The Buddha's Attainment of Bodhi
It should be noted that while Bodhi Day is important in both branches of Buddhism, the holiday is often held to be especially important in Mahayana (vs. Theravada) Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism is most traditionally associated with the Buddhist traditions of China,
Even among Theravada Buddhists, however, Bodhi Day is a significant holiday. Moroeover, in the
United States, Canada and Europe, because of Bodhi Day’s proximity to the majority culture’s emphasis on Christmas, some Theravada Buddhists may place greater emphasis on Bodhi Day than in other countries where Theravada Buddhism is practiced.
The Bodhi Tree and Its Descendants
The original Bodhi Tree grows near the banks of the Falgu River under which the Buddha sat to attain enlightenment once grew at the site of what is now the Bodh Gaya. The site itself is Buddhism's most sacred point of pilgrimage.
|The Mahabodhi Tree |
Sri Mahabodhi Temple
Bodh Gaya, India
Sri Mahabodhi Temple Tree at Bodh Gaya
The tree marking the spot of the Buddha's enlightenment has had a temple surrounding it for over 2200 years. The original temple called the Bodhimanda Mahabodhi Temple was built in about 250 BC by the Maurya Dynasty Buddhist Emperor Ashoka the Great.
That said, the tree presently growing at the site of the Buddha's enlightenment dates only to the year 600 AD and is the fourth tree to have stood on the spot. Soon after King Ashoka build the Sri Mahabodhi Temple, his queen -- Tissarakkha -- became jealous of the attention given to the tree, and had the first tree destroyed. As recorded in the Nibbana of the Thera, "the treacherous Tissarakkha" did so with the thought
Forsooth, the king worships the great Bodhi-tree to my cost!' drawn into the power of hate and working her own harm, caused the great Bodhi-tree to perish by means of manduthorn.-- Nibanna of the Thera, Chapter 20 http://lakdiva.org/mahavamsa/chap020.html
The tree miraculously resprouted on the same spot.
After the death of Asoka, the Hindu Sunga Dynasty came to power in northern India, ruling the area including Bodh Gaya. Some say that King Pushyamitra Sunga, founder of the Sunga Dynasty, had the Bodhi Tree chopped down sometime in the 2nd Century BCE. It should be noted that conflicting historical opinions exist as to whether this actually occurred. Both sides of this debate, however, believe that the tree dates back to the original tree either because it still was the original tree (i.e., it was never chopped down by Pushyamitra Sunga) or because it was propagated from a cutting of the original tree.
|Shashanka of Gauda|
cut down the original Bodhi Tree
in 600 CE
|The Bodhi Tree at Svrasti|
In modern times, one other descendant of the Bodhi Tree has been transplanted. In 1913, the Sri Lankan Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala brought a cutting of the Sri Lankan Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he gave it to the American Mary Foster. Anagarika Dharmapala was the first major Buddhist speaker to preach internationally in both Europe and North America as well as in Asia, and Foster funded much of his efforts. The Honolulu tree was planted in the gardens Foster and her husband Thomas had bought from the Hawaiian royal family in 1884. When Mary Foster died in 1930, she left the gardens including the Bodhi Tree to the public as Foster Botanical Gardens.
Bodhi Day Observance and Customs
Bodhi Day is often celebrated through intensive day-long meditation, prayer and study. In the Japanese Zen tradition, the week leading up to Bodhi Day is devoted to intense meditation.
For 30 days beginning with Bodhi Day, Buddhists often bring a ficus or a sacred fig tree into their house in remembrance of the Bo (or Bodhi) Tree under which the Buddha sat during his 49-day meditation. The tree is often decorated with three brightly colored ornaments representing the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the way of Truth) and the Sangha (the community of those seeking enlightenment, or of the followers of Buddhism as a whole, a concept similar to the Muslim notion of the Ummah).
As with all of my blog posts on religion, this is not an attempt to indicate proper practice, but merely to inform in a very general way. Buddhism is a rich and varied tradition, and there are many ways to observe Bodhi Day, none definitive.
Finally, there is no traditional greeting on Bodhi Day, although many people do wish each other a "Blessed Bodhi Day" or a "Happy Bodhi Day."
Happy Bodhi Day!
Jundo Cohen (February 28, 2011), "Rohatsu -- Bodhi Day", Buddhist Family, https://sites.google.com/site/buddhistfamilyholidays/project-updates
Chan Minh Đài (Deccember 20, 2011), "Happy Bodhi Day, Dharma Sharing, http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2011/12/08/happy-bodhi-day/
Caroline Donne, (July 2013), "Bodhi Day (Buddhist Festival)" Assemblies UK, (vol. 15, no. 7) http://www.assemblies.org.uk/standing/world_religions/wr_bodhiday.html
Ryuei Michael McCormick (December 8, 1999), LotusSutra.net "Bodhi Day: Celebrating the Buddha's Awakening": http://sd2cx1.webring.org/l/rd?ring=ryuei;id=86;url=http%3A%2F%2Fnichirenscoffeehouse%2Enet%2FRyuei%2FBodhiDay2%2Ehtml
Barbara O'Brien (March 8, 2019) "An Overview of Bodhi Day: Commemoration of the Buddha's Englightenment," Learn Religions, https://www.learnreligions.com/bodhi-day-449913
Re:Online: The Place for Excellence (2020), "Bodhi Day," https://www.reonline.org.uk/festival_event/bodhi-day/
Lewis Richmond (December 8, 2012), "Celebrating Bodhi Day for the 21st Century," HuffPost, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/celebrating-bodhi-day-for-the-21st-century_b_2254289?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAB6hpOZumI6W1yUMd5dDok_IOzmS3Gzhn9N_SwDNZV-7Mo3IKPpXVpF3AlQJMBW5MqoH50mx3FbiaMWJ5AmkDEx9NiDPz474fmrQRoVjL-z-MYDb8zpBOxNbFCm-1e5ymPPgC4JDds0sn7s-x9yOqZBmHKARFyZ8g9f-b9Yw7OCQ
Fa Dao Shakya (November 10, 2008), Exploring Chán, Bodhi Day: The Day of Enlightenment": http://www.hsuyun.org/Dharma/zbohy/Literature/essays/fds/BodhiDay.html
Scott Simon, "Buddhists Prepare To Observe Bodhi Day, When Siddhartha Gautama Became Buddha," https://www.npr.org/2020/12/05/943453999/buddhists-prepare-to-observe-bodhi-day-when-siddhartha-gautama-became-buddha
Alden Smith, “How to Celebrate Bodhi Day,” http://www.doityourself.com/stry/bodhi-day
Sunyata Zen Conseil, "Rohatsu" (in French): http://www.sunyatazenconseil.com/blog/anniversaire-s/8-decembre-rohatsu.html
Opening "Happy Bodhi Day" greeting: "40 Oz. of Bad Karma" blogsite:
The enlightened Buddha, wall hanging, Kuro-Shoin, Goten, Ninna-ji, Kyoto, Japan: My own photograph
Mahabodhi Tree: Photo by Ken Wieland, Wikipedia site free access photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bodhgaya_3639641913_f4c5f73689_t.jpg
Shashanka gold coin (ca. 700 CE): http://jewellery.indianetzone.com/1/coins.htm
The Bodhi Tree at Sravasti, Wikipedia site free access photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anandabodhi2.jpg
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka: Photo by Joerg Reuter, Wikipedia free access photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jaya_Sri_Maha_Bodhi.jpg
Pipul fig leaves: Photo by Eric Guinther, Wikipedia free access photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ficus_religiosa_Bo.jpg
Bodhi Day pipul leaf origami: http://suite101.com/article/how-to-celebrate-bodhi-day-a318371
Bodhi Tree from Eugene (Oregon) Buddhist Priory website: http://buddhistfaith.tripod.com/beliefs/id32.html
Closing clip art "Blessed Bodhi Day": http://fc05.deviantart.net/fs12/f/2006/335/6/8/Happy_Bodhi_Day_by_Tutankhamun.jpg