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Bodhi Leaf

Buddha Mind - get one, be one.

  Bodhi trees, and single Bodhi leaves, are a symbol, reminding us of the Buddha's enlightenment.



link to 3 pics




Trees are a common symbol for nature and for centuries they have provided shelter for man and animal alike. Tree worship was a common practice in India at the time of the Buddha. This can be seen in the story of Sujata - offering milk-rice to the Bodhisatta seated under a banyan tree on the eve of his enlightenment in the belief that he was the deity living in that tree. Trees, in fact all vegetation, are respected as 'one-facultied life' and there is a vinaya rule giving them protection. The story is of a monk who was cutting down a tree and damaged the arm of the tree spirit's child [see: COSMOLOGY]. She asked the monk not to destroy her home - to no avail. The spirit complained to the Buddha and as lay people heard the story they too 'were offended and annoyed' so the rule was created for monks forbidding 'the damaging of any living vegetation.'

That the Buddha was sitting under a tree at the time of his enlightenment has come to give trees even more significance and most specifially the asiatic fig, now known to Buddhists as the Bodhi Tree [bodhi = being awake, enlightened, supreme knowledge] and universally, botanically known as ficus religiosa (Latin). Bodhi trees are commonly found growing in Buddhist centres all over the world.

The scriptural account of the Buddha's enlightenment gives further significance to trees. We read that after enlightenment the Buddha sat cross-legged for seven days at the foot of the Bo-tree experiencing the bliss of emancipation and radiating gratitude to the tree. At the end of seven days he left the the Bo-tree and drew near to the Ajapala (the Goat-herd's) banyan-tree and likewise sat cross-legged for seven days. On leaving the foot of the Ajapala banyan-tree he drew near to where the Mucalinda tree was and, having drawn near, he again sat cross-legged for seven days. [this is the prelude to the story of Mucalinda, the seven headed naga (serpent-king) - see: COSMOLOGY]. (various renditions of the Buddha's life story can be found - see: BUDDHA'S LIFE)

The first scriptural reference to the Bodhi tree being established as an object of Buddhist worship is in the Kalingabodhi Jataka. The layman Anathapindika (donor of the Jetavana monastery where the Buddha was living at the time) asked if there was a place or object of reverence where devotees could pay their respects and offer homage when the Buddha was away. The Buddha said that the Bodhi tree was such a thing and a seed of the original tree was brought. A bodhi tree (the original?) can still be seen on the site of the old monastery at modern Sahet Hahet (Savatthi) in India.

The earliest records on the tree at Bodh Gaya are in the 'Kalingabodhi Jataka', which gives a vivid description of the tree and the surrounding area prior to the enlightenment, and the 'Asokavadana', which relates the story of King Asoka's (3rd century B.C) conversion to Buddhism. His subsequent worship under the sacred tree apparently angered his queen to the point where she ordered the tree to be felled. Ashoka then piled up earth around the stump and poured milk on its roots. The tree miraculously revived and grew to a height of 37 metres. He then surrounded the tree with a stone wall some three meters high for its protection. Ashoka's daughter Sangamitta, a Buddhist nun, took a shoot of the tree to Sri Lanka where King Devanampiyatissa planted it at the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura about 245 BC. It still flourishes today and is the oldest continually documented tree in the world.

In 600AD, King Sesanka, a zealous Shivaite, again destroyed the tree at Bodh Gaya. The event was recorded by Hiuen T'sang, along with the planting of a new Bodhi tree sapling by King Purnavarma in 620AD. At this time, during the annual celebration of Vesak, thousands of people from all over India would gather to anoint the roots of the holy tree with perfumed water and scented milk, and to offer flowers and music. Hiuen T'sang wrote "The tree stands inside a fort like structure surrounded on the south, west and north by a brick wall. It has pointed leaves of a bright green colour. Having opened a door, one could see a large trench in the shape of a basin. Devotees worship with curd, milk and perfumes such as sandalwood, camphor and so on."

Much later the English archeologist Cunningham records, "In 1862 I found this tree very much decayed; one large stem to the westward with three branches was still green, but the other branches were barkless and rotten. I next saw the tree in 1871 and again in 1875, when it had become completely decayed, and shortly afterwards in 1876 the only remaining portion of the tree fell over the west wall during a storm, and the old pipal tree was gone. Many seeds, however, had been collected and the young scion of the parent tree were already in existence to take its place." The present Bodhi tree is most probably the fourth descendant of that original tree to be planted at this site.

The bodhi tree plays a very important role for Buddhists of all traditions, being a reminder and an inspiration, a symbol of peace, of Buddhas' enlightenment and of the ultimate potential that lies within us all.

The little leaf links to a bit more information and a few craft suggestions.