Ed. Note – With Bodhi Day approaching, I dug up this article. I had many questions when I first heard of this “holiday”, so I hope it helps you if you to have questions about this traditional Buddhist holiday.
by Alden Smith – In the world of Buddhism, an important day of celebration is December 8th. This is the day that many Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day. It was on this day in 596 BC that the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. Buddhism has the ability to adapt to any culture where it becomes a presence. It picks up the customs and bits of the culture around it. The Buddha expounded that we should, as Buddhists, fit into the neighborhood in which we live, not make a spectacle of ourselves or do anything that draws undue attention.
The Buddha Attains Enlightenment
Siddhartha Gautama, who would later become the Buddha, was a prince who left his home in Nepal at the age of 29 to search for the meaning of life. His family had protected him from the cares of the world, but as Siddhartha was an inquisitive sort, he traveled about. He saw the misery of old age, sickness and suffering. Because this profoundly affected him, he chose to leave his comfortable surroundings and seek meaning.
Siddhartha, after spending six years living the life of an aesthetic and serving under six teachers, still did not find what he was searching for. He tried many different disciplines, such as surviving by eating only one grain of rice per day, but soon realized that this was not the answer. Because he could not find the answers to his questions he vowed that he would sit under the Bodhi tree (sometimes called Pipal tree, Peepul tree, Pippul tree, or Bo tree in certain texts) until he had his answers. Siddhartha fasted and meditated under this tree for a week, and on the morning of the eighth day came to several realizations which were to become the principles of modern Buddhism. It was here, as Siddhartha meditated and gazed upon Venus rising, that the basis of The Noble Eightfold Path and Four Noble Truths were born.
From this point forward he was referred to as the Buddha — The Enlightened One. He was also known as Shakyamuni (the sage of the Shakya clan) Buddha.
Celebrating Bodhi Day
Bodhi Day, the day of enlightenment, can be celebrated in many ways. To the Buddhist, it is a day of remembrance and meditation, much like the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25th.
To the layman, a good way of recognizing this important event in Buddhism is to dwell on its meaning and place reminders in the home of this event. Often, colored lights are strung about the home to recognize the day of enlightenment. They are multi-colored to symbolize the many pathways to enlightenment. The lights are turned on each evening beginning on December 8th and for 30 days thereafter. A candle is also lit for these thirty days to symbolize enlightenment.
In Buddhist homes, you will sometimes see a fiscus tree of the genus ficus religiousa. Beginning on Bodhi Day, these trees are decorated with multi-colored lights, strung with beads to symbolize the way all things are united, and hung with three shiny ornaments to represent the Three Jewels – The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
A meal of rice and milk is significant on this holiday. According to Buddhist legend, Sujata offered this to the Buddha upon his awakening to help him regain strength.
To get children involved in this holiday, make cookies in the shape of a tree to symbolize the Bodhi Tree, or make leaf shaped cookies. The leaves of the Bodhi tree are heart shaped, so a Valentine’s Day cookie cutter would be appropriate.
Bodhi Day is of importance to Buddhists. Especially celebrated by Buddhists of the Pure Land, it is a noteworthy experience for anyone of any culture.