bodhisattva's path to awakening in the Mahayanatradition progresses through ten hierarchically arranged stages, referred to as the "Bodhisattva Bhumis" ("byang chub sems dpa'i sa", Tibetan. "Bodhisattva Grounds/Levels", English.). The Sanskrit term Bhumi literally means "ground" or "foundation", since each stage represents a level of attainment and serves as a basis for the next one. Each level marks a definite advancement in one's training that is accompanied by progressively greater power and wisdom.
Margas & Bhumis
The Bhumis are often correlated with "Margas" (Paths), five ("pañcamarga", in Wylie Tibetan: "lam lnga")) in all:
#The path of accumulation ("sambhara-marga", Wylie Tibetan: "tshogs lam"; sambhara-marga] , )
#The path of preparation or application ("prayoga-marga", Wylie Tibetan: "sbyor lam")
#The path of seeing ("darśana-marga", Wylie Tibetan: "mthon lam")
#The path of meditation ("bhavana-marga", Wylie Tibetan: "sgom lam")
#The path of no more learning or consummation ("aśaikṣā-marga", Wylie Tibetan: "mi slob pa’I lam" or "thar phyin pa'i lam")
They correlate as follows:
Before a bodhisattva arrives at the first ground, he or she first must travel the first two of the five paths:
#The path of accumulation
#The path of preparation
The ten grounds of the bodhisattva then can be grouped into the next three paths
#Bhumi 1: The path of seeing
#Bhumi 2-7: The path of meditation
#Bhumi 8-10: The path of no more learning
Avatamsaka Sutrarefers the following ten Bhumi [1998, "The Seeker's Glossary of Buddhism", Sutra Translation Committee of the United States and Canada, 2nd ed.. [http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/budglossary.pdf] ] :
# "The First Bhumi, the Very Joyous." (Skt. Paramudita), in which one rejoices at realizing a partial aspect of the truth;
# "The Second Bhumi, the Stainless." (Skt. Vimala), in which one is free from all defilement;
# "The Third Bhumi, the Luminous." (Skt. Prabhakari), in which one radiates the light of wisdom;
# "The Fourth Bhumi, the Radiant." (Skt. Archishmati), in which the radiant flame of wisdom burns away earthly desires;
# "The Fifth Bhumi, the Difficult to Cultivate." (Skt. Sudurjaya), in which one surmounts the illusions of darkness, or ignorance as the
# "The Sixth Bhumi, the Manifest." (Skt. Abhimukhi) in which supreme wisdom begins to manifest;
# "The Seventh Level, the Gone Afar." (Skt. Duramgama), in which one rises above the states of the
# "The Eighth Level, the Immovable." (Skt. Achala), in which one dwells firmly in the truth of the
Middle Wayand cannot be perturbedby anything;
# "The Ninth Level, the Good Intelligence." (Skt. Sadhumati), in which one preaches the Law freely and without restriction;
# "The Tenth Level, the Cloud of Doctrine." (Skt. Dharmamegha), in which one benefits all
sentient beingswith the Law ( Dharma), just as a cloud sends down rain impartially on all things.
The First Bhumi, the Very Joyous
The First Bhumi, called the "Very Joyous", is attained with the first direct perception of emptiness and is simultaneous with entry into the third of the five paths to awakening, the path of seeing. [This explanation is given by the Korean scholar Wonch'uk in his "Commentary on the Sutra Explaining the Thought (Arya-gambhira-samdhinirmocana-sutra-tika; 'Phags pa dgongs pa zab mo nges par 'grel pa'i mdo'i rgya cher 'grel pa;" Delhi: Delhi Karmapae Choedhey, Gyalwae Sungrab Partun Khang, 1985, "mdo 'grel," vol. "thi"  , p. 523.3)] [See also Nargajuna's "Precious Garland"("Ratnavali"; tr. Jeffrey Hopkins: "The Precious Garland and the Song of the Four Mindfulnesses"; London: George Allen & Unwin, 1974), verse 441.] It is called "very joyous" because the bodhisattva works at the perfections of generosity and develops the ability to give away everything without regret and with no thought of praise or reward. All phenomena are viewed as empty and as subject to decay, suffering, and death, and so bodhisattvas lose all attachment to them. According to Tsong Khapa, first level bodhisattvas directly understand that persons do not exist by way of their own nature. Due to this, they overcome the false idea that the five aggregates constitute a truly existent person. They also eliminate predispositions toward corrupted ethics so completely that they will not arise again. [See "Compassion in Tibetan Buddhism", pp. 140-142.]
Despite having directly Perceived emptiness, however, bodhisattvas on the first level are primarily motivated by faith. They train in ethics in order to clense their minds of negativities and, so they prepare themselves for the cultivation of mundane meditative absorbtions that comes on the second level.
The Second Bhumi, the Stainless
Bodhisattvas on the second level, the "Stainless", perfect ethics and overcome all tendencies towards engagement in negative actions. Their control becomes so complete that even in dreams they have no immoral thoughts. According to Tsong Khapa for such a bodhisattva,
on all occasions of waking and dreaming his movements or activities of body, speech and mind are pure of even subtle infractions...he fulfills the three paths of virtuous actions-abandoning killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct-with his body; the middle four-abandons lying, divisive talk, harsh speech, and senseless chatter-with his speech; and the last three-abandoning covetousness, harmful intent, and wrong views-with his mind. Not only does he refrain from what is prohibited but he also fulfills all the positive achievements related to proper ethics. [Ibid., pp. 193-194.]And according to Nargajuna,
The second is called the StainlessBecause all ten [virtuous] actionsOf body, speech, and mind are stainlessAnd they naturally abide in those [deeds of ethics] .Through the maturation of those [good qualities] The perfection of ethics becomes supreme.They become Universal Monarchs helping beings,Masters of the glorious four continents and of the seven precious objects.
Because of this, the bodhisattva's mind becomes purified and equanimous, which is a prerequisite for training in the four
dhyānas (meditative absorbtions) and the four arupya-samapattis(formless absorptions).
The Third Bhumi, the Luminous
Tsong Khapa states that the third bhumi is called the "Luminous" because when it is attained "the fire of wisdom burning all the fuel of objects of knowledge arises along with a light which by nature is able to extinguish all elaborations of duality during meditative equipoise." [Ibid., p.204.] Bodhisattvas on this level cultivate the perfection of patience. Their equanimity becomes so profound that
even if someone...cuts from the body of this bodhisattva not just flesh but also bone, not in large sections but bit by bit, not continually but pausing in between, and not finishing in a short time but cutting over a long period, the bodhisattva would not get angry at the mutilator. [Ibid., p.206.]The Bodhisattva realizes that his tormenter is motivated by afflicted thoughts and is sowing seeds of his own future suffering. As a result, the bodhisattva feels not anger, but a deep sadness and compassion for this cruel person, who is unaware of the operations of karma. Trainees on the third level overcome all tendencies toward anger, and never react with hatred (or even annoyance) to any harmful acts or words. Rather, their equanimity remains constant, and all sentient beings are viewed with love and compassion:
All anger and resentment rebound on the person who generates them, and they do nothing to eliminate harms that one has already experienced. They are counterproductive in that they destroy one's peace of mind and lead to unfavorable future situations. There is nothing to be gained through anger and resentment, revenge does nothing to change the past, and so the bodhisattva avoids them. Moreover, one's present suffering is only a result of one's own past misdeeds; so one's enemy is only an agent of the inevitable fruition of karma.
Bodhisattvas on this level also train in the four
dhyānas (meditative absorptions); the four arupya-samapattis(formless absorptions) of limitless space, limitless consciousness, nothingness and the peak of cyclic existence; the four immeasurablesof love, compassion, joy, and equanimity; and the five clairvoyances gained in the fourth dhyāna (magical creations, the divine ear, knowing others' minds, remembering former lives, and the divine eye).
The Fourth Bhumi, the Radiant
On the fourth level, the "Radiant", bodhisattvas cultivate the perfection of effort and eliminate afflictions. According to Wonch'uk, this level is so named because fourth bhumi bodhisattvas "constantly emit the radiance of exalted wisdom." He also cites the "Ornament for the Mahayana Sutras", which explains that bodhisattvas on this level burn up the afflictive obstructions and the obstructions to omniscience with the radiance of their wisdom. [Wongch'uk, vol. "thi"  , p. 527.5.] They enter into progressively deeper meditative absorptions and attain a powerful mental pliancy as a result. This eliminates laziness and increases their ability to practice meditation for extended periods of time. They destroy deeply rooted afflictions and cultivate the thirty-seven
harmonies with awakening.
Through training in these thirty-seven practices, bodhisattvas develop great skill in meditative absorptions and cultivate wisdom, while weakening the artificial and innate conceptions of true existence.
The Fifth Bhumi, Difficult to Cultivate
The fifth level is called the "Difficult to Cultivate" because it involves practices that are so arduous and require a great deal of effort to perfect. It is also called the "Difficult to Overcome" because when one has completed the training of this level one has profound wisdom and insight that are difficult to surpass or undermine. According to Nagarjuna,
The fifth is called the Extremely Difficult to OvercomeSince all evil ones find it extremely hard to conquer him;He becomes skilled in knowing the subtleMeanings of the noble truths and so forth. ["The Precious Garland", p.85]Bodhisattvas on this level cultivate the perfection of
samadhi. They develop strong powers of meditative stabilization and overcome tendencies toward distraction. They achieve mental one-pointedness and they perfect calm abiding. They also fully penetrate the meanings of the four noble truthsand the two truths (conventional truths and ultimate truths) and perceive all phenomena as empty, transient and prone to suffering.
The Sixth Bhumi, the Manifest
The sixth level is called the "Manifest" because the bodhisattva clearly perceives the workings of
dependent arisingand directly understands "signlessness" ("Mtshan ma med pa", Tibetan. "Animitta", Sanskrit). Signlessness refers to the fact that phenomena seem to possess their apparent qualities by way of their own nature, but when one examines this appearance one realizes that all qualities are merely mentally imputed and not a part of the nature of the objects they appear to characterize.
As a result of these understandings bodhisattvas manifest meditative wisdom and avoid attachment to either cyclic existence or
nirvana. [This explanation is given by Wonch'uk (vol. "thi"  , p. 531.1, whose source is the "Sutra on the Ten Bhumis"] Having overcome all attachments, bodhisattvas on this level can attain nirvana, but because of the force of the mind of awakening they decide to remain in the world in order to benefit other sentient beings. They cultivate the perfection of wisdom, through which they perceive all phenomena as lacking inherent existence, as being like dreams, illusions, reflections, or magically created objects. All notions of "I" and "other" are transcended, along with conceptions of "existence" and "nonexistence." These sixth-level bodhisattvas abide in contemplation of suchness, with minds that are undisturbed by false ideas.
The Seventh Bhumi, the Gone Afar
Bodhisattvas on the seventh level develop the ability to contemplate singleness uninterruptedly and enter into advanced meditative absorptions for extended periods of time, thus passing beyond both the
mundaneand supramundanepaths of sravakasand pratyeka buddhas(Hearers and solitary realizers). For this reason, this level is called the "Gone Afar." [This explanation is given by Wonch'uk (vol. "thi"  , p. 532.6), on a basis of a commentary on the "Sutra on the Ten Bhumis", but he does not provide that exact title.] According to Nagarjuna,
The seventh is the Gone Afar becauseThe number of his qualities has increased,Moment by moment he can enterThe equipoise of cessation, ["The Precious Garland", p. 86.]On this level bodhisattvas perfect their skill in means of meditation and practice ("Thabs la mkhas pa", Tibetan; "Upaya-Kausalya", Sanskrit), which is their ability to cleverly adapt their teaching tactics to the individual proclivities and needs of their audiences. They also develop the ability to know the thoughts of others, and in every moment are able to practice all the perfections. All thoughts and actions are free from afflictions, and they constantly act spontaneously and effectively for the benefit of others.
The Eighth Bhumi, the Immovable
The Eighth level is called the "Immovable" because
bodhisattvas overcome all afflictions regarding signs and their minds are always completely absorbed in the dharma. According to Nargarjuna,
The eighth is the Immovable, the youthful stage,Through nonconceptuality he is immovable;And the spheres of his body, speech and mind'sActivities are inconceivable. [Ibid., P. 86.]Because they are fully acquainted with signlessness, their minds are not moved by ideas of signs. Eighth Bhumi
bodhisattvas are said to be "irreversible", because there is no longer any possibility that they might waver on the path or backslide. They are destined for full buddhahood, and there are no longer any inclinations to seek a personal nirvana. They cultivate the "perfection of aspiration", which means that they undertake to fulfill various vows, due to which they accumulate the causes of further virtues [This explanation is found in the "Compendium of Mahayana", p. 208.] . Although they resolve to work for the benefit of others and they pervade the universe with feelings of friendliness toward all sentient beings, these bodhisattvas have transcended any tendency to imagine that there are truly existent beings.
Their understanding of suchness is so complete that it overturns afflicted views, and reality appears in a completely new light. They enter into meditation on emptiness with little effort. Bodhisattvas on this level are compared to people who have awakened from dreams, and all their perceptions are influenced by this new awareness. They attain the meditative state called "forbearance regarding nonarisen phenomena", due to which they no longer think in terms of causes or causelessness. They also develop the ability to manifest in various forms in order to instruct others. Compassion and skill in means are automatic and spontaneous. There is no need to plan or contemplate how best to benefit others, since these bodhisattvas skillfully adapt themselves to every situation.
The Ninth Bhumi, the Good Intelligence
From this point on, bodhisattvas move quickly toward awakening. Before this stage, progress was comparatively slow, like that of a boat being towed through a harbour. On the eighth through tenth bhumi, however,
bodhisattvas make huge strides toward buddhahood, like a ship that reaches the ocean and unfurls its sails. On the ninth level, they fully understand the three vehicles - hearers, solitary realizers, and bodhisattvas - and perfect the ability to teach the doctrine. According to the "Sutra Explaining the Thought",
Because of attaining faultlessness and very extensive intelligence in terms of mastery of teaching the doctrine in all aspects, the ninth level is called the "Good Intelligence." ["Sutra Explaining the Thought", p. 116.3.]Ninth bhumi bodhisattvas also acquire the "four analytical knowledges"-of doctrines, meanings, grammar, and exposition. Due to this, they develop wondrous eloquence and skill in presenting doctrinal teachings. Their intelligence surpasses that of all humans and gods, and they comprehend all names, words, meanings, and languages. They can understand any question from any being. They also have the ability to answer them with a single sound, which is understood by each being according to its capacities. On this level they also cultivate the perfection of power, which means that because of the strength of their mastery of the four analytical knowledges and their meditation they are able to develop the the six perfections energetically and to practice them continually without becoming fatigued. [See "La Somme du Grand Vehicule d'Asanga", P. 208]
The Tenth Bhumi, the Cloud of Doctrine
On the tenth bhumi,
bodhisattvas overcome the subtlest traces of the afflictions. Like a cloud that pours rain on the earth, these bodhisattvas spread the doctrine in all directions, and each sentient beingabsorbs what it needs in order to grow spiritually. Thus Nargarjuna states that
The tenth is the Cloud of Doctrine because The rain of excellent doctrine falls, The Bodhisattva is consecrated With light by the Buddhas. ["The Precious Garland," P. 87.]At this stage bodhisattvas enter into progressively deeper meditative absorptions and develop limitless powers with respect to magical formulas. They cultivate the perfection of exalted wisdom, which, according to
Asanga, enables them to increase their exalted wisdom. This in turn strengthens the other perfections. As a result they become established in the joy of the doctrine. ["La Somme du Grand Vehicule d'Asanga, pp. 208-299.]
They acquire perfect bodies, and their minds are cleansed of the subtlest traces of the afflictions. They manifest in limitless forms for the benefit of others and transcend the ordinary laws of time and space. They are able to place entire world systems in a single pore, without diminishing them or increasing the size of the
pore. When they do this, the beings inhabiting the worlds feel no discomfort, and only those who are advanced bodhisattvas even notice.
Bodhisattvas on this level receive a form of empowerment from innumerable buddhas. This is called "great rays of light", because the radiance of these bodhisattvas shines in all directions. This empowerment helps them in removing the remaining obstructions to omniscience and gives them added confidence and strength. At the final moment of this stage they enter into a meditative state called the "vajralike meditative stabilization", in which the subtlest remaining obstacles to buddhahood are overcome. They arise from this concentration as Buddhas.
With the 10 bhumis, various
Vajrayanaschools recognize 3-10 additional bhumis [ [http://txwg.aa.topzj.com/redirect.php?tid=367683&goto=lastpost 大圆满隆钦宁提派前行念诵文 编一遍智妙道注释] ] , mostly 6 more bhumis with variant descriptions. [ [http://nanputuo.com/sq/luntan/topic.asp?bbsid=15&topicid=891 大圆藏密要诀] 、 [http://www.zhihui.org/browse/jiaocai/dayuanman/xinxingxiuxidacheshu_06.htm 大圆满心性休息颂] ]
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