Bodhisattva: Definition and Facts - What is Bodhisattva?

What is Bodhisattva?

In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is an enlightened person who delays reaching Nirvana in order to help others reach Nirvana. Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism have different attitudes towards bodhisattvas. In the Theravada tradition, a person can achieve complete enlightenment as an individual without becoming a bodhisattva. In contrast, Mahayana take a dim view of such individuals and argue that in order to achieve true and complete Nirvana, one must become a bodhisattva.

Bodhisattva Meaning

Bodhisattva (Sanskrit: meaning "Awakened Truth" or "Enlightenment Being") refers to savior-like figures found in Mahāyāna Buddhism as well as distinctive Mahayana beliefs and practices that cultivate savior-like qualities. The Bodhisattva figures are famous for embodying compassion and other noble qualities. They take the "Bodhisattva Vow" to forsake their individual enlightenment in order to aid in the awakening (bodhi) of all beings.

The bodhisattvas are distinct from the arhat in three ways: 1) their motivation seeks to aid all beings rather than themselves, 2) their goal is complete enlightenment for all instead of extinguishing merely one's own suffering, and 3) they see sunyata (emptiness) as the deepest truth. As a result, the bodhisattva path is often presented as distinctive practices of Mahāyāna Buddhism that distinguish it from the Theravadan tradition. This doctrine provides a model of an engaged form of Buddhism that does not run away from the suffering of the world, but actively seeks to end it for all beings.
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