What Is Bodhi?

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Bodhi (enlightenment)

Bodhi Definition

Bodhi is used in several Eastern religions and philosophies to mean perfect wisdom or enlightenment. Achieving Bodhi puts an end to the constant cycle of death and rebirth, leading the practitioner to Nirvana.

It is the essence of the bodhisattva and some traditions speak of it as the union of wisdom and compassion.

a woman meditating with her hands in prayer

Bodhi Deep Dive

Bodhi in Buddhism

In Buddhism, bodhi refers to the awakened state of the Buddha.

It is a noun formed from the root budh, meaning ‘to awaken’ or ‘to wake up’, and this is exactly how the Buddha got his name!

After unearthing what he had been searching for in years of asceticism and finally finding the middle path, the (very short, colloquial) story goes that the Buddha met some old friends whom he lived with as a śramaṇa (ascetic).

Finding him a completely different person who radiated such strength and purity, they asked him what had happened to him – they thought, ‘what had he been doing so differently from the rest of us?

The Buddha humbly replied ‘I am awake’ (or ‘I woke up’, depending on who you ask).

In Tibetan, it is translated as “purified” (byang) or “perfected” (chub).

buddha meditating under the bodhi tree surrounded by nature

Under the Bodhi tree

You may have heard the story of how the Buddha became enlightened, and if you have, you’ve likely heard of the name Sujata.

Sujata was a milkmaid who had saw Siddhartha Gautama sat under a Banyan tree. At this time, Siddhartha was still a strict ascetic who, it is thought, was living off one grain of rice a day!

The Buddha later shared he was so skinny that you could even touch his spine through his stomach.

Sujata saw the skinny man and felt a huge amount of compassion toward him, feeling compelled to offer him food. She gave the Buddha milk rice or pāyasam (kheer), a deliciously sweet rice made with jaggery and milk.

Breaking his fast, he realized that such strict asceticism would not bring him enlightenment. In a sense, this was the act of service that allowed Siddhartha to wake up and become the Buddha.

(I’m sure you can imagine what this kind of carbs and sugar would do to someone who had starved themselves for years…)

The particular type of Banyan tree, the Figus religiosa, was then given the name Bodhi tree because it was the tree under which the Buddha became enlightened!

The Bodhi tree is now symbolic of how it is possible for humanity to achieve enlightenment and frequent destination of Buddhist pilgrimages.

a bodhi tree covered in orange flags

Types of Bodhi

1. Noble disciple (sāvaka-bodhi)

This is enlightenment as a disciple, understanding the Four Noble Truths only with the help of a teacher.

2. Independently enlightened (pacceka-bodhi)

Becoming enlightened by yourself, understanding the Four Noble Truths without the help of a teacher.

3. Perfectly enlightened (sammā-sambodhi)

This is perfect enlightenment or Buddhahood, as known by Gautama Buddha.

The individual who achieves this state will ‘rediscover the truth’ and teach the world having attained omniscience.

Bodhi as Nirvana

In early Buddhism, Bodhi and Nirvana were used interchangeably, as they both meant a state in which an individual was free from all attachments, desire, hate, greed, and delusion.

The attainment of Bodhi means an end of samsara, the cycle of death, rebirth, and suffering.

Bodhi in Jainism

In Jainism, Bodhi also refers to enlightenment.

Bodhi is one of the Barah anupreksas or Barah bhavanas, which are 12 contemplations/mental reflections that Jains engage in:

  1. Anitya Bhavna: the impermanence of everything
  2. Asarana Bhavna: we cannot protect ourselves against our own karma
  3. Samsara Bhavna: we are stuck in a cycle of death and rebirth, true happiness only comes after breaking free of this cycle
  4. Ekatva Bhavna: we/our individual souls are alone in the world
  5. Anyatva Bhavna: everything is distinct from the soul
  6. Asuci Bhavna: we are impure on account of karmic bondage
  7. Asrava Bhavna: there is no liberation as long as we have karma
  8. Samvara Bhavna: stoppage of influx of karma by engaging with various virtues and duties
  9. Nirjara Bhavna: shedding of karma
  10. Loka Bhavna: contemplation of the nature of the universe and how there is no divine actor who controls/created it
  11. Bodhi Durlabh Bhavna: contemplation of the rare attainability of enlightenment for many
  12. Dharma Bhavna: contemplation of the path to righteousness, scriptures, and religion
a white jain sculpture

Under the reflection of Bodhi Durlabh Bhavna, Jains are encouraged to consider how difficult it is for the transmigrating soul in this world to achieve enlightenment by acquiring the right faith, right knowledge, and right conduct.

Therefore, when they have the opportunity to walk the path of religion, they should take advantage of it. This contemplation will strengthen their discipline and effort to live in a way that will allow them to become liberated.

Bodhi in your life

Awakening the Bodhi-Mind

The mind that sees into the flux of arising and decaying and recognizes the transient nature of the world is also known as the Bodhi-mind


To have a Bodhi-mind is to have an awakened mind and to know one’s own Buddhahood; to achieve it, we can follow the path of the Buddhists.

Though Buddha’s awakening took much austerity, we needn’t be in the midst of (much) suffering in order for our Bodhi-Mind to develop.

The first thing to know is that the Bodhi-mind is not external, it’s already within us – no one is without it. Yet, many of us operate out of concern for ourselves and move through the world with mostly self-referential tendencies.

Though this is completely ‘normal’ for a human, it can sometimes mean we lose touch with the rest of the world around us.

Whatever we consider this ‘self’ or ‘I’ to be is, in the Buddhist view, pointless, because there is actually no ‘self’ to be attached to. This is called the anatta or the doctrine of the ‘non-self’.

Precisely because there is no self, everything is the self, and therefore, everything matters.

Through training and constant reminder, we can change our minds from being primarily self-centered to ultimately compassionate, understanding all as the self. Compassion (karuna) is one of the Four Sublime States of Buddhism, the proper moral way to behave toward others.

As Ven. Nyanaponika Thera said the Sublime States are the ‘great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence’.

a monk meditating in the forest

We can also nurture the Bodhi-mind by deepening our understanding and direct experience of the nature of suffering and impermanence through the Four Noble Truths. These are:

  1. The noble truth of suffering
  2. The noble truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The noble truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering

Following the noble truths will enable us to master the mind, hence understanding the true cause of suffering and ridding oneself of false beliefs.

Cultivating the Bodhi-mind should be a daily practice that’s applied to all aspects of your life, never separating oneself from the Buddha himself.

Through the application of Buddhist teachings, the living Buddha manifests in your daily thoughts, allowing you to live the Dharma and develop the Bodhi-mind.

To cultivate a Bodhi-mind is to constantly work in the direction of the Buddha himself; the Middle Way, the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Noble Path.

Only the person who is empty of self is happy; he has no jealousy, no hatred, no anger, because there is no self to compare

Thich Nhat Hanh

Bodhi Day

Bodhi Day, or Rohatsu, is celebrated every year on December the 8th as the day that Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment.

Some use the day to celebrate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death all in one day.

For many Buddhists, it’s a day of remembrance, contemplation, and meditation. You may choose to celebrate Bodhi Day, perhaps even start the morning with a mindful breakfast of pāyasam!

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Liz is a Qigong and Yoga teacher based in Gloucestershire with a love for all things movement, nature & community. She strives to create a trauma-informed space in which everyone is empowered to be their authentic selves. www.elizabethburns.co.uk

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