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Dasa Bhumika

The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path

Dasa Bhumika

The Ten Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path

Stages of the Mahayana Bodhisattva Path are similar to the Theravada idea of the Noble Eightfold Path, although not the same in the order of the stages, as well as the aim of the various stages that comprise the total trajectory that the Bodhisattva has to traverse. The idea of the Bodhisattva path is linked to the idea of bodhicitta, the aspiration of becoming enlightened, and this aim is for the benefit of all living beings — when compared to the Arahant idea is distinguished by the fact, that the Bodhisattva holds off on attaining final non-returning Nirvana until all sentient beings are brought along the journey of the Bodhisattva path towards enlightenment.

Various Mahayana texts discuss the stages of the path in varying detail and order. The stages of the Path is referenced as explained in the Dasa Bhumika Sutra. Dasa bhumika in Sanskrit means ten stages. Prior to these ten stages, and similar to how the Theravada Eightfold Path had the gotrabhu (becoming of the lineage), some texts define two preliminary stages that are important to be explained.

The Two Preliminary Stages

The difficult challenge for an adept in Mahayana is the completion of the pre-conditions required to pass from the state of an ordinary common person of the world to that of an initiate, a person who has the prerequisites and ability to eventually attain the highest good. In the Mahayana, one is required to develop Bodhicitta before being allowed to begin the practices of 10 stages.

The two preliminary stages can be found very in the Perfection of wisdom (prajna paramita) sutras and other Mahayana texts. They mention that it is required to perform meritorious acts, to serve previous Buddhas, and that one is to have many spiritual guides. Another text, the Sutralankara points out the importance of developing aspiration (adhimukti) through many lives, to accumulate merit, to complete following the Bodhisattva rules of discipline, to acquire wisdom by learning the Mahayana sutras, and benefit from the teachings of the Buddha.

The preliminary stage of the future Bodhisattva consists of the practices of aspiration to become a Bodhisattva. One is a future Bodhisattva because of not having developed Bodhicitta. One aspires to become a Buddha by following the Mahayana teachings. After hearing the Mahayana teachings, one has initial thoughts about becoming a Buddha, but unless this is cultivated in more detail and when it is permanently in one’s mind, one is not yet possessing Bodhicitta.

The Mahayana text that has two preliminary stages is called the Bodhisattva Bhumi. The stages are called Gotravihara and Adhimukticarya-vihara. These two define the required qualities.

The first pre-stage of Gotravihara is explained as a person who belongs to the noble class and has the qualities, high aims, and good dharmas of a Bodhisattva. These are clearly visible in his actions. The person performs wholesome actions without requiring persuasion, possesses the seeds of Buddha-dharmas and is incapable of committing unwholesome actions. This pre-stage is considered the essential starting point on the Mahayana path.

The second pre-stage of Adhimukticarya-vihara is the name given to the first attempts of a Bodhisattva to develop noble aspiration. The bodhisattva. practices the teachings to a certain extent, but is not yet able to permanently retain the teachings. More explanations are given about what this pre-stage includes:

  1. Puts in effort for the good of all beings
  2. Has confidence in the truth of the Buddha’s teachings
  3. Has limited knowledge derived through hearing and reflection
  4. Follows the bodhisattva-path with some difficulty but has perseverance
  5. Still seeks his own happiness at times, although after reflection seeks the happiness of others as well
  6. Often notices one’s own shortcomings but does not have the sufficient ability to correct them
  7. Enjoys the Bodhisattva-dharmas teachings

The idea of the preparatory states is that it is a preparatory and testing phase to see who possesses the good qualities to become part of the lineage of the Buddhas.

The Dasa Bhumika Sutra also provides some detail of the pre-bodhisattva stages, which are different from the account of the previously mentioned Bodhisattva Bhumi. Some of additional explanations are:

  1. The pre-Bodhisattva develop aspiration after accumulating enough merit, following the Mahayana practices, venerating many Buddhas, possessing wholesome and great intention and aspiration, and having great compassion for all sentient beings.
  2. Saving all sentient beings from suffering.
  3. It is by the development of Bodhicitta that a person rids oneself of the world ordinary state of being and becomes a noble person. Bodhicitta is vital as an aspiration to become a Buddha and to acquire the necessary qualities and powers of a Buddha.

The Bodhicaryavatara sutra text clarifies two types of bodhicitta: Bodhipranidhi-citta and Bodhiprasthana-citta.

The first is an aspiration to become a Buddha for saving sentient beings from suffering without attending to the higher aspiration of attainments of virtue and wisdom.

The second refers to the determination to strictly follow the Bodhisattva disciplines and to strive for the acquisition of merit.

A Brief Overview of the 10 Stages


Mahayana Bodhisattva Path

1The Stage of Great Delight (Pramudita Bhumi)

The first stage is called Great Delight, because the Bodhisattva realizes and becomes aware of one’s attainment of perfecting their work in charity (dana paramita). This is one of the six perfections that is often referred to in Mahayana Buddhism. The Bodhisattva realizes the emptiness of the individual self (pudgala nairatmya) as well as the emptiness of all ordinary entities and objects (dharma nairatmya).

2The Spotless Unstained Stage (Vimala Bhumi)

The second stage is called Spotless and Unstained, because the Bodhisattva realizes that he has become free from unwholesome and bad actions. The Bodhisattva has perfected the Mahayana moral precepts (sila paramita) and attained the bases of the ten virtuous and skillful actions (kusala mula). Their thoughts are free from any taints or defilements. The Bodhisattva practices absorption meditation (dhyana) and mind concentration (samādhi).

3The Stage of Illumination (Prabhakari Bhumi)

The third stage is called Illumination, because the Bodhisattva’s lucid perfection of patience and tolerance (ksanti paramita) where rage and anger have subsided. The Bodhisattva has completed the four meditative absorptions (dhyana) and the four immeasurables (apramana) [loving kindness, appreciative joy, compassion, equanimity] and attained the five supernormal knowledges (abhijna). The Bodhisattva is now free from lust (raga), anger (dvesa) and delusion (moha).

4The Stage of Radiance (Arcismati Bhumi)

The fourth stage is called Radiance, but can also be described as Fiery Brilliance and Glowing Brightness due to the Bodhisattva’s perfection in energy (virya paramita). The Bodhisattva trains in acquiring virtues and practices defined as the 37 aids to Enlightenment (bodhipaksiyadharma).

5The Stage that is Hard to Surpass (Sudurjaya Bhumi)

The fifth stage is considered Hard to Surpass, because of the Bodhisattva’s requirement to practice the difficulties and intricacies of deep meditation (dhyana) and mind concentration (samādhi). The development of Buddhist wisdom (prajna) is transformative for the Bodhisattva, as well as realizing the four noble truths (aryasatya) in both the conventional (samvrti) and ultimate sense (paramartha).

6At the Doorstep of Enlightenment Stage (Abhimukhi Bhumi)

The sixth stage is at the Doorstep of Enlightenment, because the Bodhisattva is so close! The Bodhisattva understands the nature of dependent origination for all ordinary entities and objects (pratitya samutpanna). The Bodhisattva’s mind is now filled with the perfection of wisdom (prajna paramita) in conjunction with the realization of emptiness (sunyata).

7The Going Far Stage (Duramgama Bhumi)

The seventh stage is considered Going Far, as the Bodhisattva works on developing many aspects on the path: attainment of great compassion (karuna) for all sentient beings, full understanding of the five aggregates of the body and mind (skandha), great development of the aspiration for Enlightenment (bodhicitta), excellence in the perfection of energy, and the ability to convince non-Mahayana followers to switch to the Mahayana path through skillful and expedient means (upaya-kausalya paramita) and lead them onwards to Enlightenment.

8The Steadfast Immovable Stage (Acala Bhumi)

The eighth stage is called Steadfast and Immovable, as the Bodhisattva has gotten this far and has become aware of the definitive quality of their development on the Mahayana Path. This is a no-turning-back-now moment, where the Bodhisattva realizes and sees in a vision when and where Buddhahood will be attained in the near future.

9The Proficient Thoughts Stage (Sadhumati Bhumi)

The ninth stage is Proficient, because the Bodhisattva attains the perfection of the ten powers M 12 (bala paramita) of a Buddha, and the realization of possessing the perfection of wisdom (prajna paramita). This is also the stage the Bodhisattva prepares for leading all sentient beings to Enlightenment.

10The ‘Highest’ Doctrine Stage (Dharma Megha Bhumi)

The tenth and final stage is called the ‘Highest’ Doctrine, because the highest of perfection by the Bodhisattva is attained in the perfection of knowledge (jnana paramita). The literal translation of megha could be considered ‘up in the cloud’. The Bodhisattva now has the qualities of a full-fledged Buddha. Having mastered the entire path, they are now considered and recognized by all prior Buddhas. They have now completed the absorption and embodiment of the eternal doctrine (dharmakaya) in full.

Before you take the Bodhisattva Vow, Consider this!

The Bodhisattva Vow

Stages of the Path - The Origins of the Bodhisattva Bhumis

The 37 Bodhisattva Practices

Two Bodhisattvas

Chapter:Different Types of Consciousness Mental States Miscellaneous Section Analysis of Thought-Processes Process Freed Section Analysis of Matter Abhidhamma Categories The Compendium Of Relations Mental Culture