Who is Bodhisattva in Buddhism?
Bodhisattva is any person who is on a path towards Buddhahood. The Bodhisattva also refers to anyone who takes a decision to become a Buddha. In the early Buddhist schools and in modern Theravada Buddhism, the future Buddha is already predicted by the living Buddha.
The Bodhisattva can also be defined as the person who has generated or achieved Bodhicitta in Mahayana Buddhism. Bodhicitta is the mind that makes an effort to help sentient beings.
The other abstract definition of a Bodhisattva refers to a person who has already achieved enlightenment but still remains on the cycle of Samsara as a teacher to promote enlightenment to the sentient beings.
I think his holiness, Dalai Lama can be an example of a living Buddha. It is believed that the Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Chenrezig. He renounced Nirvana in order to help mankind.
Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism
Mahayana Buddhism is utterly based on the path to Bodhisattva. The ultimate purpose of Mahayana Buddhist is to help the sentient beings to liberate himself from the cycle of Samsara.
Rather than freeing themselves, the Mahayana Buddhist takes a vow to help the other beings to attain enlightenment.
Mahayana Buddhism inspires everyone to take a path of Bodhisattva to achieve Enlightenment by taking Bodhisattva vows. With these vows, one makes a commitment to work for the achievement of enlightenment of the sentient beings by practising six perfections.
In Mahayana, there are various concepts on the nature of a Bodhisattva. Some define Bodhisattva as a person on a path to Buddhahood whereas others define Bodhisattva as renouncing Buddhahood.
According to Kunzang Lame Shelung, a Bodhisattva can take any of the three ways to help the sentient beings in the process of attaining Buddhahood.
- King-like Bodhisattva – one who tries to liberate himself as soon as possible and help the other sentient beings in his fully awakened state
- Boatman-like Bodhisattva – one who tries to achieve Buddhahood along with the sentient beings
- Shepherd-like Bodhisattva – one who delays his own Buddhahood until he helps all the other sentient beings to achieve Buddhahood. Avalokiteshvara and Santideva fall into this category.
According to some of the Tibetan, schools believe that there is no point in delaying their own Buddhahood in order to help others. So, they give importance to only King-like Bodhisattva.
However, the Nyingma school believes that the lowest level to attain Buddhahood is the way of King-like Bodhisattva. They believe the highest level is that of the shepherd. A shepherd always makes sure the sheep arrive safely before him.
Bodhisattva in Theravada Buddhism
In Theravada Buddhism, the Bodhisattva is referred to as anyone who is on a path of enlightenment. The term “Bodhisatta” was often used by the Buddha himself during his own liberation.
While walking the path of liberation, the Buddha regularly uses the phrase ‘When I was an unenlightened Bodhisatta’. Therefore, the term Bodhisatta refers to a person whose aim is to become fully liberated.
In the Pāli Canon scripture, the Bodhisatta is also described as a person who is still subject to the cycle of Samsara. That means the person is still subjected to birth, illness, death, sorrow and delusions.
Similarly, in the earliest century, King of Srilanka was also described as the Bodhisattvas. The first king Sirisanghabodhi was regarded as Mahasatta. He was renowned for his compassion and also took vows for the welfare of the citizens. Up until the 15th century, many of the other SriLanka kings were recognized as the Bodhisattvas and their royal duties were connected with the practice of the Ten Paramitas.
The contrast between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism definition of Bodhisattva
There is a very significant difference between the Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism definition on Bodhisattva. The Mahayana Buddhist believes, a Bodhisattva is a being who suffers himself in order to liberate the other sentient beings. However, a Theravada Buddhist believes Bodhisattva as the highest and noblest ideal.
Prominent Bodhisattva in the history of Buddhism
Avalokiteshvara is one of the most popular and significant Bodhisattvas in the history of Buddhism. This Bodhisattva is worshipped in the form of a woman in countries like China and Japan.
It is believed the Avalokiteshvara has a significant role in the development of Mahayana Buddhism in countries like India, Nepal, China, Japan, Korean.
The goddesses Tara is considered as the Shakti of Avalokiteshvara. She is also sometimes referred to as the wife of Avalokiteshvara. The Goddesses is accepted in Mahayana Buddhism however in Theravada Buddhism the Tara is not considered.
The interesting history of Tara is that she used to be worshipped as the manifestation of the Hindu goddess Parvati but later in the 6th century, she entered Buddhism.
There are various forms of Tara in Buddhism. Some of them are:-
- Green Tara
- White Tara
- Red Tara
- Black Tara
- Khadiravani Tara
- Chittamani Tara
Manjushri is also one of the significant Bodhisattva in Buddhism. The Sanskrit name of Manjushri is “Manjusrikumarabhuta”.
According to the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, Manjushri was identified as one of the oldest and most significant Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Literature.
The mantra of Manjushri is chanted as “Om A Ra Pa Ca Na Dhih“