Gandharan Buddhism was of the school of Mahayana Buddhism which is based principally on the path of the bodhisattva as an ideal, though the bodhisattva is not a concept exclusive to Mahayana. As buddha is a title for one who has achieved enlightenment, so a bodhisattva is similarly a title: Though it is a problematically simplistic definition, a bodhisattva can be described as one who delays his enlightenment in order to assist others in their acquisition of enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhism encourages its adherents to take bodhisattva vows, in which sense a bodhisattva can be considered a devotee on the path to liberation, yet in another sense the bodhisattva is the ideal in comparison with the pratyekabuddha meaning a private or silent buddha – one who achieves perfect buddhahood but does not disseminate his experience or understandings. More related to Gandharan buddhist sculpture is the popularity of a pantheon of bodhisattvas similar to saints in Catholic doctrine which were popular subjects for sculpture. Showing significant Hellenistic influence, the statues of the bodhisattvas are represented as richly adorned princes, more resplendent than the more reserved buddha statues.

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