84000 Glossary of Terms

Our trilingual glossary combining entries from all of our publications into one useful resource, giving translations and definitions of thousands of terms, people, places, and texts from the Buddhist canon.

སེམས་དཔའ་ཆེན་པོ། | Glossary of Terms

    སེམས་དཔའ་ཆེན་པོ།

    sems dpa’ chen po

    mahā­sattva

  • Term
Publications: 15

An epithet of advanced bodhisattvas. The term can be understood to mean “great courageous one” or "great hero,” or (from the Sanskrit) simply “great being,” and is almost always found as an epithet of “bodhisattva.” The qualification “great” in this term, according to the majority of canonical definitions, focuses on the generic greatness common to all bodhisattvas, i.e. the greatness implicit in the bodhisattva vow itself in terms of outlook, aspiration, number of beings to be benefited, potential or eventual accomplishments, and so forth. In this sense the mahā- (“great”) is close in its connotations to the mahā- in “Mahāyāna.” While individual bodhisattvas described as mahāsattva may in many cases also be “great” in terms of their level of realization, this is largely coincidental, and in the canonical texts the epithet is not restricted to bodhisattvas at any particular point in their career. Indeed, in a few cases even bodhisattvas whose path has taken a wrong direction are still described as bodhisattva mahāsattva.

Later commentarial writings do nevertheless define the term‍—variably‍—in terms of bodhisattvas having attained a particular level (bhūmi) or realization. The most common qualifying criteria mentioned are attaining the path of seeing, attaining irreversibility (according to its various definitions), or attaining the seventh bhūmi.