What is a boddhisatva?
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painted head of an Asian man
A bodhisatva from the Horyuji
monastery in China (600s AD)

A bodhisatva, in Buddhist religion, was a holy man or woman who was special, closer to God than other people, like a holy man in ancient West Asia, or a saint in Christianity.

Among Buddhists, the main goal of life was to become enlightened so that you could stop being reincarnated when you died, and instead enter nirvana (like Heaven) and be one with God. Boddhisatvas were people who had achieved enlightenment, and could enter nirvana, but chose to stay on Earth anyway so they could help other people towards enlightenment.

In his previous incarnations, before he was the Buddha, the Buddha was a boddhisatva. Some other famous bodhisatvas are Kuanyin and Jizo.

Learn by doing: visit a Buddhist temple
More about Nirvana
More about Buddhism

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Buddhism:

More about Buddhism
More about Indian religion
More about India
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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