Stages in the Bodhisattva’s Journey

Photo by Dean Hocham, Flickr C.C.
Photo by Dean Hocham, Flickr C.C.

Bodhi, or awakening, is present in all of us.

In a sense it could be said that we’re all Bodhisattvas, or Enlightenment beings, because we all have this awakening as our true nature.

In the case of most of us our minds are obscured by delusion and ignorance, so we don’t see our true nature as Enlightened.

When we start to penetrate this delusion and recognize our true nature, stages of actualization appear.

Bodhicitta is where it starts. This is the mind of awakening. The mind that compels us to strive for Enlightenment to help all beings. This awakening is said to pass through stages.

We can see, on the path, that our first awakening of Bodhicitta does not transform us all at once. We have to overcome the influence of greed, hatred, and delusion on our lives.

This is a description of the stages of the Bodhisattva as described in the Avatamsaka Sutra. There are many different ‘maps to Enlightenment’ that can be found in different Buddhist lineages and texts. This is just one among many that are found in the Mahayana tradition.

1.Pramudita: This is means “joy”. This spiritual emergence happens early on in our practice, when we first start to see the benefits of sincere effort on the Buddhist path. It’s when we start to see the Dharma with wonder. This is what we might call first Kensho, when we have our initial experience of oneness.

2.Vimala: This means “purity”. At this stage we become more gentle. We have a greater tendency for kindness and honesty. We have begun to overcome things like ill will and jealousy, as such things are hindrance on the path.
3.Prabhakari: This means “brightness”. At this stage we start to have a deep insight into the nature of things. We see all things as impermanent empty of inherent selfhood. We see how much of suffering is caused by worrying over things that are obviously transient and because we see this a great compassion arises in us.
4.Archismati: This means “inflammation”. At this stage it’s said that the remnants of ignorance and negative patterns are burned up in the fire of wisdom. At this stage we can really cultivate good qualities because we aren’t so held down by the bad ones.
5.Sudurjaya: This means “very difficult to conquer”. At this stage we penetrate the darkness of ignorance. We have an intuitive understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the paradox of the absolute within the relative.
6.Abhimukhi: This means “showing one’s true face”. At this stage we can intuitively see and understand that all things arise as a result of dependent origination, that is everything is intimately dependent on other things for it’s existence, including us.
7.Durangama: This means “going far away”. At this stage we develop skillful means, the ability to bring others on our journey to Enlightenment. At this stage we have the power to counteract greed, hatred, and delusion.
8.Achala: This means “immovable”. At this stage it’s said that we can’t fall backward to the lower stages. We are at the point where we no longer wish for Enlightenment. Instead we are coming toward it naturally. It’s no longer a matter of our motivation. At this stage full Enlightenment is considered within sight.
9.Sadhumati: This means “good knowledge”. At this stage we have the Dharma of the deepest mystery, the love of purity, and the will of freedom. We come to understand the self essence of all beings. We come to understand that even the teachings have no absolute reality. We see that all things are subject to the law of impermanence, constantly coming and going. We see that there is a fundamental oneness to all things. We understand all dharmas and are completely able to teach others.
10.Dharmamegha: This means “clouds of Dharma”. This is the final stage. We have practiced all virtues of purity, we have roused the mind of Awakening, we are bolstered by diligence and vigor on the path, we practice the principles of love and sympathy, we have penetrated into the delusion of separation, we have dwelled in the deepest parts of our minds. Every thought now dwells in tranquility and every action is just part of the journey to awakening for the self and others. At this stage our lives are a manifestation of love and compassion.

These stages allow us to see what the ideal is in our journey to Enlightenment. The path of the Bodhisattva isn’t designed to make us students or teachers. It’s designed to make us Awakeners. When we are dedicated and united in the love and wisdom of Bodhicitta we are Bodhisattvas. We can stand against the flames of ignorance. Because of Bodhicitta a stream of love and compassion can flow from us.

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