Lots of Buddhist words have two different spellings (kamma/karma) because one is the Pali version and the other is the Sanskrit version; but the meaning is the same. My understanding of Bodhisatta and Bodhisattva though, is that they have different meanings. Can anyone elaborate?

4 Answers 4


Bodhisatta is Pali, Bodhisattva is Sanskrit, they have the same basic meaning.


In Buddhism, a bodhisattva (Sanskrit: बोधिसत्त्व bodhisattva; Pali: बोधिसत्त bodhisatta) is an enlightenment (bodhi) being (sattva). Traditionally, a bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. According to Tibetan Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is one of the four sublime states a human can achieve in life (the others being an Arhat, Buddha, or Pratyekabuddha).

In Theravāda Buddhism, the term "bodhisatta" (Pāli language) was used by the Buddha in the Pāli canon to refer to himself both in his previous lives and as a young man in his current life, prior to his enlightenment, in the period during which he was working towards his own liberation. In later Theravāda literature, the term "bodhisatta" is used fairly frequently in the sense of someone on the path to liberation.

Mahāyāna Buddhism is based principally upon the path of a bodhisattva. Mahāyāna Buddhism encourages everyone to become bodhisattvas and to take the bodhisattva vows. With these vows, one makes the promise to work for the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings.

The vows are an expression of bodhichitta, the desire to realize enlightenment for the sake of others. The exact wording of the Bodhisattva vows varies from school to school. The most basic form is:

May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Mahāyāna schools like Zen, Nichiren, Tendai, and others use vows translated as:

  • Beings are numberless, I vow to save them
  • Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them
  • Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them
  • Buddha's way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.

Bodhisatta is a Pali term, usually used in Theravada ("orthodox" Buddhism), while Bodhisattva is Sanskrit term, more often used in Mahayana (either "degenerated" Buddhism, or Buddhism "upholding the true spirit of the teaching above its letter", depending on your perspective ;)

Although both terms are local versions of the same basic word (that means "awakened being"), the two branches use the word in very different sense.

In Theravada, bodhisatta is primarily used in Jatakas (didactic tales targeted at lay audience of the times) to refer to a person on his way to Buddhahood, depicted at different stages of his spiritual growth. This person is usually understood to be the same individual that eventually became Gautama Buddha.

In Mahayana, bodhisattva is an advanced practitioner who renounced entering Nirvana indefinitely, helping the rest of sentient beings achieve Enlightenment.


Nope! They are exactly the same. There's also 'Maha-Bodhisatta'. That term is specifically used for a being who has gotten the confirmation from a fully enlightened Buddha that he is also going to become a fully enlightened Buddha in the future. ex: Mathree Bodhisatva who is in Tāvatiṃsa heaven at present will become the Maithree Buddha in the future. He will be the 5th and the final Buddha to appear before the world ends.


I'm not a Pali scholar, so can't quote line and verse, but I understand that a Mahayana Bodhisattva can take rebirth as several people, each representing a different characteristic of the predecessor. The Theravada Bodhisatta is the simple continuation of the principle being destined for eventual enlightenment.

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