The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path
The Ninth Stage
Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path are similar to the Theravada idea of the Noble Eight-fold Path, although not the same in the order of the stages, as well as the aim of the various stages that comprise the total trajectory that the Bodhisattva has to traverse. The idea of the Bodhisattva path is linked to the idea of bodhicitta, the aspiration of becoming enlightened, and this aim is for the benefit of all sentient beings—when compared to the Arahant idea it is distinguished by the fact, that the Bodhisattva holds off on attaining final non-returning Nirvana until all sentient beings are brought along the journey of the Bodhisattva path towards Enlightenment.
Various Mahayana texts discuss the stages of the path in varying detail and order. For this eleventh article in the series, I’ve mainly followed the stages of the Path as explained in the Dasa Bhumika Sutra. Dasa bhumika in Sanskrit means ten stages.
In the Dasa Bhumika Sutra, a Bodhisattva is compared to gold in each stage, which is purified more and more by being heated in the goldsmith's fire until it is at last made into an ornament to be worn around the neck of a powerful wheel-turning monarch (cakravartin). The bodhisattva's splendor is likened to the light of the moon and the sun. In each subsequent stage, a Bodhisattva's glory and power (prabhava) increase a hundred-fold, a thousand-fold, a million-fold, etc..
I’ve also consulted the abhidharma-samuccaya text of Asanga, the prajna-paramita abhi-samaya-lankara, the Maha-vastu, and the Mahayana-sutralamkara text. The Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Ornament Scripture) has great details on the 10 stages of the path as well, including the Gandavyuha commentary. For cross-reference purposes I’ve used the yogacara-bhumi text, which incorporates the Bodhisattva path into an even greater 17 stages, to verify Sanskrit terminology. The ‘Materials for a Dictionary of The Prajnaparamita Literature’ by Edward Conze has been very useful, in verifying Sanskrit terms as they are used in the various Prajna Paramita texts.
In this article, I’ll cover the ninth stage of the 10 Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path.
An interesting side-note: In summarizing the teachings of The Flower Ornament Scripture (avatamsaka sutra), the Gandavyuha, ‘The Book on Entry into the Realm of Reality’, uses the format of a journey for knowledge. Sudhana, the inspired young male pilgrim of the story, visits fifty-three teachers to learn the conduct of the Bodhisattva, the enlightening being dedicated to liberation of the hidden resources of humanity. Quite out of keeping with the modern myth that the inner circle of living Buddhism was traditionally a male monkish elite, the story represents a small minority of the teachers as monks, and nearly half as females!
Stage 9. The Proficient Thoughts stage (sadhumati bhumi)
The ninth stage is Proficient, because the Bodhisattva attains the perfection of the ten powers (bala paramita) of a Buddha, and the realization of possessing the perfection of wisdom (prajna paramita). This is also the stage the Boddhisattva prepares for leading all sentient beings to Enlightenment.
This ninth stage is called sadhumati, because in this stage the Bodhisattva’s intellectual discernments dominates (pratisamvidmateh pradhanatvat). This stage is also called Good Intellect, because of the perfection of all kinds of spiritual teachings and attainments of holy wisdom and a peaceful Mind.
Various types / levels of ignorance have been purified in the first eight stages, and in each subsequent stage the ignorance that is to be purified is more subtle and difficult to address than in the previous stage.
- In the first stage, the ignorance of clinging to person and things, and the ignorance of the defilement of wrong tendencies and actions have been purified.
- In the second stage, the ignorance of minute errors and transgressions, and the ignorance of what various actions lead to have been purified.
- In the third stage, the ignorance of greed, and the ignorance of complete mental control to retain what is learned have been purified.
- In the fourth stage, the Bodhisattva addressed the ignorance of attachment to attainments in concentration, and the ignorance of attachment to religion.
- In the fifth stage, the Bodhisattva addressed the ignorance of one-sided thought rejecting life and death, and the ignorance of one-sided thought heading for nirvana.
- In the sixth stage, the Bodhisattva addressed the ignorance of observing the flux of events at the moment, and the ignorance of elaborate active mental patterns.
- In the seventh stage, the Bodhisattva addressed the ignorance of subtle active mental patterns, and the ignorance of method in one-sided formless awareness.
- In the eighth stage, the Bodhisattva addressed the ignorance of making effort toward the formless, and the ignorance of control over forms.
- In the ninth stage, the Bodhisattva addresses the ignorance of control of the intellectual powers and mental command of ultimate understanding of infinite expressions of truth, and the ignorance of free command of special knowledge of comprehension and communication.
A Bodhisattva after completing and purifying the first eight stages of the path, enters into the ninth stage. At this stage, he truly understands and is able to make a distinction between dharmas as wholesome, unwholesome or indifferent; pure or impure; worldly or transcendental; conceivable or inconceivable; determinate (niyata) or indeterminate (aniyata). The Bodhisattva understands the purpose of the various paths of the Disciples (sravaka), Solitary Buddhas (pratyekabuddha), Bodhisattvas, and the Buddha stages (tathagata-bhumi). Through this understanding, he understands the habits (samacara) and differentiated nature (nanatva) of thoughts of sentient beings, their defilements (klesa), actions (karma), faculties (indriya), aspiration (adhimukti), elements (dhatu), desire and intention (asayanusaya), birth determined by desires (vadanusandhi) and their accumulations (rasi = three types of accumulations: 1. wrong-doing based on bad results, 2. right-doing based on good results, and 3. neither-wrong-nor-right-doing with undetermined results).
The bodhisattva’s understanding of each individual sentient being’s circumstance in this stage, allows him to modify, through skillful means, the manner in which the teaching is explained, customizing the way it is taught but not the underlying meaning of the teaching itself.
Practitioners in the ninth stage gain accurate knowledge of good, bad, neutral, mundane, and supra-mundane actions. They also know how people get entangled in defilements, acts, senses, resolutions, dispositions, inclinations, likes-and-dislikes, and habits; and they know what is beneficial or not. Practitioners also know all about the divisions of the mind, the complexity of the mind, how the mind becomes defiled, how the mind becomes bound and liberated, and how it apprehends illusions and false conclusions [based on ignorance]. Learning to become expert teachers, practitioners in this stage develop the four analytic knowledges (pratisamvid):
They attain mental command of the teachings through concentration protective spells (mantra-dharani). They learn to teach in accord with the particularities, faculties, likes-and-dislikes, and inclinations of the people they are helping.
In the ninth stage, twelve dharmas are to be completed and accomplished:
The Mahayana-sutralankara explains that this stage is so called, because a Bodhisattva has good thoughts on account of the four analytical knowledges (pratisamvid) that he acquires. A Bodhisattva now knows all phenomena and principles truly and certainly, whether they are mundane or supra-mundane, conceivable or inconceivable, compounded or uncompounded. He knows everything about the minds and hearts of men and about wholesome and unwholesome actions. He becomes a great teacher and acquires and is protected by powerful spells (dharani). He experiences many concentrations (samadhi), and cultivates the perfection of power (bala-paramita) without neglecting the other perfections.
In the next and final article in this series, I’ll be discussing The final Tenth Stage [and a bonus stage!] of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path in full detail.
References for research:
- Boin-Webb, Sara — Abhidharmasamuccaya, The Compendium of the Higher Teaching (Philosophy) by Asanga, 2000, Asian Humanities Press.
- Cleary, Thomas — Buddhist Yoga a Comprehensive Course, The Samdhinirmochana Sutra, 1995, Shambhala Publications.
- Cleary, Thomas — The Flower Ornament Scripture, A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra, 1993, Shambhala Publications.
- Conze, Edward — Materials for a Dictionary of The Prajnaparamita Literature,1973, Suzuki Research Foundation.
- Conze, Edward — The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom with the Divisions of the Abhisamayalankara, 1975, University of California Press.
- Conze, Edward — The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines and Its Verse Summary second printing, 1975, Four Seasons Foundation.
- Dayal, Har — The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature, 1932, Motilal Banarsidass.
- Dutt, Nalinaksha — Mahayana Buddhism, 1978, Motilal Banarsidass.
- Jones, J. J. — The Mahavastu Volume 1, 1949, Luzac & Company Ltd.
- Kimura, Ryukan — A Historical Study of the Terms Hinayana and Mahayana and the Origin of Mahayana Buddhism, 1927, University of Calcutta.
- Sparham, Gareth — Abhisamayalamkara with Vrtti and Aloka in Three Volumes, 2008—2011, Jain Publishing.
- Wayman, Alex — Analysis of the Sravakabhumi Manuscript, 1961, University of California Press.
- Williams, Paul — Altruism and Reality, Studies in the Philosophy of the Bodhicaryavatara, 1998, Curzon Press.
- Williams, Paul — Mahayana Buddhism, The Doctrinal Foundations, second edition, 2009, Routledge.
- Wogihara, Unrai — Bodhisattvabhumi, 1930, Tokyo.
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 1
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 2
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 3
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 4
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 5
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 6
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 7
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 8
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 9
- The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path-The Two Preliminary Stages-Part 10
- The Deathless In Buddhism
- The "Timeless" Teaching-Being Beyond Temporality
- The Nine Successive Cessations In buddhist Meditations - Part 1
- The Nine Successive Cessations In buddhist Meditations - Part 2
- The Nine Successive Cessations In buddhist Meditations - Part 3
- The Twelve Links Of Dependent Origination
- THINGS to DEVELOP and THINGS to AVOID
- The First Noble Truth
- The Second Noble Truth
- The Third Noble Truth
- The Fourth Noble Truth
- 10 Fold Path Series
- EATING MEAT — WHY THE BUDDHA WAS NOT A VEGETARIAN
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