Introduction

Bodhisattvas are beings who are dedicated to the universal awakening or enlightenment of everyone. They exist as guides and providers of succor to suffering beings and offer everyone an approach to meaningful spiritual life.

In this course we explore seven major bodhisattva figures of the Mahayana tradition who represent various aspects of enlightened activity and awareness and are forces for well-being in our lives:

  Manjushri, expounder of wisdom
  Samantabhadra with shining practice
  compassionate Avalokiteshvara (perhaps more familiar as Kannon, Guanyin, or Chenrezig)
  Kshitigarbha (more familiar as the Japanese Jizo)
  Maitreya, the future Buddha (well known in the guise of the Chinese fat, laughing buddha)
  Vimalakirti, the enlightened layman
  the historical Buddha Shakyamuni (before becoming the Buddha, himself a bodhisattva known as Siddhartha Gautama)

Each of these bodhisattva figures and their stories are valuable psychological and spiritual resources. The archetypal bodhisattva figures are living and evolving as dynamic embodiments of spiritual life and activity and are not the property of any particular tradition or religious institution.

We explore the iconography, teachings, folklore and history of each bodhisattva, as well as the ways that each manifests the paramitas, the ten perfections. And for each bodhisattva we look at modern exemplars, personages from non-Buddhist spiritual traditions. Doing so helps us see the bodhisattvas as spiritual helpers in the world quite apart from any restriction or allegiance to the “Buddhist religion.” As we will see, the bodhisattvas are not glorified, exotic, unnatural beings but simply our own best qualities in full flower.

This course is based on Faces of Compassion: Classic Bodhisattva Archetypes and Their Modern Expression (Taigen Dan Leighton, Wisdom Publications, 2003), as well as workshops given by Taigen