THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8: If December is the season of light for many around the world, Buddhists bring their own lights to the season today with Bodhi Day, a celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment. (Get a rundown of all faiths’ December “light-filled’ holidays in the Washington Post.) By stringing multi-colored lights around their homes for the 30 days following Bodhi Day, Buddhists remember the many paths through which one can reach enlightenment. Beads hung with these lights often symbolize the connection, or “oneness,” among all things.
Buddhist tradition teaches that Siddhartha Guatauma practiced extreme asceticism before vowing to meditate beneath a tree—no matter how much time it took—until he understood how to liberate the self from the cycle of life and death. (Wikipedia has details.) Most traditions state that, on the night of his “awakening,” three things happened: First, Buddha realized all of his past lives; second, he came to an understanding of the Law of Karma and the Eightfold path; and third, he recognized the Four Noble Truths, after which he attained Nirvana. In Japanese Zen Buddhism, Buddha’s enlightenment is known as Rohatsu.
In a stricter sense, Buddhists meditate on Bodhi Day, study the Dharma and chant Buddhist texts. In a celebratory manner, Buddhist families decorate a ficus tree with multi-colored lights and shiny ornaments that represent the “three jewels”—the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. (In Australia, a Bodhi tree stands in the center of a city square during December. Read more from the Fairfield City Champion.) As Sujata offered the Buddha rice and milk after his enlightenment, to ease him back into an earthly diet, this same meal is often eaten by modern Buddhists for breakfast or dinner. Children sometimes bake heart-shaped cookies on Bodhi Day, in representation of the heart-shaped leaves of the Bodhi tree.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.