Bodhisattva - List, Ideal & Definition

The individuals who are on the path to becoming Buddha or attaining salvation are known as Bodhisattvas. In Sanskrit, Bodhisattva means “a person who intends to become a buddha.

Bodhisattva is one of the ten realms of whose teaching are included in Buddhism. In this article, we shall discuss at length the meaning, ideals and list of Bodhisattvas. These are also important from the perspective of the Genera Studies paper for the IAS Exam. Aspirants must carefully analyse the aspects discussed further below. 

Bodhisattva [UPSC Notes]:-Download PDF Here

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Definition of Bodhisattva

Given below is the Bodhisattva definition based on the different schools of Buddhism.

  • As per Theravada, Buddha referred to himself as a Bodhisattva during all his incarnations. He proclaimed himself as Buddha only after he had attained complete enlightenment. Thus, by definition,
    • A being who is on the path to enlightenment is a Bodhisattva and attains the title of Buddha only after complete enlightenment
  • The Mahayana school of Buddhism defines Bodhisattva as “any being who intends to achieve enlightenment and Buddhahood

Buddhism and the related terms, its definition, schools and traditions, are all important parts of the UPSC Syllabus for both, the prelims and mains exam. 

Aspirants can get the NCERT Notes on List of Buddhist Councils and Important Texts at the linked article. 

List of Bodhisattvas

The important Bodhisattvas have been discussed below in detail.


Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva

(Image Credits: Wikipedia)

  • It is the Bodhisattva of compassion
  •  It is also known as Guanyin, which also means “Perceiver of all sounds
  • Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is depicted as a female, holding a lotus in the hand
  • It has been extensively described in the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important texts of the Mahayana school of Buddhism 
  • This Bodhisattva is able to hear the prayers and cries of all and help them by providing the required aid
  • Out of many of its forms, the Padmapani Lokesvara is one of the most popular ones. It means “Lord with a Lotus in hand
  • The Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva sculptures generally have a common Buddhist saying inscribed, that can be translated as “The Buddha has explained the cause of all things that arise from a cause. He, the great monk, has also explained their cessation.


Maitreya Bodhisattva

(Image: Wikipedia)

  • It is the Bodhisattva of the Future
  • It is believed that Maitreya is still not Buddha and resides in the Tusita Heaven, which is one of the realms of Buddhist cosmology
  • A popular representation of the Maitreya Boddhisattva is the Laughing Buddha. It is said to be an incarnation of Maitreya
  • It is believed to appear on the Earth in the future as many scriptures showcase it as the successor of Gautam Buddha, the present Budha


Manjushri Bodhisattva

Image: Wikipedia

  • It is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom
  • It is one of the most important iconic figures in Mahayana Buddhism
  • The meditation halls, libraries, and studies room of Buddhist monasteries often consists of image of Manjushri Bodhisattva
  • In Chinese Buddhism, Manjushri (Wenshu in China) is respected as one of the Four Great Bodhisattvas
  • Manjushri is represented as a male Bodhisattva
  • This iconic image wields a flaming sword “Vajra Sword of Discriminating Light” in the right hand, and a Blue Lotus flower in full bloom in the left hand


Samantabhadra Bodhisattva

Image: Wikipedia

  • It is the Bodhisattva of Practice and Meditation
  • Samantabhadra, Manjushri and Buddha, together form the Shakyamuni trinity in Buddhism


Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva

(Image: Wikipedia)

  • Ksitigarbha, in Sanskrit means “Womb of the Earth
  • He is the saviour of the oppressed, the dying, and the dreamer of evil dreams
  • Kritigarbha is said to be the Bodhisattva of Mortals


Vajrapani Bodhisattva

(Image: Wikipedia)

  • Vajrapani is the Thunderbolt-bearing Bodhisattva
  • He is one of the three protective deities around Buddha
  • In human form, Vajrapani is depicted holding the vajra in his right hand. He is sometimes referred to as a Dhyani-Bodhisattva, equivalent to Akshobhya, the second Dhyani Buddha


  • He is the Bodhisattva that manifests the never disparaging spiring
  • This bodhisattva never disparages living beings, never underestimates them or doubts their capacity for Buddhahood
  • The action of this bodhisattva is to remove the feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem in people


Also, known as the twin both of Ksitigarbha, the name Akasagarbha means “boundless space treasury

These are eight of the greatest Bodhisattvas in Buddhism and constitute an important part of the Buddhist beliefs and followings. IAS Exam aspirants must also learn about the Teaching of Buddha that revolves around the middle path of the living, the eight-fold path to enlightenment, and four noble truths.

Also, read:

What are the main beliefs of Buddhism? What is the highest goal of Buddhism?
How do Mahayana Buddhist worship? Why did Buddhism decline in India?
How does Buddhism view death? How did Buddhism spread outside of India?

Bodhisattva Art & Architechture

In comparison to the art and sculptures of Buddha, Bodhisattvas are represented as more princely figures. They drape a rich attire, with robes, threads, beads, elaborate hairdos, etc. 

Each Bodhisattva is represented through its expression and essence. Sculptures of these are widely spread across different parts of the world. 

As mentioned in Mahayana teachings, Buddha is firstborn as a Bodhisattva, and then after many lifetimes, progresses to attain Buddhahood. Thus, this is also a progressive approach and inspiration for Buddhist art and culture. 

Bodhisattva [UPSC Notes]:-Download PDF Here

Also, the images of Bodhisattvas have resulted in a lot of people mistaking Buddhism to be the same as Jainism, but it is not true. To know the Difference and Similarities between Buddhism and Jainism, aspirants can visit the linked article. 

For any further assistance with regard to the exam updates, study material and preparation tips, candidates can turn to BYJU’S for expert assistance. 

Other Related Links
Ancient History Questions in UPSC Prelims History Of Ancient India [NCERT Notes]
Medieval History Questions in UPSC Prelims History of Medieval India [NCERT Notes]
Modern History Questions for UPSC Prelims History of Modern India [NCERT Notes]

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