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Article

Laura Harrington

Mañjuśrī (“Gentle Glory”) is one of the oldest and most significant bodhisattvas of the Indian Mahāyāna Buddhist pantheon. Mañjuśrī is the personification of the Mahāyāna notion of prajñā (wisdom): discriminating insight into the nature of reality, and the hallmark philosophical insight that distinguished the Mahāyāna movement from earlier Buddhist schools (Nikāya) of thought. Like discriminating insight, Mañjuśrī is ever new. He is typically portrayed as a golden-complexioned, sixteen-year-old crown prince holding in one hand a flaming sword that cuts through ignorance, and a Perfection of Prajñā book (Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra) in the other. In Mahāyāna sutras, Mañjuśrī is often cast as the interlocutor whose pointed questions to the buddha elicit the teachings their audience needs to finally understand the subtlest points of doctrine. His earliest known appearance is in the corpus of early Mahāyāna works translated into Chinese by the Indo-Scythian monk Lokakṣema (b. 147 ce). In these, the vivid contrast between Mañjuśrī as wonder-working bodhisattva and the slower-witted Nikāya monks implicitly legitimates the early emerging Mahāyāna movement; clearly, Mañjuśrī’s insight into reality is superior even to that of the disciples who sat at Śākyamuni Buddha’s feet and heard him teach. This rhetorical strategy was developed in subsequent Indian Buddhist sūtras and commentaries, especially those that promulgated new or controversial teachings. Scholars from all of its schools claimed direct visions of the bodhisattva of wisdom; “to see Mañjuśrī” denoted the subject’s unmistaken insight into the buddha’s teaching. Mañjuśrī worship entered esoteric Buddhism (Tantra) in the 7th-century Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa—one of the earliest extant Indian Tantras—and reached its zenith in the early 8th-century Mañjuśrīnāmasaṃgīti, a liturgical text praising Mañjuśrī in all his forms. Its close association with the 10th-century Kālacakra Tantra, perhaps the last Tantric text to be composed in India, underscores how thoroughly Mañjuśrī pervaded esoteric Buddhism in South Asia. As a figure of cult worship, Mañjuśrī was most prominent outside of India. By the 5th century, the Chinese Wutai shan (“Five Terrace Mountain”) was understood to be his earthly residence, and a magnet for pilgrims who sought a vision of the crown prince. Mañjuśrī became identified as the patron deity of China during the Tang dynasty, thereby setting a pattern for subsequent rulers of China, who often linked their own legitimacy to Mañjuśrī, and visibly promoted his worship at Wutai shan. This practice crystallized during the long reign of the Manchus (1611–1912), who not only portrayed their rulers as emanations of the crown prince, but fostered the folk etymology of their ethnonym as deriving from Mañjuśrī. Tibetan Buddhism was at its apex there, and Mañjuśrī and his mountain home become important to Tibetans, Nepalese, Khotanese, and Mongols.

Article

Avalokiteśvara is one of the most famous bodhisattvas in Buddhism. The worship of bodhisattvas (beings of enlightenment) is one of the most distinctive features of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Whereas early or mainstream Buddhism recognizes only two bodhisattvas—the Buddha in his previous lives and Maitreya, the future Buddha—there are a number of bodhisattvas in Mahāyāna to whom one can appeal for help and guidance. Of the many bodhisattvas, Avalokiteśvara is identified specifically as the embodiment of compassion and as such has been worshipped throughout Buddhist Asia.

Article

The Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Ornament for clear realization) is an instructional treatise on the Prajñāpāramitā, or Perfect Wisdom, whose authorship is traditionally attributed to Maitreyanātha (c. 350 ce). As a technical treatise, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra outlines within its 273 verses the instructions, practices, paths, and stages of realization to omniscient buddhahood mentioned in Prajñāpāramitā scriptures. In its abridged description, the Abhisamayālaṃkāra furnishes a detailed summary of the path that is regarded as bringing out the “concealed meaning” (sbas don, garbhyārtha) of Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra contains eight chapters of subject matter, with a summary of them as the ninth chapter. The eight subjects (padārtha) of the eight chapters (adhikāra) correspond to eight clear realizations (abhisamaya) that represent the knowledges, practices, and result of Prajñāpāramitā. The Abhisamayālaṃkāra’s eight clear realizations are types of knowledge and practices for bodhisattvas (“buddhas-in-training”) to achieve buddhahood set forth within the system of the five paths (lam lnga, *pañcamārga) common to Indian abhidharma and Yogācāra literature. The first three clear realizations are types of knowledge that comprise Perfect Wisdom. Total Omniscience, or the wisdom of all aspects (sarvākārajñatā, rnam pa thams cad mkhyen pa nyid), is regarded as the fundamental wisdom and the central concept of Prajñāpāramitā. Total Omniscience is direct, unmediated knowledge that exactly understands the manner of reality to its fullest possible extent in all its aspects. Path-omniscience (mārgajñatā, lam shes nyid) comprises the Buddhist path systems of śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas mastered by bodhisattvas. Empirical Omniscience (vastujñāna, gzhi shes) cognizes empirical objects in conditioned existence that are to be abandoned. It correlates to knowledge that is comprehended by śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. The path to buddhahood itself and the detailed means of its application are covered in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra by the fourth through seventh clear realizations. The fourth chapter is devoted to the realization of wisdom of all aspects (sarvākārābhisaṃbodha, rnam rdzogs sbyor ba), a yogic practice that enables a bodhisattva to gain a cognition of all the aspects of the three types of omniscience. The fifth realization is the summit of full understanding (mūrdhābhisamaya, rtse sbyor), whereby yogic practices reach the culmination of cognizing emptiness. The sixth chapter defines the gradual full understanding (anupūrvābhisamaya, mthar gyis sbyor ba) of the three forms of omniscience. The seventh abhisamaya clarifies the “instantaneous realization” (ekakṣaṇābhisamaya) that occurs at the final moment right before buddhahood. Abhisamayas four through seven are known as “the four methods of realization” of the three types of knowledge. The eighth realization, and last subject in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, is the realization of the dharma body (dharmakāyābhisamaya). In this way, the first three realizations describe the cognitive attainments of buddhas, the middle four realizations discuss the methods that take the cognitive attainments as their object, and the eighth realization describes the qualities and attainments of the dharma body, the resultant body of buddhas. The treatise was extensively commented upon in Indian Buddhism and has been widely studied in Tibetan forms of Buddhism up to the present day.

Article

Jātaka  

Naomi Appleton

A jātaka story narrates an episode in a past life of the Buddha. Such tales are found in a variety of Buddhist texts, the largest and best known of which is the Jātakatthavaṇṇanā, a collection of almost 550 stories in the Pāli language preserved by the Theravāda school. Jātaka stories emphasize the Buddha’s great abilities as visionary and storyteller, and illustrate moral lessons, the workings of karma, or the perfections required for the attainment of buddhahood. A focus of a large number of stories is the ideal of generosity, which, for an aspiring buddha, includes being prepared to give away one’s own children, or the flesh and blood from one’s own body. In addition to their widespread presence in texts, jātaka stories have been depicted at Buddhist stūpa and temple sites since before the beginning of the Common Era, and continue to be a popular form of Buddhist visual art to this day. They also play an important role in the cultural life of some Buddhist countries, inspiring literature, theater, opera, and other art forms. Their place in the Buddha’s sacred biography gives them a special symbolic value, which is behind some uses of the stories in art and ritual. The Vessantara-jātaka, understood in Theravāda tradition as narrating the Buddha’s penultimate human birth and his acquisition of the perfection of generosity, takes on a particularly important role in artistic, ritual, and festive contexts. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that the jātaka genre as a whole had an important role in the formation and communication of ideas about buddhahood, karma and merit, and the place of the Buddha in relation to other buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Article

The Introduction to the Practices of Awakening (Bodhicaryāvatāra; hereafter, BCA) is a short verse text presenting the training practices for developing the virtuous character of the bodhisattva, the Mahayana Buddhist exemplar who commits to remaining in samsara to save all beings from suffering. The text was written by the monk scholar Śāntideva, a Mahayana Buddhist of the Madhyamaka school who resided in India, at the monastic university of Nālandā c. 8th century ce. The text had significant influence in India and Tibet and continues to be an influential source for contemporary Buddhist practice. It interweaves ritual, meditation, and philosophical argumentation as mutually supportive aspects of bodhisattva practice. The text takes as its themes the development of bodhicitta, the wish to become a fully enlightened buddha, and the development of the perfections of virtue that constitute the bodhisattva’s character. Śāntideva presents four chapters dedicated to specific perfections: patience (chapter 6), effort (chapter 7), concentration (chapter 8), and wisdom (chapter 9). The text also emphasizes the development of compassion, introspection, and mindfulness. A significant feature of the text is its incorporation of philosophical argumentation into contemplations designed to develop virtuous character. Passages often function simultaneously as arguments meant to convince an interlocutor (or oneself) of their claims, as well as meditations to develop the virtue in question. This repeated use of reasoning as a means of developing virtue largely accounts for the text’s philosophically important status. This has resulted in the BCA becoming an important source for the developing academic field of Buddhist ethics. Two of Śāntideva’s arguments in particular have received considerable scholarly interest: his argument that accepting the tenet of dependent origination entails the irrationality of anger, which he gives in chapter 6; and his argument that accepting the nonexistence of the self rationally entails a commitment to altruism, which occurs in chapter 8. Śāntideva’s sequence of meditations on exchanging self and others, in which the bodhisattva imaginatively takes up the position of other persons as a way of developing compassion, has also generated great interest, both in the Tibetan tradition and in contemporary scholarship.

Article

The etymology of the Sanskrit and Pāli term pāramitā was a contested issue in classical India. One representation considered that the term was derived from pāram, “other (side),” plus the past participle ita, “gone.” This derivation is later preserved in the standard Tibetan translation pha-rol-tu phyin-pa, “gone to the other shore,” implying that such virtues lead to the blissful shore of nirvāṇa and away from the side of saṃsāra, the conditioned world of repeated rebirth and redeath. Other interpretations advocated that this etymology was misguided, and derived pāramitā from the term parama, “excellent, supreme.” The noun pāramitā is translated in early Chinese through “double translation” composed by tu wu-chi, meaning “crossed over” (tu) plus “limitless” (wu-chi), which brings together both of the traditional etymologies. The conception of the perfections as a specific set of practices is not found in the earliest layers of Buddhist literature. Rather, the perfections as a set of practices developed sometime before the common era as an alternative group of spiritual practices in conjunction with revised notions of buddhahood as well as newly considered notions of what constitutes the path leading to buddhahood. The lists of perfections varied according to the genre of literature in which they appeared. What practices constituted the varied lists of perfections and how the perfections were conceived differed not only among groups but also among scholarly authors. The perfections appear in Buddhist literature as a group in varying lists, but the lists of perfections are notoriously unfixed, with six and ten perfections being the most common. The Theravāda tradition recognizes ten, although only eight are listed in the Buddhāpadāna and seven in the Cariyāpiṭaka. The ten perfections in the Theravāda tradition are (1) generosity (dāna), (2) morality (sīla), (3) renunciation (nekhamma), (4) insight (pañña), (5) energy (viriya), (6) patience (khanti), (7) truthfulness (sacca), (8) resolution (adhiṭṭhāna), (9) loving-kindness (metta), and (10) equanimity (upekkhā). This list differs from the list of ten perfections found in Buddhist Sanskrit literature. A set of six perfections became common among some genres of mainstream Buddhist literature and developed into a standard list in a number of Mahāyāna sūtras. However, other lists of four, five, or seven perfections also occurred. In time, a set of six perfections became standard in Mahāyāna sūtras. The six are (1) generosity (dāna), (2) morality (śīla), (3) patience (kṣānti), (4) vigor (vīrya), (5) concentration (dhyāna), and (6) wisdom (prajñā). This list was expanded to complement the ten stages (bhūmi) traversed by a bodhisattva in the course leading to full buddhahood. The additional perfections were (7) skill-in-means (upāya-kauśalya), (8) resolution (praṇidhāna), (9) strength (bala), and (10) knowledge (jñāna). The manner in which the perfections were understood in different Buddhist cultures, such as in East Asia, Tibet, or Southeast Asia, was dependent on the Buddhist literature that was accessible or acceptable to the particular culture and the interpretative attention given to that literature.

Article

Vinaya rules are stipulations and advice that guide the Buddhist community (saṃgha) of monks and nuns. They are generally considered to be the basis of monastic life. Without these rules, there is no saṃgha; and without the saṃgha, so it is said, there is no dharma (doctrine). While the rules are attributed to the Buddha, it is clear that they developed over time, influenced by the continuous spread of the Buddhist community throughout the Indian subcontinent in the centuries following the Buddha’s demise. Different traditions gradually arose, each with its own set of vinaya rules. These rules display many similarities, but also differ in some significant respects. With the spread of the Buddhist saṃgha in South, Southeast, and East Asia in the first centuries ce, new guidelines were added to the traditional Indian vinaya rules. Although these rules have their own identifying terms—such as “bodhisattva rules” or “rules of purity”—they are often also designated by the term “vinaya,” in modern times used as a concept that encompasses all monastic, and sometimes even lay, Buddhist guidelines. In addition, many manuals and commentaries were written, adding further guiding principles. When written by very inspirational masters, these commentaries sometimes superseded the original vinaya guidelines. This phenomenon led to greater regional interpretation of how vinaya ought to be understood.