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Term for the historical Buddha Gautama prior to his enlightenment as well as for other individuals destined to become buddhas. In Mahayana Buddhism the bodhisattva postpones attainment of nirvana in order to alleviate the suffering of others. The ideal supplanted the Theravada Buddhist ideals of the arhat and the self-enlightened buddha, which Mahayana deemed selfish. The number of bodhisattvas is theoretically limitless, and the title has been applied to great scholars, teachers, and Buddhist kings. Celestial bodhisattvas (e.g., Avalokitesvara) are considered manifestations of the eternal Buddha and serve as savior figures and objects of personal devotion, especially in East Asia.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on bodhisattva, visit Britannica.com.