The name given to a being who aspires to Bodhi or Enlightenment. The Commentaries (e.g., DA.ii.427) define the word thus: Bodhisatto ti panditasatto bujjhanakasatto; bodhisankhātesu vā catusu maggesu āsatto laggamānaso ti Bodhisatto. See also AA.i.453. For a discussion of the meaning of the word see Har Dayal: The Bodhisativa Doctrine, pp.4ff.

The word can therefore be used in reference to all those who seek Nibbāna, including Buddhas, Pacceka Buddhas, and the disciples of Buddhas (Buddha-paccekabuddha-buddha-sāvakā), but is commonly used only of those beings who seek to become Buddhas. The word may have been used originally only in connection with the last life of a Buddha, in such contexts as "in the days before my Enlightenment, when as yet I was only a Bodhisatta”. E.g., M.i.17, 114, 163; so also in the Mahāpadāna Sutta (D.ii.13) and the Acchariyaabbhutadhamma Sutta (M.iii.119).

But already in the Kathāvatthu (e.g., 283 90, 623) the previous lives of Gotama Buddha and other saints had begun to excite interest and speculation.

In the developed form of the ideas regarding Bodhisattas, a Bodhisatta's career started with his making a resolution before a Buddha (abhinīhārakarana or mūlapanidhāna) to become a Buddha for the welfare and liberation of all creatures. In later literature, the abhinīhāra is preceded by a period during which the Bodhisatta practises manopanidhi, when he resolves in his mind to desire to become a Buddha without declaring this intention to others.

For the abhinīhāra to be effective, eight conditions should be fulfilled (Bu.ii.59; explained at BuA.75f. and SNA.i.48f): the aspirant should be

In the case of Gotama Buddha, his abhinīhāra was made at Amaravātī in the presence of Dīpankara Buddha. His name at that time was Sumedha (q.v.). The Buddha, before whom the abhinīhāra is made, looks into the future and, if satisfied, declares the fulfilment of the resolve, mentioning the particulars of such fulfilment. This declaration is called vyākarana, and is made also by all subsequent Buddhas whom the Bodhisatta may meet during his career. Having received his first vyākarana, the Bodhisatta proceeds to investigate the qualities which should be acquired by him for the purposes of Buddhahood (buddhakārakadhammā), in accordance with the custom of previous Bodhisattas. These he discovers to be ten in number, the Ten Perfection, (dasapārami):

Bu.ii.116ff. Sometimes thirty pāramī are spoken of, each of the ten being divided into three, varying in kind and degree. Thus, in the case of

In the case of Gotama Buddha, examples of births in which the ten pārami were practised to the highest degree are as follows: the Ekarāja, Khantivādī, Cūlla-Sankhapāla, Mahājanaka, Mahāsutasoma, Mūgapakkha, Lomahamsa, Sattubhattaka, Sasa, and Sutasoma Jātakas (BuA. 50; J.i.44f).

He also develops the four Buddhabhūmi (catasso buddhabhūmiyo) - 

explained respectively as zealousness (viriya), wisdom (paññā), resolution (adhitthāna) and compassion (mettābhāvanā).

He cultivates the six ajjhāsayas which conduce to the maturing of Enlightenment (bodhiparipākiyā samvattanti), these six being:

A Bodhisatta, during his career, escapes from being born in eighteen inauspicious states (atthārasa abhabbatthānāni). He is never born blind, deaf, insane, slobbery (elamūga) or crippled, or among savages (milakkkesu), in the womb of a slave, or as a heretic. He never changes his sex, is never guilty of any of the five ānantarikakammas, and never becomes a leper. If born as an animal, he never becomes less than a quail or more than an elephant. He is never born either among various classes of petas nor among the Kālakañjakas, neither in Avīci nor in the lokantaraka nirayas, neither as Māra, nor in worlds where there is no perception (asaññibhava), nor in the Suddhāvāsas, nor in the Arūpa worlds, nor ever in another Cakkavāla. SNA.i.50 f.

Besides practising the (thirty) pārami, all Bodhisattas must make the five great sacrifices (mahāpariccāgā) -  giving up

and must fulfil the three kinds of conduct (cariyā)

and the seven mahādanas as practised by Vessantara, which caused the earth to quake seven times. DA.ii.427; DhA.iii.441; the BuA. (116 f.) gives a story about Mangala Buddha which corresponds to that of Vessantara in regard to Gotama Buddha. See Kharadāthika.

The length of a Bodhisatta's career varies; some practice the pāramī for at least four asankheyyas and one hundred thousand kappas, others for at least eight asankheyyas and one hundred thousand kappas, and yet others for sixteen asankheyyas and one hundred thousand kappas. The first of these periods is the very least that is required and is intended for those who excel in wisdom (paññā). The middle is for those who excel in faith (saddhā); and the last and highest for those whose chief feature is perseverance (viriya) (SNA.i.47 f).

In their penultimate life all Bodhisattas are born in Tusita (see Buddha), where life lasts for fifty seven crores and six million years, but most Bodhisattas leave Tusita before completing their life span. Vipassī, e.g., was among the exceptions (DA.ii.427).

As the time for the announcement of their last birth approaches, all is excitement because of various signs appearing in the ten thousand world systems. The devas of all the worlds assemble in Tusita and request the Bodhisatta to seek birth as a human being, that he may become the Buddha. The Bodhisatta withholds his reply until he has made the Five Great Investigations (pañcamahāvilokanā) regarding time, continent, place of birth, his mother and the life span left to her. Buddhas do not appear in the world when men live to more than one hundred thousand years or to less than one hundred. They are born only in Jambudīpa and in the Majjhimadesa, and only of a khattiya or brahmin clan. The Bodhisatta's mother in his last birth must not be passionate or given to drink; she should have practised the pārami for one hundred thousand kappas, have kept the precepts inviolate from birth, and should not be destined to live more than ten months and seven days after the conception of the Bodhisatta.

Having satisfied himself as to these particulars, the Bodhisatta goes with the other devas to Nandanavana in Tusita, where he announces his departure from their midst and disappears from among them while playing. On the day of his conception, the Bodhisatta's mother takes the vows of fasting and celibacy at the conclusion of a great festival, and when she has retired to rest, she dreams that the Four Regent Gods take her with her bed, bathe her in the Anotatta Lake, clad her in divine garments, and place her in a golden palace surrounded by all kinds of luxury. As she lies there the Bodhisatta in the form of a white elephant enters her womb through her right side. The earth trembles and all the ten thousand world systems are filled with radiance. Immediately the Four Regent Gods assume guard over mother and child. Throughout the period of pregnancy, which lasts for ten months; exactly, the mother remains free from ailment and sees the child in her womb sitting crossed legged (like a preacher on a dais, says the Commentary DA.ii.436). At the end of the ten months; she gives birth to the child, standing in a grove, never indoors. Suddhāvāsa brahmins, free from all passion, first receive the child in a golden net, and from them the Four Regent Gods take him on an antelope skin and present him to his mother. Though the Bodhisatta is born free of the mucous otherwise present at birth, two showers of water -  one hot, the other cold -  fall from the sky and bathe mother and child. The child then takes seven strides to the north, standing firmly on his feet, looks on all sides, and seeing no one anywhere to equal him, announces his supremacy over the whole world and the fact that this is his last birth. (Gotama Buddha as the Bodhisatta, spoke, in three different births, as soon as born -  as Mahosadha, as Vessantara, and in his last birth, J.i.53).

Seven days after birth his mother dies. She dies because she must bear no other being. The Bodhisatta's time of conception is so calculated that the mother's destined life span completes itself seven days after his birth. From the Commentary (DA.ii.437; UdA.278) account it would appear that the age of the Bodhisatta's mother at the time of his birth is between fifty and sixty (majjhimavayassa pana dve kotthāsā atikkamma tatiyekotthāse).

The Bodhisatta's last birth is attended by various miracles. The Commentaries see, in the various incidents connected with the Bodhisatta's last birth, signs of various features, which came, later, to be associated with the Buddha and his doctrine; for details see DA.ii.439ff.

Soothsayers, being summoned, see on the child's body the thirty two marks of a Great Man (mahāpurisa), (for details of these see D.ii.17ff.; M.ii.136f. The reasons for these marks are given at D.iii.145ff ) and declare that the child will become either a Cakkavatti or a Buddha. His father, desiring that his child shall be a Cakkavatti rather than a Buddha, brings him up in great luxury, hiding from him all the sin and ugliness of the world. But the destiny of a Bodhisatta asserts itself, and he becomes aware of the presence in the world of old age, disease, death and the freedom of mind to be found in the life of a Recluse. In the case of some Bodhisattas (e.g., Vipassī) these four signs (nimittāni as they are called) are seen by them at different times, but in the case of others on one and the same day (DA.ii.457).

Urged by the desire to discover the cause of suffering in the world and the way out of it, the Bodhisatta leaves the world on the day of his son's birth.

Having left the world, the Bodhisatta practises the austerities, the period of such practices varying.

On the day the Bodhisatta attains to Buddhahood, he receives a meal of milk rice (pāyāsa) from a woman and a gift of kusagrass, generally from an ājīvīka, which he spreads under the Bodhi-tree (the Bodhi tree is different for each Bodhisatta) for his seat. The size of this seat varies;

Before the Enlightenment the Bodhisatta has five great dreams:

For the explanations of these dreams see A.iii.240f.; these dreams are referred to at J.i.69.

The next day the Bodhisatta sits cross legged on his seat facing the east, determined not to rise till he has attained his goal. The gods of all the worlds assemble to do him honour, but Māra (q.v.) comes with his mighty hosts and the gods flee. All day, the fight continues between Māra and the Bodhisatta; the pārami alone are present to lend their aid to the Bodhisatta, and when the moment comes, the Goddess of the Earth bears witness to his great sacrifices, while Māra and his armies retire discomfited at the hour of sunset, the gods then returning and singing a paean of victory. Meanwhile the Bodhisatta spends the night in deep concentration; during the first watch he requires knowledge of past lives, during the second watch he develops the divine eye, while during the last watch he ponders over and comprehends the Paticca-samuppāda doctrine. Backwards and forwards his mind travels over the chain of causation and twelve times the earth trembles. With sunrise, omniscience dawns on him, and he becomes the Supremely Awakened Buddha, uttering his udānā of victory, while the whole world rejoices with him.

For the Paticca-Samuppada see D.ii.31ff.; for the other details see J.i.56ff., where the story of Gotama is given. DA.ii.462ff gives similar details regarding Vipassī; BuA.248 says it is the same for all Bodhisattas.


The above is a brief account, as given in the books, of certain features common to all Bodhisattas. In addition to these, particulars of the personal career of the Bodhisatta who became Gotama, are found, chiefly in the Buddhavamsa and the Jātakatthakathā. It has already been stated that each Bodhisatta receives the vyākarana from every Buddha whom he meets, and Gotama was no exception.

The Jātakatthakathā gives particulars of other births of the Bodhisatta (to the births given below and taken from the Jātakatthakathā should be added those given in the Pubbapilotikhanda of the Apadāna i.299ff.; also UdA, and given Gotama )   e.g., as

In these and other births the Bodhisatta occupied various stations in life, such as that of an

The Bodhisatta was born

Many Jātakas mention the birth of the Bodhisatta among animals -  e.g.,

The Bodhisatta was born several times in the purgatories (Ap.i.299 ff). The wishes of Bodhisattas are generally fulfilled (J.iii.283; v.282, 291; vi. 401, 405, etc.), chiefly because of their great wisdom (J.iii.282) and zeal (J.iii.425). The wisdom of a Bodhistatta is greater than that of a Pacceka Buddha (J.iv.341).

See also Buddha.

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