Can Anyone shine a light on how does 菩 relate to the concept of Bodhisattva/ enlightenment? From what I’ve found online this 汉字 is originally related to ‘spit’ and that just doesn’t make sense to me. At all. Thanks


4 Answers 4


The Buddist Terms dictionary on Pleco lists 菩 as "A kind of fragrant grass", while the Unihan dictionary on Pleco describes it as "herb, aromatic plant". Most of the others just list words that contain it, while a couple call it Bodhisattva (or Boddhisatva).

Ultimately, I agree with Tang Ho that it is a transliteration of a Sanskrit word. Normally in transliteration one picks a character that sounds similar (at the time) and has a positive or at least neutral connotation. A fragrant grass or aromatic plant probably has positive connotations at a time when burning incense would have been common. Both Frankincense and Myrrh are aromatic resins, for example, and were highly prized and expensive for a very long time in history.

Furthermore, for all we know, the original character had no meaning but had a grass part to indicate the tree the Buddha sat under (as in MBdr's answer) and the 咅 was the sound component. Plus, as a random guess "spit out" may not always have a truly negative connotation. One could think of spitting out attachment to the world (a stretch, but possible).


菩 itself doesn't contain the meaning of Bodhisattva. It has to be 菩萨

菩萨 is a transliteration of Bodhisattva (not from English but from its source language)

菩萨: 梵語:बोधिसत्त्व,bodhisattva;巴利語:बोधिसत्त,bodhisatta

  • Also it was translated during a time more than a thousand year from now. So even 菩 and 萨 may sound different than today's ones. The great thing about it is that we know that at the time the 菩萨 and बोधिसत्त्व should sound alike. Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 18:55
  • Not too sure about "The great thing about it is that we know that at the time the 菩萨 and बोधिसत्त्व should sound alike" Think about "Canada", or "幽默"
    – Pedroski
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 12:37

It's phonetically translated from Sanskrit rather than originally from Chinese.

It usually goes with "菩提", "菩提樹" or "菩薩" in Chinese, while there is no separate meaning for a single word "菩"


I read on wikipedia that Gautama Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment while sitting under a tree for 7 weeks.

The name of the tree is ficus religiosa, 菩提树。

On that note, 菩 has the grass radical to point in this direction (vegetation) and the rest of the 汉字 could be interpreted as a mouth in praise of the tree, instead of spitting.

I don't believe this to be the actual meaning behind this character, but at least it makes for a good mnemonic.

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