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The word bodhisatta (Pali), bodhisattva (Sanskrit) is a compound made up of the Sanskrit words bodhi meaning ‘enlightenment’ and ÷akta meaning ‘attached to.’ Thus a bodhisattva is a being who has dedicated his or her self to attaining enlightenment. In the Tipitaka the word bodhisatta is used exclusively for the Buddha before his enlightenment. The Jàtaka stories are, according to tradition, accounts of the Buddha’s life and deeds as a bodhisatta. In the Theravada, it represents a being on the way to enlightenment whereas in the Mahayana it has come to mean a being vowing to stay in samsara to help all beings to enlightenment, to the point of foregoing nibbana (nirvana in Sanskrit). Mahayana Buddhism recognises many bodhisattvas, the most important being Maitriya and Avalokiteshvara. According to Mahayana, these and other bodhisattvas have taken a vow to attain complete enlightenment and been reborn in a heavenly realm from where they often respond to people’s prayers for help.


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