This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Change in the term Buddha and Bodhisattva

In the beginning the term Buddha signified a kind of personal office specific to Gautama, but eventually took on a more technical and, as already hinted, theological meaning. The Buddha was originally samma-sam-buddha, the fully Self-Awakened and Shower of the Way for the Arahats, who were Way-followers. But in time and as the Mahayana grew into prominence the term Buddha came to denote a condition to which all could and should aspire. At the same time the term Bodhisattva (Wisdom Being), which at first had been used to refer to Gautama’s status after the Going-forth and prior to the attainment of Nirvana, came into more general usage to refer to any being destined to become a Buddha, whether in this life or some other. Hence the 550 Jatakas (Birth Stories) and the tale about Sumedha (a previous life of the Buddha) spurning the thought of crossing over alone and deciding to attain to omniscience so that he might convey others across with him. Here we are already dealing with the spirit of the Mahayana. Finally, when discussing the term Bodhisattva, we must acknowledge, in addition to the past Buddhas mentioned in the Mahapadana Sutta the lone future Buddha: the Bodhisattva Metteyya, personification of Love, who is mentioned in the Milinda Panha. From these ‘germs’ it is not difficult to anticipate the elaborations of the Mahayana, the ‘Great Vessel.’

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