I have questions about the Bodhisattva ideal, based on the 37 practices of the Bodhisattva. I’m also curious about how this practice is for one with the aspiration of becoming an Arhat.

The general Bodhisattva ideal seems to be that you are supposed to have compassion and take everything upon you no matter what happens. But isn’t this sometimes going to make things worse – for everyone - the perpetrator included?

And I wonder if you people have any reflections on how this is for someone with the aspiration to become an Arhat? Is s/he equally supposed to have compassion and take everything upon him/her self – no matter what happens?

What are the differences and similarities here between the two?

Some background

In “the 37 practices of the Bodhisattva” there are some passages about how a Bodhisattva reacts to different situations. Some situations described are quite extreme, and too much for someone on my level! But many of them are such that I try to practice them, and here is an example (verse 15):

“Though someone may deride and speak bad words About you in a public gathering, Looking on her as a spiritual teacher, Bow to her with respect— This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.”

This is a situation I come upon very often at work. We have had some big problems with calumny, people saying bad things about each other. I find it quite difficult to see someone doing this as “a spiritual teacher”. But, more disturbingly, I think it might be counterproductive. If a person keeps saying bad things about the others, and we all look upon that person as “a spiritual teacher”, how is the situation going to get better?

Violence is another example. If a woman is about to be raped, is she not going to fight back? Is she supposed to take the misdeed upon herself? How is not fighting back going to make the situation better? Isn't this just going to produce more rapists? I’m thinking here about verse 13:

Even if someone tries to cut off your head When you haven’t done the slightest thing wrong, Out of compassion take all her misdeeds Upon yourself— This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

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    So I think the questions are asking, a) Doesn't following a Bodhisattva ideal of "accepting" someone else's (bad) behaviour make the consequences of their behaviour worse for everyone? b) How is the Arhat ideal compared with (the same as and/or different from) the Bodhisattva ideal?
    – ChrisW
    Nov 24, 2015 at 13:18
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    a) Yes, it seems to me that most people are not Buddhist, at lest not where I live, and hence they would see a Bodhisattva's actions as a kind of encouragement to continue their behaviour. b) Yes Nov 24, 2015 at 13:31
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    "37 practices of a Bodhisatta" is a Mahayana teaching. 'Arahant' is a Theravada term. Better to compare it with the Theravada concept of the Bodhisatta described in the Buddhavamsa Nov 24, 2015 at 15:17

1 Answer 1


The essential aspiration of a bodhisattva is bodhicitta, the vow or intention to achieve enlightenment out of compassion for all those suffering in samsara, which contrary to popular perception does not necessarily imply being reborn until all beings in samsara achieve enlightenment, since the Buddha, who was clearly a bodhisattva, is not (and cannot be) reborn, but he did live many many lives before achieving Buddhahood. The difference between a stream entrant, who seeks arhantship, and a bodhisattva is that a stream entrant seeks enlightenment for himself and seeks to achieve emancipation as soon as possible, thus freeing himself from the bondage of samsara quickly. The Buddha taught that it is possible to do this in not less than seven days and not more than seven rebirths, but the Pali Canon records instances of attainment of arhantship in as short a time as five days. Arhantship has the net effect of reducing dharma in samsara, since the arhants are not reborn, reducing the overall quantum of dharma, whereas bodhisattvas are reborn many many times - perhaps infinite numbers of times potentially but not necessarily - thus increasing the quantum of dharma in samsara. Thus, the arhant ideal leads to degeneration (entropy) whereas the bodhisattva ideal leads to evolution (negentropy).

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