The Mahayana Ideal:The Bodhisattva The Goals
Bodhisattvas • Boh – dee – sat - va • ‘Bodhisattva’ means ‘enlightenment being’ – someone who wished to become enlightened • Bodhisattvas act out of great compassion • In order to become fully enlightened, they put other beings first and delay their own enlightenment to help others become enlightened • By doing this they gain great kamma, and realise the ‘buddha-nature’ inside themselves and all other beings, and so actually become enlightened quicker. (Actually, they have been enlightened all along!)
Bodhisattvas were originally seen as people who became enlightened and acted out of great wisdom • However, unlike the earthly / human ideal (role model) of the Arahat in Theravada Buddhism, the Bodhisattva has become a more supernatural figure • There are a few key bodhisattvas that can be found all-throughout different Mahayana and Vajrayana schools • These bodhisattva-figures are often seen as embodiments of the Buddha
Bodhisattva Example: Avalokitesvara • Avalokitesvara (ava-lock-e-tesh-vara) is the Bodhisattva of compassion • Also known in Tibetan Buddhism as Chenresig (the Dalai Lama is seen to be an incarnation of Chenresig), and in female from, Tara • Bodhisattvas are a source of inspiration and guidance • They play an important role in worship and meditation (for example, worshipping or meditating upon the image of Avalokitesvara helps Buddhists become more compassionate)
Implications for Lay People • Lay (ordinary) people in Mahayana Buddhism are faced with a less ‘pessimistic’ situation than those in Theravada • Although it is true that Mahayana monks have more chance of becoming enlightened, lay people have bodhisattvas to call upon for help and inspiration • Aiming to become a bodhisattva should also help lay Buddhists be more compassionate (an important value in Buddhism) and thus gain more positive kamma and a better rebirth • Although Mahayana lay people also aim for a better rebirth, Nibbana does not seem such a distant and ‘unattainable’ goal. • They are ‘not alone’ as they have help along the way – it is a more motivational viewpoint.