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The term "bodhisatta/bodhisatva/bodhisattva” means different things to different people. In the Pali tradition, it basically refers to our buddha Gotama either in his last life before he became a fully awakened one or in one of his inspiring previous births. For a follower of the Mahāyāna, it evokes familiar images of powerful positive forces to be cultivated and perfected or, in times of need, trusted and relied upon. The philologist feels the urge to probe its etymology, while the historian of ideas is tempted to delve into the maze of long buried cultural exchanges behind its multifaceted concept. But what about addressing a real life person by this epithet –as it still happens in some Buddhist settings? As we will see, it is a problem venerable ancient Indian sources were already well aware of.
The time of the Buddha and the beginning of Buddhism are associated with the so-called second phase of urbanization in ancient India. In a way, early Buddhism can even be viewed as a reaction to this urbanization. It began as a movement of wandering ascetics who emphazised the need to leave the settlements and abandon social ties, but its ensuing success appears invariably bound to urban centers. There is a tension, if not a contradiction, since this success necessitates more interaction between the Buddhist ascetics and the lay communities who support them. As I will argue, this interaction reaches a new stage when the wandering ascetics finally settle in monasteries.
Master Xuanzang's Contribution to Modern Buddhist Studi […]