The emergence of Bodhisattva is central to Mahayana sect of Buddhism, which emerged during the fourth council of Buddhism held in 1st century A.D at Kashmir during the reign of Kanishka.
- The worship of images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas became an important part of this tradition.
Bodhisattva was thought of in the schools of the Great Vehicle or Mahayana not as a being who was soon to become a Buddha, but as one who would bide his time until even the smallest insect had reached the highest goal. The old ideal (in Hinayana Buddhism) of the Arhant, the ‘”Worthy“, who achieved Nirvana and would be reborn no more, began to be looked on as rather selfish. Instead of striving to become Arhants, men should aim at becoming Bodhisattvas, and by the spiritual merit which they gained assist all living things on the way to perfection. The idea of transference of merit is a special feature of the teaching of the Great Vehicle.
According to the Lesser Vehicle or Hinayana Buddhism a man can only help another on the way by example and advice. Each being must be a lamp unto himself, and work out his own salvation. Thus, Bodhisattva is an ideal, an aspirant of Buddhahood (buddhatva) who works for the enlightenment of all sentient beings in contrast to that of one’s own emancipation of the Arhat (an ideal in non-Mahāyāna traditions).
o Avalokiteśvara: Avalokiteśvara is, conceivably, the most popular of all Mahayana Bodhisattvas. He is seen as the most compassionate savior of the universe. He is compassion-incarnate who is concerned with every bit of sufferings of all beings in their everyday life.
o Manjuśri: Manjuśri is the Bodhisattva of wisdom and enlightenment. He is associated with the role of interlocutor on the questions regarding ultimate truth.
o Tara or Shayama Tara, also known as Jetsun Dölma in Tibetan Buddhism, is an important figure in Buddhism. She appears as a female bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, and as a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism.
o Kṣitigarbha: Another important Bodhisattva in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism is Kṣitigarbha. Kṣitigarbha saves the sentient beings during the period between the death of Sakyamuni Buddha and the future advent of Maitreya Buddha.
o Maitreya: Maitreya is the future Buddha. The idea is that there were many previous Buddhas, and there will be many future Buddhas. If there will be future Buddhas, then the being who is to come next as the Buddha must be the one who has advanced on his Bodhisattva path. That being is Maitreya. Maitreya is the only Bodhisattva accepted by both Mahayana and non-Mahayana traditions.
o Other prominent Bodhisattvas mentioned in the Buddhist Sanskrit literature are Samantabhadra, Amitabha, Vajrapani.
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