Boddhisattvas – An Introduction

In reality Buddhists do not believe in God as a sustainer and creator of the Universe. But in the Buddhist pantheon there are hundreds of Gods. To serve a particular purpose in Buddhist Cosmology many of them have been borrowed from the Hindu Pantheon or adapted from it. In appearance some are human like while others look like monsters. Some have multiple arms and heads while others hold various objects. Some serve as guardians and protectors of the entrance gates. According to the sect and the period in which the temple was constructed, the images found in the temples vary. In Mahayana Buddhism, Celestial beings like Gods and Goddesses play a bigger role than in Theravada Buddhism.

Some of the Buddhist Gods are Avalokiteshwara(the eleven headed God of mercy), Harati(Goddess of fertility), Nagas(mythical serpent Gods), Panchika(God of riches), Guanyin(Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) Garuda(mythical Bird), Yakshas and Yakshis(Male and female spirits associated with fertility) Kinaras or Gandharvas(Celestial musicians), Asparas(angels), Dharmpalas(demon like creatures that stomp on human bodies).


In many cases, these entities are not referred to as Gods but as Boddhisattvas. A Bodhisattva is a term used to refer to a being bound for enlightenment or on the path to liberation. In the Jataka tales the Buddha generally refers to himself as a Bodhisattva.

There are said to be three types of Boddhisattvas-

1. King- like Boddhisattva-One who aspires to achieve Buddhahood or total liberation and then help others on their path to salvation.

2. Boatman-like Boddhisattva-One who aspires to become Buddha along with other sentient beings

3. Shepherd –like Boddhisattva-One who wishes to delay his Buddhahood until all other sentient beings become Buddha like Avalokiteshwara and Shantideva.

Some boddhisattvas appears across traditions but are seen as separate entities due to language barriers.  Hence in Mahayana Buddhism, the Boddhisattva Chenrezig(The Boddhisattva of Compassion) is Avalokiteshwara  in Sanskrit, Guanyin in China, Kannon in Japan, Natha in Sri Lanka and Quan Am in Vietnam. Some say he has 108 names. In Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lamas and Karmapas are considered emanations of Chenrezig.