How Free is the Bodhisattva in Deliberate Rebirth?
Yoke-meei Choong

     In the spiritual hierarchy of the bodhisattva-path, the bodhisattva is regarded as being able to be reborn in any form of existence that they wish from the first level onward (hereafter “deliberate rebirth”). Some scholars understand deliberate rebirth as rebirth of bodhisattvas who have abandoned all defilements and have escaped from cyclic existence. This implies that bodhisattvas can be reborn and remain in cyclic existence even after they have abandoned all desire or defilements. If this is the case, it contradicts the teachings of mainstream Buddhism, which states that rebirth must be led by desire, that is, defilement. In an early Mahāyāna text, the Prajñāpāramitā, bodhisattvas are expected not to end all their defilements because, by doing so, they will be deprived of the opportunity to remain in cyclic existence to help other sentient beings and fulfill the requirements for Buddhahood. This shows that the Prajñāpāramitā aligns with mainstream Buddhism on the requirement of desire or defilement of rebirth, even for bodhisattvas. Despite this, the Prajñāpāramitā and its commentary by Haribhadra mention deliberate rebirth. Thus, the Prajñāpāramitā furnishes a solid foundation for understanding deliberate rebirth in the context of the bodhisattva’s ideal.
     This paper deals with the mechanism of the bodhisattvas’ deliberate rebirth that corresponds with free choice in the form of future existence on one hand and the bondage of karma on the other. Moreover, it identifies the underlying forces in some extended passages of the Prajñāpāramitā’s long versions that could lead to the misinterpretation that bodhisattvas’ rebirths are karma-free.