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 thus 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 the most important bodhisattvas in Buddhism.

Sanskrit name







Japanese name

Kannon, Kanzeon



Fugen Miroku

Chinese name

Kuan Yin, Gwan Yin, Guanshiyin


Dizang (Tits'ang)

Pu Hsien


Tibetan name




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


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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