Bhutans religion | Buddhism | The image of the Buddha | The bodhisattvas

The Bodhisattvas

The figure of the Bodhisattva - the »being of enlightenment« - is an important feature of Mahayana Buddhism. For the followers of the newer Buddhism it became the model of the realisation of the path of redemption.

A bodhisattva is someone who has chosen the path of enlightenment. His efforts to attain the redeeming insight, however, are not directed at his own release, but are directed by altruistic motivation: Compassion with all living beings becomes more important than the finality of the redemption of oneself. When he has reached enlightenment, he does not enter nirvana, instead, he continues to actively help with the release of all beings who are suffering in the cycle of rebirths. Unless all beings - not only human beings, but also animals and gods - have been led to enlightenment, a bodhisattva will not accept the nirvana he has earned for himself.


In this way, bodhisattvas are understood as the embodiment of the qualities of the Buddha and are seen as emanations of the Buddhas so that they can be active for the good of all living beings. The ideal of the bodhisattva marks the beginning of a long and arduous life as Buddhist: One sets out on the path to evoke the thinking of elightenment with the idea not to do this for oneself, but for the benefit of all living beings.

People ask bodhisattvas for help with various problems. Monks ask for support in their striving for enlightenment, farmers for the fertility of their fields, or soldiers for protection from the threats of war.

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Copper with fire-gilding; partially painted, set in with turquois; 19th century; H: 23 cm; loan from Tobgye S. Dorje
All appearances of Tara are embodiments of the protective activity of the enlightened compassion. Seeing that enlightenment ripens on the soil of active compassion, Tara is also known as the »Mother of all Buddhas of the three ages«. Her left leg, which rests on the lotus throne, shows her remaining in meditation; her dangling right foot indicates that she so acts for the benefit of all beings. Her left hand is raised in the »gestures of threefold refuge«; her right hand rests on the knee in the »gesture of granting wishes«. The lotus flowers on both sides show that, due to her kindness, enlightened beings may always come forward.

Thangka, H: 95 cm, B: 70 cm; loan from Michael Rutland
The Bodhisattva Vajrapani is seen as an emanation of the Buddhas Akshobhya. The angry appearance is meant to destroy all obstacles on the the way to enlightenment. In this way he also guards the secretive tantric teachings.