Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun An enlightened being who, out of compassion, forgoes nirvana in order to save others.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun Also, any religious teacher.
  • noun In Buddhism of the northern school, or the later development called the Mahayana, one of a numerous class of beings who, having arrived at supreme wisdom (bodhi), have to pass through human existence only once more before attaining to Buddhahood, or complete enlightenment, and entrance into Nirvana.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun Buddhism An person,generally who has taken specific lay or monastic vows; is on the road to perfect knowledge; specifically, one who foregoes personal nirvana in order to help others achieve enlightenment.
  • noun Buddhism An enlightened being existing in a form of existence beyond the ordinary forms of physical reality understood and acknowledged by Western scientific thought, resembling the Western notion of angels, but with a wealth of its own nuances and expectations. These include the compassionate working for enlightenment of all sentient beings.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun Buddhist worthy of nirvana who postpones it to help others

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Sanskrit bodhisattvaḥ, one whose essence is enlightenment : bodhiḥ, perfect knowledge; see bheudh- in Indo-European roots + sattvam, essence, being (from sat-, existing; see es- in Indo-European roots).]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Borrowed from Sanskrit बोधिसत्त्व (bodhi-sattva, "enlightened existence").

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