(Last Updated on : 15/01/2011)
The term bodhisattva literally means "essence of Bodhi". A Bodhisattva takes the vow not to enter into Nirvana until and unless all sentiments have been achieved to complete "Buddhahood".
A bodhisattva refers to living in an enlightened state. It may also refer to the person (enlightened being). In Buddhism this word was first used by Buddha. He referred to himself before attaining enlightenment. Hence in Buddhism this word indicates to one who will definitely achieve enlightenment. The word Bodhisattva can be found in the early Pali scriptures. While in Theravada Buddhism the Bodhisattvas are said to be the maitreyas in Mahayana sect they are the good Samaritans who can help the laymen to escape the pain and suffering of this world.
Bodhisattvas have to go through ten stages or bhumis in order to attain Enlightenment. Stage 1: The perfection of giving - dana, Stage 2: The perfection of morality - sila stage 3: The perfection of patience - khanti, Stage 4: The perfection of vigor - viriya, Stage 5: The perfection of meditation - dhyana ,Stage 6: The perfection of wisdom - prajna ,Stage 7: The perfection of skill-in-means - upaya-kausalya ,Stage 8: The perfection of aspiration - pranidhana, Stage 9: The perfection of power - bala, Stage 10: The perfection of knowledge - jnana .
There are 10 grounds on which the Bodhisattvas have been classified in Mahayana Buddhism. Compassion or Karuna is a major concept in this sect. Mahayana school emphasizes that wisdom needs to be tempered with compassion.
: The first one in the range is the Avalokitesvara whose literal meaning is `the lord who looks down`. He looks down with sympathy (Karuna). He is shown with eleven heads and with many arms .His picture reflects his ability and the readiness to help people who are suffering. Ksitigarbha is another Bodhisattva who promised not to attain `nibbana` until and unless those who are trapped in hell are freed. It is also believed that he also offered protection to travelers and children. He is probably the most popular bodhisattva in Buddhism. Although depicted in masculine form in places like China and Japan he is worshipped in a feminine form. His name is mentioned in the Lotus Sutra. Representing the compassion of all the Buddhas he looks down on the world with pity and concern.
Tara: She is the consort of Avalokitesvara. From the tears shed by Avalokitesvara there took place the birth of one female Bodhisattva and was known as Tara. She is different form in Buddhism. Tara is portrayed as having seven eyes, one on each hand and foot and three in her face. But the two most important forms are the White and the Green Taras. She is the savior goddess and is worshipped as a maternal figure. She never disappoints the needy. The origin of this deity is rooted in Hinduism. Several legends are associated with Tara. Unique characteristic of Tara is her compassionate nature somewhat similar to that of Avalokitesvara.
He is responsible for teaching the doctrine of emptiness or sunyata. This bodhisattva is more popular in Tibet. He is always concerned about the enlightenment of his followers. He is not the self-centric sage who is only concerned about his own upliftment. Manjushri is also known as the Resplendent Buddha. Manjushri is associated with wisdom and courage and stands for `gentle glory`. In his right hand he is shown holding a five-pointed sword, which signifies cutting through the bonds of ignorance. The book that he holds in his left hand symbolizes the Prajnaparamita or wisdom literature of Mahayana Buddhism.
Samantabhadra: Samantabhadra stands for `universal virtue`. He is often portrayed as riding an elephant that has six tusk, the six tusk represent the six perfections or paramitas: giving patience, morals, vigor, meditation and wisdom. Renowned for his ten vows this Bodhisattva respects all Buddhas and transfer merit to all beings.
The most important aspect of the bodhisattvas is that they do their utmost to save the sentient beings from agony and misery. They never detach themselves from the Buddhist followers. Some of the bodhisattvas also refuse enlightenment without their followers. In Mahayana Buddhism, it is the duty of the Bodhisattva to help all beings on their conquest for the highest state of development. This type of motivation is known as bodhicitta (`citta` means mind).
: While the Chinese school presents him as a bodhisattva, he is also seen simply as a monk. Ksitigarbha is supposed to preach the Buddhist principles to the beings of the six worlds. He is also considered one of the important bodhisattvas in Buddhism.
: Vajrapani is another Bodhisattva and is depicted as a blue wrathful deity .He has two or four arms and a tiger skin wrapped around his waist .The Vajra, which is a five tined wand signifies the combination of wisdom and compassion. Hence he is named Vajrapani, which signifies the power of all Buddhas.