Home » Features » Why Past Buddhas Are Still Bodhisattvas

There is nothing more touching
than the immeasurable deeds of selfless compassion
the enlightened have done, that they continue to do,
for the sake of all beings.

Stonepeace

It is not uncommon to notice that some fellow Buddhist friends have the tendency to repeatedly ask the same Dharma question on different occasions. What’s interesting is that each time they are asked, it is as if the issue is being raised for the very first time. This cycle repeats even despite having received the same answer. The first possibility as to why this is so is that they didn’t register the answer mindfully previously – even to the extent of forgetting they had asked the question. The second possibility is that they didn’t get the answer they expected, even if it’s the truth. The third possibility is that they didn’t ask properly, such that the answer didn’t really clear their doubts. In this case, there is the need to reflect on what one’s doubts really are, instead of letting oneself be haunted by them indefinitely. Doubt in the Dharma happens to be the second of the ten fetters, which binds one to the rounds of rebirths in Samsara.

It is said that Manjushri Bodhisattva, being the personification of the perfect wisdom of all Buddhas, is actually an ancient Buddha – in the sense that he had already attained perfect enlightenment many aeons ago. This has to be the way it is. Because if not, he would not be able to represent the equal wisdom of all Buddhas. However, out of great compassion, similar to that of countless other Buddhas, he chooses to re-manifest as an active Bodhisattva to guide deluded beings towards enlightenment. The following is a short paraphrased dialogue, that shows the compassionate wit and wisdom of Manjushri Bodhisattva. A disciple asks him, ‘Dear Manjushri Bodhisattva, it is said that you are in reality already a Buddha, aeons ago. Why then, are you still a Bodhisattva now, aeons later?’ Manjushri Bodhisattva replies, ‘Dear Disciple, how many more times do you have to ask this question?’

Are we not sometimes like the disciple? Do we not keep asking irrelevant questions, that distract us, that digress from wise ones, which lead to enlightenment? Perhaps the disciple had asked the same question time and again, life after life – which shows his ignorance, of not being on the right track to enlightenment. Manjushri Bodhisattva answered in the form of a question, which says that it is out of compassion that he chooses to manifest as a Bodhisattva, for as long as it takes, as long as we ask the wrong questions, so as to guide us to the right path to enlightenment! Sometimes, what seems to be the most reasonable or fundamental existential questions can be the most fundamentally ignorant to ask. An example is to ask ‘Why are we in the darkness of spiritual ignorance now?’ Are we not too ignorant to know the answer now? We just need to walk further towards the light of wisdom with Dharma practice, to cast light on the shadows. The truth is in the light; not the darkness! – Shen Shi’an

As all Buddhas have perfect compassion for all,
there are no Buddhas who truly retire
from perfectly actualising this compassion for all.

Stonepeace

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5 Responses to “Why Past Buddhas Are Still Bodhisattvas”

  1. Robert Quek August 13, 2010

    With regard to repeatedly asking the same question, I would like to add one more possibility why this is so. It could be that the question was not adequately or satisfactorily answered owing to the lack of skill of the speaker.

  2. This seems linked to the second possibility, that ‘they didn’t get the answer they expected’?

    ;-(

  3. Robert Quek August 13, 2010

    Yes, there is a link but the difference is in the source of the dissatisfaction.

  4. Alone in a Canyon December 31, 2010

    When the student is ready the teacher
    will appear…

  5. When the teacher is ready,
    the student appears too.

    Their relationship is equally interdependent on each other.

    😉

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