The Mahayana Ideal: The Bodhisattva

The Mahayana Ideal:
The Bodhisattva
The Goals
• Boh – dee – sat - va
• ‘Bodhisattva’ means ‘enlightenment being’ –
someone who wished to become enlightened
• Bodhisattvas act out of great compassion
• In order to become fully enlightened, they put
other beings first and delay their own
enlightenment to help others become
• By doing this they gain great kamma, and realise
the ‘buddha-nature’ inside themselves and all
other beings, and so actually become
enlightened quicker. (Actually, they have been
enlightened all along!)
• Bodhisattvas were originally seen as
people who became enlightened and
acted out of great wisdom
• However, unlike the earthly / human ideal
(role model) of the Arahat in Theravada
Buddhism, the Bodhisattva has become a
more supernatural figure
• There are a few key bodhisattvas that can
be found all-throughout different
Mahayana and Vajrayana schools
• These bodhisattva-figures are often seen
as embodiments of the Buddha
Bodhisattva Example: Avalokitesvara
•Avalokitesvara (ava-lock-e-tesh-vara) is
the Bodhisattva of compassion
•Also known in Tibetan Buddhism as
Chenresig (the Dalai Lama is seen to be
an incarnation of Chenresig), and in
female from, Tara
•Bodhisattvas are a source of inspiration
and guidance
•They play an important role in worship
and meditation (for example, worshipping
or meditating upon the image of
Avalokitesvara helps Buddhists become
more compassionate)
Implications for Lay People
• Lay (ordinary) people in Mahayana Buddhism are faced
with a less ‘pessimistic’ situation than those in Theravada
• Although it is true that Mahayana monks have more
chance of becoming enlightened, lay people have
bodhisattvas to call upon for help and inspiration
• Aiming to become a bodhisattva should also help lay
Buddhists be more compassionate (an important value in
Buddhism) and thus gain more positive kamma and a
better rebirth
• Although Mahayana lay people also aim for a better
rebirth, Nibbana does not seem such a distant and
‘unattainable’ goal.
• They are ‘not alone’ as they have help along the way – it is
a more motivational viewpoint.