Bhumi (Skt. bhūmi; Tib. ས་, sa, Wyl. sa), stage or level — the word bhumi literally means ‘ground’. Just as the ground is the support for everything, both animate and inanimate, the bhumis are said to be ‘supports’ for enlightened qualities. So this term is used when referring to the stages a practitioner traverses on the path to enlightenment.
There are eight bhumis on the path of the basic vehicle, the ten bhumis of the bodhisattva path, with the eleventh being buddhahood, and thirteen in the Tantrayana. The Dzogchen teachings sometimes speak of sixteen bhumis.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has said:
- What makes a bhumi? Simply, it is a combination of wisdom and method. In Sanskrit, bhumi literally means earth, land or country – it can refer to many things. For example, in Indonesia, the language has a lot of Sanskrit influence. In their official forms, they use words like ‘bhumiputra’ when they talk of citizenship. We use the name ‘bhumi’ for the combination of wisdom and method because the ground or earth acts like a container for all things to function. For example, you can hoist this tent because of the ground. Likewise, all the enlightened qualities can grow on the base of the combination of wisdom and method.
Although bhumi is often translated literally as "ground", it has been questioned whether it makes sense in English to speak of a first ground, second ground and so on. For this reason, some translators prefer to translate it as "stage" or simply to leave it untranslated.
- The Two-Volume Lexicon explains that a bhumi is so called because it is the support for attaining the qualities of the next level while also being the ground of qualities at any given stage. (sa gong ma'i yon tan thob par bya ba'i rten du 'gyur zhing/ sa de nyid yon tan gyi gzhi yin pas na sa zhes bya)
- Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Introduction to the Middle Way, Khyentse Foundation, 2003, p.24
- "...the translations "ground, earth," etc. for bhūmi may be examples of Buddhist Hybrid English (I am not sure "the first bodhisattva ground" makes much sense). The Skt. word means essentially the surface of the earth, any habitable surface, or one on which one can stand, hence it also means the floor of a house or building, hence, "story" (as in British "storey") or "level," and then, metaphorically as in English, "stage" or "ranking." I realize that saying that a bodhisattva progresses through ten levels or stages does not sound very poetical, but going through "ten grounds" is not poetical either." Luis O. Gómez, 'The Way of the Translators: Three Recent Translations of Sântideva's Bodhicaryâvatâra'. Buddhist Literature I (1999) p.310.