Monday, March 21, 2005



"Out of respect for Christians and Buddhists, in my opinion, it isn't very helpful to refer to Jesus as a bodhisattva."

The term bodhisattva comes from two Sanskrit words - bodhi meaning "wisdom," and sattva meaning "being." So therefore, bodhisattva literally means wisdom being, or wise man. The three wise men who came and visited the baby Jesus could just as easily be called the three bodhisattvas, especially because they were "from the east" (if they were from the west, they would be called "the three amigos"). In Sanskrit, there would be no translation other than "bodhisattvas" for the wise men. But was Jesus a bodhisattva?

Well, according to almost all Christian beliefs, Jesus was a being (sattva) - it is an important doctrinal point that God literally became man. And it would be doing Jesus a disservice to say that he wasn't wise (bodhi). So therefore, how could it be disrespectful to call Jesus a bodhisattva? I would think the opposite would be more true - it would be disrespectful to say that he wasn't a bodhisattva.

Of course, in Buddhism, the term also has a meaning deeper than a literal "wise man." A bodhisattva is an enlightened person who has vowed to forego his own nirvana until all other sentient beings have also been enlightened. At the end of every Zen service, we chant, "However innumerable all beings are, I vow to save them all" - the bodhisattva vow. And isn't that exactly what Jesus did, give up his own life for the salvation of all others? So how can a Buddhist deny that Jesus was anything but a bodhisattva?

Hitler was a Buddha.



Now, I know that may sound blasphemous and provocative, but in fact, not only do all sentient beings have buddha nature, but all humans are actually fully-formed Buddhas, lacking nothing, perfect and complete. Even Hitler. The problem is that they just haven't realized it yet. And in this ignorance (avidya) they imagine a separation between self and others, and thereby ultimately create great suffering. But the only real blasphemy is to deny any being's buddha nature. Even Hitler's.

"Bodhisattva
Would you take me by the hand
Bodhisattva
Would you take me by the hand
Can you show me
The shine of your Japan
The sparkle of your china
Can you show me
Bodhisattva

Bodhisattva
I'm gonna sell my house in town
Bodhisattva
I'm gonna sell my house in town
And I'll be there
To shine in your Japan
To sparkle in your China
Yes I'll be there
Bodhisattva"

- Steely Dan

1 comment:

Mumon said...

The term "bodhisattva" is used in a number of senses amongst Buddhists.

Among the Thereavadans, it generally lacks the meanintg it has in the Mahayana traditions. Amongst some Mahayana, it denotes one who has taken the precepts. I should point out, that as a Buddhist, in a Buddhist-Christian dialogue, it is not very helpful to refer to Jesus as a Boddhisattva.

To a Christian, this trivializes their focus of veneration, and as I've said, the idea of Christ represents something that though it parallels the idea of a boddhisattva, especially in Western culture means something else besides a boddhisattva.

I'd also point out, that Jesus didn't give up his life to save all beings, nor even all sentient beings, nor even all human beings, if you adhere to a large body of Christian thought (but not a Universalist one; unfortunately many Christians are not Universalists). Christian thought holds that Jesus came to save those who believed in him or those who he saved according to his caprice. Christian theology has traditionally held that there are people whom Jesus decidedly does not save.

Now, of course I understand your psychological/religious parallels, but we must recognize difference as well as sameness here.