Bodhisattva Saints of the Forest in
In the preceding chapters, the three major types of Buddhist saint prominent in pre-Mahāyāna Indian Buddhism have been examined: the buddha, the pratyeka- buddha, and the arhant. This chapter contains discussion of a fourth type of Buddhist holy person, who comes into prominence only in the Mahāyāna sūtras, the bodhisattva. 1 The bodhisattva is not unique to the Mahāyāna; in the Nikāya traditions, as we have seen, this type is understood as defining the ideal of a buddha from the time of his vow to complete enlightenment until the moment when he attains buddhahood. The Nikāya evidence, in fact, preserves an extensive tradition of stories (jātaka) told about SŚākyamuni as a bodhisattva prior to his final life and similarly attributes to all other world-redeeming buddhas previous existences as bodhisattvas. In addition, as is well known, the Nik ya texts also contain descriptions and discussions of the bodhisattva and his career. 2 For the pre-Mahāyāna, the bodhisattva is an important type of saint but is relatively rare, because the arhant functions as the primary enlightened ideal of Nikāya Buddhism, whereas buddhas were few and those who aspired to become buddhas were not commonly known. The distinctive Mahāyāna doctrine of the bodhisattva represents, then, not so much the invention of a new type of saint as the bringing into prominence and fleshing out of a type that was already understood to exist, but that had been--at least in the evidence--recessive.
Three types of bodhisattvas--those of forest, city, and monastery--are documented in the Mahāyāna. In earlier texts, the bodhisattva of the forest, to be examined in this chapter, frequently has a unique normativity. It may at first glance seem contradictory that the highest form of this compassionate, self-giving, and other-oriented ideal should be a solitary figure, withdrawn from the world, meditating in a remote forest hermitage. The Mahāprajñāpāramitā Śāstra, however, shows how the contradiction is only apparent:
Question: For the Bodhisattva, the rule is to save all sentient beings. Why does he seclude himself in the forests and fens, solitude and mountains, preoccupied with only himself, thus abandoning beings? Answer: Although the Bodhisattva is physically secluded from others, his mind never abandons them. In his solitary retreat (śāntavihāra), he practices meditation