Bodhi Branding

A friend passed along a question from a sibling on whether or not bodhi is an appropriate word to include in a professional logo. My short response is, “It’s fine.” I’ve shared the longer reply below.

Bodhi means “enlightenment” in the ancient Indian language of Pali. It’s also the name for the tree under which Siddhartha Gautama became enlightened as the Buddha. This word has a special spiritual meaning for Buddhists, but it’s also crossed into mainstream English usage with a broader range of associations. Just look at what sort of brands use the term “bodhi”…

There’s Bodhi Art, a showcase of contemporary Indian art, and Bodhi Gallery the former name of EASTGALLERY in London. Bodhi is the name for an Oakland-based Inide/Dutch pop/Experimental band. Bodhi is also a modular web-system that facilitates the process of publishing updates for a Fedora-based software distribution. (I have no idea what that means.)

Many other brands take on a more exotic or New Age quality. Bodhi handbags, Bodhi Toys (for dogs), Bodhi Studio (holistic spa, salon & boutique), Bodhi Yoga, Bodhi salon (to a lesser extent), Bodhi Natural snacks (fruit chips & lime powder) and of course Bodhi Tree bookstore, Los Angeles’ age-old New Age hot spot (in WeHo).

Not to mention the profusion of Buddhist individuals, publications, groups and organizations that take on this name.

So what does this mean for someone who wants to use bodhi in a simple logo?

People interpret bodhi by how they see and hear this word used around them. Bodhi has an overtly Asian feel—it is, after all, an Asian word—on one hand lending a sense of exoticism, on the other hand relating a, say, Indian (or Khmer) artist to her cultural artistic roots. But you should also get a feel for what bodhi means in its spiritual currency.

As a word for enlightenment, bodhi expresses liberation from all that makes life unpleasant—at the very least, the sorrows of sickness, old age and death. In a broader sense, bodhi conveys transcendance. At its root, bodhi denotes the paragon of wisdom. Bodhi is the perfect understanding of how things work.

Will people assume your work is inherently spiritual? Probably not. They likely won’t even know what bodhi means. As a brand, it’s a word that combines Asian cultural undertones with the intellectual sophistication of Buddhist philosophy—even if you don’t quite know what it means. I’d say go for it.