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Depiction of a seated Bodhisattva (Japan, Asuka , 7th century)

Bodhisattva ( Sanskrit , m., बोधिसत्त्व bodhisattva ; from Bodhi 'enlightenment' or 'awakening' and Sattva 'being') means “being of enlightenment” ( Pali bodhisatta ).

In Mahayana Buddhism , bodhisattvas are called beings striving for the highest knowledge who strive for "Buddhahood" on the way of "virtue perfection" (Sanskrit paramita ) or who realize it in themselves in order to use it for the salvation of all living beings. This initial motivation is called the " spirit of enlightenment" ( bodhicitta ) . Practitioners of various traditions of Mahayana recite bodhisattva vows, thereby expressing their will to follow this path themselves.

The core of the Bodhisattva philosophy is the idea of ​​not only attaining enlightenment for oneself and thus entering nirvana , but instead first helping all other beings to free themselves from the endless cycle of reincarnations ( samsara ) .

Bodhisattvas are typical Sambhogakaya ("joy body") forms in their classical representation .

The Eight Great Bodhisattvas of Mahayana

Statue of a Bodhisattva (China, Northern Qi , around 570 AD)
Avalokiteshvara -
Bodhisattva ( Guanyin ) of the Sui dynasty

In Mahayana Buddhism, the "Eight Great Bodhisattvas" are particularly important:

A distinction is made between earthly and supernatural bodhisattvas. The former are people standing in world life who, carried by kindness (maitri) and compassion (karuna) , use their services for the benefit of all compassionate beings (people and animals). The latter are supernatural ( transcendent ) beings who assist the beings in the same way and help them on the path of liberation.

The most famous transcendent bodhisattvas are:

Other bodhisattvas are among others:

  • Prajnaparamita , also Haramitsu , Hannya Bosatsu , Dai Hannya , Shes-rab-pha-rol-phyin , Bilig-un Chinadu Kichaghar-a Kürük-sen
  • Tare

Bodhisattvas in Theravada

The doctrine of the Bodhisattva is also known in Theravada Buddhism, the oldest and only still existing school of Hinayana . However, the Theravada teaches, in addition to reaching the Bodhi with the help of a Bodhisattva, above all the attainment of "enlightenment", of "awakening" through one's own effort. This ideal of the arhat , the “holy”, who strives to overcome the cycle of reincarnations (see also samsara ) out of his own effort, is not understood by the Mahayana as complete liberation. The only bodhisattva known in Theravada is the coming Buddha Maitreya .

Bodhisattvas in Japanese Buddhism

Soon after its arrival, Buddhism in Japan saw the need to incorporate the indigenous deities ( kami ) into its teaching traditions. Thus, over the course of many centuries, a dazzling Kami -Buddhist syncretism ( Shinbutsu-Shūgō ) developed, which the Kami u. a. interpreted as manifest traces of Buddhas and Bodhisattva or identified both with one another. In this way, the ideas of Japanese gods as well as the entire Shinto were lastingly shaped.

Reception in anthroposophy

The term was brought to the western world by Rudolf Steiner based on Helena Petrovna Blavatsky . He called Bodhisattva great spiritual leaders and teachers of mankind. Altogether there are 12 of these Christ- facing, divine-spiritual beings, of which only one appears in the world in human form. The term was only known in anthroposophical circles, where the so-called Bodhisattva question is discussed again and again: namely, who is the current Bodhisattva.


  • Analayo, The Genesis of the Bodhisattva Ideal, Hamburg Buddhist Studies 1, Hamburg University Press 2010 PDF (5.8 MB)
  • Shantideva; Crosby, Kate (trans.); Skilton, Andrew (trans.) (1998), The Bodhicaryavatara: A Guide to the Buddhist Path to Awakening, Oxford, ISBN 1-899579-49-4
  • Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. Taylor & Francis, 1989

Web links

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