Spiritual Buddhist Wisdom

Arhats and Bodhisattvas In Relation to Functions

by Klare Hu, Class of 2017

From a non-buddhist point of view, Buddhism prevails in the society with mindfulness practices and virtues. While it is not untrue, there is more to it than the misconception that Buddhists are mere pacifists whose religious structure is free of rules and punishments. Contrary to popular beliefs, Buddhist cultivate in hope to become superior beings who has rid suffering and the infinite loop of reincarnation. There are two ways in which people choose to cultivate: one is to become an Arhat, a relatively expedient but arduous method, while the other is to become a Bodhisattva, benefiting people other than yourself along the way.

To become an Arhat means to renounce your past along with anything that attaches to it. You are to understand the impermanence of life, then, with good faith, make rational judgments along the way. Now, “rational judgment” in this context doesn’t mean objectiveness or expedience. Rational judgment means to act according to precepts that generally revolve around cutting off desires, selfishness, and emotions. It is about letting go of the worldly matters and stay unaffected by it. This could mean not helping a person in pain if it violates your precepts or your integrity. Precepts are to be firmly upheld, moreover, practiced on a daily basis along with religious rituals.

Metaphorically, the process of becoming an Arhat is akin to saving yourself on a boat when everyone else drowns. Though it may seem brutally cold-blooded, the intentions are justified as not saving yourself out of individual interest, but to save more people once you become a B_ddha. This is a practice that requires you to recognize that before you are able to save other living beings, you must first cultivate and endure suffering. It is very important to know your place before reaching out to help others. By upholding precepts and living a rather ascetic lifestyle, these practitioners not only burn their karmas and gain blessings but they also come closer to their B_ddha nature. Once they are no longer troubled by their karmic retributions, then they will be able to rescue those still in grave suffering.Buddhism puts an emphasis on steering away from desires and anything that clouds our mind. The reason Buddhists are not allowed to endorse in recreational drugs or alcohol is that these chemicals give false sense of self and deludes our perceptions of reality.

Even when times are tough, we have to be fearless against it. To attain Arhatship, we will have to take away our sense of ego and a false sense of security. In the end, they hope to attain Buddhahood and rescue other living beings from the cycle of birth and death. The expected end result of Arhatship sets it apart from the attainment of Bodhisattva.

Generally, Bodhisattvas and Arhats share the common goal to leave the vicious cycle of death and getting reborn again. However, the approach greatly differs from one another. Becoming a Bodhisattva bargains for the well-being of other living beings. They are those who see others’ needs before themselves, whose sole goal is to help others reach the other end of the shore. While this practice of selflessness creates greater positive impacts on the world, it is relatively harder to get across the seas of suffering. The duration of suffering prolongs since you would create more offense as you carry more people on your ship. Unlike the practice of Arhatship, being a Bodhisattva requires toleration and a more flexible application of the Buddhist concepts. When Bodhisattvas cross over living beings, many things are circumstantial, and hence the solutions have to be flexible. Say, a man broke his leg and is in great pain. If a woman aiming to become a Bodhisattva sees this, then regardless of his gender, she would still commit to helping him out of the situation. This act of kindness ends his suffering but violates the part where opposite sexes are to abstain from each other as much as they can. Thus, in contrast to the hundreds of rules monastics have to obey to become Arhats, there are only a handful of “guidelines” one follows to become a Bodhisattva called the “six paramitas”. These are non-specific concepts that practitioners apply in their lives as best as they can.

The six paramitas consists of prajna (wisdom), dana (giving), virya (effort), dhyana (meditation), kshanti (patience), and sila (kai or precepts). In Buddhism, the true nature of all things is of emptiness and non-substantial and therefore, equal. Wisdom recognizes wisdom of equality and dismisses all kinds of distinctions and discernments, treating everything on the same plane. People with wisdom see the rich and the poor as the same, they have no desire to pursue money and external wealth as they would with their innate Buddhahood.

Dana (giving) refers to the giving both externally and internally. Externally, it could be a gesture of kindness by handing over money to those in need. Internally, it could be bringing peace to the minds of others, eradicating their afflictions. This involves self-sacrifices for some cases and an ability to see things through others’ lenses at all times. Although Bodhisttvas practice the making of such offerings, Shakyamuni Buddha teaches that such offerings should not be carried out with a heart attached to the act of giving. Bodhisattvas should be detached to the giving, the receiver and the object given. With such in mind, giving is very often fused with wisdom of non-attachment.

Virya (effort) pertains to the perseverance to practice all five of the other paramitas. Again, like giving, it means both mental and physical devotion to one’s cultivation. Effort, however, if not guided by wisdom is blind effort and not the true effort sough for in this context. Understanding that everything is circumstantial may adjust ourselves to make better judgments and apply the right efforts to enlightenment.

But without patience, your plans of cultivation might not stick to the end as well. This practice focuses the mind to attain inner tranquility. Once attained, truth will be perceived without outer disturbances, availing us to make correct judgments. Meditation is one way to achieve higher levels of patience by focusing the mind.Patience also means external composure, since a tranquil state of mind will project its emotion state to the body.

All these are ways that improve ourselves as sentient beings. Math has long been known to run analogous to nature and possibly humanities. In scrutiny, we can muster a few things where math is parallel to cultivation. In our case, we will be examining both logistic and exponential functions, with their representation in a Buddhist fashion.

Logistic function, generally expressed as f(x)=1/(1+e^(-x)), is continuous yet bounded above and below. It is analogous to all sentient beings, where we range from insects whose consciousness underdeveloped to humans whose consciousness are fully developed but not overreaching to become Arhats or one who is no longer bounded by life and death.

Below x=0 is the ripe stage of hells, where the levels of suffering goes on infinitely as shown on the number line, there is a negative infinity as well as a positive infinity. Above x=1, is the stage of sages – Arhats, Bodhisattvas, Buddhas and so on. The reason why in logistic functions, we can only approach x=1 but never actually exceeding it, is that we beings are trapped in our individualistic views, where we will always be one and cannot consider others as ourselves. One, is singular, and it signifies our ego that cannot benefit others like we are benefiting ourselves. Once we become Bodhisattvas, our sense of self will no long be one, instead it will be multiply into many. When we see suffering, we experience suffering. There is no distinction between one and many, we are ultimately the same body of thoughts. Earth Store Bodhisattva illustrates this idea rather well. In his famous saying “I also will find thousands of expedient ways to cross over such living beings.”, his compassion is determined to help eradicate the endless and limitless karmas of living beings. He sees us as one all together, and vows to cross every living being over before he becomes a Buddha. Our karmas are limitless and endless, likewise, Earth Store Bodhisattva’s vow is endless and inexhaustible, in this case, approaching positive infinity.

The logistic function also increases as it progresses. This continual trend can be understood as the betterments cultivators make as they advance their understanding in Buddhism and apply them into real life. And when they finally cross themselves over to the other land, they will then become exponential functions where its rapid ascension is both boundless and limitless.

The exponential function looks like a curve that goes way up into infinity. Once we understand Buddhahodd, we will be able to exercise unfathomable powers to cross over living beings. Take for example Guan Shr Yin Bodhisattva, who is able to exist in many different forms with her awesome spiritual powers after she attained enlightenment. Her merits and virtues are limitless as she cross over numerous and incalculable amount of living beings. Her compassion is like the morning sun, not painfully bright, but warm and welcoming that reaches to everyone and anyone.

Application of the exponential function could also signify an exploration of oneself after getting in touch with the peaceful nature of Buddhism. A person aiming to become an Arhat must uphold precepts that will avail them to steer clear of improper thoughts. Therefore their minds are at peace, translucent and proper. Given the conditions, this will build up to a major self-exploration that is, unforeseen but impactful. Without outside influences, practitioners will be able to interrogate themselves to know themselves better. It is like finding the key to unlock the secret land of thyself, gaining knowledge that would only better oneself on the path of cultivation. Hence the upward trend in exponential functions also means a never ending pruning process of self-discovery and improvement on our personalities.

Now, in the exponential function, we also notice the x and y-axises. The x-axis represents beginning, where the function will never touch because there is no beginning nor ending to anything on this world, that we can only guess to explain the beginning of our life. The narrowing space between the function and y=0 as x approaches infinity is our idle thoughts attempting at explaining the complex nature of life, but with no luck.

Y-axis represents existence. When the function crosses the y-axis, it reads (0,1), where our existence guarantees that we base our experiences on our ego, which is one. The concept of ego being one has been aforementioned in the previous paragraphs, and now being used in exponential functions, this shows that everything are all interconnected. The continuity in both logistic and exponential function reminds us that we are all on the same boat, that there is a interconnection between every existence, even when people or objects are seemingly inconsequential. It is like a ripple effect where your every action wimples the world of another and expands uncontrollably like the upward trend in exponential functions that approach infinity.

The logistic and exponential functions are both strong indicators of Buddhism if seen through the right lenses. I learned that math is what surrounds us tirelessly. It can exist as a philosophical concept or something tangible like the dimensions of the table. Today, these two functions are keys to unlock the Dharma door, and help us better understand the Buddhism under the light of life.