Bodhi (Sanskrit: बोधि; and Pali) in
Buddhism is the
understanding possessed by a Buddha regarding the true nature of
things. It is traditionally translated into English with the word
enlightenment, although its literal meaning is closer to "awakening".
The verbal root "budh" means to awaken.
Bodhi is presented in the Nikayas as knowledge of the causal mechanism
by which beings incarnate into material form and experience suffering.
Although its most common usage is in the context of Buddhism, the term
buddhi is also used in other Indian philosophies and traditions.
2 Soteriological meaning
3 Buddha's awakening
4 The Buddhist Path
5 Development of the concept
5.1 Early Buddhism
5.2.2 Harmonisation of the various terms and meanings
6 See also
9 Web references
11 Further reading
Bodhi is an abstract noun formed from the verbal root *budh-
(Sanksrit: बुद्धः (to awake, become aware, notice, know or
understand) corresponding to the verbs bujjhati (Pāli) and bodhati or
Sanskrit noun of *budh- is buddhi.
The soteriological goal of Indian religions is liberation or moksha
(also called mukti). Liberation is simultaneously freedom from
suffering and the endless round of existences. Within the Sramanic
traditions one who has attained liberation is called an arhat
(Sanskrit; Pali: arahant), an honorific term meaning "worthy"
acknowledging the skill and effort required to overcome the obstacles
to the goal of nirvana.
According to the Buddha the path to liberation is one
of progressively coming out of delusion (Pali: Moha). This path is
therefore regarded as a path of awakening. Progressing along the path
Nirvana one gains insight into the true nature of things. A
Buddha is one who has attained liberation and an understanding of the
causal mechanism by means of which sentient beings come into
existence. This mechanism is called pratitya samutpada or dependent
origination. The knowledge or understanding of this is called bodhi.
In the suttapitaka, the Buddhist canon as preserved in the
Theravada-tradition, a number of texts can be found in which Gautama
Buddha tells about his own awakening.
In the Vanapattha Sutta (Majjhima, chapter 17) the Buddha describes
life in the jungle, and the attainment of awakening. After destroying
the disturbances of the mind, and perfecting concentration of mind, he
attained three knowledges (vidhya):
Insight into his past lives
Insight into the workings of
Karma and Reincarnation
Insight into the Four Noble Truths
Insight into the
Four Noble Truths
Four Noble Truths is here called awakening. The
monk (bhikkhu) has
...attained the unattained supreme security from bondage.
Awakening is also described as synonymous with Nirvana, the extinction
of the passions whereby suffering is ended and no more rebirths take
place. The insight arises that this liberation is certain:
Knowledge arose in me, and insight: my freedom is certain, this is my
last birth, now there is no rebirth.
So awakening is insight into karma and rebirth, insight into the Four
Noble Truths, the extinction of the passions whereby
reached, and the certainty that liberation has been reached.
The Buddhist Path
Main article: Buddhist Paths to liberation
The Buddhist tradition gives a wide variety of descriptions of the
Buddhist Path (magga) to liberation. Tradition describes the
Buddha's awakening, and the descriptions of the path given in the
Sutta Pitaka.[web 1][web 2] By following this path
Buddhahood can be
attained. Following this path dissolves the ten fetters and
terminates volitional actions that bind a human being to the wheel of
The Theravada-tradition follows the Path to purification described by
Buddhaghosa in his Visuddhimagga. It features four progressive stages
culminating in full enlightenment. The four stages are Sotapanna,
Anagami and Arahat.[web 3]
Three types of buddha are recognized:
Arhat (Pali: arahant), those who reach
Nirvana by following the
teachings of the Buddha. Sometimes the term Śrāvakabuddha (Pali:
sāvakabuddha) is used to designate this kind of awakened
Pratyekabuddhas (Pali: paccekabuddha), those who reach
self-realisation, without the aid of spiritual guides and teachers,
but don't teach the Dharma;
Samyaksambuddha (Pali: samma sambuddha), often simply referred to as
Buddha, one who has reached
Nirvana by his own efforts and wisdom and
teaches it skillfully to others.
Development of the concept
The term bodhi acquired a variety of meanings and connotations during
the development of Buddhist thoughts in the various schools.
Main article: Early Buddhism
In early Buddhism, bodhi carried a meaning synonymous to nirvana,
using only some different metaphors to describe the insight, which
implied the extinction of lobha (greed), dosa (hate) and moha
Theravada Buddhism, bodhi and nirvana carry the same
meaning, that of being freed from greed, hate and delusion.
Main article: Mahayana
In Mahayana-thought, bodhi is the realisation of the inseparability of
samsara and nirvana, and the unity of subject and object. It
is similar to prajna, to realizing the Buddha-nature, realizing
sunyata and realizing suchness.
Mahayana discerns three forms of bodhi:
Arahat – Liberation for oneself;[a]
Bodhisattva – Liberation for living beings;
Within the various Mahayana-schools exist various further explanations
Buddha-nature doctrines bodhi becomes
equivalent to the universal, natural and pure state of the mind:
Bodhi is the final goal of a Bodhisattva's career [...]
Bodhi is pure
universal and immediate knowledge, which extends over all time, all
universes, all beings and elements, conditioned and unconditioned. It
is absolute and identical with Reality and thus it is Tathata. Bodhi
is immaculate and non-conceptual, and it, being not an outer object,
cannot be understood by discursive thought. It has neither beginning,
nor middle nor end and it is indivisible. It is non-dual (advayam)
[...] The only possible way to comprehend it is through samadhi by the
According to these doctrines bodhi is always there within one's mind,
but requires the defilements to be removed. This vision is expounded
in texts such as the
Shurangama Sutra and the Uttaratantra.
Shingon Buddhism, the state of
Bodhi is also seen as naturally
inherent in the mind. It is the mind's natural and pure state, where
no distinction is being made between a perceiving subject and
perceived objects. This is also the understanding of
Bodhi found in
To achieve this vision of non-duality, it is necessary to recognise
one's own mind:
... it means that you are to know the inherent natural state of the
mind by eliminating the split into a perceiving subject and perceived
objects which normally occurs in the world and is wrongly thought to
be real. This also corresponds to the
Yogacara definition ...
that emptiness (sunyata) is the absence of this imaginary split
Harmonisation of the various terms and meanings
During the development of
Buddhism the various strands of
Bodhi were continuously being elaborated. Attempts were
made to harmonize the various terms. The Buddhist commentator
Buddhaguhya treats various terms as synonyms:
For example, he defines emptiness (sunyata) as suchness (tathata) and
says that suchness is the intrinsic nature (svabhava) of the mind
which is Enlightenment (bodhi-citta). Moreover, he frequently uses the
terms suchness (tathata) and Suchness-Awareness (tathata-jnana)
interchangeably. But since Awareness (jnana) is non-dual,
Suchness-Awareness is not so much the Awareness of Suchness, but the
Awareness which is Suchness. In other words, the term
Suchness-Awareness is functionally equivalent to Enlightenment.
Finally, it must not be forgotten that this Suchness-Awareness or
Perfect Enlightenment is Mahavairocana [the Primal Buddha, uncreated
and forever existent]. In other words, the mind in its intrinsic
nature is Mahavairocana, whom one "becomes" (or vice versa) when one
is perfectly enlightened.
Enlightenment in Buddhism
^ This also includes Pratyekabuddha, but is not being mentioned by
Fischer-Schreiber et al.
^ Warder 2000, p. 45-50.
^ Faure 1991.
Bhikkhu Nanamoli 1995.
^ Warder 2000, pp. 47–48.
^ Snelling 1987, p. 27.
^ Warder 2000, p. 47-48.
Bhikkhu Nanamoli 1996, p. 199.
^ a b c Warder 2000, p. 49.
^ Buswell 1994, p. 1-36.
^ Harvey 1995, p. 21-25.
^ a b Walsh (translator) 1995, p. 25-27.
^ Harvey 1995, p. 71-72.
^ a b c d Snelling 1987, p. 81.
^ a b c d Fischer-Schreiber 2008, p. 51.
^ Schreiber 2008, p. 51.
^ Sebastian 2005, p. 274.
^ a b Hodge 2003, p. 31-32.
^ Samyutta Nikaya 56.11 Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel
of Dhamma in Motion
^ Digha Nikaya 2 Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative
^ Thanissaro Bhikkhu: Stream Entry Part 1: The Way to Stream-entry
Bodhi (1995), The Middle Length Discourses
of the Buddha. A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, Boston:
Buswell, Robert E. JR; Gimello, Robert M. (editors) (1994), Paths to
Liberation. The Marga and its Transformations in Buddhist Thought,
Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers CS1 maint: Extra text:
authors list (link)
Faure, Bernard (1991), The Rhetoric of Immediacy. A Cultural Critique
Zen Buddhism, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University
Press, ISBN 0-691-02963-6
Gombrich, Richard F. (1997), How
Buddhism Began, Munshiram
Peter N. Gregory (1991), Sudden and Gradual (Approaches to
Enlightenment in Chinese Thought), Motilal Banarsidass.
Harvey, Peter (1995), An introduction to Buddhism. Teachings, history
and practices, Cambridge University Press
Hodge, Stephen (2003), The Maha-Vairocana-Abhisambodhi Tantra, With
Buddhaguya's Commentary, London: RoutledgeCurzon
Fischer-Schreiber, Ingrid; Ehrhard, Franz-Karl; diener, Michael S.
(2008), Lexicon Boeddhisme. Wijsbegeerte, religie, psychologie,
mystiek, cultuur an literatuur, Asoka
Sebastian, C.D. (2005), Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana
Buddhism, Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications
Snelling, John (1987), The Buddhist handbook. A Complete Guide to
Buddhist Teaching and Practice, London: Century Paperbacks
Walsh (translator), Maurice (1995), The Long Discourses of the Buddha:
A translation of the Digha Nikaya, Boston: Wisdom publications
Warder, Anthony Kennedy (2000), Indian Buddhism, Delhi: Motilal
A. Charles Muller (translator) (1999), The
Sutra of Perfect
Enlightenment. State University Press of New York
Lu K'uan Yu (translator) (1978), The Surangama Sutra. Bombay: B.I.
Kenneth R. White (editor) (2005), The Role of
Bodhicitta in Buddhist
Enlightenment Including a Translation into English of the
Bodhicitta-Sastra, Benkenmitsu-nikyoron, and Sammaya-kaijo. New York:
The Edwin Mellen Press.
Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
Iconography in Laos and Thailand
Mahapajapati Gotamī (aunt, adoptive mother)
Places where the Buddha stayed
Buddha in world religions
Three marks of existence
Two truths doctrine
Ten spiritual realms
Hungry Ghost realm
Three planes of existence
Vipassanā (Vipassana movement)
Seven Factors of Enlightenment
Four Right Exertions
Four stages of enlightenment
Upāsaka and Upāsikā
The ten principal disciples
Emperor Wen of Sui
Chinese Buddhist canon
Tibetan Buddhist canon
Early Buddhist schools
Basic points unifying Theravāda and Mahāyāna
Buddhism in India
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Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution
Buddhism and the Roman world
Buddhism in the West
Silk Road transmission of Buddhism
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Banishment of Buddhist monks from Nepal
Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism
Women in Buddhism
The unanswered questions
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Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
Om mani padme hum
Maya Devi Temple
Temple of the Tooth
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