A Bodhisattva is a being in the Buddhist cosmological hierarchy that has reach a stage of existence just before enlightenment. In fact, they could have attained enlightenment to become Buddhas but decides to delay it to reach out to other beings.
Anyone can be a Bodhisattva and will become one before attaining enlightenment. Therefore, many bodhisattvas have existed before and now.
Well known Bodhisattva
Some of the most well known Bodhisattvas in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism are:
Each of these Bodhisattvas has their own pilgrimage sites in China.
Aspirations of Bodhisattvas
Bodhisattva’s main role is to reach out to beings to help them in times of need or stress but the ultimate goal is to guide beings towards enlightenment. Bodhisattva’s are also assistants to Buddhas. The most well known are Guan Yin and Da Shi Zhi (大势至, Mahasthamaprapta), both assistants to the Amitābha Buddha, 阿弥陀佛.
Each Bodhisattva has their vows and aspirations. Guan Yin represents compassion and reaches out in any form to anyone in need of help. Di Zang Wang vowed to help beings in the lower realms to attain enlightenment before he himself would enter Buddhahood. Wen Shu on the other hand represents wisdom.
While different Bodhisattvas have different aspirations, an interesting observation about them is the desire to help all being with no conditions attached and no preconditions to receive help.
Spirit of a Bodhisattva
A Bodhisattva will reach out selflessly to anyone and any being in need of help. The person or being does not need to have worshipped the Bodhisattva or to declare his or her allegiance, faith or trusts in the Bodhisattva. Neither does anyone need to praise a Bodhisattva to get help.
Once they accomplish their mission, the Bodhisattva moves on; they do not need validation, prayer or praise from those whom they help.
Due to this virtue of selflessness, a bodhisattva is highly respected by Chinese Mahayana Buddhists. In fact, it is common to refer to a charitable and kind person as a living Bodhisattva.
The notion of a Bodhisattva is a concept worth emulating especially by the Non Profit and charity organizations. Charities should reach out to people or communities with respect. Social work or charity work should not be embarked with ulterior motive such as conversion of to the giver’s faith.
A Bodhisattva is therefore a being and also a state of being. You might have seen sculptures of Bodhisattvas and you may have met people who manifest the spirit of a Bodhisattva. In any case, they remind and encourage all beings to help one and another selflessly.