January 5, 2005 · updated February 15, 2022

In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhisattvas are those who are on the path to Enlightenment, but have not yet attained it and become buddhas. Any living person who has embarked on the Bodhisattva path can thus be considered a bodhisattva.

The celestial bodhisattvas (those who dwell in the heavens) are those who are advanced enough to attain enlightenment at any time, but who have renounced final Enlightenment in order to help other beings.

Bodhisattvas are characterized by compassion and can be relied on to help those on the Buddhist path in their various ways. One of the most important bodhisattvas is the savior-goddess Tara, who the principal deity of Tibet. The following chart summarizes the identities and characteristics of other important bodhisattvas in Buddhism.

Sanskrit name






Japanese name Kannon, Kanzeon Monju Jizo Fugen Miroku
Chinese name Kuan Yin, Gwan Yin, Guanshiyin Wenshu Dizang (Tits'ang) Pu Hsien Mi-Lo-Fwo
Tibetan name Spyan-ras-gzigs Jam-dpal Sai-snying-po Adi Buddha  
English translation "The Lord who Looks in Every Direction" "Gentle Holy One" "Womb of the Earth" "He who is All-Pervadingly Good" "Loving One" or "Friendly and Benevolent One"
Symbols & imagery 1000 arms sword of wisdom in right hand, book in left monk holding a staff with six bells rides a six-tusked elephant (rep. conquest of the six senses) bag, large belly, jovial expression
Role Reaches out in compassion to save all sentient beings. Initiator and master of all Buddhas; bodhisattva of wisdom Consoles children and those in hell until the arrival of Maitreya. Protector of all who teach dharma, embodiment of the realization that sameness and difference are a unity. Helps anyone who calls on him to be reborn in the Pure Land.
Other Info Largest number of forms and perhaps most popular Buddhist deity. Feminine in China and Japan In China, has two acolytes: Jade Maiden and Golden Youth. Prominent in Buddhist Tantric ritual and mandalas. Great Tibetan teachers are often regarded as incarnations of Manjusri. Wrathful form is Yamantaka. Is especially important in Japan. Closely associated with Vairocana. Is considered a Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism. Central to Pure Land Buddhism and related Far Eastern sects.

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