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

Bodhi in Buddhism specifically means the awakening experience attained by Gautama Buddha and his disciples. It is sometimes described as complete and perfect sanity, or awareness of the true nature of the universe. After attainment, it is believed one is freed from the cycle of Samsāra: birth, suffering, death and rebirth (see moksha). Bodhi is most commonly translated into English as enlightenment, though this translation is problematic, since enlightenment (the soul being "lit" by a higher power) is originally a concept from Christian mysticism or conversely evokes notions of the 18th century European Age of Enlightenment that are not identical with the Buddhist concept of Bodhi. There is no image of "light" contained in the term, "Bodhi" - rather, it expresses the notion of awakening from a dream and of being aware and Knowing (Reality). It is thus preferable to think of Bodhi as spiritual "Awake-ness" or "Awakening", rather than "enlightenment" (although it is true that imagery of light is extraordinarily prevalent in many of the Buddhist scriptures).

Bodhi is attained only by the accomplishment of the Paramitas (perfections), when the Four Noble Truths are fully grasped, and when all karma has reached cessation. At this moment, all greed (lobha), aversion (dosa), delusion (moha), ignorance (avijjā), craving (tanha) and ego-centered consciousness (attā) are extinguished. Bodhi thus includes anattā, the absence of ego-centeredness.

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) 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.

The Bodhi tree is a specimen of the Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa) in what is now the town of Bodhgaya. It was while sitting in meditation under this tree that Siddhartha Gautama became enlightened. In the legends of Mahayana Buddhism, it was said that Queen Maya held a branch of one of these trees while resting in Lumbini Garden and her son, Siddhartha, was born.

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