Bodhi Day is a holiday which falls on December 8th and celebrates the day in which Siddhartha Gautama sat underneath the Bodhi tree and attained enlightenment. This one defining moment would become the central foundation upon which Buddhism has been built upon for the last 2,500 years. It is a day on which followers can renew their dedication to Buddhism; reaffirm themselves 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
2500 years ago, a young Indian prince named Siddharta Gautama abandoned his ascetic lifestyle – which he had previously adopted when he abandoned his life of luxury – sat underneath a Bodhi tree with the one goal of seeking true enlightenment. This young prince then faced an amazing inner journey that tested him to his very core and had him face off against demons – both literal and figurative ones. Following intense meditation, he was able to see how everyone and everything was connected and therefore, reached a state of enlightenment. Enlightenment that would lead him to create the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path. 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 family Ficus religiosa and can be found in Bodh Gaya. In religious iconography, the leaves of this tree are almost always represented as being heart-shaped. And while the tree in Bodh Gaya is the one that is most often referred to when speaking about Buddha’s enlightenment, there are other trees in other places which have a significance in Buddhism. For example, there is also a Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.
The Four Truths and the Eightfold Path
The four truths are at Buddhism’s central core and can be explained in the following way: Humans cling to impermanent states of being and material objects and this is called dukkha – which means non-satisfying. By trying to hold on to these things, humans end up getting 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 Truths:
- Dukkha: The material and non-satisfying world in which we live and the things that we cling to.
- Samudaya: This is the origin of our dukkha which keeps us trapped in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
- Nirodha: The end of dukkha. By ending dukkha, we can escape the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
- Magga: The liberation from dukkha.
The Eightfold Path are eight Buddhist practices. These are:
- Right View: Our actions have consequences and produce karma.
- Right Resolve: Adopting the Buddhist life in order to follow the path.
- Right Speech: Abandoning rude and hateful speech and lying.
- Right Conduct: Killing, injuring and stealing is prohibited.
- Right Livelihood: Only own what is essential to sustain life
- Right Effort: Beware of disharmonious and sensual thoughts.
- Right Mindfulness: Always be conscious of what one is doing.
- Right Samadhi: Practive the four stages of meditation and strive for a unification of the mind.
Celebrating Bodhi Day
Bodhi Day can be celebrated in a number of different ways. Often, Buddhist homes will have ficus religiousa tree that they decorate with beads and multi-colored lights – much in the same way that Christians decorate their Christmas trees. They will also put on reflective ornaments that represent the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Some people will spend the day meditate on the life of Buddha. Other people will visit stupas (shrines). In some homes, Buddhishs will serve special cookies shaped like Bodhi trees or their heart-shaped leaves.