A Sanskrit term meaning literally a being of bodhi (or enlightenment), a being destined for enlightenment, or one whose energy and power is directed toward enlightenment. A bodhisattva is one who is destined to become a Buddha but has foregone the bliss of nirvana with a vow to save all children of God on earth.
In the Mahayana school of Buddhism, becoming a bodhisattva is the goal of the Path. The path of the bodhisattva is generally divided into ten stages, called bhumis. The bodhisattva strives to progress from one stage to the next until he obtains enlightenment.
Geshe Wangyal defines bodhisattva as
“Offspring of the Conqueror.” One who has vowed to attain enlightenment for the sake of all living beings. The term bodhisattva refers to those at many levels: from those who have generated aspiration to enlightenment for the first time, through to those who have actually entered the Bodhisattva path, which is developed through the ten stages and culminates in enlightenment, the attainment of Buddhahood.
The Buddhist philosopher and sage Nagarjuna, in his book written around the second century, defined what a Bodhisattva is:
The essential nature of all Bodhisattvas is a great loving heart, and all sentient beings constitute the object of its love. Therefore, all the Bodhisattvas do not cling to the blissful taste that is produced by the diverse modes of mental tranquilisation, do not covet the fruit of their meritorious deeds, which may heighten their own happiness....
With a great loving heart they look upon the sufferings of all beings, who are diversely tortured in Avici Hell in consequence of their sins—a hell whose limits are infinite and where an endless round of misery is made possible on account of all sorts of karma [committed by sentient creatures]. The Bodhisattvas filled with pity and love desire to suffer themselves for the sake of those miserable beings.
But they are well acquainted with the truth that all those diverse sufferings causing diverse states of misery are in one sense apparitional and unreal, while in another sense they are not so....
Therefore, all Bodhisattvas, in order to emancipate sentient beings from misery, are inspired with great spiritual energy and mingle themselves in the filth of birth and death. Though thus they make themselves subject to the laws of birth and death, their hearts are free from sins and attachments. They are like unto those immaculate, undefiled lotus-flowers which grow out of mire, yet are not contaminated by it.
Their great hearts of sympathy which constitute the essence of their being never leave suffering creatures behind [in their journey towards enlightenment].
For more information
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Maitreya on Initiation
Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Saint Germain On Alchemy: Formulas for Self-Transformation.
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Maitreya on Initiation.
- Geshe Wangyal, trans., The Door of Liberation (New York: Lotsawa, 1978), p. 208.
- Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism (1907; reprint, New York: Schocken Books, 1963), pp. 292–94.