In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Bodhisattva

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Chinese Literature
  • Japanese Literature

Buddhism Bodhisattva
James B. Apple
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 December 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0048


A bodhisattva (Pāli bodhisatta; Tib. byang-chub sems-dpa’; Ch. pusa; Jpn. bosatsu) is generally considered to be a person (sattva) in pursuit of awakening (bodhi) to become a buddha. All Buddhist traditions acknowledge the figure of the bodhisattva, but they differ on its interpretation. Bodhisattvas in non-Mahayana forms of Buddhism are mainly considered to be the previous lives of Siddhārtha Gautama that are worthy of veneration. The bodhisattva in Mahayana forms of Buddhism is an ideal that all Buddhists may cultivate and that is committed to attaining awakening for the benefit of all beings. The manner in which bodhisattvas are understood in different Buddhist cultures, such as in Tibet or Southeast Asia, is dependent on the Buddhist literature that is accessible or acceptable to the particular culture and the interpretative attention and practices affiliated with that literature.

General Overviews

Several introductory studies that focus on or discuss bodhisattvas have been published since the late 20th century. The Dayal 2004 reprint, though outdated, still remains the most thorough overview of the doctrines related to bodhisattvas in Buddhist Sanskrit literature. Kawamura 1981 provides a series of important conference presentations on bodhisattvas. Katz 1989 examines the Buddhist ideal of the bodhisattva compared with arhats and mahāsiddhas. Leighton 2003 presents a discussion of the bodhisattva ideal and interprets great “mythical” bodhisattvas in terms of archetypal figures. Rahula 1971 provides an important overview of the bodhisattva ideal in Theravada and Mahayana forms of Buddhism. Ray 1994 discusses bodhisattvas as Buddhist saints of the forest in Mahayana sutras. Sangharakshita 1999 provides a prescriptive account of the bodhisattva as an altruistic figure who cultivates wisdom balanced with compassion to benefit all beings.

  • Dayal, Har. The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2004.

    Although often considered outdated, this publication contains the most thorough discussion of the major doctrines related to bodhisattvas in Buddhist Sanskrit literature. This publication is a reprint of the 1932 edition.

  • Katz, Nathan. Buddhist Images of Human Perfection: The Arahant of the Sutta Piṭaka Compared with the Bodhisattva and the Mahāsiddha. 2d ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989.

    Study that examines the bodhisattva as one type of Buddhist image of human perfection.

  • Kawamura, Leslie S., ed. The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhism. Papers presented at the Calgary Buddhism Conference, 18–21 September 1978. SR Supplements 10. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1981.

    Important collection of conference proceedings that focus on the history and development of bodhisattva doctrines.

  • Leighton, Taigen Daniel. Faces of Compassion: Classic Bodhisattva Archetypes and Their Modern Expression. Rev. ed. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003.

    Book that compares great bodhisattvas to archetypal figures.

  • Rahula, Walpola. “L’idéal du bodhisattva dans le Theravada et le Mahayana.” Journal Asiatique 259 (1971): 63–70.

    Introduction to the notion of the bodhisattva both in Theravada and Mahayana forms of Buddhism.

  • Ray, Reginald A. Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

    Study on holy persons in Buddhist culture, with a section on bodhisattvas in the forest.

  • Sangharakshita. The Bodhisattva Ideal: Wisdom and Compassion in Buddhism. Birmingham, UK: Windhorse, 1999.

    Book on the bodhisattva ideal as embodying the virtues of wisdom and compassion.

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