Buddha vs Bodhisattva

So during a recent dinner with some of my friends, the topic of Buddhism came up. The topic of 菩薩 (pu sa) came up and I made the claim that 菩薩 (pu sa) was translated to Buddha in English. I mean 菩薩 (pu sa) does in fact sound like Buddha. Immediately there were many objections. They argued that Buddha was really one person and it was Siddhartha, the one who found Buddhism in India.

I then brought up, what about Happy Buddy (or Laughing Buddha). Happy Buddha is typically depicted with a big belly with little children around him. This was obviously not the same Siddhartha.

So I claimed that any name with ___菩薩 (___ pu sa), was really ___ Buddha. The example I brought up was 觀音菩薩 can be translated to Guan Yin Buddha.

Since none of us really knew enough about Buddhism (despite most of us being Asian), the topic ended there with no satisfactory answer.

When I got home, I decided to do my research and I was surprised by how different it was than I imagined. Using Babelfish, Buddha was translated to 菩薩 (pu sa), but translating that back to English resulted in Bodhisattva. Then again, Babelfish translation should never be used for any type of proof.

Apparently I was wrong in saying 菩薩 (pu sa) was Buddha, when the correct word I believe should be 佛 (fo). 菩薩 (pu sa) instead translates to Bodhisattva, a word I have never heard of or used until now, but it’s a common suffix used by many of the gods/idols in ancient Chinese folktale.

My friends however were somewhat incorrect in saying there is only 1 Buddha. The fact is there’s been 28 incarnations already, the last one being Gautama Buddha (Siddhartha). They’ve even predicted the 29th Buddha and has named him Maitreya Buddha. Something fascinating about how one becomes a Buddha is the fact there are certain criteria that has to be met.

Buddha is another word to refer to the “awakened one” or one who has reached the state of perfect enlightenment.

In the Pali Canon and the Theravada tradition, the term ‘buddha’ usually refers to one who has become enlightened (i.e., awakened to the truth, or Dharma) on their own, without a teacher to point out the Dharma, in a time when the teachings on the Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path do not exist in the world, and teaches it to others. More broadly, it is occasionally used to refer to all who attain nirvana. By comparison, those who awaken due to the teachings given by a Buddha are known as Arahants, a title also applied to Buddhas. Arahants and Buddhas are the same in the most fundamental aspects of Liberation (Nirvana), but differ in their practice of perfections paramis.

In the Mahayana tradition, the definition of Buddha extends to any being who becomes fully awakened. The Theravada Arhant would be considered a kind of Buddha (although not generally by Mahayana Buddhism itself) in this Mahayana sense, and this usage also occurs in the Theravada commentaries.

In other words, someone can only reach Buddhahood ONLY if teachings of Buddhism have been lost and you have found the teachings on your own and awaken/become enlightened. No wonder there’s only been 28 so far, as one has to wait for the teachings of Buddhism to be lost, to be able to become a Buddha. Of course it later mentions that more broadly, it refers to all who reaches nirvana.

From this article:

Some Bodhisattvas live in the Tuṣita Heaven before they descend to the human realm to become Buddhas. A bodhisattva may be thought of as an individual near to becoming a buddha.

So it appears that if a 菩薩 (pu sa) descends into the human realm when teachings of Buddhism have been lost and rediscovers these teachings and teaches it to others, this 菩薩 (pu sa) would have reached Buddhahood.

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