I've read a lot of english language scholarship on the mahayana, probably about 150 books thoroughly, with notes, though not always with very good notes. I wanted an opinion from a broadly Mahayana perspective, so here's my story.

I was a sensitive youth, and had a number of religious like epiphanies while backpacking, before a more intense near visionary one with a basic Buddhist textbook.

But this was truncated by a frank insanity: there is schizophrenia in my family. Anyway, my psychosis is doing a good job of shrivelling up with medication and therapy. But before all that, and before I clawed back some sense of Buddhism from my relatively committed reading habits, did I have an authentic religious (or Mahayana) moment? Or was it a religious delusion and / or escapism?

How do I tell? I had taken a couple of Thai meditation classes, and since then have sat with a couple of zen groups, and attended a 7 day ch'an retreat. No-one took much interest, but then I am near broken now. I'm not asking for authentication from a web community, only:

  1. What is bodhisattvahood in personal practice: is it OK to believe one (has or) did have that quality?
  2. Does anyone here suppose they are a bodhisattva, without any group accreditation and with little engagement - outside their own personal striving / story / narrative?

More esoteric or indeed polemical answers, are of course weclome.

  • I've edited the title to better reflect the content of the question. Please roll back if the title isn't suitable. Metta Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 10:49

4 Answers 4


You might like to compare your story with that of Sally Clay. Many years ago I discovered her essay The Wounded Prophet and found it very inspiring. She has written a number of other reflections on madness, visionary experiences, and Buddhism.

In the literature on madness there is a similar pattern: beautiful visions which give way to a more disordered and frightening state of confusion and delusion. I'm thinking of, for example, The Faber Book of Madness, and Roy Porter's book Madness.

Clay argues for the validity of her initial visions, and she was led to this conclusion by interacting with a Tibetan Lama (I think they compared visions). While I do not practice Tibetan Buddhism, it seems to me that it might suit you better than Thai or Zen Buddhism. It is more at home with visions and unusual experiences, closer to the Shamanic roots of Tantra.

The ironic thing about a bodhisatva is that traditionally they don't think "I am a bodhisatva" or worry about if they might be one. So perhaps you are not one. But many people have transformative visions of one kind of another without becoming "special".

Sally Clay's way forward was helping other people, or in other words the bodhisatva way.


Bodhisattvahood, is not really a quality, at least not in the sense you are saying. A Bodhisattva is a being striving to reach enlightenment as quickly as possible, for the benefit of all beings.

They have a set of vows that they must take and keep. They are similar to monks, except their vows are of a different variety.

I think you are thinking of the term Ahrat, or someone who has obtained nirvana. Yet the two terms are related in a way.

The thing about a realization of Śūnyatā, at least in the teachings I have heard, is that you know, there is no doubt. This is of course a direct understanding I refer to, not an intellectual theoretical understanding. Those who experience it directly do not have to ask for a clarification.

As for your personal experience, don't get me wrong, it is your experience. What value it has is not for others to determine. You must decide what impact to let it have on you. I spent years chasing after answers after an experience I had in my teenage years, and though I learned a ton about myself, and many other things, ultimately I came to the conclusion that the experience was a dead end, and not to pursue it further.

One Rinpoche who I went to talk to about the experience advised me to just passively watch and observe if it were to happen again. He explained to me about how when he was a boy he had to reach out and touch objects to ensure that they were really there.

Now just because my experience was a dead end does not necessarily mean yours was. There are two possibilities, it was a genuine experience, or it was somehow related to your condition. Either way, it is your mind, and you can analyze it as an aspect of yourself. Where you go from here, and what you decide to do with the experience and the memory of it though, is completely up to you.

  • passive is good, thanks. btw there is no doubt in delusion !!
    – user2512
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 21:49
  • @user3293056 sure, but after the delusion fades, is there doubt then?
    – hellyale
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 21:58
  • i think more likely it's faded to escapism. thanks.
    – user2512
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 4:56
  • 1
    Ah, well don't let escapism win. Meditation and setting out on the development of the paramitas can help to stabalize yourself until you find direction again. Also if you are interested in the Bodhisattva way of life, you can look into the vows, and try practicing them informally. Also if you have not read it, you could read Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva's way of life.
    – hellyale
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 5:01
  • A link to a marked up version of the text in case you are interested. hoavouu.com/images/file/AkMNdk9R0QgQAAoD/…
    – hellyale
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 5:07

One general tip is that Enlightenment is about understanding. It's a deep understanding that changes your outlook and reduces suffering. It is not a psychedelic drug trip like experience.

You can reflect on your experiences, analyze them, and think about them. By doing so you can conclude if they had genuine wisdom, or were simply a mystical experience.

To answer 1. A key practice in Tibetan bodhisattva is to cultivate bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the desire to fully Awaken for the benefit of others.


As a clarification- "Bodhisattva are courageous beings who have generated bodhicitta to become buddhas for the benefit of all sentient beings through engaging in a host of bodhisattva deeds, such as the Ten perfections".

If you identify yourself as a Mahayana practitioner, it implies you want to achieve nirvana not just for yourself but for the benefit of all sentient beings.

We are NOT Bodhisattva when we start out. Bodhisattva is a title given to meditators who are quite frankly at a very advanced stage.

As to any group accreditation, please be extremely vary of any such group which claims to confer such things. There are texts, especially text like Lama Tsing Khapa's Lamrim which help you to identify where you are on the path. There are clear identifiers to find out where one is on the path.

As for books I suggest, with all due respect, to read from authentic sources and good translations of acharyas' and lamas' works. The realisations in the path are not mere epiphanies. It is a transformation of the mind- GRADUAL- from a state of ignorance to state of knowledge infused with bodhicitta and wisdom. Having visions here or there is not indicative of anything. The entire path and teaching of the Buddha is to see things as they are, not as they appear to be. I again suggest very strongly to read from authentic sources and traditions.

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