We all know Buddha achieved his enlightenment and reached Nirvana. But many others have done it as well. Then what? Well, no one knows and we can only speculate on what really happens when a being reaches Nirvana and leaves the cycle of rebirth. However, what happens if a person achieves Enlightenment and chooses NOT to exit the rebirth cycle? This is what the Bodhisattvas have done.
Simply put, a Bodhisattva is a person who has achieved perfect enlightenment, but rather than leave the cycle of rebirth, has chosen to remain behind and help others reach that goal; in a way it’s the ultimate form of self-sacrifice. They have given up their great reward to help others.
Some groups also expand the definition of Bodhisattva to include people who are still seeking enlightenment, but make great efforts to help others. Obviously, this second expanded definition includes many more people. People who choose to can take the Bodhisattva vows. These vows are different for each sect of Buddhism, but the vows for the Zen sect go like this:
I vow to liberate all beings, without number.
I vow to uproot endless blind passions.
I vow to penetrate dharma gates beyond measure.
I vow to attain the way of the Buddha.
‚ÄúWithout number‚Äù, ‚Äúendless‚Äù, ‚Äúbeyond measure‚Äù ‚Ä¶ These sound like hyperbole, but they mean it. Remember, by giving up on leaving the cycle of rebirth, they have unlimited lifetimes to accomplish their goal. The goal? To help every living thing in the world achieve enlightenment and to eliminate suffering.