Heavenly beings and deities

Bodhisattva (Skt., Chin. pusa, Jap. bosatsu) means ‘awakened being’ (Skt. bodhi, ‘awakening’, and sattva, ‘being’), but the name is often translated as ‘enlightened being’. 

Ancient texts describe the historical Buddha as a bodhisattva before his awakening. With the growth of Mahayana Buddhism, the concept evolved that a bodhisattva delays attainment of his own nirvana, or extinction, out of a sense of compassion for other beings. He chooses to stay in the world to help them on their path to supreme knowledge.

Having acquired supreme knowledge, the bodhisattva is no longer subject to the dimensions of time and space. This allows him to appear in different places in different manifestations simultaneously. In art, bodhisattvas are usually depicted in the robes and rich jewels of an Indian prince.


«I vow that should I gain redeeming insight, I will forego the opportunity to enter into the bliss of nirvana and voluntarily undergo rebirth in the cosmos to serve as a source of support and encouragement for all sentient beings until comes the time when not a single being is trapped in the cycle of birth and death. No matter how many aeons it may take for everyone to be ready to attain ultimate bliss, I will not enter before them, for who knows how many of them have been my mother or others of my loved ones in previous lives.»1

Bodhisattva vow, 7th/8th century


1 Example of a bodhisattva vow, quoted after Alois Payer, Materialien zur buddhistischen Ethik, Lehrveranstaltung Ethik des Buddhismus, Univ. Tübingen, Ch. 8, Besonderheiten des Mahayana,, last accessed 24. 09. 2018, translation by NS.