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Bodhi (Sanskrit: बोधि) is both a Pāli and Sanskrit word traditionally translated into [Spanish language and French] as enlightenment, but frequently (and more accurately) translated as "awakening" or "to Know". The word "buddha" means "one who has awakened." Although its most common usage is in the context of Buddhism, bodhi is also a technical term, with various usages, in other Indian philosophies and traditions.

Bodhi is an abstract noun formed from the verbal root budh (to awake, become aware, notice, know or understand,) corresponding to the verbs bujjhati (Pāli) and bodhati or budhyate (Sanskrit).

In early Buddhism, bodhi carried a meaning synonymous to nirvana, using only some different metaphors to describe the experience, which implied the extinction of raga (greed), dosa (hate) and moha (delusion). In the later school of Mahayana Buddhism, the status of nirvana was downgraded, coming to refer only to the extinction of greed and hate, implying that delusion was still present in one who attained nirvana, and that one needed to attain bodhi to eradicate delusion .[1] Therefore, according to Mahayana Buddhism, the arhat has attained only nirvana, thus still being subject to delusion, while the bodhisattva not only achieves nirvana but full liberation from delusion as well. One thus attains bodhi and becomes a buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, bodhi and nirvana carry the same meaning, that of being freed from greed, hate and delusion. It should also be noted that in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, parinirvana is equal in all respects to Bodhi and indeed is the state of perfect Buddhahood.

In Theravada Buddhism

In Buddhism, bodhi means the awakening experience attained by Gautama Buddha and his accomplished disciples and refers to the unique consciousness of a fully liberated yogi. Bodhi is sometimes described as complete and perfect sanity, or awareness of the true nature of the universe. After attainment, it is believed that one is freed from the cycle of samsāra: birth, suffering, death and rebirth (see moksha). Bodhi is most commonly translated into English as enlightenment. This word conveys the insight and understanding (wisdom) possessed by a buddha and is similarly used in Christian mysticism to convey the saint's condition of being lit by a higher power - the merging of the human and the divine in theosis. There is no image of "light" contained in the term "bodhi", however. Rather, it expresses the notion of awakening from a dream and of being aware and knowing (reality). It is thus more accurate to think of bodhi as spiritual "awake-ness" or "awakenment", rather than "enlightenment" (although it is true that imagery of light is extraordinarily prevalent in many of the Buddhist scriptures).

Bodhi is attained when the ten fetters that bind a human being to the wheel of samsara have been dissolved; when the Four Noble Truths have been fully understood and all volitional conditioning has reached cessation (nirodha), giving rise to transcendent peace (nibbana). At this moment, the psychological roots of all greed (lobha), aversion (dosa), delusion (moha), ignorance (avijjā), craving (tanha) and ego-centered consciousness (attā) are completely uprooted.

Bodhi is the ultimate goal of Buddhist life (brahmacarya). It is achieved by observing the eightfold path, the development of the paramitas (virtues) and profound wisdom into the dependently arisen nature of phenomena.

Bodhi in the Mahayana Sutras

Certain Mahayana Buddhist sutras stress that bodhi is always present and perfect, and simply needs to be "uncovered" or disclosed to purified vision. Thus the "Sutra of Perfect Awakening" has the Buddha teach that, like gold within its ore, bodhi is always there within the being's mind, but requires the obscuring mundane ore (the surrounding defilements of samsara and of impaired, unawakened perception) to be removed. The Buddha declares:

"Good sons, it is like smelting gold ore. The gold does not come into being because of smelting ... Even though it passes through endless time, the nature of the gold is never corrupted. It is wrong to say that it is not originally perfect. The Perfect Enlightenment of the Tathagata [Buddha] is also like this."

Similar doctrines are encountered in the Tathagatagarbha sutras, which tell of the immanent presence of the Buddha Principle (Buddha-dhatu/ Buddha-nature or Dharmakaya / Dhammakaya) within all beings. Here, the Tathagatagarbha (Buddha-Matrix) is tantamount to the indwelling transformative and liberational power of bodhi, which bestows an infinitude of unifying vision. The Buddha of the Shurangama Sutra states:

"My uncreated and unending profound Enlightenment accords with the Tathagatagarbha, which is absolute bodhi, and ensures my perfect insight into the Dharma realm [realm of Ultimate Truth], where the one is infinite and the infinite is one."

In Shingon Buddhism, the state of Bodhi is also seen as naturally inherent in the mind - the mind's natural and pure state (as in Dzogchen) - and is viewed as the perceptual sphere of non-duality, where all false distinctions between a perceiving subject and perceived objects are lifted and the true state of things (non-duality) is revealed. This is also the understanding of Bodhi found in Yogacara Buddhism. To achieve this vision of non-duality, it is necessary to recognise one's own mind. Writing on the main sutra of Shingon Buddhism - the Mahavairocana Sutra - Buddhist scholar and translator of that scripture, Stephen Hodge, comments:

'... when the MVT [i.e. Mahavairocana Sutra] speaks of knowing your mind as it truly is, 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. ... We may further elucidate the meaning of Perfect Enlightenment and hence of the intrinsic nature of the mind by corrrelating terms [which Buddhist commentator on the Mahavairocana Sutra,] Buddhaguhya, treats 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.'[2]

Speaking in the context of the tathagatagarbha doctrine of the Uttaratantra, Professor C. D. Sebastian writes of Bodhi:

"Bodhi is the final goal of a Bodhisattva's career and it is indicated by such words as buddha-jnana (knowledge of Buddha), sarvjnata (omniscience), sarvakarajnata (the quality of knowing things as they are), ... and acintyam jnanam (inconceivable knowledge) ... 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 yogin"[3]

Levels of Enlightenment

Pacceka-Bodhi (Pratyeka)

Those who obtain enlightenment through self-realisation, without the aid of spiritual guides and teachers, are known as pratyekabuddhas. According to the Tripitaka, such beings only arise in ages where the dharma has been lost. Many pratyekas may arise at a single time.

Sammā-Sambodhi or Samyak Buddha

These are perfect, most developed, most compassionate, most loving, all-knowing beings who fully comprehend the dhamma by their own efforts and wisdom and teach it skillfully to others, freeing them from samsāra. One that develops sammā-sambodhi is known as samma-sambuddha.

A sammā-sambodhi is the one who gives rise to the path (previously) unarisen, who engenders the path (previously) unengendered, who points out the path (previously) not pointed out. Knowing the path, is expert in the path, is adept at the path. And (its) disciples now keep following the path and afterwards become endowed with the path, this is the difference between an arahant and a buddha.

Four Stages

The 4 stages of bodhi are: Arhat or Buddha (depending on school), Anagami, Sakadagami and Sotapanna. This refers to the Ten Fetters:

The Pāli Tripitaka identifies 10 fetters:[3]

  1. belief in an individual self (Pali: sakkāya-diṭṭhi)
  2. doubt or uncertainty, especially about the teachings (vicikicchā)
  3. attachment to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāsa)
  4. sensual desire (kāma-cchando)
  5. ill will (vyāpādo or byāpādo)
  6. lust for material existence, lust for material rebirth (rūpa rāga)
  7. lust for immaterial existence (arūpa rāga)
  8. pride in self, conceit, arrogance (māno)
  9. restlessness, distraction, anxiety (uddhaccaŋ)
  10. ignorance (avijjā)

See also


  1. An important development in the Mahayana [was] that it came to separate nirvana from bodhi ('awakening' to the truth, Enlightenment), and to put a lower value on the former (Gombrich, 1992d). Originally nirvana and bodhi refer to the same thing; they merely use different metaphors for the experience. But the Mahayana tradition separated them and considered that nirvana referred only to the extinction of craving (= passion and hatred), with the resultant escape from the cycle of rebirth. This interpretation ignores the third fire, delusion: the extinction of delusion is of course in the early texts identical with what can be positively expressed as gnosis, Enlightenment.’’ How Buddhism Began, Richard F. Gombrich, Munshiram Manoharlal, 1997, p. 67
  2. Stephen Hodge, The Maha-Vairocana-Abhisambodhi Tantra, With Buddhaguya's Commentary, RoutledgeCurzon, London, 2003, pp.31-32.
  3. Professor C. D. Sebastian, Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism, Sri Satguru Publications, Delhi, 2005, p. 274)

External links

Further reading

  • The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment (State University Press of New York, 1999), tr. by A. Charles Muller
  • The Surangama Sutra (B.I. Publications, Bombay 1978), tr. by Lu K'uan Yu
  • The Role of Bodhicitta in Buddhist Enlightenment. (New York : The Edwin Mellen Press, 2005) [includes translations of the following: Bodhicitta-sastra, Benkemmitsu-nikyoron, Sammaya-kaijo], Kenneth White

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