Question: If a Bodhisattva is not supposed to declare oneself as one, who declared the famous Bodhisattvas to be so in history?
Answer: There is a difference between announcing aspiration to walk the Bodhisattva path, and being an actual great Bodhisattva. This is just as there is difference between saying one is a practising beginner Bodhisattva, versus being a manifested great Bodhisattva.
The first cases above are alright. Many great practitioners are seen as Bodhisattvas by other contemporary and later great masters too, by looking at their great compassion and wisdom in action. In these cases, they are not self-declared Bodhisattvas.
If a one’s conduct (based on great compassion) and understanding (based on great wisdom) resembles Bodhisattvas of various stages in the sutras, one might be a Bodhisattva, whether declared or not. In some cases, there are special revelations shortly before or after departure. This is the way it should be, as instructed by Sakyamuni Buddha – which highlights those who make deluded and egoistic claims, while remaining alive for fame and gain.
Thus, those who keep emphasising or keep letting their followers say (or hint) they are Bodhisattvas are not true Bodhisattvas. They are more keen to attract followers by harping on their false statuses, than to share the true Dharma properly and humbly. Their conduct is already misconduct, and their understanding already misunderstanding. We should also be wary of those who keep insisting some to be great Bodhisattvas, as such conduct too lacks understanding, by focusing on personality instead of the pure Dharma.
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