I guess it’s a matter of terminology and when I say this I say this in reference specifically to those Ekottarāgama scriptures above and those like them. Why does the 菩薩摩訶薩, the púsà móhēsà, the bodhisattva mahāsattva, only appear in a handful of alleged śrāvaka scriptures and is the norm in bodhisattva literature? Why doesn’t the Buddha mention bodhisattva (mahāsattva) practitioners in any other of his historical literature?
Bodhisattva is one thing, it is a term from EBTs, it is a feature of śrāvaka Buddhism particularly when that śrāvaka Buddhism is in Sanskrit. But “mahāsattva” is a bhūmika term, that is to say it references bodhisattva bhūmayaḥ, the “ten (or so) stages,” particularly the avaivartika bhūmayaḥ or “irreversible stages.” Beings at this set of stages, 7-10 in the Buddhāvataṁsaka (Flower Garland) tradition of daśabhūmika/10-stager mysticism, are all degrees of Buddhas. This is consonant with the presentation in Abhisamayālaṁkāra. This mahāsattva/móhēsà is a reference to Mahāyānika “people of the path” literature, the rest of which is demonstrably newer than this material in the Ekottarāgama.
Daśabhūmika literature is welded to the six perfections as a practice framework. Take even for instance a short common text like the Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya.
The Lord Who Gazes Down, the Bodhisattva, when practicing deeply the wisdom-perfection, perceives that all five aggregates are empty and is saved from all suffering and distress.
(T251.848c7 based on translation here)
Kannon is moving deep within the prajñāpāramitā at the sixth bodhisattvabhūmi, the abhimukhībhūmi or the stage of the manifest. She is headed towards the seventh bhūmi, the dūraṁgamābhūmi or the “Stage Gone Afar.” In short, according to various diverse schemata like those in the Buddhāvataṁsaka Mahāyānika and Abhisamayālaṁkāra Tantric traditions, she is “becoming a mahāsattva.” This stage that is “Gone Afar” is the first of the irreversible stages, the avaivartikāḥ bhūmayaḥ, enlightenment. That terminology should be familiar with anyone who knows this sūtra or even it’s ending mantra: gate gate pāragate pārasaṁgate bodhi svāhā, “gone, gone, all gone, all entirely gone, bodhi svāhā,” which Ven Thích Nhất Hạnh will translate as "“Gone, Gone, Gone beyond Gone utterly beyond. Oh, what an Awakening.” She is “going/gone afar” indeed. The prajñāpāramitā is practiced, perfected, and renounced, at the close of the 6th bhūmi.
This transition from the 6th to 7th bhūmi is nothing short of awakening itself, as demonstrated by the rest of that scripture. The sixth perfection closes off the progress to awakening, and the Heart Sūtra is an apocryphal account of Āryāvalokiteśvara’s enlightenment.
So is it more likely the entirety of X body of literature is as old as Y, flying in the face of all other consensus about Y, or that X-ist editors have interpreted the scriptures of Y in translation or editing?
Like I said before, terminology. Notice above, T251.848c7, the Heart Sūtra. The Sanskrit is well-known.
āryāvalokiteśvaro bodhisattvo gambhīrāṁ prajñāpāramitā caryāṁ caramāṇo vyavalokayati sma: pañcaskandhās tāṁś ca svābhava śūnyān paśyati sma.
Now, if we are able, we can look at various other Chinese translations. We will see they are quite divergent, some incorporating an entire “Thus have I heard, the Buddha dwelt at […]” and these ones include, generally, invented dialogue between the Buddha and Avalokiteśvara, or instead have the Buddha speaking about Avalokiteśvara’s experience in the depths of the wisdom-perfection. Sometimes Mañjuśrī’s along for the ride too. I can isolate one of these latter textual parallels, one that clearly preserves a redaction of the sentence we have been discussing, here:
As Avalokiteśvara bodhisattva mahāsattva practiced deep the prajñāpāramitā, she looked and saw the five aggregates, that of self-nature they all were empty.
Now of the various highly divergent Heart Sūtra traditions of translations, this has one of the closest textual parallels but we still see something there: 觀自在菩薩摩訶薩, Guānzìzài púsà móhēsà, Avalokiteśvara bodhisattva mahāsattva. In fact, you can see this fuller epithet used in all of the divergent latter traditions of the Heart Sūtra extant in the Taishō Canon.
This brings is back to the EBT from above:
If the bodhisattva mahāsattva has attained śamatha already, he is immediately able subdue Māra, the enemy;
We have seen translators insert 摩訶薩, móhēsà, into texts like T255.850b23 where there exists no equivalent Sanskrit with āryāvalokiteśvaro bodhisattvo mahāsattvo gambhīrāṃ prajñāpāramitā. Indeed according to various daśabhūmika schemata this sūtra depicts the becoming to be of a mahāsattva.
If translators can clumsily and arbitrarily insert “mahāsattva” into a Mahāyānika text when it goes from Indic to Sinitic, as it were, why couldn’t they just as easily have done this here in this translation?
Unless I’m wrong in the above. Does anyone know the earliest appearance of mahāsattva? Is it ever in EBTs other than this one?