Sarasvati Bodhisattva

What Does The Name Mean?


I chose this name because it felt right, even in the way it rolled off of my tongue. I believe in focusing on what you want to become. In order to do this one must perform the difficult task of removing from the mind what one does NOT want to become. When I am performing something takes over. Sarasvati Bodhisattva takes over. I have included some background information on what this name means.


Hindus believe that Saraswati (pronounced as [sə.rəs.ʋə.t̪iː]; Sanskrit: सरस्वती, sarasvatī; Thai: สุรัสวดี Sarasawatee; Japanese:弁才天/ 弁財天 Benzaiten) is the goddess of knowledge, music and the arts. Saraswati has been identified with the Vedic Saraswati River. She is considered as consort of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation. Thus, with the goddesses LakshmiParvati or Durga, she forms the Tridevitrinity of Brahma, VishnuShiva, respectively. Saraswati's children are the Vedas[1], which are the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism. ("three goddesses"), who are consorts of the male and and

Saraswati is also a figure in Mahayana Buddhism, where she first appears in the Golden Radiance Sutra of the late 4th or early 5th Century, a relatively late Mahayana Sutra.

Saraswati as a river

The Rigvedic hymns dedicated to Saraswati mention her as a mighty river with creative, purifying, and nourishing properties. The best theory regarding the Vedic Saraswati River states that it was formed by the present headwaters of the Yamuna River. According to Hindu texts, after leaving the Himalayan foothills, the waters of the Yamuna turned west instead of east at Paonta Saheb in ancient times. The river then supposedly flowed southwest across the Punjab and Haryana regions along the course of the modern Ghaggar-Hakra River in a pathway roughly parallel to the smaller Indus River to its west. The Sutlej flowed further east than it does today[citation needed], and is believed to have joined the Saraswati somewhere near Bahawalpur. Eventually, the wide river emptied into the Rann of Kutch, which at the time was a more integral part of the Arabian Sea.

Along the course of the Indus and Saraswati rivers, the Harappan Civilization developed. The earliest known examples of writing in India have been found in the ruined cities that line the now dry riverbed of the ancient waterway. Some have postulated[who?] that the goddess Saraswati gained her role as personified communication and the giver of knowledge due to the role of the Saraswati River in the development of written language in ancient India.

Between 2000 B.C. and 1700 B.C., seismic activity caused the waters of the river's two main sources to change course.[citation needed] The Sutlej moved course westward and became a tributary of the Indus River. The Yamuna moved course eastward and became a tributary of the Ganges. The tremendous loss of water which resulted from these movements caused the once mighty river to become sluggish and dry up in the Thar Desert without ever reaching the sea.[citation needed]Yamuna to the Ganges River valley.[citation needed] Late Vedic texts record the river as disappearing at Vinasana (literally, "the disappearing"), and as joining both the Yamuna and Ganges as an invisible river. Some claim that the sanctity of the modern Ganges is directly related to its assumption of the holy, and supposedly life-giving waters of the ancient Saraswati.[who?] Without any water for irrigation or transportation, the dense population of the river basin soon shifted east with the waters of the

Recently, archaeologists using satellite images have been able to trace the course of the river.[citation needed] A small channel of water flows near Kurukshetra. A nearby signboard denoting the former path of the once great Saraswati River can be seen along the main highway (GT road).

Maha Saraswati

According to Hindus, Maha Saraswati is the presiding "Goddess of the Final episode of Devi Mahatmya". Here she is believed to be a part of the trinity of Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati. She is depicted as eight-armed. Her dhyanashloka is, -

Wielding in her lotus-hands the bell, trident, ploughshare, conch, pestle, discus, bow, and arrow and possess a radiant lustre. She is born from the body of Gowri and is the sustaining base of the three worlds, according to Hindus. The Maha Saraswati

Mantra: aim guru-saraswatyai namaha

Mahavidya Nila Saraswati

Nilasaraswati is another form of Mahavidya Tara. There are separate dhyana shlokas and mantras for her worship in Tantrasara.[3]

Origins and context in Hinduism

In the Rig-Veda (6,61,7), Saraswati is credited, in association with Indra, with killing the serpentine being Vritraasura, a demon which Hindus believe hoarded all of the earth's water and so represents drought, darkness, and chaos. She is often seen as equivalent to other Vedic goddesses such as Vak, Savitri, and Gayatri. Saraswati represents intelligence, consciousness, cosmic knowledge, creativity, education, enlightenment, music, the arts, and power to Hindus. Hindus worship her not only for "secular knowledge", but for "divine knowledge" essential to achieve moksha. She is also referred to as Shonapunya, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘one purified of blood’.

In some Puranas (like Skanda Purana) she is associated with Shiva and in some Tantras with Ganesha.

According to Brahma Vaivarta Purana 1.6.13-95 Vishnu has three wives, who constantly quarrel with each other, so that eventually, he keeps only Lakshmi, giving Ganga to Shiva and Saraswati to Brahma. However, according to Rig Veda, Vishnu is believed to have only one wife which is Lakshmi.

The original (spiritual) forms of devas including Saraswati are present in the spiritual world:

In the centre [of Vaikuntha] reside the deities of fire, sun and moon, Kurma-avatara, Ananta Sesha, and Garuda, the master of the three Vedas. The Vedic hymns and all sacred mantras also stay in that holy place, which is made of all the Vedas, and which is known in the Smriti-sastra as the yoga-pitha.[4]

Rupa Gosvami elaborates:

Accompanied by Goddess Lakshmi and other associates, the catur-vyuha expansions headed by Lord Vasudeva are manifest in the eight directions, beginning with the east. In the directions beginning with the southeast, the palaces of Lakshmi, Saraswati, Rati, and Kanti respectively are situated.[5]

According to Vedanta she is considered to be the feminine energy and knowledge aspect (shakti) of Brahman, as one of many aspects of Adi Shakti.

Other associations

As a river/water goddess, Saraswati symbolizes fertility and prosperity. She is associated with purity and creativity, especially in the context of communication, such as in literary and verbal skills. In the post-Vedic age, She began to lose her status as a river goddess and became increasingly associated with literature, arts, music, etc. Her name literally means "the one who flows", which apparently was applied to thoughts[6], words, or the flow of a river (in Sanskrit: "dhaara-pravaah").

Saraswati is known as Benzaiten in Japan.

Sarasvati (a variant spelling) is the pseudonymous keeper of the Unicode mailing lists, and is often addressed by list members using titles appropriate to the goddess, such as "Her Divine Effulgency".


Saraswati (Thuyathadi in Burmese) represented in Bamar fashion, seated on a hamsa, and holding scriptures of the Tipitaka, by a river.

The Goddess Saraswati is often depicted as a beautiful, white-skinned woman dressed in pure white often seated on a white Nelumbo nucifera lotus (although Her actual vahana is believed to be a swan), which symbolizes that she is founded in the experience of the Absolute Truth. Thus, she not only has the knowledge but also the experience of the Highest Reality. She is mainly associated with the color white, which signifies the purity of true knowledge. Occasionally, however, she is also associated with the colour yellow, the colour of the flowers of the mustard plant that bloom at the time of her festival in the spring. She is not adorned heavily with jewels and gold, unlike the goddess Lakshmi, but is dressed modestly — perhaps representing her preference of knowledge over worldly material things.

She is generally shown to have four arms, which represent the four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness, and ego. Alternatively, these four arms also represent the 4 vedas, the primary sacred books for Hindus. The vedas, in turn, represent the 3 forms of literature:

  • Poetry — the Rigveda contains hymns, representing poetry
  • Prose — Yajurveda contains prose
  • Music — Samaveda represents music.

The four hands also depict this thusly — prose is represented by the book in one hand, poetry by the garland of crystal, music by the veena. The pot of sacred water represents purity in all of these three, or their power to purify human thought.

She is shown to hold the following in her hands:

  • A book, which is the sacred Vedas, representing the universal, divine, eternal, and true knowledge as well as her perfection of the sciences and the scriptures.
  • A mala (rosary) of crystals, representing the power of meditation and spirituality.
  • A pot of sacred water, representing creative and purificatory powers.
  • The vina, a musical instrument that represents her perfection of all arts and sciences. Saraswati is also associated with anurāga, the love for and rhythm of music which represents all emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music. It is believed that children born with that name will prove to be very lucky in their studies. Anurag is a great believer in Maa Saraswati

A 'white swan' (Sanskrit: hamsa) is often located next to her feet. The sacred swan, if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. The swan thus symbolizes discrimination between the good and the bad or the eternal and the evanescent. Due to her association with the swan, Goddess Saraswati is also referred to as Hamsa-vahini, which means "she who has a swan as her vehicle".

She is usually depicted near a flowing river, which may be related to her early history as a river goddess. The swan and her association with the lotus flower also point to her ancient origin.

Sometimes a peacock is shown beside the goddess. The peacock represents arrogance and pride over its beauty, and by having a peacock as her mount, the Goddess teaches Hindus not to be concerned with external appearance and to be wise regarding the eternal truth.



Saraswati Puja is performed on the 5th day of Magha month of Hindu Calendar (also known as Basant Panchami).

In several parts of India, generally states to the south, Saraswati Poojas are conducted during Navaratri – a 9 day long festival celebrating the power of the feminine aspect of divinity or shakti. Navratri is celebrated in all goddess-temples of India, with especially great pomp and splendor in south and east India. The last three days of Navaratri starting from Mahalaya Amavasya (the New Moon day) are dedicated to the goddess.

On the ninth day of Navaratri (Mahanavami), books and all musical instruments are ceremoniously kept near the gods early at dawn and worshipped with special prayers. No studies or any performance of arts is carried out, as it is considered that the Goddess herself is blessing the books and the instruments. The festival is concluded on the tenth day of Navaratri (Vijaya Dashami) and the goddess is worshipped again before the books and the musical instruments are removed. It is customary to study on this day, which is called Vidyarambham (literally, Commencement of Knowledge). All students are traditionally required to study a part of all that they have learn till that day, and also to start the study of something new on the same day. Gurus (preceptors) are worshipped on this day as embodiments of Saraswati. In major part of India this Navratri is associated with goddess Durga, but in southern India is celebrated as Saraswati Puja.


Although Saraswati temples are rare, major temples for the goddess are located in Basara Town (Andhra Pradesh), Shringeri, Pushkar, Panachikkad, Kumbakonam, Bhadrakali, Gairidhara and Handigaon in Nepal also have Saraswati temples of historical and/or popular significance.[citation needed]


The goddess's abode is mentioned as being in the state of Kashmir, among the Himalayas. Her favorite fruit is supposed to be the apple.

In Hindu beliefs, great significance is attached to offering honey to this goddess, as honey is representative of perfect knowledge.

A Prayer to Goddess Saraswati – Saraswati Vandana Mantra


या कुंदेंदु तुषारहार धवला, या शुभ्र वस्त्रावृता | या वीणावर दण्डमंडितकरा, या श्वेतपद्मासना ||

या ब्रह्माच्युतशंकरप्रभ्रृतिभिर्देवै: सदा वन्दिता | सा मां पातु सरस्वती भगवती नि:शेष जाड्यापहा ||

हिंदी अनुवाद:

जो कुंद फूल, चंद्रमा और वर्फ के हार के समान श्वेत हैं, जो शुभ्र वस्त्र धारण करती हैं|

जिनके हाथ, श्रेष्ठ वीणा से सुशोभित हैं, जो श्वेत कमल पर आसन ग्रहण करती हैं||

ब्रह्मा, विष्णु और महेश आदिदेव, जिनकी सदैव स्तुति करते हैं|

हे माँ भगवती सरस्वती, आप मेरी सारी (मानसिक) जड़ता को हर कर, मेरा पालन करें||

Yaa Kundendu tushaara haaradhavalaa, Yaa shubhravastraavritha
Yaa veenavara dandamanditakara, Yaa shwetha padmaasana
Yaa brahmaachyutha shankara prabhutibhir Devaisadaa Vanditha
Saa Maam Paatu Saraswatee Bhagavatee Nihshesha jaadyaapahaa

English Translation:

"May Goddess Saraswati, who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops; who is adorned in radiant white attire, on whose beautiful arm rests the veena, and whose throne is a white lotus; who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me. May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance." [1]

Goddess of Truth and Wisdom



In Buddhism, a bodhisattva (Sanskrit: बोधिसत्त्व, bodhisattva; Bengali: বোধিসত্ত্ব, Bodhishotto, Tibetan: བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའ་Wylie: byang chub sems dpa; Burmese: ဗောဓိသတ် Bawdithat, Vietnamese: Bồ Tát; Pali: बोधिसत्त, bodhisatta; Thai: โพธิสัตว์, phothisat; Japanese: 菩薩, bosatsu; simplified Chinese: 菩萨; traditional Chinese: 菩薩; pinyin: púsà) means either "enlightened (bodhi) existence (sattva)" or "enlightenment-being" or, given the variant Sanskritsatva rather than sattva, "heroic-minded one (satva) for enlightenment (bodhi)." Another translation is "Wisdom-Being."[1] It is the name given to anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhichitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all living beings.[2] 

Theravada Buddhism

The term Bodhisatta (Pali language) was used by the Buddha in the Pali 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. When, during his discourses, he recounts his experiences as a young aspirant, he regularly uses the phrase "When I was an unenlightened Bodhisatta..." The term therefore connotes a being who is "bound for enlightenment," in other words, a person whose aim is to become fully enlightened. In the Pali Canon, the Bodhisatta is also described as someone who is still subject to birth, illness, death, sorrow, defilement and delusion. Some of the previous lives of the Buddha as a bodhisattva are featured in the Jataka Tales.

In the Pali Canon, the Bodhisatta Siddhartha Gotama is describe as thus:

before my Awakening, when I was an unawakened bodhisatta, being subject myself to birth, sought what was likewise subject to birth. Being subject myself to aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, I sought [happiness in] what was likewise subject to illness... death... sorrow... defilement.

Ariyapariyesana Sutta

While Maitreya (Pali: Metteya) is mentioned in the Pali Canon, he is not referred to as a bodhisattva, but simply the next fully-awakened Buddha to come into existence long after the current teachings of the Buddha are lost.

In later Theravada literature, the term bodhisatta is used fairly frequently in the sense of someone on the path to liberation. The later tradition of commentary also recognizes the existence of two additional types of bodhisattas: the paccekabodhisatta who will attain Paccekabuddhahood, and the savakabodhisatta who will attain enlightenment as a disciple of a Buddha.

Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand, regards the Bodhisattva as a person who already has a considerable degree of enlightenment and seeks to use their wisdom to help other human beings to become liberated themselves. In this understanding of the word the Bodhisattva is an already wise person who uses skillful means to lead others to see the benefits of virtue and the cultivation of wisdom.

The Mahayana 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 by practicing the six perfections.[4] Indelibly entwined with the Bodhisattva Vow is parinamana (Sanskrit; which may be rendered in English as "merit transference").

In Mahayana Buddhism life in this world is compared to people living in a house that is on fire[5]. They take this world as reality pursuing worldly projects and pleasures without realising that the house is on fire and will soon burn down (the inevitability of death). A Bodhisattva is the one who has determination to free sentient beings from samsara with the cycle of death, rebirth and suffering. This type of mind is known as bodhicitta; Sanskrit for mind of awakening. Bodhisattvas take bodhisattva vows in order to progress on the spiritual path towards buddhahood.

There are a variety of different conceptions of the nature of a bodhisattva in Mahayana. According to some Mahayana sources a bodhisattva is someone on the path to full Buddhahood. Others speak of bodhisattvas renouncing Buddhahood. According to the Kun-bzang bla-ma'i zhal-lung, a bodhisattva can choose either of three paths to help sentient beings in the process of achieving buddhahood. They are:

  1. King-like Bodhisattva - one who aspires to become buddha as soon as possible and then help sentient beings in full fledge;
  2. Boatman-like Bodhisattva - one who aspires to achieve buddhahood along with other sentient beings and
  3. Shepherd-like Bodhisattva - one who aspires to delay buddhahood until all other sentient beings achieve buddhahood. Bodhisattvas like Avalokiteshvara, Shantideva among others are believed to fall in this category.

Tibetan doctrine (like Theravada, for different reasons) recognizes only the first of these, holding that Buddhas remain in the world, able to help others, so there is no point in delay. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso notes: "In reality, the second two types of bodhichitta are wishes that are impossible to fulfil because it is only possible to lead others to enlightenment once we have attained enlightenment ourself. Therefore, only king-like bodhichitta is actual bodhichitta. Je Tsongkhapa says that although the other Bodhisattvas wish for that which is impossible, their attitude is sublime and unmistaken.[6]

East Asian doctrinal traditions tend to emphasize the second and/or third, the idea of deliberately refraining from becoming a Buddha, perhaps forever.

According to many traditions within Mahayana Buddhism, on the way to becoming a Buddha, a bodhisattva proceeds through ten, or sometimes fourteen, grounds or bhumi. Below is the list of the ten bhumis and their descriptions from The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, a treatise by Gampopa (an influential teacher of the Tibetan Kagyu school) and the Avatamsaka Sutra. Other schools give slightly variant descriptions.

Before a bodhisattva arrives at the first ground, he or she first must travel the first two of the five paths:

  1. the path of accumulation
  2. the path of preparation

The ten grounds of the bodhisattva then can be grouped into the next three paths

  1. Bhumi 1 the path of insight
  2. Bhumi 2-7 the path of meditation
  3. Bhumi 8-10 the path of no more learning
Prince Siddhartha Gautama as a bodhisattva, before becoming a Buddha. He is characteristically depicted as a nobleman, posing with left hand on the hip, Gandhara, 2nd-3rd century.

The chapter of ten grounds in the Avatamsaka Sutra refers 52 stages, with the following 10 grounds

  1. Great Joy
    • It is said that being close to enlightenment and seeing the benefit for all sentient beings, one achieves great joy, hence the name. In this bhumi the bodhisattvas practice all virtues (paramita), but especially emphasizing generosity (dana).
  2. Stainless
    • In accomplishing the second bhumi, the bodhisattva is free from the stains of immorality, therefore, this bhumi is named 'Stainless'. The emphasized virtue is moral discipline (śila).
  3. Luminous
    • The third bhumi is named 'Luminous', because, for a bodhisattva who accomplishes this bhumi, the light of Dharma is said to radiate from the bodhisattva for others. The emphasized virtue is patience (kṣanti).
  4. Radiant
    • This bhumi is called 'Radiant', because it is said to be like a radiating light that fully burns that which opposes enlightenment. The emphasized virtue is vigor (virya).
  5. Very difficult to train
    • Bodhisattvas who attain this bhumi strive to help sentient beings attain maturity, and do not become emotionally involved when such beings respond negatively, both of which are difficult to do. The emphasized virtue is meditative concentration (dhyāna).
  6. Obviously Transcendent
    • "By depending on the perfection of wisdom awareness, he [the bodhisattva] does not abide in either saṃsāra or nirvāṇa, so it is 'obviously transcendent'". The emphasized virtue is wisdom (prajña).
  7. Gone afar
    • Particular emphasis is on the perfection of skilful means, or upaya-kaushalya, to help others.
  8. Immovable
    • The emphasized virtue is aspiration.
    • This, the 'Immovable' bhumi, is the bhumi at which one becomes able to choose his place of rebirth.
  9. Good Discriminating Wisdom
    • The emphasized virtue is power.
  10. Cloud of dharma
    • The emphasized virtue is the practice of primordial wisdom.
Chinese wood carving of Guanyin; Shanxi Province (A.D. 907-1125)
Japanese wood carving of Jizo Bosatsu; Late Heian period, 12th century

After the ten bhumis, according to Mahayana Buddhism, one attains complete enlightenment and becomes a Buddha.

With the 52 stages, the Shurangama Sutra in East Asia recognizes 57 stages. With the 10 grounds, various Vajrayana, mostly 6 more grounds with variant descriptions. schools recognize 3-10 additional grounds

Various traditions within Buddhism believe in certain specific bodhisattvas. Some bodhisattvas appear across traditions, but due to language barriers may be seen as separate entities. For example, Tibetan Buddhists believe in various forms of Chenrezig, who is Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit, Guanyin (other spellings: Kwan-yin, Kuan-yin) in China and Korea, Quan Am in Vietnam, and Kannon (formerly spelled and pronounced: Kwannon) in Japan. Jizo or Ti Tsang is another popular bodhisattva in Japan and China (Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit). Jizo is known for aiding those who are lost. His greatest compassionate Vow being: "If I do not go to the hell to help the suffering beings there, who else will go? ... if the hells are not empty I will not become a Buddha. Only when all living beings have been saved, will I attain Bodhi."

Many followers of Tibetan Buddhism consider the 14th Dalai Lama and the Karmapa to be an incarnation of that same bodhisattva Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The bodhisattva is a popular subject in Buddhist art.

The place of a bodhisattva's earthly deeds, such as the achievement of enlightenment or the acts of dharma, is known as a bodhimanda, and may be a site of pilgrimage. Many temples and monasteries are famous as bodhimandas; for instance, the island of Putuoshan, located off the coast of Ningbo, is venerated by Chinese Buddhists as the bodhimanda of Avalokitesvara. Perhaps the most famous bodhimanda of all is the bodhi tree under which Shakyamuni achieved buddhahood.

Important Bodhisattvas

Teaching story

Pollock (2005): p.43) provides a teaching story that evocatively describes the "nature of a Bodhisattva" and mentions 'circumambulation' (Tibetan: skor ba):

The nature of the Bodhisattva is apparent from a teaching story in which three people are walking through a desert. Parched and thirsty, they spy a high wall ahead. They approach and circumnavigate it, but it has no entrance or doorway. One climbs upon the shoulders of the others, looks inside, yells “Eureka” and jumps inside. The second then climbs up and repeats the actions of the first. The third laboriously climbs the wall without assistance and sees a lush garden inside the wall. It has cooling water, trees, fruit, etc. But, instead of jumping into the garden, the third person jumps back out into the desert and seeks out desert wanderers to tell them about the garden and how to find it. The third person is the Bodhisattva.

~ From