment mean piercing through ignorance which is a process of De-selfing !

In AN 10.95 the Buddha said:

… “the Tathāgata is not concerned with whether the entire world will be emancipated by his teaching or half of it or a third part. But the Tathāgata is aware that whosoever has been emancipated, is now emancipated or will be emancipated from the world, all these will do so by removing the five hindrances that defile the mind and weaken understanding, by firmly establishing their minds in the four foundations of mindfulness, and by cultivating the seven factors of enlightenment in their true nature.”