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Relief image of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara from Mount Jiuhua, Anhui, China

In Buddhist thought, a bodhisattva (Hindi, Devanagari: बोधिसत्व; Burmese: ဗောဓိသတ်;Sinhalese:බෝධිසත්ව ; Chinese: 菩薩; pinyin: púsà; Japanese pronunciation: bosatsu; Korean pronunciation: bosal; Vietnamese: bồ tát; Khmer:ពោធិសត្វ; Thai: โพธิสัตว์; Tibetan: སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་མཚན་གཤམ་གསལ།) is a being who is dedicated to achieving complete Buddhahood. Conventionally, the term is applied to beings with a high degree of enlightenment. Bodhisattva literally means a "bodhi (enlightenment) being" in Pali and Sanskrit. Mahayana practitioners have historically lived in many other countries that are now predominantly Hindu or Muslim; remnants of reverence for bodhisattvas has continued in some of these regions.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of bodhisattvas primarily respected in Buddhism.

Primary Bodhisattvas

Chinese: 虛空藏; pinyin: Xūkōngzàng; Japanese pronunciation: Kokūzō; Korean: 허공장; Vietnamese: Hư Không Tạng, Khmer: អាកាសគភ៌; Thai: พระอากาศครรภโพธิสัตว์; sinhalese:ආකාශගර්භ ;Tibetan: ནམ་མཁའི་སྙིང་པོ།, THL: Namkha'i Nyingpo) is a bodhisattva who is associated with the great element (mahābhūta) of space (ākāśa).

(Burmese: လောကနတ်; Chinese: 觀音; pinyin: Guanyin; Japanese pronunciation: Kannon; Korean: 관음; Vietnamese: Quán Thế Âm, Khmer:អវលោកិតេស្វរៈ , អវលោកេស្វរៈ , លោកេស្វរៈ; sinhalese:අවලෝකිතේශ්වර, නාථ, ලොකනාථ Thai: พระอวโลกิเตศวรโพธิสัตว์; Sinhalese: Natha Deviyo; Tibetan: སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་, THL: Chenrézik)

The bodhisattva of compassion, the listener of the world's cries who uses skillful means to come to their aid; the most universally acknowledged bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, also appears in Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism. This bodhisattva gradually became identified predominantly as female in East Asian Buddhism and its name may originally have been Avalokitāśvara.

(Chinese: 地藏; pinyin: Dìzáng; Japanese pronunciation: Jizō; Korean: 지장; Vietnamese: Địa Tạng, Khmer: ក្សិតិគភ៌; Mongolian: Сайенинбу; sinhalese:කශිතිගර්භ ;Thai: พระกษิติครรภโพธิสัตว์; Tibetan: ས་ཡི་སྙིང་པོ, THL: Sayi Nyingpo).

Kṣitigarbha is a bodhisattva primarily revered in East Asian Buddhism and usually depicted as a Buddhist monk. His name may be translated as "Earth Treasury", "Earth Store", "Earth Matrix", or "Earth Womb". Kṣitigarbha is known for his vow to take responsibility for the instruction of all beings in the six worlds between the death of Gautama Buddha and the rise of Maitreya, as well as his vow not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied. He is therefore often regarded as the bodhisattva of hell-beings, as well as the guardian of children and patron deity of deceased children in Japanese culture.

(Chinese: 大勢至; pinyin: Dàshìzhì; Japanese pronunciation: Daiseishi; Korean: 대세지; Vietnamese: Đại Thế Chí; Khmer: មហាស្ថាមប្រាប្ត; sinhalese:මහාස්තාමප්‍රාප්ත ; Thai: พระมหาสถามปราปต์โพธิสัตว์; Tibetan: Tibetan: མཐུ་ཆེན་ཐོབ, THL: Thuchen Thöb)

Mahāsthāmaprāpta (Korean: Daeseji) is a mahāsattva representing the power of wisdom, often depicted in a trinity with Amitābha and Avalokiteśvara, especially in Pure Land Buddhism. His name literally means "arrival of the great strength".

In some Buddhist texts such as the Amitabha Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, he is referred to as Ajita. Burmese: အရိမေတ္တယျ; Chinese: 彌勒; pinyin: Mílè; Japanese pronunciation: Miroku; Korean: 미륵; Vietnamese: Di-lặc, Khmer: សិអារ្យមេត្រី, អរិយមេត្តយ្យ; Mongolian: Майдар, Асралт; Sinhalese: මෙත්තෙය්ය, මෛත්‍රී බුදුන්; Thai: พระศรีอริยเมตไตรย; Tibetan: བྱམས་པ་, THL: Jampa).

According to Buddhism, Maitreya is regarded as the future buddha. In Buddhist tradition, Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on Earth in the future, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. According to scriptures, Maitreya will be a successor to the present Buddha, Gautama Buddha.[1][2] The prophecy of the arrival of Maitreya refers to a time in the future when the dharma will have been forgotten by most on the terrestrial world. This prophecy is found in the canonical literature of all major schools of Buddhism. Maitreya has also been adopted for his millenarian role by many non-Buddhist religions in the past such as the White Lotus as well as by modern new religious movements such as Yiguandao.

(Chinese: 文殊; pinyin: Wénshū; Japanese pronunciation: Monju; Korean: 문수; Vietnamese: Văn Thù, Khmer: មញ្ចុស្រី; Mongolian: Зөөлөн эгшигт;sinhalese:මංජුශ්‍රී ; Thai: พระมัญชุศรีโพธิสัตว์; Tibetan: འཇམ་དཔལ་དབྱངས།, THL: Jampelyang)

Mañjuśrī is a bodhisattva associated with prajñā (transcendent wisdom) in Mahayana Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, he is also a yidam. His name means "Gentle Glory".[3] Mañjuśrī is also known by the fuller Sanskrit name of Mañjuśrīkumārabhūta,[4] literally "Mañjuśrī, Still a Youth" or, less literally, "Prince Mañjuśrī".

Chinese: 普賢菩薩; pinyin: Pǔxián; Japanese pronunciation: Fugen; Korean: 보현; Vietnamese: Phổ Hiền,Khmer: សមន្តភទ្រ; Mongolian: Хамгаар Сайн; Sinhalese: සමන්තභද්‍ර ; Tibetan: ཀུན་ཏུ་བཟང་པོ, THL: Küntu Zangpo, Thai: พระสมันตภัทรโพธิสัตว์}

Samantabhadra, Universal Worthy is associated with practice and meditation. Together with the Buddha and Mañjuśrī, he forms the Shakyamuni trinity in Buddhism. He is the patron of the Lotus Sutra and, according to the Avatamsaka Sutra, made the ten great vows which are the basis of a bodhisattva. In China, Samantabhadra is associated with action, whereas Mañjuśrī is associated with prajñā. In Japan, Samantabharda is often venerated by the Tendai and in Shingon Buddhism, and as the protector of the Lotus Sutra by Nichiren Buddhism.

(Chinese: 金剛手; pinyin: Jīngāngshǒu; Japanese pronunciation: Kongōshu; Korean: 금강수; Vietnamese: Kim cương thủ, Khmer: វជ្របាណិ; sinhalese: වජ්‍රපානි ;Thai: พระวัชรปาณีโพธิสัตว์; Tibetan: ཕྱག་ན་རྡོ་རྗེ་, THL: Chakna Dorjé)

Vajrapāṇi (Sanskrit, "Vajra in [his] hand") is one of the earliest-appearing bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. He is the protector and guide of Gautama Buddha and rose to symbolize the Buddha's power.

Vajrapāṇi is extensively represented in Buddhist iconography as one of the three protective deities surrounding the Buddha. Each of them symbolizes one of the Buddha's virtues: Mañjuśrī manifests all the Buddhas' wisdom, Avalokiteśvara manifests all the Buddhas' compassion and Vajrapāṇi manifests all the Buddhas' power as well as the power of all five tathāgatas. Vajrapāṇi is one of the earliest dharmapalas mentioned in the Pāli Canon as well as be worshiped in the Shaolin Monastery, in Tibetan Buddhism and in Pure Land Buddhism, where he is known as Mahasthamaprapta and forms a triad with Amitābha and Avalokiteśvara.

Manifestations of Vajrapāṇi can also be found in many Buddhist temples in China, Korea and Japan as dharma protectors called the Niō (仁王) or "Benevolent Kings". They are two wrathful and muscular guardians of the Buddha standing today at the entrance of many Buddhist temples in East Asian Buddhism and are said to be dharmapala manifestations of Vajrapāṇi. They are also seen as a manifestations of Mahasthamaprapta in Pure Land Buddhism and as Vajrasattva in Tibetan Buddhism.[5] In some texts, he is also described as the manifestation of Sakka, the ruler of Tavatimsa Devas.[6]

According to Japanese tradition, they traveled with Gautama Buddha to protect him, reminiscent of Vajrapāṇi's role in the Ambaṭṭha Sutta of the Pali Canon. Within the generally pacifist tradition of Buddhism, stories of dharmapalas justified the use of physical force to protect cherished values and beliefs against evil. Vajrapāṇi is also associated with Acala, who is venerated as Fudō-Myō in Japan, where he is serenaded as the holder of the vajra.[7]


Four Great Bodhisattvas

There are several lists of four Bodhisattvas according to scripture and local tradition.

Popular Chinese Buddhism generally lists the following, as they are associated with the Four Sacred Mountains:

The Womb Realm Mandala of Esoteric Buddhism provides another enumeration. These bodhisattvas are featured in the Eight Petal Hall in the center of the mandala. They are as follows:

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra mentions four bodhisattvas, each of whom expounds a portion of the Fifty-two Stages of Bodhisattva Practice.

The Lotus Sutra provides a list of bodhisattvas that are the leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

Five Great Bodhisattvas

Chapter 7 of the Humane King Sutra provides an enumeration of five bodhisattvas, known as the "Five Bodhisattvas of Great Power (五大力菩薩)." There are two Chinese translations of this text, each providing an entirely different name to these figures. Their association with the cardinal directions also differs between versions.[8] They are as follows:

Old translation (Kumaravija) Direction New translation (Amoghavajra) Direction
無量力吼 West Vajrapāramitā (金剛波羅蜜多) Central
雷電吼 North Vajrayakṣa (金剛夜叉) North
無畏方吼 East Vajratīkṣṇa (金剛利) West
龍王吼 South Vajraratna (金剛宝) South
金剛吼 Central Vajrapāṇi (金剛手) East

Ten Bodhisattvas

Main article: Ten Bodhisattas

Ten Bodhisattas refer to ten future Buddhas as successors of Shakyamuni (Gautama) Buddha, in the following order.They are introduced as:

"Metteyyo Uttamo Rāmo, Paseno Kosalobibū, Dīghasoṇīca Caṅkīca, Subo, Todeyya Brahmano. Nāḷāgirī Pālileyyo, Bhodhisatthā imedasa anukkamena sabhodiṁ, pāpuṇissanti nāgate".

Sixteen Bodhisattvas

The Niṣpannayogāvalī provides a list of bodhisattvas known as the "Sixteen Honored Ones of the Auspicious Aeon." They also appear in a Sutra with the same title (賢劫十六尊). They are as follows, along with their respective associated directions:

East South West North
  • Maitreya
  • Amoghadarśana
  • Sarvāpāyajaha
  • Sarvaśokatamonirghātana

Another set of sixteen are known as the "Sixteen Great Bodhisattvas" and make up a portion of the Diamond Realm Mandala. They are associated with the Buddhas of the cardinal directions.

  • Vajraratna
  • Vajraketu
  • Vajrateja
  • Vajrahāsa
  • Vajradharma
  • Vajrahetu
  • Vajratīkṣṇa
  • Vajrabhāṣa

Twenty-five Bodhisattvas

According to the Sūtra on Ten Methods of Rebirth in Amitābha Buddha's Land (十往生阿彌陀佛國經), those people who are devoted to attaining rebirth in the Western Pure Land are protected by a great number of bodhisattvas. Twenty-five of them are given by name:


Tibetan: པདྨ་འབྱུང་གནས།, THL: Pemajungné, Mongolian: ловон Бадмажунай, Chinese: 莲花生大士; pinyin: Liánhuāshēng

Padmasambhāva "Lotus-Born", also known as Guru Rinpoche, is a literary character of terma,[10] an emanation of Amitābha that is said to appear to tertöns in visionary encounters and a focus of Tibetan Buddhist practice, particularly in the Nyingma school.

(Chinese: 伽藍; pinyin: Qiélán; Vietnamese: Già Lam)

Only revered in Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, Sangharama refer to a group of devas who guard viharas and the faith, but the title is usually referring to the legendary Chinese military general Guan Yu, who became a dharmapala through becoming a Buddhist and making vows.

(Chinese: 白傘蓋佛頂; pinyin: Bái Sǎngài Fúdǐng; Japanese pronunciation: Byakusangai Bucchō; Korean: 시타타파트라), Tibetan: གདུགས་དཀར།, Mongolian: Цагаан шүхэрт)

Sitātapatrā "the White Parasol"[11] is a protector against supernatural danger. She is venerated in both Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions. She is also known as Uṣṇīṣa Sitatapatra. Sitātapatrā is a powerful independent deity as she was emanated by Gautama Buddha from his uṣṇīṣa. Whoever practices her mantra will be reborn in Amitābha's pure land as well as gaining protection against supernatural danger and black magic.

Chinese: 韋馱; pinyin: Wéituó; Japanese pronunciation: Idaten; Korean: 위타천; Vietnamese: Vi Đà, Tibetan: གདོང་དྲུག་, THL: Dongdruk, Mongolian: Арван Хоёр Нууд) Skanda is regarded as a devoted guardian of viharas and the Buddhist teachings. He is the leader of the twenty-four celestial guardian deities mentioned in the Golden Light Sutra. In Chinese temples, Skanda faces the statue of the Buddha in the main shrine. In others, he is on the far right of the main shrine, whereas on the left is his counterpart, Sangharama, personified as the historical general Guan Yu. In Chinese sutras, his image is found at the end of the sutra, a reminder of his vow to protect and preserve the teachings.

Mentioned in Shantideva's Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra.

(Ch: 日光, Rìguāng, Kr. Ilgwang, Jp: Nikkō) One of two attendants of Bhaisajyaguru, together with Candraprabha.

(Ch: 月光, Yuèguāng, Kr. Wolgwang, Jp: Gakkō) One of two attendants of Bhaisajyaguru, together with Sūryaprabha.

(Ch. 多羅, Duō luó) Female bodhisattva, or set of bodhisattvas, in Tibetan Buddhism. She represents the virtues of success in work and achievements. Also a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara.

Vasudhārā whose name means "stream of gems" in Sanskrit, is the bodhisattva of wealth, prosperity, and abundance. She is popular in many Buddhist countries and is a subject in Buddhist legends and art. Originally an Indian bodhisattva, her popularity has spread to Theravadin countries. Her popularity, however, peaks in Nepal, where she has a strong following among the Buddhist Newars of the Kathmandu Valley and is thus a central figure in Newar Buddhism.[12] She is named Shiskar Apa in Lahul and Spiti.


  1. ^ Horner (1975), The minor anthologies of the Pali canon, p. 97. Regarding Metteyya, Bv XXVII, 19: "I [Gautama Buddha] at the present time am the Self-Awakened One, and there will be Metteyya...."
  2. ^ Buddha Dharma Education Association (2014). "Suttanta Pitaka: Khuddaka Nikāya: 14.Buddhavamsa-History of the Buddhas". Guide to Tipiṭaka. Tullera, NSW, Australia: Buddha Dharma Education Association. Retrieved 2014-12-21.
  3. ^ Lopez Jr., Donald S. (2001). The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to its History and Teachings. New York, USA: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0-06-069976-0 (cloth) P.260.
  4. ^ Keown, Damien (editor) with Hodge, Stephen; Jones, Charles; Tinti, Paola (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860560-9 p.172.
  5. ^ The illustrated encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism By Helen Josephine Baroni, Page 240
  6. ^ Getty, Alice (1988-01-01). The Gods of Northern Buddhism: Their History and Iconography. Courier Corporation. ISBN 978-0-486-25575-0.
  7. ^ "The gods of northern Buddhism". Wisdom Library. 29 May 2011.
  8. ^ "仁王菩薩". Digital Dictionary of Buddhism. Retrieved 2019-02-24.
  9. ^ Sotattakī Scripture, paragraph 87
  10. ^ Schaik, Sam van. Tibet: A History. Yale University Press 2011, page 34-5, 96-8.
  11. ^ The Cult of Tara: Magic and Ritual in Tibet (Hermeneutics: Studies in the History of Religions) by Stephan Beyer (1978) p.154
  12. ^ Pratapaditya, Pal. (1985) Art of Nepal. p. 32