The name given to a being who aspires to Bodhi or Enlightenment.¹ The word can therefore be used in reference to all those who seek nibbāna, including Buddhas, Pacceka Buddhas, and the disciples of Buddhas (sāvakā), but is commonly used only of those beings who seek to become Buddhas. The word may have been used originally only in connection with the last life of a Buddha, in such contexts as “in the days before my Enlightenment, when as yet I was only a Bodhisatta.” ² However, already in the Kathāvatthu ³ the previous lives of Gotama Buddha and other saints had begun to excite interest and speculation.
In the developed form of the ideas regarding Bodhisattas, a Bodhisatta’s career started with his making a resolution before a Buddha (abhinīhārakaraṇa or mūlapanidhāna) to become a Buddha for the welfare and liberation of all creatures. In later literature, the Noblest Aspiration (abhinīhāra) is preceded by a period during which the Bodhisatta practises manopanidhi, when he resolves in his mind to desire to become a Buddha without declaring this intention to others. For the aspiration to be effective, eight conditions should be fulfilled,⁴ the aspirant should be:
In the case of Gotama Buddha, his Noblest Aspiration was made at Amaravātī in the presence of Dīpaṅkara Buddha. His name at that time was Sumedha (q.v.) The Buddha, before whom the Noblest Aspiration is made, looks into the future and, if satisfied, declares the fulfilment of the resolve, mentioning the particulars of such fulfilment. This declaration is called “vyākaraṇa,” and is made also by all subsequent Buddhas whom the Bodhisatta may meet during his career. Having received his first declaration, the Bodhisatta proceeds to investigate the qualities that should be acquired by him for the purposes of Buddhahood (buddhakārakadhammā), in accordance with the custom of previous Bodhisattas. These he discovers to be ten in number, the Ten Perfection, (dasapārami):
He also develops the four Buddhabhūmi (catasso buddhabhūmiyo):
He cultivates the six natural inclinations (ajjhāsaya) which conduce to the maturing of Enlightenment (bodhiparipākiyā saṃvattanti):
A Bodhisatta, during his career, escapes from being born in eighteen inauspicious states (aṭṭhārasa abhabbaṭṭhānāni). He is never born blind, deaf, insane, slobbery (eḷamūga) or crippled, or among savages (milakkkesu), in the womb of a slave, or as a heretic. He never changes his sex, is never guilty of any of the five immediately effective (ānantarika) kammas, and never becomes a leper. If born as an animal, he never becomes less than a quail or more than an elephant. He is never born either among various classes of hungry ghosts (petas) nor among the Kālakañjakas, neither in Avīci nor in the Lokantaraka hells, neither as Māra, nor in worlds where there is no perception (asaññibhava), nor in the Pure Abodes (Suddhāvāsa), nor in the formless realms (arūpaloka), nor ever in another Cakkavāḷa.⁷
Besides practising the (thirty) perfections, all Bodhisattas must make the five great sacrifices (mahāpariccāgā) — giving up wife, children, kingdom, limbs, and life ⁸ and must fulfil the three kinds of conduct (cariyā): for the sake of relatives (ñātatthacariyā), for the sake of the world (lokatthacariyā), and for the sake of Enlightenement (buddhi-
The length of a Bodhisatta’s career varies; some practice the perfections for at least four immeasurable aeons (asaṅkheyya) and one hundred thousand world-
As the time for the announcement of their last birth approaches, all is excitement because of various signs appearing in the ten thousand world systems. The devas of all the worlds assemble in Tusita and request the Bodhisatta to seek birth as a human being, that he may become the Buddha. The Bodhisatta withholds his reply until he has made the Five Great Investigations (pañcamahāvilokanā) regarding time, continent, place of birth, his mother and the life span left to her. Buddhas do not appear in the world when men live to more than one hundred thousand years or to less than one hundred. They are born only in Jambudīpa and in the Majjhimadesa, and only of a khattiya or brahmin clan. The Bodhisatta’s mother in his last birth must not be passionate or given to drink; she should have practised the perfections for one hundred thousand world-
Having satisfied himself as to these particulars, the Bodhisatta goes with the other devas to Nandanavana in Tusita, where he announces his departure from their midst and disappears from among them while playing. On the day of his conception, the Bodhisatta’s mother takes the vows of fasting and celibacy at the conclusion of a great festival, and when she has retired to rest, she dreams that the Four Regent Gods take her with her bed, bathe her in the Anotatta Lake, clad her in divine garments, and place her in a golden palace surrounded by all kinds of luxury. As she lies there the Bodhisatta in the form of a white elephant enters her womb through her right side. The earth trembles and all the ten thousand world systems are filled with radiance. Immediately the Four Regent Gods assume guard over mother and child. Throughout the period of pregnancy, which lasts for ten months; exactly, the mother remains free from ailment and sees the child in her womb sitting crossed-
The Bodhisatta’s last birth is attended by various miracles.¹⁶ Soothsayers, being summoned, see on the child’s body the thirty-
Having left the world, the Bodhisatta practises the austerities, the period of such practices varying. In the case of Dīpaṅkara, Koṇḍañña, Sumana, Anomadassī, Sujāta, Siddhattha, and Kakusandha it was ten months; for Maṅgala, Sumedha, Tissa and Sikhī it was eight; for Revata seven; for Piyadassī, Phussa, Vessabhū, and Koṇāgamana six; for Sobhita four; for Paduma, Atthadassī, and Vipassī two weeks; for Nārada, Padumuttara, Dhammadassī, and Kassapa one week; and for Gotama six years.¹⁹ On the day the Bodhisatta attains to Buddhahood, he receives a meal of milk-
The next day the Bodhisatta sits cross-
The above is a brief account, as given in the books, of certain features common to all Bodhisattas. In addition to these, particulars of the personal career of the Bodhisatta who became Gotama, are found, chiefly in the Buddhavaṃsa and the Jātakaṭṭhakathā. It has already been stated that each Bodhisatta receives the prediction (vyākaraṇa) from every Buddha whom he meets, and Gotama was no exception. He received his first as the ascetic Sumedha, from Dīpaṅkara; and then, as a Cakkavatti, from Koṇḍañña; as the brahmin Suruci, from Maṅgala; as the Nāga king Atula, from Sumana; as the brahmin Atideva, from Revata; as the brahmin Ajita, from Sobhita; as a yakkha chief, from Anomadassī; as a lion, from Paduma; as an ascetic (isi) from Nārada; as a governor (Mahāraṭṭhiya) Jaṭila, from Padumuttara; as the youth Uttara, from Sumedha; as a Cakkavatti, from Sujāta; as the youth Kassapa, from Piyadassī; as the ascetic Susīma, from Atthadassī; as Sakka, from Dhammadassī; as the ascetic Maṅgala, from Siddhattha; as Sujāta, from Tissa; as King Vijitāvī, from Phussa; as the Nāga king Atula, from Vipassī; as King Arindama, from Sikhī; as King Sudassana, from Vessabhū; as King Khema, from Kakusandha; as King Pabbata, from Koṇāgamana; and as the youth Jotipāla, from Kassapa.
The Jātakaṭṭhakathā gives particulars of other births of the Bodhisatta ²⁴ e.g., as Akitti, Ajjuna, Aṭṭhisena, Anitthigandha, Ayoghara, Araka, Arindama, Alīnacitta, Alīnasattu, Asadisa, Ādāsamukha, Udaya, Udayabhadda, Kaṭṭhavāhana, Kaṇhadīpāyana, Kaṇhapaṇḍita, Kapila, Kappa, Kassapa, Kāraṇḍiya, Kāliṅgabhāradvāja, Kuṇāla, Kuṇḍakumāra, Kuddālaka, Kusa, Komāyaputta, Khadiravaniya, Guttila, Ghata, Canda, Candakumāra, Campeyya, Cittapaṇḍita, Cullaka seṭṭhi, Culladhanuggaha, Chaddanta, Chaḷaṅgakumāra, Janasandha. Juṇa, Jotipāla (= Sarabhaṅga), Takkapaṇḍita, Takkāriya, Tirīṭavaccha, Temiya (=Mūgapakkha), Dīghāvu, Duyyodhana, Dhanañjaya, Dhamma, Dhammaddhaja, Dhammapāla (prince and brahmin), Nārada, Nigrodha, Nimi, Pañcālacanda, Pañcāvudha, Pandita, Padumakumāra, Baka, Bodhikumāra, Brahmadatta (in several births), Bhaddasāla, Bharata, Bhallātiya, Bhūridatta, Bhojanasuddhika, Makhādeva, Magha, Mandhātu, Mahākañcana, Mahājanaka, Mahādhana, Mahābodhi (= Bodhi), Mahāsīlava, Mahāsudassana, Mahiṃsāsa, Mahosadha, Māṭaṅga, Mūgapakkh (= Temiya,) Yuvañjaya, Rakkhita, Rāma, Lomasakassapa, Vacchanakha, Vidhura, Visayha, Vessantara, Saṅkicca, Saṅkha, Santusita, Sambhava, Sarabhaṅga, Sādhīna, Siri, Suciparivāra, Sujāta, Sutana, Sutasoma, Suppāraka, Suvaṇṇasāma, Susīma, Senaka, Seruva, Sona, Soma, Somadatta, Somanassa, Hatthipāla, and Hārita.
In these and other births the Bodhisatta occupied various stations in life, such as that of an acrobat (Dubbaca Jātaka); naked-
Many Jātaka stories mention the birth of the Bodhisatta among animals — e.g., as buffalo (Mahisia Jātaka); bull (as Ayyakāḷaka, Nandivisāla, Mahālohita, Sārambha); cock (in the two Kukkuṭa Jātakas, Nos. 383, 448); crow (as Vīraka and Supatta and in Kāka Jātaka); dog (Kukkura Jātaka); elephant (e.g., Chaddanta and Sīlava Jātakas); fish (Mitacintī); frog (Haritamāta Jātaka); garuḷa (e.g., Sussoṇḍi Jātaka); goose (e.g. Ulūka, Cakkavāka, Neru, Palāsa Jātakas); hare (Sasa Jātaka); horse (Ājañña, Bhogājānīya Jātakas and as Vātaggasindhava); iguana (Godha Jātaka); jackal (Sigāla Jātakas); kinnara (as Canda); lion (e.g., Guna, Sigāla Jātaka (No.152), Sūkara Jātakas); mallard (Nacca Jātaka); monkey (Kapi, Nalapāna, Mahākapi, Suṃsumāra Jātakas and as Nandyia); parrot (e.g. as Jambuka, Pupphaka, Poṭṭhapāda, and Rādha); peacock (Nos. 42, 375, Mora, Bāveru, and Mahāmora Jātakas); pig (Mahātundila Jātakas); pigeon (Kapota, Kāka No.395, Romaka, Lola Jātakas); quail (the three Vaṭṭaka, and Sammodamāna Jātakas); rat (Aggika and Biḷāra Jātakas); snake (nāga) as Cāmpeyya, Bhuridatta, Mahādaddara, Saṅkhapāla; vulture (as Aparaṇṇa and in the three Gijjha Jātakas, Nos. 164, 399, 427), and woodpecker (as Khadiravaniya and in Javasakuna Jātaka). See the Jātaka Index
The Bodhisatta was born several times in the purgatories.²⁶ The wishes of Bodhisattas are generally fulfilled,²⁷ chiefly because of their great wisdom ²⁸ and zeal.²⁹ The wisdom of a Bodhisatta is greater than that of a Pacceka Buddha.³⁰
See also Buddha.
¹ The Commentaries (e.g., DA.ii.427) define the word thus: “Bodhisatto ti paṇḍitasatto bujjhanakasatto; bodhisaṅkhātesu vā catusu maggesu āsatto laggamānaso ti Bodhisatto.” See also AA.i.453. For a discussion of the meaning of the word see Har Dayal: The Bodhisativa Doctrine, pp.4 ﬀ.
³ E.g., 283‑90, 623.
⁴ Bu.ii.59; explained at BuA.75 f. and SNA.i.48 f.
⁵ Bu.ii.116 ﬀ. Sometimes thirty perfections are spoken of, each of the ten being divided into three, varying in kind and degree. Thus, in the case of generosity (dāna): 1) the ordinary degree of generosity (dāna-
In the case of Gotama Buddha, examples of births in which the ten perfections were practised to the highest degree are as follows: the Ekarāja, Khantivādī, Saṅkhapāla, Mahājanaka, Mahāsutasoma, Mūgapakkha, Lomahaṃsa, Sattubhattaka, Sasapaṇḍita, and Cūḷa-
¹² Vipassī, e.g., was among the exceptions. DA.ii.427.
¹³ Like a teacher on a dais, says the Commentary (DA.ii.436).
¹⁴ Gotama Buddha as the Bodhisatta, spoke, in three different births, as soon as born — as Mahosadha, as Vessantara, and in his last birth, (J.i.53).
¹⁵ DA.ii.437; UdA.278.
¹⁶ The Commentaries see, in the various incidents connected with the Bodhisatta’s last birth, signs of various features, which came, later, to be associated with the Buddha and his doctrine; for details see DA.ii.439 ﬀ.
¹⁷ For details of these see D.ii.17 ﬀ; M.ii.136 f. The reasons for these marks are given at D.iii.145 ﬀ.
¹⁸ In the case of some Bodhisattas (e.g., Vipassī) these four signs (nimittāni as they are called) are seen by them at different times, but in the case of others on one and the same day (DA.ii.457).
¹⁹ For the reason for this great length in the last case, see Gotama.
²⁰ The Bodhi tree is different for each Bodhisatta.
²¹ BuA. 247.
²² For the explanations of these dreams see A.iii.240 f; these dreams are referred to at J.i.69.
²³ For the Law of Dependent Origination (paṭiccasamuppāda) see D.ii.31 ﬀ; for the other details see J.i.56 ﬀ., where the story of Gotama is given. DA.ii.462 ﬀ gives similar details regarding Vipassī; BuA.248 says it is the same for all Bodhisattas.
²⁵ The scholiast (J.ii.389) explains that when a Bodhisatta is born as a wicked man it is due to a fault in his horoscope!