What is up with B.Bodhi bodhisattvas ideas?

I have just read an interview of B.Bodhi and again saw his bodhisattvas ideas. I have seen this in another interview too. As usual, he is elusive and does not make strong statements.

Can those who are more familiar with B.Bodhi work say more about the problem ? Does he really believe in such ideas ? Or is he saying that just because these interviews are intended at lay audiences that might include Mahayanist giving that he is quite a famous person ? He also suggested in the interview that Mahayanist should read the nikayas too so it is plausible to assume he is saying this with good intentions of determining Mahayanist audience to read the nikayas.

The problem about bodhisattvas requiring a volition to accomplish is quite a closed subject for me. There were favorable conditions (society attitude towards ascetics, absence of violent sectarian religions etc.) that made possible for the Buddha to establish a religion. There were arahants before him known as “silent buddhas” who could not establish a religion due to unfavorable conditions. The path is headed towards abandonment. There is no need for idealistic notions of making a volitional formation to become a future Buddha in my opinion. There are periods with Buddha sansas existing and periods without Buddhas sansa existing depending on conditions.

So what is your opinion about B.Bodhi ? Is he saying this for the Mahayanist audience or does he really believe in such things ? Did he write about this more extensively in his books ?

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I’ve also seen something strange in the interview between B.Sujato, A. Brahmali and B.Bodhi. He said somewhere that “perhaps beings can be created” when suttas are very clear that the 5 aggregates are assembled like that since forever. And of course there are also some logical problems that come with this not being so.

As usual, he did not express a strong opinion and said “perhaps”. But I see little reason for doing that in an exclusively theravadian dialogue if he did not really believe in it.

Why do you think he is usually elusive?

Which ideas? If he says something, I’ll assume he believes it.

This interview: http://www.inquiringmind.com/Articles/Translator.html

And the idea of beings being created, he says something about “perhaps consciousness can emerge” when asked a question from B.Sujato instead of answering there is probably an infinity of beings in the universe. About this question I have honestly not spent too much time thinking about but I will do right now. I’m quite sure the idea of consciousness emerging brings quite some logical problems, besides being in contradiction with the suttas.

Where is this? It’s not in the interview you provided.

@Maiev is this what disturbs you?

IM: It’s striking in the suttas that the Buddha never recommends to anyone his own path of the bodhisattva leading to buddhahood, but talks instead only of arahantship as the goal. Why do you think this is?

BB: This is a question to which I have given a great deal of thought but haven’t been able to arrive at a final answer. Several ideas about the Buddha found in the suttas conjointly point toward an embryonic doctrine of a bodhisattva career during the Buddha’s own lifetime. It thus seems hard to believe that while the Buddha was alive there weren’t people who were inspired by his own example as compassionate liberator and, rather than aim at direct attainment of arahantship, instead aspired to attain the supreme enlightenment of buddhahood at some future time. It also seems hard to believe that they wouldn’t have approached the Buddha to ask for guidance in pursuing this goal and received a fitting reply.
But if this is the case, then the question arises: Why don’t we find any teachings on the path to buddhahood in the suttas? Why should they appear for the first time only in later texts like the Jatakas, Avadanas and the early Mahayana sutras?
I can’t provide a definite answer to this difficult and tantalizing question, but I can offer two competing hypotheses, neither of which is satisfactory. (1) In the oldest period the Buddha was viewed merely as the first of the arahants, surpassing the others simply in his pedagogic skills and personal charisma. Objection: This hypothesis implies that almost everything that we find in the suttas about the Buddha’s powers, types of knowledge and exalted stature is later accretion, which undercuts the credibility of the texts themselves. (2) The early Buddhist councils were held by monks who pursued the arahant ideal, so they deliberately excluded texts irrelevant to their concerns, including those on the bodhisattva path. Objection: The extant collections include texts giving the Buddha’s advice to householders, housewives and kings on the fulfillment of their respective duties, so they might just as well have included texts giving his advice to bodhisattvas.
So neither of these hypotheses works. The easiest answer I’ve been able to come up with—though it’s not an entirely satisfactory one—is that by his character and conduct the Buddha served as the model for bodhisattva-aspirants, but since his teaching is ultimately about the attainment of liberation, he cannot teach competing conceptions of the final goal. Hence his teaching must finally exalt the person who realizes the final goal, the arahant, and describe the path to arahantship. In any case, the arahant’s path described in the early teachings served as the foundation for the bodhisattva path as elaborated in later Sectarian Buddhism and the Mahayana, so that the latter becomes impossible without the former.

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Well why not we aspire to be a bodhisattvas and become a future Buddha?
Even Gotama buddha was a disciple of Kassapa Buddha.

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…and he was more interested in getting his friend to meet the Buddha than going himself.

For many of us the Nibbana is a distant goal. (even to Bikkhu Bodhi)
In that situation you have some options.

  • Attain Nibbana,
  • Try to attain at lest Sotapanna which will assures Nibbana in seven lives,
  • Try to be a future Buddha
  • Try to have a future good life in a human, Deva or Brahama realm,
  • Try to have a good life in this life it self
  • Pray to God

Many of Buddhist are only move up words from praying to God.
My personal opinion is we all should try to attain Nibbana in this life itself. I am sure we will at least be landed somewhere in between.

As the Buddha’s dispensation still exists, we must presently be in one or another of the five dispensational yugas:

Vimuttiyuga – Age of liberation.
Samādhiyuga – Age of concentration.
Sīlayuga – Age of moral habit.
Sutayuga – Age of learning.
Dānayuga – Age of generosity.


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I prefer the first of the two hypotheses that Bhikkhu Bodhi considers, even though he finds it unsatisfactory.

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Interesting. I did google these yugas and found that it is not a concept found in the suttas but in fact mentioned in the commentary to the Theragāthā:

In the commentary to the Theragatha[52] the Sasana is said to consist of five periods: (1) the age of deliverance (vimutti-yuga), (2) the age of concentration (samadhi-yuga), (3) the age of morality (sila-yuga), (4) the age of learning [the texts] (suta-yuga), and (5) the age of generosity (dana-yuga).
Ven. Dhammapala says, conerning the disappearance of learning, “In a region where there is no purity of morality, accomplishment (in the texts) remains through taking up great learning, through the desire to acquire, etc. But when accomplishment in the summary [i.e., the Patimokkha] is completley ended, it disappears. From that time on, only the mere sign (linga) remains. Then, having accumu- lated riches in various ways, they give away gifts (dana); this, truly, is the last right practice. Then, [the period starting] after the disappearance of learning is the last time (pacchima-kala). Others say that it is from the time of the disappearance of morality.”


I tried without success using Google to find these yugas within http://www.tipitaka.org/romn/ !

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We see in the suttas that there is no difference between someone enlightened for 100 years and someone enlightened for a day in terms of wisdom. It is numerous times repeated that all arhants are equal to the Buddha in terms of wisdom. But there is said that not all arahants are as developed in supernormal powers as the Buddha.

This is because Buddha has achieved arahantship at just 35 years old and had time to develop everything to perfection. If Buddha would have achieved arahantship at 60 years old, he wouldn’t even have been able to establish a sansa and would have been just a “silent Buddha”. We know from the suttas that buddhas of the past in general had very short sansas of about 100 years because of unfavorable conditions.

It is just a matter of favorable conditions if a sansa can develop and if a person will become a Buddha instead of a silent Buddha.

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Because people should set realistic goals for themselves. Most of us can go to a gym, work out and have nice abs, but only very few people have a slim chance of becoming Arnold Schwarzenegger.


as far as i understand, the moment of awakening or any noble attainment is unpredictable, what doesn’t make sense to me in the Bodhisattva ideal is how one is able to postpone something one doesn’t have control over, it’s something like holding back or maneuvering a bullet after it’s been shot off

and how does one actually postpone that moment? by putting on hold one’s practice of the sila, the paramitas, meditation, jhanas if one is lucky to master them? because it’s practising them which is supposed to result in awakening


I agree Lxndr.
It is something like I am trying to discover how to split the atom in some future life.
I think this Bodhisattava idea coming due to five hindrances.
We just postpone some thing what we can do today.
Even Jotipala could not become an Arahant because he was lazy.

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An impression has arisen in regards to B.Bodhi that at times, particularly in the social & political sphere, he seems focused on what his followers & benefactors believe rather than what the Buddha-Dhamma teaches & this may possibly be related to some kind of Vajrayana Bodhisatva Ideal to make others feel happy.

In the Jataka, I think there are stories when the Bodhisatva killed evil people in order to save the lives of innocent people & the impression is B.Bodhi may be influenced by this.

Below are some examples:

The pragmatic karmic framework serves as a matrix of moral reflection for those committed to Buddhist ethical values who seek to advance toward final liberation gradually, over a series of lives, rather than directly. Its emphasis is on cultivating wholesome qualities to further one’s progress within the cycle of rebirths while allowing one to pursue one’s worldly vocation. In this framework the moral prescriptions of the teaching have presumptive rather than peremptory validity. One who adopts this framework would recognize that the duties of daily life occasionally call for compromises with the strict obligations of the Buddhist moral code. While still esteeming the highest moral standards as an ideal, such a practitioner would be ready to make occasional concessions as a practical necessity. The test of integrity here is not unwavering obedience to moral rules but a refusal to subordinate them to narrow self-interest.
In time of war, I would argue, the karmic framework can justify enlisting in the military and serving as a combatant, providing one sincerely believes the reason for fighting is to disable a dangerous aggressor and protect one’s country and its citizens. Any acts of killing that such a choice might require would certainly be regrettable as a violation of the First Precept. But a mitigating factor would be the Buddha’s psychological understanding of karma as intention, whereby the moral quality of the motive determines the ethical value of the action. Since a nation’s purposes in resorting to arms may vary widely—just like a person’s motives for participating in war—this opens up a spectrum of moral valuations. When the motive is territorial expansion, material wealth or national glory, the resort to war would be morally blameworthy. When the motive is genuine national defense or to prevent a rogue nation from disrupting global peace, moral evaluation would have to reflect these intentions.



Trump’s presidential campaign challenged each of the ethical ideals I cherish, and if he acts upon his campaign pledges, his policies may entail misery for people in the United States and all across the world. His campaign repeatedly demeaned people because of their ethnicity, religion, and national origins. He threatened to deny women their reproductive rights and access to critical healthcare. He said he would cut taxes on the rich, curtail essential social services for working families, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He proposed to deal with crime by imposing “law and order,” a code expression affirming the harsh American system of mass incarceration, particularly of black males. Most alarmingly, he said he would promote an energy boom in fossil fuels—just at a time when we desperately need to be launching a renewable energy revolution. If he actually acts on his words, carbon emissions will soar, climate change will spin out of control, and water and air will become terribly polluted. Huge swaths of the planet will be rendered barren, decimating ever more species and bringing disaster and death to hundreds of millions of people.

A Trump Presidency Need Not Be the End Times

B. Bodhi lives in a Mahayana monastery. For millenia, Theravadans have been on the defensive regarding the bodhisattva ideal. In more recent decades, some have tried to placate the Mahayanas in an effort at unification. Walpola Rahula, who wrote the seminole “What the Buddha Taught,” did this, notably, in the list he created for the First Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council in 1967, which was ratified by members of the two Paths. “We accept it as the highest, noblest, and most heroic to follow the career of a Bodhisattva and to become a samyaksambuddha in order to save others.”. According to Wikipedia (I hope someone else has a better resource), Ven. Rahula modified that statment in 1981. My point is that some Mahayanas continue to use the prejoritive example of the cart with many people being pulled by Mahayanas vs the cart with one person in it, pulled by a Theravadan, to explain the difference between the two Paths. I’ve heard this myself at a Tibetan center less than two years ago. Faced with shame, some Theravadans have capitulated.


I am not trying to change your mind or argue with you. I am just curious: Why do some think that what he says in the social and political sphere is not his own thinking?

Well, it is very unusual for a Western Theravada Buddhist monk to endorse war in such a generalised manner or women’s reproductive rights, which when accused of endorsing abortion, BB had to spring to his own defense asserting he would never support abortion. Yet my impression was Trump’s election agenda was anti-abortion thus when BB said Trump compromised women’s reproductive rights immediately the impression BB gave was he supported abortion since abortion seemed to be the key election issue. As I said many times, it is all about “impression”. If you say you support women’s reproductive rights it is generally an automatic impression this means you support abortion.

Now, you probably know if a Theravada monk recommends abortion he is immediately defeated as a monk so BB gives the impression he is skirting around a very grey area & received plenty of criticism for this.

The same with his war promotion, which gave the impression it used the language of the recent post-9/11 US war agenda.

So why would a Theravada monk give such impressions & incur the rebuke from fellow monks such as Bhikkhu Thanissaro merely to express his own person opinion? The Dhamma-Vinaya of the Buddha is not exactly for monks to express personal opinions, like 14 year old children in a liberal school are encouraged to develop & express their own opinions. BB is a monk who is expected to conform to the Vinaya.

The IMPRESSION is his opinion conforms with the opinions of his US supporter base. This is the impression. The strictness of the Vinaya is often about not giving the wrong ‘impressions’.

Most Western Buddhists appear to strongly disagree with the behaviour of certain Burmese monks who are actively supporting the persecution of the Rohingya people in Burma yet BB is essentially on the same page as these Burmese nationalists but receives far less criticism because, imo, BBs views conform with the subjective views of his US supporter base rather than an objective view of the Buddha-Dhamma.

It is one thing to speak like the Burmese monks. I have heard the key monk talk at length on one occasion and unlike BB he never ever referred to Buddhism, apart from Buddhism being the (defacto) national religion of Burma. The Burmese monk was basically speaking about nationalism rather than about Buddhism. He was advising Burmese to protect their nation rather than advising them where killing Rohingyans fits into the scheme of Buddhism.

But BB is actually discussing karma, rebirth & Nibbana. Even though the Buddha explicitly said a warrior in battle is bound for the animal kingdom &/or hell, BB conveniently states because most Buddhists are not seeking Nibbana in this life it is OK for them to engage in war because they are seeking Nibbana over many lifetimes. But BB seemed to overlook the fact of an unaccountable amount of lifetimes in the animal kingdom or hell will probably be a very large setback for them. The strong impression, at least for me, is BB does not actually believe in rebirth but teaches about rebirth from some ulterior motive. At least for me, his views are difficult to comprehend.

At least to me, BB seems to represent a new class of Western Buddhists that seem insist you must believe in rebirth/reincarnation to be a Buddhist yet they also seem to have very sloppy morals. They give the impression they are creating a dhamma similar to Evangelical Christianity, where somehow faith is more important than deeds & Buddha has forgiven everyone for their sins.

Regards :seedling: