SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8: Finding their own place in the bustling holiday season, many Buddhists enjoy singing “O Ficus Tree” and stringing multicolored lights around their homes—meditating on the enlightenment of the historical Buddha on Bodhi Day. For many Buddhists, spreading the season’s light means quiet meditation and charitable giving. Another traditional act of compassion is the release of an animal that has been held in captivity.
The Pali Canon describes the Enlightenment of Buddha as occurring in three stages: the viewing of past lives and the cycle of rebirth; the discovery of the Law of Karma and the importance of the Eightfold Path; and the Four Noble Truths, which led to Nirvana. In honor of these vital stages, some Buddhists today hang three jeweled bulbs from a potted ficus tree.
Though the paths to Enlightenment are many—as is symbolized by the various colors in strung lights—the end result is always the three stages of that fateful night in 596 BCE. Adherents use Bodhi Day and the 30 days following as a reminder that each person plays a vital part in the vast, interconnected universe.
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha’s story begins in luxury, as a Nepali with the best education and a promising set of capabilities. Though his parents had spent much time preparing him for the lucrative family business, Siddhartha had seen too much sickness and suffering during his travels to ignore the seeming emptiness of life. (Wikipedia has details.) The Buddha-to-be soon left his comfort zone, spending years in extreme ascetic practices and studying under a variety of known teachers of the era. He starved himself, trying one discipline after another, until he vowed to sit beneath a Bodhi tree until he had the answers he sought. Days of meditation ensued, until Siddhartha discovered the root of suffering. From that night on, he became known as Buddha—the Enlightened One. (Wonder what the Buddha might be like today? Check out a UK version of the story, set in modern times, that involves the Rockefellers, Deepak Chopra and Harvard.)
The story goes that Buddha was offered milk and rice to regain strength following Enlightenment, and some families engage in this same breakfast on Bodhi Day. For others, Bo tree cookies are distributed to family and friends. (Bodhi leaves are heart-shaped. Get more ideas from Family Dharma.)
While Buddhist holidays can vary by sect, Bodhi Day is observed in several Mahayana traditions, including Zen; and Bodhi Day rings in China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam (in Japan, Bodhi Day is known as Rohatsu).
BUDDHISM REBORN IN THE FORBIDDEN CITY
Six years of intense restoration has rebuilt the Zhong Zheng Dian in Beijing, a Buddhist architectural complex that had formerly lay in ruin for almost a century following a massive fire. The New York Times reported dozens of elite guests present to witness the opening of the Hall of Rectitude—the center of Tibetan Buddhism during China’s last imperial dynasty. Though relations between the Beijing government and Tibetans remain tense, the Palace Museum revealed approximately 20,000 Tibetan Buddha statues dating from the 7th through the 20th centuries, along with thousands of other Tibetan artifacts. Curators report that the pieces, all accompanied by detailed records, have never been seen by the “outside world.” The complex will open to the public in approximately two years.
BUDDHISM RISES IN INDIA
Indian developers also are hoping to see a rise in Buddhist tourism. The country’s tourism officials are announcing plans to restore Buddhist sites that were previously in ruins. (News Track India has the story.) While safety was previously an issue in some regions of India, current peaceful conditions have prompted the refurbishing of these sites.