Who are the Bodhisattvas?

KsitigarbhaIn regards to the Mahayana Buddhist belief system, there are entities that are called the bodhisattvas, which are viewed as entities who are following the path towards Enlightenment, but have yet to attain the right to become a buddha. Any person on Earth, who has journeyed through the realm of the Bodhisattva path has earned the name of the bodhisattva.


There are bodhisattvas, who call the heavens their home, which are known as celestial bodhisattvas. They have come to a point where they could attain Enlightenment at any point in their life, but have declined the final stage of Enlightenment so that they could aid others. The main quality characterizing a bodhisattva is compassion, which is used to guide others on finding their way down the Buddhist religion.


Some bodhisattvas are better known than others. For example, one of the most important bodhisattvas is Tara, who represents the savior-goddess. She is considered the “principal deity” of Tibet. When studying Buddhism, you will find that there are various bodhisattvas that appear in text, including: Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Ksitigarbha, Samantabhadra and Maitreya. Below you will find a variety of identifying characteristics of some of the important bodhisattvas within the Buddhist religion.


 1) Avalokitesvara (The Lord Who Looks in Every Direction)


Also referred to as: Kannon, Kanzeon, Gwan Yin, Guanshiyin, Kuan Yin, Spyan-ras-gzigs


This bodhisattva is characterized by its 1000 arms, which are seen as tools for reaching out in compassion to save those who are willing to follow the Buddhist way. Avalokitesvara is considered one of the most popular of the Buddhist deities and can be found represented in a rather large amount of forms. In the Chinese and Japanese culture, this icon is represented as a feminine figure. In China, the bodhisattva is also known as the Jade Maiden or Golden Youth.


2) Maitreya (Loving One or Friendly and Benevolent One)


Also referred to as: Miroku, Mi-Lo-Fwo


Characteristics associated with this bodhisattva include an expression of extreme happiness, as well as a rather large stomach area. Maitreya is viewed as one who helps anyone who is in need of his help and is important in the rebirth of followers within the Pure Land. Maitreya is especially important within the belief system of Pure Land Buddhism and is prominent within Far Eastern sects of the religion.


3) Ksitigarbha (Womb of the Earth)


Also referred to as: Jizo, Dizang (Tits’ang), Sai-snying-po


A monk holding a staff with six bells attached represents this particular bodhisattva. Viewed as an important figure within Japanese Buddhism, Ksitigarbha is known to provide comfort to younger followers, as well as those who have been sent to hell.


4) Samantabhadra (He Who is All-Pervadingly Good)


Also referred to as: Fugen, Pu Hsien, Adi Buddha


Within Tibetan Buddhism, Samantabhadra is looked upon as a Buddha within this belief system. He is also closely related with Vairocana, which is seen as the universal perception of the historical Gautama Buddha. Samantabhadra is depicted as the rider of an elephant that possesses six tusks. These six tusks represent the conquest of the six senses. He is viewed as a protector of all who are teachers of dharma.


5) Manjusri (Gentle Holy One)


Also referred to as: Monju, Wenshu, Jam-dpal


Imagery associated with this bodhisattva is the sword of wisdom positioned in his right hand and a book in his left. Manjusri is known as the “initiator,” as well as the master of all Buddhas. Wisdom is the quality connected to Manjusri. In regards to Buddhist Tantric ritual and mandalas, this bodhisattva appears throughout. Tibetan teachers, who have reached a high level of greatness are sometimes viewed as an incarnation of Manjusri.