Shakyamuni Buddha

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Exemplars of bodhisattva Shakyamuni

There are no exemplars for the whole of buddhahood except another buddha, but we can pose examples to clarify and illustrate particular aspects of the bodhisattva archetype demonstrated by Siddhartha on his way to awakening. The familiar persons cited in this and other chapters are not claimed to be incarnated Buddhist bodhisattvas in any sense. But each of them has done something that might be recognized as an example of bodhisattva activity, as have many ordinary, unknown people now and through the ages.

The main archetypal bodhisattva features exemplified by Siddhartha start with the choice between worldly, material pursuits and spiritual concern and commitment. This choice is precipitated by an awakening to the suffering of the world and its creatures, including but not limited to oneself. The pivotal point in the story of Shakyamuni as bodhisattva is his home-leaving, abandoning his position and the comfort of a sheltering palace for the sake of his spiritual quest. Such home-leaving may be enacted in external situations or symbolically and psychologically. This is followed by the archetypal quest for truth, featuring the great effort to undergo austerities, and then the wisdom to find the balance of a middle way that makes perseverance and breakthrough possible.