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Table of contents
1 Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism
2 Bodhisattvas in Theravada Buddhism
3 Specific bodhisattvas
4 External link
5 References

Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism

In Mahayana Buddhism, a Bodhisattva (Sanskrit: a person bent on and striving for Enlightenment) is a being with the determination to aid others, out of compassion, on their quest for the highest state of liberation, Nirvana. Having remained in this world of endless rebirth (Wheel of Life), this individual has taken the Bodhisattva's vow not to pass into Nirvana until all other beings have achieved liberation.

According to the Mahayana tradition of buddhism, on his/her way to becoming a buddha, bodhisattva proceeds through ten stages called bhumi in sanskrit.

  1. Great Joy
    • It is said that being close to enlightenment and seeing the benefit for all sentient beings, one achieves great joy. Thence the name. In this bhumi the bodhisattvas practice all virtues(paramita), but especially emphasizing generosity.
  2. Stainless
    • It is named thus, for having attained the second bhumi, the bodhisattva is free from the stains of immorality. The emphasized virtue is moral ethics.
  3. Radiant
    • It is named thus for, having attained the third bhumi, the light of Dharma is said to radiate for others. The emphasized virtue is patience.
  4. Luminous
    • This bhumi is called 'luminous', because it is said to be like a radiating light that fully burns that which opposes enlightenment. The emphasized virtue is perservance.
  5. Very difficult to train
    • Bodhisattvas who attain this bhumi strive to mature sentient beings and do not become emotionally involved when they respond negatively, both of which are difficult to do. The emphasized virtue is meditative concentration.
  6. Obviously Transcendent
    • "By depending on the perfection of wisdom awareness, he [the bodhisattva] does not abide in either samsara or nirvana, so it is obviously transcendent". The emphasized virtue is wisdom.
  7. Gone afar
    • Particular emphasis is on the perfection of skillfull means [to help others].
  8. Immovable
    • Particular emphasis is on the perfection of aspiration.
    • This is the bhumi at which one becomes able to choose his/her place of rebirth.
  9. Good Discriminating Wisdom
    • Particular emphasis is on the perfection of strength.
  10. Cloud of dharma
    • Particular emphasis is on the practice of primordial wisdom.
  11. Buddhahood
    • After the ten bhumis, according to Mahayana buddhism, one attains the complete enlightenment and becomes a buddha.
    • According to Mahayana tradition, Arhats have purified their stains and all emotional afflictions, but have not yet attained complete, unsurpassable enlightenment, or buddhahood.

The list of ten bhumis and their descriptions are from The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, a treatise by Gampopa, an influential character of the Kagyu tradition.

Bodhisattvas in Theravada Buddhism

In Theravada Buddhism, the Bodhisatta (Pali) is an aspirant striving for Enlightenment, so that once Awakened, he or she may efficiently aid other beings with the expertise of supreme Enlightenment. In the holy Tipitaka, Siddhattha Gotama's life experience as a bodhisatta before Buddhahood is recorded in the texts of the Jataka. Lay Buddhists of Theravada seek inspiration in Gautama's skill as a good layman in these text (which account not only tell of his historical life, but many previous lives). A famous, and presently practicing bodhisatta, is Maitreya (Pali: Metteyya), the soon future Buddha to be who is currently residing in the Tusita world awaiting future rebirth.

A bodhisattva practices several virtues, called the paramitas. Once attaining full Enlightenment, the bodhisatta becomes an Arahant, has 'done what had to be done' and is never again reborn into the Wheel of Life. A later development in the Mahayana school, drawing influence from the Hindu religion, is the ability for bodhisattvas to control their future rebirth, and in doing so, almost angelically saving the unfortunate and secular. This new ability takes on not rebirth but reincarnation, alien to Buddhist law, and is denied by the Theravada school of thought which is known for its orthodoxy.

Specific bodhisattvas

Various traditions within Buddhism believe in certain specific Bodhisattvas. Some Bodhisattvas appear across traditions, but due to language barrirers, mistakenly are seen as separate entities because of the different names and titles. For example, Tibetan Buddhists believe in Chenrezig, who is Avalokitesvara in India, Guan Yin in China, and Kannon in Japan. A modern bodhisattva for many is the 14th Dalai Lama, considered by many as the incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Bodhisattvas are a popular subject in Buddhist art.

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