Origin of Bodhi and Dao

Bodhidaoism is the combination of the Sanskrit and Pali word bodhi and the Chinese word dao. Let’s look closer at each word and its meanings.


According to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, in both Sanskrit and Pali, bodhi literally means “awakening” or “enlightenment.” The word Buddha, according to A Concise Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, actually means the “awakened one.” So bodhi is at the heart of Buddhism, regardless of the tradition. “All understand bodhi as wisdom or understanding achieved through progress on the Buddhist path of cultivation,” says the Encyclopedia of Buddhism.

In Japanese, the word for awakening is satori, which, according to Oxford’s Dictionary of Buddhism, means “an intuitive apprehension of the nature of reality.” And they also note that kensho, which is another term for awakening, literally means “to see (one’s true) nature” (Oxford 141).

From this, you can see why I define bodhi as “awakening to the true nature of reality.” By this, I mean both the reality of the objective world and the subjective reality of one’s own mind.


There are two major systems for how to transcribe Chinese words into English. Tao is from the older Wade-Giles system, and dao is from the newer Pinyin. The Pinyin system is the one officially endorsed by China, and it is the one most modern scholars now follow.

In Chinese, the word dao (tao), according to The Shambhala Dictionary of Taoism, literally means the “way.” The Chinese scholar Wing-Tsit Chan calls it “the natural way” (1963, 136). And that is how I use it here. In the Tao-de ching it says,  “Being one with Nature, he is in accord with Tao” (1963, 148). Of course this view is from philosophical Taoism (Tao-chia), and not religious Taoism (Tao-chiao).


The suffix ism means, according the Webster’s New World College Dictionary, “the doctrine, school, theory, or principle of.” In the case of Bodhidaoism, it is the principles and practices of the way of awakening.

Taken together, Bodhidaoism is the way of awakening to reality, the way things really are. Subjectively, it means awakening to the reality of our own mind, discovering how it creates its own unhappiness. And objectively, it means awakening to the reality of the Cosmos, understanding what is real and what is not.


• Chan, Wing-Tsit, tr. (1963) A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
A Concise Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (2010) Ingrid Fischer-Schreiber, Franz-Karl Ehrhard, and Michael S. Diener eds., Michael H. Kohn, tr. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2008) Edward A. Irons, ed. New York: Checkmark Books.
A Dictionary of Buddhism (2003) Damien Keown, ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (2014) Robert E. Buswell, Jr. and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. eds. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
The Shambhala Dictionary of Taoism (1996) Ingrid Fischer-Schreiber, ed, Werner Wunsche, tr.Boston: Shambhala Publications.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 5th ed. (2014) New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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