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Literary and Social Differences Between the Arhat and the Bodhisattva

by Shimoda, Masahiro, Tokyo University

In accord with the remarkable development of recent philological investigation of Indian Buddhism, it has become undoubtedly obvious that the two types of Buddhism, traditional and Mahayana, shared their institutional backgrounds absolutely in common. Despite of this irrefutable identity in terms of institutional history, however, with regard to the content of the canon of each tradition, we still encounter between these two streams an impassable gulf fixed as ever, which seems ultimately to be represented by the two different images of Buddhist saint, arhat and bodhisattva. In addition, given this difference corresponds to that of Buddhist worlds known as the southern and the northern tradition, it seems very likely that the difference in ideology embedded in texts was in fact reflected in the actual history of Buddhism. Ideas are not always institutionally independent of, but are sometimes incarnating in history. In this presentation, I will first bring theoretically the contrast between the world of arhats and that of bodhisattvas’ into clear relief, and then illustrate how much the contrast is consonant with the difference of actual history.

Conference paper presented at Buddhism In (and Out of) Place Conference held 17-18 October 2004

Center for Buddhist Studies