Book Review: Bodhisattva Ideal: Wisdom and Compassion in Buddhism (Sangharakshita)

Goodreads Link | Sangharakshita Website

“To consider the Bodhisttva ideal is to place one’s hand on the very heart of Buddhism, and feel the beating of that hears.” ~Extract from the blurb

TL;DR – A fascinating read. Don’t read this unless you have at least some idea about Buddhism beforehand.



Why I read it…

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the Bodhisattva from the moment I first heard about it, and this seemed as good a place as any to start.

As it says in my introduction, I am a practising Buddhist. I have started to read a chapter of a book on a Buddhist topic every day before meditating.

Also, it was on my Reading challenge list.

The Book…

This book is an intended as an introduction to the concept of the Bodhisattva – which simply (and completely underwhelming put), is a being who seeks enlightenment for all sentient beings, rather than for themselves.

The first chapter takes you briefly through the origins of this ideal – detailing the differing opinions of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. This history is filled out a little more in the following chapters to provide you with a neat little guide to the origins and reasons for the rise of this ideal.

The remaining chapters are a fascinating account of the qualities of a Bodhisattva, and detailing how one becomes a Bodhisattva.* Chapter 2 introduces and explains the concept of Bodicitta and how it applies to the ideal. Chapter 3 introduces the Bodhisattva vows, and so on and so fourth. Each chapter introduces further qualities and concepts and explains them all.

*NOTE:- when I say ‘how one becomes…’ I do not mean to suggest this book is a sort of spiritual ‘how-to’ guide, nor that it pretends to offer a ‘quick’ guide to enlightenment.

What I liked…

I enjoyed the writing style. It was – for the most part – quite clear, and made use of metaphor, and drew parallels to other things in order to try and make difficult concepts clearer. I found the book mostly easy to read and to digest – the chapters are about 25-30 each, which was perfect for the way I chose to read this book.

Obviously I enjoyed the content. Going in, I was primarily interested in finding some explanations as to how a Bodhisattva functions – unlimited compassion and seeking enlightenment for all sentient beings is a lofty ideal, and something that I find both interesting and inspiring. I found some good information in this area, and the rest of the book was just as interesting. The historical aspects in particular were very enjoyable.

I also liked that the book was well referenced throughout, pointing to Buddhist. It’s usually a good sign to have proper referencing in a factual book.

Finally, there is a neat little Further Reading section at the back, which is something I always like to see.

What I disliked…

I would have liked a glossary of terms at the end – all the non-English terminology is translated and explained within the text, it just would have been nice. That said, there is a fairly big index that appears to contain all the non-English terminology (and a whole lot more) so it would not be difficult to research.

I found it a little difficult at times to grasp some of the concepts, and on occasion I was confused about the point being made – however this almost certainly has more to do with the complexity of the topic, the difficulty of explaining concepts that by their are difficult do understand from what I would term ‘the normal level’, and also inexperience on my part – as such, I would warn that this is not a book for the beginner; some knowledge of Buddhism is (I would think) essential, before reading this book.

Final thoughts…

I really enjoyed this book. I found it a very enjoyable and fairly simple read, and it answered a lot of questions – of course it also raised countless other ones, but that is definitely a good thing. It has inspired me to further reading on the subject of the Bodhisattva ideal, and also Buddhist history.

The book loses half a star, purely because it was not always as beginner friendly as I hoped. However, it will be going on my ‘read again’ list for a time when I will understand it better.

I would definitely recommend this book to anybody interested in the subject – providing they have some prior knowledge of Buddhism or don’t mind a doing a little bit of research.


Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

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