Arhat or Bodhisattva?

The current issue of Buddhadharma includes an excellent article by Ajahn Amaro (“how we can transcend the debate of the true ideal of Buddhist practice”). I found it quite refreshing. One of the points he makes is that there are internal contradictions between the teaching and the ideal practitioner in both the Original Teaching (the arhat intent on individual liberation) and in the Mahayana (the bodhisattva intent on universal liberation). In all of the Pali Canon, no one asks the Buddha about being a bodhisattva or about bodhisattva training. A big lacuna! And in the Mahayana, after his enlightenment the Buddha is first inclined not to teach. What happened to the compassion of the bodhisattva that the Buddha reportedly cultivated through the eons?

In the small text for the picture above (probably too small to read), the Buddha is encouraging his disciplines inclined to individual liberation to go in all directions to teach. Those aspiring to or having realized arhatship are here encouraged to help free beings from suffering.

The categories are collapsing!

Ajahn Amaro skillfully ties the arhat/bodhisattva conflict in Buddhism to our proclivity for clinging to identity, manifested in the contemporary world as tribalism and nationalism.

“The middle way,” he writes in attempting to go beyond the arhat/bodhisattva dualism, “is appreciated as a finely felt sense.”

The ideals are useful, in my view, in that they give us something to be inspired by and grounds for disappointment. Especially, ideals give us something (the ideals themselves) to be free from.

How about for you?

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  • Anonymous

    Excellent. It’s so difficult to live constantly awake….beyond these ideas we are Buddhas….a potential for us every moment…but as soon as we get trapped in these ideas again we are mortals….so I go through life gazing…the finger, the moon, the finger, the moon….. But with Faith and diligence I improve, abandoning thoughts more quickly…staying focused on the Moon for longer periods. Thank you for the post. I’m preparing to respond to one of the members of our Sangha who requested that I talk about Arhats and Bodhisattvas. This is very helpful.With Loving Kindness,Robert


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