The highest ideal in Mahayana Buddhism. A Bodhisattva vows, like the Captain of a sinking ship, to be the last being (but no being has an independent self) to enter into Nirvana. Thus, a Bodhisattva is the awakened Buddha Nature that we all have, and all of us have vowed to liberate all sentient beings before fully liberating ourselves (if that makes any sense).
A Bodhisattva differs from an Arhat, the highest ideal in Theravada Buddhism, in that the Arhat, according to the Mahayana school, enters into Nirvana although other beings have not. Thus, the Arhat lacks the compassion of a Bodhisattva since he or she enjoys Nirvana even though other sentient beings are suffering.
But that can’t be so because the Buddha said an Arhat/Arahant is a fully realized, compassionate being.
A Bodhisattva takes re-birth in the human dharma realm to teach humans but can also take re-birth in other dharma realms for teaching purposes as well.
The Zen Practice Foundation invites all visitors of this site to improve this definition. Please contact us if you have an improved definition. Thank you!