Bodhi Day

Bodhi Day is a holiday that falls on December 8th and celebrates the day on which Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath the Bodhi tree and attained enlightenment. This defining moment became the central foundation upon which Buddhism has been built for the last 2,500 years.

It is a day on which followers can renew their dedication to Buddhism; reaffirm their commitment to enlightenment, compassion, and kindness to other living creatures; and also understand the relevance of this religion as it applies to the modern world.

The Enlightenment of Buddha

2,500 years ago, a young Indian prince named Siddhartha Gautama abandoned his ascetic lifestyle—which he had previously adopted after leaving his life of luxury—and sat beneath a Bodhi tree with the sole goal of seeking true enlightenment.

This young prince then embarked on an amazing inner journey that tested him to his very core and had him confront demons—both literal and figurative. Following intense meditation, he was able to see how everyone and everything was connected and, therefore, reached a state of enlightenment. It is this enlightenment that Bodhi Day celebrates.

The Bodhi Tree

A Bodhi tree is a very old sacred fig tree that belongs to the species Ficus religiosa and can be found in Bodh Gaya. In religious iconography, the leaves of this tree are almost always depicted as heart-shaped.

While the tree in Bodh Gaya is the one most often associated with Buddha’s enlightenment, there are other trees in different places that also hold significance in Buddhism. For example, there is a Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path

The Four Noble Truths are at the core of Buddhism and can be explained as follows: Humans cling to impermanent states and material objects, which is called dukkha—meaning unsatisfactory.

By trying to hold on to these things, humans end up caught in samsara—the cycle of life, dukkha, death, and rebirth. However, this can be stopped by following the Eightfold Path. If this path is followed, then true nirvana is possible.

Below are the Four Noble Truths:

  • Dukkha: The unsatisfactory and impermanent world in which we live and the things to which we cling.
  • Samudaya: The origin of our dukkha, which keeps us trapped in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
  • Nirodha: The cessation of dukkha. By ending dukkha, we can escape the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
  • Magga: The path to liberation from dukkha.

The Eightfold Path consists of eight Buddhist practices. These are:

  • Right View: Understanding that our actions have consequences and produce karma.
  • Right Resolve: Adopting the Buddhist life to follow the path.
  • Right Speech: Abandoning false, rude, and hateful speech.
  • Right Conduct: Refraining from killing, injuring, and stealing.
  • Right Livelihood: Owning only what is essential to sustain life.
  • Right Effort: Being mindful of disharmonious and sensual thoughts.
  • Right Mindfulness: Being conscious of one’s actions at all times.
  • Right Samadhi: Practicing the four stages of meditation and striving for a unification of the mind.

Celebrating Bodhi Day

Bodhi Day can be celebrated in various ways. Often, Buddhist homes will have a Ficus religiosa tree that they decorate with beads and multi-colored lights, much like Christians decorate their Christmas trees.

They will also hang reflective ornaments that represent the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Some people spend the day meditating on the life of Buddha, while others visit stupas (shrines). In some homes, Buddhists will serve special cookies shaped like Bodhi trees or their heart-shaped leaves.

When is it?
This year (2024)
December 8 Sunday
Next year (2025)
December 8 Monday
Last year (2023)
December 8 Friday