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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

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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).

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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

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  • 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. Nov 9 '21 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
    Nov 10 '21 at 12:37
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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"

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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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