Bodhi To Borobudur (Buddhism)


Bodhi, or enlightenment, is a concept found throughout Buddhism and used in different ways by different schools. All understand bodhi as wisdom or understanding achieved through progress on the Buddhist path of cultivation. Early Buddhist schools, such as Theravada, understand bodhi to mean awakening, the realization of the four noble truths. This process is split into three stages: the enlightenment of a disciple (sravaka), that of an individual cultivator (a pratyekabud-dha), and the enlightenment of a Buddha.

In Mahayana bodhi refers to understanding of the unity of samsara (the world of rebirth) and nirvana (extinction), in other words, the realization of sunyata (emptiness). Early Mahayana delineated four types of enlightenment: setting the mind toward enlightenment, continuation of practice, no backsliding, and becoming a BODHISATTVA.

Bodhi, Bhikkhu (Jeffrey Block)

(1944- ) American-born Buddhist monk

Jeffrey Block was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Brooklyn College (B.A., 1966), and later completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at Claremont Graduate School in 1972. He eventually took full vows of monkhood in Sri Lanka in 1973 with the monk Balangoda Ananda Maitreya. He was a confidant of the well-known teacher Nyanaponika, the president of the Buddhist Publication Society. Bhikkhu Bodhi returned for a period to the united States in 1977 but by 1984 was back in Sri Lanka, where he became the editor for English-language publications for the Buddhist Publication Society based in Kandy. In 1988 he succeeded Nyanaponika as the society’s president. over the years, he translated numerous works from the Pali canon of Buddhism into English.


Bodhicitta (enlightened mind) is a philosophical concept in Mahayana Buddhism. The enlightened mind is one that holds a vision of the true nature of reality, or in Buddhist terms, sunyata, "emptiness." In Tibetan Buddhism one aim is to arouse the bodhicitta, which is interpreted as absolute commitment to the enlightenment of all beings.

Bodhidharma (Da Mo, Daruma Daishi)

(c. 470-c. 534) first Zen patriarch and source of multiple legends

We know little more than the basic facts about the man revered as the first patriarch of Chan Buddhism, Bodhidharma (Da Mo in Chinese or Daruma Daishi in Japanese), about whom numerous legends have grown. He is said to have been the third son of an Indian king in southern India. He would spend much of his life as a wandering monk, mainly in northern China. He seems to have spent time (515-526) at the Yong Ming monastery in Luoyang, soon to become the Chinese capital, at some point prior to 534.

Bodhidharma’s life is filled in with numerous stories of questionable historic value. Upon his arrival in China, for example, the emperor Wu Di, a Buddhist himself, met with Bodhidharma at Nanjing, but the latter was unable to convince the emperor of the value of the many temples he was having built. During his wanderings he found his way to the Song Mountain range, where the Shaolin Temple was located. Here he observed the poor physical condition of the Sha-olin monks. To help them, he created a program of physical techniques that strengthened their bodies and allowed them to withstand the rigors of their isolated existence and the demands of a concentrated meditation program. In this version, these techniques evolved into what is today called Kung Fu (gongfu), the mother of all MARTIAL ARTS.

At some point, Bodhidharma practiced meditation long enough to attain enlightenment and to be able to pass along the "seal of enlightenment" (inkashomei) to others who had a similar realization of the truth. This possibly occurred at Shaolin or later, when he was at Luoyang, the capital. one story has him meditating for nine years, so long that his legs atrophied from disuse. This legend is the source of the so-called daruma dolls in Japan—dolls that always move back to an erect sitting position when tipped over.

Bodhidharma is said to have passed his lineage to Hui Ke (c. 487-c. 593), another vaguely known master who is cited as the second Chan patriarch. Much contemporary scholarship considers the later Zen master Shen Hui (684-758 c.e.) the person who created the basic legend of Bodhidharma as the first patriarch of a Chinese lineage.


(1934- ) founder of the Santi Asoka, a large contemporary Thai Buddhist movement

Bodhiraksa, originally a Thai television entertainer and songwriter, was ordained as a monk in 1970 and founded the Santi Asoka temple and Buddhist movement five years later. He subsequently assumed an ever-increasing role of moral critic and guide in Thai society. In 1989 the leader and many of his monks and nuns were elected to the government and accused of "pretending" to be Buddhists. Educational activities have been limited since then. The group had 92 monks and 23 nuns in 1995.


(c. 508) early translator of Buddhist texts into Chinese

Bodhiruci, a native of northern India who translated a number of Sanskrit texts into Chinese, settled at the old Chinese capital of Luoyang in 508. He would remain there the rest of his life, during which he would translate some 39 texts including the Lankavatara Sutra, The Treatise on the Lotus Sutra, and the Diamond Sutra.

He had a major role in the development of Pure Land Buddhism as the translator of the Treatise on the Pure Land, a copy of which he presented to Tan-luan, the major exponent of Pure Land doctrine in China in the sixth century. At the same time, Bodhiruci became the founder of the Di Lun school of Chinese Buddhism through his translation of the Treatise on the Ten Stages Sutra, a volume on bodhisattvas and the stages leading to enlightenment. He is also credited with initiating belief in the bodhisattva Manjusri, who became popular during the Tang dynasty.

A second translator of the same name (sometimes spelled Bodhiruchi) (652-710 c.e.) was active during the Tang dynasty (618-907 c.e.). This Bodhirucci translated the Maharatnakuta Sutra.

Bodhisattva (bodhisatta)

A bodhisattva is an advanced individual who chooses not to attain nirvana and instead remain in the world of samsara in order to help others attain enlightenment. The bodhisattva ideal is a key element in Mahayana thought. The early Mahayanists desired to distinguish themselves from other Buddhist groups who placed emphasis on arhats, or fully enlightened persons. In Mahay-ana thought the arhat, although accomplished in self-cultivation, was lacking in compassion (karuna). The bodhisattva, in contrast, while able to attain final release through nirvana, chooses to delay this until all sentient beings are free of sufferings. The concept was a powerful image in many cultures. In China the self-sacrificing bod-hisattva was in many ways diametrically opposite to many of the Confucian ideals of the cultivated scholar or the Daoist recluse. Here was an individual willing to sacrifice all selfish impulses for the sake of others. The most well-known bodhisattvas are found in Mahayana traditions, such figures as Maitreya, Manjusri, Avalokitesvara (Guan Yin), and Ksitigharba (Jizo).

The term bodhisattva appears in early, pre-Mahayana scriptures as well as in the Mahayana. In Pali the term is spelled bodhisatta and refers to a being "destined for enlightenment." This most often meant the Buddha himself, since technically he remained a bodhisattva until his final attainment of nirvana. Another bodhisattva figure still found in Theravada Buddhism is Maitreya, the bodhisattva who remains in Tusita heaven and is destined to become the Buddha of the future. A bodhisattva’s conception is one cause of earthquakes, according to the Buddha’s explanation to Ananda near the end of his life.

The doctrine of the bodhisattva is clearly key to understanding Mahayana. Although the term existed in early literature, as we have seen, it referred to one whose vow to become a Buddha is focused on his own cultivation path. In the Mahayana the scope of bodhisattva identity was expanded, in two directions. First, it became a term applicable to any person who has the determination to embark on the bodhisattva path. Today bodhisattva is often used in some Chinese Buddhist groups to refer to all believers in general. The second innovation in the concept of bodhi-sattva was to make it apply to the development of Bodhi in all sentient beings, and not simply to one’s own enlightenment.

Bodhi tree

The Bodhi tree, a large fig (pipal) tree located in Bodhgaya, India, is honored by Buddhists as the originating location of their faith. As the story goes, Gautama Buddha, the Buddhism founder, had been engaged in various austerities in his search for enlightenment. After several years of such exercises, he realized their futility and changed his focus. He sat under a tree vowing not to rise until he attained his goal. Here he engaged in various mental disciplines, often pictured as battles with the lord of illusion (Mara), and subdued his mind. He followed his enlightenment with seven days of sitting meditation, seven days of walking meditation, and then seven more days under the tree. In 623 b.c.e., Gautama emerged from this period as the Buddha, the Enlightened One, ready to deliver his teachings to his close disciples.

Over the next centuries, the most famous incident concerning the tree relates to the conversion of King Asoka (third century b.c.e.) to Buddhism. He subsequently found his way to Bodhgaya to meditate by the tree. As the story goes, his angry wife had the tree cut down. Asoka responded by having the tree stump covered with dirt, over which he poured milk. The tree miraculously revived. He later had a stone wall built around the tree’s trunk to protect it.

Sanghamitta, Asoka’s daughter and a Buddhist nun, took a cutting from a shoot of the tree to Sri Lanka, where the king, Devanampiyatissa, planted it at the Mahavihara monastery in the old capital of Anuradhapura. This tree, it is said, derives from the original tree and is now the oldest continually documented tree in the world.

A century after Asoka, the original Bodhi tree was destroyed by King Puspyamitra (second century b.c.e.), though an offshoot of the tree was planted in its place. Then in 600 c.e., King Sesanka, a zealous Hindu, destroyed the tree again. A new tree was planted in 620 by King Purnavarma. Little was heard of the tree for many centuries after Buddhism’s destruction in India in the 12th century. In the 19 th century, the British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham visited Bodhgaya on several occasions and documented the destruction of the tree as it was then constituted. Already weakened by rot, in 1876 the last remnant of the tree was destroyed in a storm. Several people had collected the seeds and in 1881, Cunningham planted a new Bodhi tree, which stands today. That tree is the fourth in lineage from the original tree. With the support of the British colonial authorities, Cunningham also began a restoration of Bodhgaya.

Today, a number of Buddhist temples around the world have Bodhi trees growing in or adjacent to them, all of which are believed to be offspring of the one from Sri Lanka.

Bon Festival (Obon)

The Bon Festival is a Japanese Buddhist commemoration of the dead that usually occurs over several days in July (traditional Japanese lunar calendar) or August (modern Common Era calendar). During this period, believers welcome the souls of the deceased into their homes and life, and offerings of food to the dead are made at family home altars.

The Bon Festival appears to have been introduced to Japan from China in the seventh century. one story told of its origin concerns the story of a young man who had a vision in which his mother’s soul was trapped in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. He asked Buddha how he could assist his mother and was told to perform some charitable act in his mother’s memory. As he performed the act, he saw his mother’s soul being released, and he realized her unselfishness in his own upbringing. In his joy at what had occurred, he broke into dance. That young man was the Buddha’s major disciple Maudgalyayana, and the same festival in China was of course the Ghost Festival, Ullam-bana, still popular throughout East Asia.

Two major communal activities occur during the Bon Festival—the bon odori (dancing) and the floating of paper lanterns on the water to show the souls their way back to their year-round home. Many people travel back to their ancestral home for the period of the festival.

Today, the Bon Festival in Japan has become rather secularized and is celebrated largely as a time for a family reunion. Interestingly, in the West, Japanese Buddhists have used the festival as a time to introduce themselves to the larger non-Buddhist community. Temples will often offer a weekend of public events that include food, music and drumming, games, crafts, martial arts demonstrations, and tours of the temple.

Bon religion

Bon refers to the indigenous Tibetan religious tradition; the Bon tradition refers to itself as the Yungdrung Bon. For the tradition, the term yung-drung means "eternal," and the term bon designates "truth," "teaching," or "reality," a range of meaning similar to those of the term dharma (cho in Tibetan) in Buddhist literature. A believer in the Bon teachings is referred to as a Bon-po. Bon teachings, while in many ways close to those of the Nyingma school of Buddhism, nonetheless constitute an independent system. The Bon tradition is particularly famed for its tradition of dzog-chen, "Great Perfection," teachings. The literature of Bon has received very little academic study, so at this point it is not possible to generalize about its contents.

During the 10th century, the Bon tradition arose as an institutionalized, non-Buddhist religious movement. Not coincidentally, Buddhists also at this time begin referring to the Bon as a rival religious tradition. In literature from the 10th century onward, the term bon was deployed in an expanded sense. These Buddhist texts portray the Bon community in a hostile light, as opponents of Buddhism who went out of their way to obstruct the religion in Tibet. While these records likely reflect actual antagonism between advocates of the respective traditions, the Buddhist accounts, written centuries after the fact, are clearly overblown and had negative consequences in the religious history of Tibet.

The result was the active suppression of the Bon religious tradition, which was developing around the same time that these records were being composed, from the 10th century onward. The Bon religion, while claiming descent from an ancient tradition that far predates the imperial period, was in fact a "new" tradition developing in interdependence with the Buddhist traditions that were developing alongside it. Heavily influenced by Buddhism, particularly the Nyingma tradition of Buddhism, the Bon religion developed an institutional structure identical to that of its Buddhist rivals, with monasteries inhabited by monks whose lifestyle was very similar to that of their Buddhist counterparts. While they had their own deities and a unique textual corpus, they also borrowed heavily from Buddhist iconography and textual models. The similarities are so great Bon has sometimes been described not as a distinct religion but as a Buddhist heresy, heretical because its advocates do not acknowledge the founder of Buddhism, Sakyamuni Buddha, as their founder. These similarities have also led some advocates of Bon in the West to refer to Bon as a form of Buddhism, although this claim may have been made for marketing purposes.

Despite, or perhaps because of, these similarities, most Tibetans would not accept that Bon is a form of Buddhism. Many Tibetan Buddhists, in part because of the attacks on Bon in their own religious literature, do not view Bon as Buddhist. Many premodern Buddhists have viewed Bon as a force hostile to Buddhism, and this belief has led to numerous Buddhist persecutions of Bon in Tibet. These persecutions have been so successful that the Bon tradition virtually disappeared in central Tibet. The tradition largely survived on the margins of the Tibetan world, in the Himalayan border regions as well as in far eastern Tibet, on the borders of China, in what are now Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai provinces. While most Tibetan Buddhists are no longer hostile toward Bon, the idea of difference remains; it is shared by most members of the Bon tradition, who have a strong sense of a distinct history and religious identity.

According to the Bon histories, the Bon tradition was founded by a figure named Tonpa Shen-rab, a person of the distant past, who lived 18,000 years ago. He was the ruler of a land to the west of Tibet known as Tazik and was a fully enlightened being. Through his efforts, the Bon religion was disseminated to Zhangzhung, a region that now includes the western portion of Tibet as well as the Ladakh, Kinnaur, and Spiti areas of northwestern India. Bon was the dominant religion in Zhangzhung prior to its conquest by the Tibetan kings, a process that led to its decline as a "false religion" as Buddhism waxed in Tibet with the support of the kings.

Book of Changes (Yijing, Zhou Yi, I Ching)

This text is an ancient Chinese collection of divination. It is one of the five Chinese classics of the Confucian tradition. It dates at least to early Zhou times in Chinese history (1111-249 b.c.e.). However, it almost certainly reflects divinatory methods used by people in preceding periods as well.

Another title of the Book of Changes is Zhou Yi, or Changes of the Zhou. unlike the people of the preceding Shang dynasty (1751-1112 b.c.e.), who practiced divination by examining heat cracks on bones, the Zhou people of the Zhou dynasty had a "new" divination method. They used sticks to produce divinatory outcomes. Sticks were put into a container and a number of them were removed. An odd number was unlucky, an even number lucky. Later, the results were marked down as a whole line-for lucky, and a broken line—— for unlucky. These results were then tabulated into possible combinations, leading to the eight trigrams, the ba gua, showing all possible combinations if the sticks are drawn three times.

These divinatory patterns later took on philosophical interpretations: 1 came to mean heaven, 8 earth, 3 water, and so on. 1 also came to mean father, 8 mother, 2-4 sons, 5-7 daughters. In all they became a shorthand for discussing various patterns of energy and juxtapositions of relationships. This layer of philosophic interpretation was not written in the Book of Changes, however; it represents a later development.

Chart showing the eight trigrams, according to the Book of Changes (Yijing)

Chart showing the eight trigrams, according to the Book of Changes (Yijing)

The eight trigrams can be linked into 64 pairs of trigrams, called hexagrams, offering a wide spectrum of divinatory explanations.

The Book of Changes is still widely consulted today. Every combination of six binary (on/off) outcomes is covered in the Book of Changes. Therefore, individuals can toss coins six times or use some other method to obtain a hexagram. The important step after that is, of course, to interpret the result. The Book of Changes offers suitably cryptic guidance, often requiring meditation to be understood fully.

Boowa Nanasampanno, Phra Ajahn Maha

(1913- ) Thai monk and Buddhist teacher

Phra Ajahn Maha Boowa was born in Udorn-thani in northeast Thailand. He became a monk as a young man and concentrated on the study of Pali but did not find an answer to his spiritual quest until he met Ajaan Mun (1870-1949), the founder of the Thai Forest Meditation Tradition. He studied with Mun for seven years, during which he was told to forget his Pali studies and focus on meditation practice.

Boowa stayed with Mun until his teacher’s death in 1949; by then he was beginning to gather his own students. Soon afterward he founded Wat (temple) Pa Bahn Tahd near the village where he was born. He is still the abbot of Wat Pa Bahn Tahd and has on several occasions left Thailand for visits to England. He speaks English and has attracted a number of non-Thai students who appreciate the strict manner in which he regulates the monks’ lives.


Borobudur is the largest Buddhist site in insular Southeast Asia. Its scale is comparable only to that of the Angkor Wat complexes in Cambodia and the temples clustered at Pagan in Burma (Myanmar). Borobudur is a vast structure—it is perhaps too limiting to call it a stupa—rising from the plains of east Java, Indonesia. On the basis of archaeological evidence and comparison with surrounding sites, it can be dated to the period 870-920 C.E., during the Sailendra dynasty (r. c. eighth-ninth centuries c.e.). It is a totally Buddhist design, in contrast to Hindu monuments built in areas nearby. Yet it is also uniquely Javanese, a blend of Buddhist influence with local creative urges.

The name Borobudur is probably a shortened version of Bhumisambhara, "merit and knowledge obtained in stages." The stages are replicated when one ascends the various levels. The structure contains 504 Buddhas enclosed in niches and in 72 bell-shaped stand-alone "cages" on the terraces. There are in addition five "directional Buddhas," identified as the Pancha Buddha Dhyani (Five Celestial Buddhas). The Buddha Vairocana sits in the center, Aksobhya to the east, Ratnasambhava to the south, Amitabha to the west, and Amogha-siddhi to the north. There are also three Buddhas in the center, whose identifications are contested; they are probably related to Samantrabhadra-Vajradhara. The structure is in the shape of a stupa on the outside but inside follows a prasada archaeological form, a stepped pyramid like that found in other structures such as the Lohapasada at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.

Borobudur was first "discovered" by Western culture in 1814, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, then the colonial governor, found out about it and sent an engineer there to investigate. Several famous names in European letters have studied the structure, including Wilhelm von Humboldt, who discussed it in his linguistic study uber die Kawi-Sprache, published in 1936, as well as the scholar Paul Mus, who wrote on Borobudur in 1935.

The monument resembles a miniature Mt. Sumeru. The bottom has five levels, in square shape. The largest base is 479 feet on a side. All the walls are decorated with scenes in bas-relief, showing scenes from the well-known Mahayana text the Gandavyuha Sutra, as well as the Jataka Tales and the Buddha’s life. Farther up the structure, on the five terraces, are three round layers, atop which sits a single large stupa. These three elements—the square base layers, the middle round layers, and the top stupa—symbolize the universe with its constituent elements of earth, the land of deities, and the heights of purity, symbolizing sunyata. This symbolic geography makes the entire structure a giant mandala through which the pilgrim crosses.

Although Indonesia is today a majority Muslim state, Borobudur continues to be a major tourist and, increasingly, Buddhist pilgrimage site.

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