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I was wondering if bodhisattvas are real life people we can encounter along our path. There seems to be literature on how these beings take vows, but I was wondering if it was common to encounter one of them along the path.

  • Spoken about reality, they are, or he is even a puthujjana given the fact that such as a desire to become a Buddha is miccha ditthi (self-identification view), Mr. Brian B. – user11235 Jan 3 '16 at 7:00
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From (Chinese) Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra:

“Subhūti, this is like the body of a person that is tall and great.”

Subhūti said, “Bhagavān, the body of a person that the Tathāgata speaks of, tall and great, is not a great body, and is thus called the Great Body.”

“Subhūti, for bodhisattvas it is also such as this. If someone says ‘I will liberate and cross over innumerable sentient beings,’ then this is not one to be called a bodhisattva. Why? Subhūti, truly there is no such dharma as "bodhisattva", and for this reason the Buddha says, ‘All dharmas are not a self, a person, a being, or a life.’ Subhūti, if a bodhisattva says, ‘I am adorning buddha-lands,’ then this is not one to be called a bodhisattva. Why? The adornments of buddha-lands spoken of by the Tathāgata are not adornments, and are thus called adornments. Subhūti, if a bodhisattva has penetrating realization that dharmas are without self, then the Tathāgata says, ‘This is a true bodhisattva.’

A parallel from (Sanskrit) Diamond Sutra:

"Subhuti, a comparison can be made with the idea of a large human body. What would you understand me to mean if I spoke of a 'large human body'?"

"I would understand that the lord Buddha was speaking of a 'large human body' not as an arbitrary conception of its being, but as a series of words only. I would understand that the words carried merely an imaginary meaning. When the Buddha speaks of a large human body, he uses the words only as words."

"Subhuti, it is just the same when a disciple speaks of liberating numberless sentient beings. If they have in mind any arbitrary conception of sentient beings or of definite numbers, then they are unworthy of being called a disciple. Subhuti, my teachings reveal that even such a thing as is called a 'disciple' is non-existent. Furthermore, there is really nothing for a disciple to liberate."

"A true disciple knows that there is no such thing as a self, a person, a living being, or a universal self. A true disciple knows that all things are devoid of selfhood, devoid of any separate individuality."

Meaning, "bodhisattva" is an approximation, a label. In reality there is nothing fixed / specific / well-defined that we can call "bodhisattva". When one practices like this, one can be called "bodhisattva" - and yes, at this point it is a live person someone can encounter.

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  • Are these sort of encounters common? Or do they only appear under certain conditions? – Brian B. Jan 3 '16 at 4:29
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    The way my teacher explained this, you need a lot of "energy" / "merit" / "good karma" to encounter a bodhisattva, even more for them to talk to you, and yet more for you to recognize them as such. If you have the right energy you can meet them in a bar - and if your energy is wrong you won't meet them even in Himalayas, so it really depends on your own condition - subjective reality always being a reflection of your mind. So the best chance to encounter is to stop wasting energy on various B.S. and on ego aggrandizement, basically the more you are like one of them the luckier you get. – Andrei Volkov Jan 3 '16 at 4:55
  • Yes, that is more or less what I was searching for in an answer. What I am getting at is something I don't understand, yet matches everything you have said. I accidentally encountered one claiming to be one. As time passed, I lost touch. It was years ago. – Brian B. Jan 3 '16 at 5:46
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In my temple we like to say that everyone is a bodhisattva, that is we are all ultimately heading towards enlightenment. Of course not everyone is already a Bodhisattva Mahasattva - a being who is already enlightened but remain in Samsara to teach.

However, according to the popular Universal Gate Chapter (普門品) of the Lotus Sutra, said to be the most important chapter and the summary, it is stated:

The Buddha said to Bodhisattva Inexhaustible Intent: "Good man, if there are living beings in the land who need someone in the body of a Buddha in order to be saved, Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds immediately manifests himself in a Buddha body and preaches the Law for them. If they need someone in a pratyekabuddha's body in order to be saved, immediately he manifests a pratyekabuddha's body and preaches the Law to them. If the need a voice-hearer to be saved, immediately he becomes a voice-hearer and preaches the Law for them. If they need King Brahma to be saved, immediately he becomes King Brahma and preaches the Law for them. If they need the lord Shakra to be saved, immediately he becomes the lord Shakra and preaches the Law for them. If they need the heavenly beiang Freedom to be saved, immediately he becomes the heavenly being Freedom and preaches the Law for them. If they need a great general of heaven to be saved, immediately he becomes a great general of heaven and preaches the Law for them. If they need Vaishravana to be saved, immediately he becomes Vaishravana and preaches the Law for them. If they need a petty king to be saved, immediately he becomes a petty king and preaches the law for them.

If they need a rich man to be saved, immediately he becomes a rich man and preaches the Law for them. If they need a householder to be saved, immediately he becomes a householder and preaches the Law for them. If they need a chief minister to be saved, immediately he becomes a chief minister and preaches the Law for them. If they need a Brahman to be saved, immediately he becomes a Brahman and preaches the Law for them. If they need a monk, a nun, a layman believer, or a laywoman believer and preaches the Law for them. If they need the wife of a rich man, of a householder, a chief minister, or a Brahman to be saved, immediately he becomes those wives and preaches the Law for them. If they need a young boy or a young girl and preaches the Law for them. If they need a heavenly being, a dragon, a yaksha, a gandharva, an asura, a garuda, a kimnara, a mahoraga, a human or a nonhuman being to be saved, immediately he becomes all of these and preaches the Law for them. If they need a vajra-bearing god and preaches the Law for them.

"Inexhaustible Intent, this Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds has succeeded in acquiring benefits such as these and. Taking on a variety of different forms, goes about among the lands saving living beings. For this reason you and the others should single-mindedly offer alms to Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds can bestow fearlessness on those who are in fearful, pressing or difficult circumstances. That is why in this saha world everyone calls him Bestower of Fearlessness."

http://www.fodian.net/world/262_25.html

The Avalokiteśvara takes whatever form needed to enlighten beings. What this means is even you yourself can be a vehicle needed to enlighten others and yourself.

The Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is always available, being your very own Right Mindfulness, a universally accessible gate of the Dharma. With the power to save you and quench the fire of anger, the flood of greed, the storm of ignorance, the swords of conceits, the demons of temptations, the chains of attachment, and the robbers of afflictions.

The Buddha said to Bodhisattva Inexhaustible Intent: "Good man, suppose there are immeasurable hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of living beings who are undergoing various trials and suffering. If they hear of this Bodhisattva Perceiver of the Word's Sounds and single-mindedly call his name, then at once he will perceive the sound of their voices and they will all gain deliverance from their trials.

If someone, holding fast to the name of bodhisattva perceiver of the world's sounds, should enter a great fire, the fire could not burn him. This would come about because of this bodhisattva's authority and supernatural power. If one were washed away by a great flood and call upon his name, one would immediately find himself in a shallow place.

"Suppose there were a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million living beings who, seeking for gold, silver, lapis lazuli, seashell, agate, coral, amber, pearls, and other treasures, set out on the great sea. and suppose a fierce wind should blow their ship off course and it drifted to the land of rakshasas demons. If among those people there is even just one who calls the name of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's sounds, then all those people will be delivered from their troubles with the rakshasas. This is why he is called Perceiver of the World's Sounds.

"If a person who faces imminent threat of attack should call the name of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's sounds, then the swords and staves wielded by his attackers would instantly shatter into so many pieces and he would be delivered.

Thought enough yakshas and rakshasas to fill all the thousand-million-fold world should try to come and torment a person, if they hear him calling the name of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds, then these evil demons will not even be able to look at him with their evil eyes, much less do him harm.

"Suppose, in a place filled with all the evil-hearted bandits of the thousand-million-fold world, there is a merchant leader who is guiding a band of merchants carrying valuable treasures over a steep and dangerous road, and that one man shouts out these words: 'Good men, do not be afraid! You must single-mindedly call on the name of Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds. This bodhisattva can grant fearlessness to living beings. If you call his name, you will be delivered from these evil-hearted bandits!' When the band if merchants hear this, they all together raise their voices, saying, 'Hail to the Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds!' And because they call his name, they are at once able to gain deliverance. Inexhaustible Intent, the authority and supernatural power of the Bodhisattva and mahasattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds are as mighty as this!

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Late Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thero is known to have taken the Bodhisattva vows and aspiring towards Buddhahood in a future life. So is Nauyane Ariyadhamma Mahathera. So yes you can meet aspirants through many may not say so.

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