How Free is the Bodhisattva in Deliberate Rebirth?
Yoke-meei Choong (宗玉媺)

        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.

        根據大乘經典,菩薩進入菩薩初地之後便能如願轉生。一些學者認為「如願轉生」是已斷盡煩惱,不再輪迴的菩薩的轉生。這將意味菩薩斷盡煩惱愛欲後,還能留在世間,並且投入母胎。這樣的說法與早期以及聲聞佛教的說法相牴觸。根據早期以及聲聞佛教,投胎轉生需要依靠愛欲,也即是煩惱。同樣的,《般若波羅蜜經》也有這樣的說法。此經典經常勸勉菩薩修空時,不可斷漏或煩惱的根本,因為菩薩還須留住世間利益眾生以及累積功德,以便圓滿佛道。可見, 菩薩如願轉生需要依靠愛欲,《般若波羅蜜經》與早期以及聲聞佛教是一致的。雖然如此,《般若波羅蜜經》以及此經注釋書的作者師子賢都提到如願轉生。因此,此經提供了研究菩薩道上如願轉生的基礎。