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Kuan Yin statue of a woman sitting with one knee up and her arm resting on her knee

A Song Dynasty statue of the boddhisatva Guanyin

What is a boddhisatva?

A boddhisatva, in Buddhist religion, was a holy man or woman.  They were special, closer to God than other people. They were like holy men in ancient West Asia, or saints in Christianity.

Buddhists who were enlightened

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

Famous examples

In his previous incarnations, before he was the Buddha, the Buddha was a boddhisatva. A lot of Jataka Tales are stories about the good deeds the Buddha did when he was a boddhisatva. But there are lots of other famous boddhisatvas. Many of them are from China, where Buddhism spread in the 400s AD. Some famous Chinese boddhisatvas are Guanyin and Jizo.

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

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Buddhism:


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