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by Tathālokā Therī

To all my friends celebrating Bodhi Day today, I hope it is an enlightening one for you! Or blessed and beneficial. Or at least as minimally harmful as possible - that is already a great blessing.

To all my Theravāda friends and East Asian friends who often ask, "what's up with this 'Bodhi Day' on Dec 8th?" - I hope this article can help. Although imperfect, i think it is better than many of the brief intros i've seen. I add some comments below here:

✓ means: it is good per my understanding

→ means: i'm adding a comment


- by Luis Andres Henao (8 Dec 2023)

✓ "Buddhists around the world are celebrating Bodhi Day."

→ Especially those in Japan and international Buddhist traditions stemming from Japan.

✓ "Also called Buddha's Enlightenment Day, it commemorates when Siddhartha Gautama attained awakening — or enlightenment — some 2,600 years ago, becoming the Buddha."

✓ [Video above: Buddhist women strive for gender equity in Thailand]

"When is Bodhi Day celebrated?"

✓ "Japan celebrates on Dec. 8, following the Western calendar."

✓ "It varies elsewhere in East Asia, but generally, the holiday falls between the winter solstice and the lunar new year, said Scott Mitchell, dean of students at Berkeley, California-based Institute of Buddhist Studies."

→ "It varies elsewhere" means that Buddhists in East Asia and in East Asian Buddhist traditions--other than in Japan and Japanese-related traditions--generally celebrate Bodhi Day per the East Asian Lunar Calendar, rather than per the Gregorian (Western-international) Calendar.

"Southeast Asian and Tibetan Buddhists celebrate Buddha's enlightenment in May and June respectively, said Judith Simmer-Brown, professor emeritus of contemplative and religious studies at Colorado's Naropa University."

→ Two notes:

(1) we are missing South Asian and Himalayan Buddhists here, and this is notable, as the Buddha was born in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal and his great Awakening experience was in India (South Asia). There are countries in the Himalayas with a lot of Buddhists (such as Bhutan), that are not Tibet. And Sri Lanka, which is in South Asia, has a majority Buddhist population.

(2) Buddhists in South & Southeast Asia and the Himalayas celebrate the Buddha's enlightenment on the full moon of Vesaka (Vaishaka), which normally falls in April or more commonly in May, and sometimes as late as June. See: Buddhist Calendar. The Tibetan Lunar Calendar sometimes corresponds with the South & Southeast Asian lunar calendars, and sometimes diverges by one month, depending on when the Lunar Leap Year occurs.

"How did Siddhartha Gautama achieve enlightenment?

✓ "It happened after years of spiritual seeking and meditation, including gaining insights into the ultimate nature of existence: "In particular, the origins of human suffering, the cycle of birth and death (samsara), and the path to liberation (nirvana)," Manuel Lopez, a professor of Buddhist Studies and Religion at New College of Florida, said via email.

✓ "Buddhism is regarded as the world's fourth-largest religion after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Most Buddhists live in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Which Buddhist traditions observe Bodhi Day?

"Not all Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day. It is most common in East Asia's Buddhist Mahayana traditions found in Japan, Korea and Vietnam."

→ What about China? - I've read there are more Buddhists there now than everywhere else in the world combined.

"In Japan's Zen Buddhist schools, it is known as "Rohatsu," meaning the 8th day of the 12th month, Mitchell said. In some other schools, it is called Jodo-e."

→ This year (2023-2024), the 8th day of the 12th lunar month (腊月初八), known as 'Laba' (臘八) in Chinese, falls on January 18th 2024. In Korean, Bodhi Day is called 'Seongdo Jaeil' 成道斋日 (成道齋日) means 'Day of Enlightenment'.[1]

✓ "In Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and other majority Buddhist countries, it is celebrated as part of Vesak Day. Often in May, Vesak Day commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha, Lopez said.

"How is Bodhi Day celebrated?

"Observances vary, but celebrants pray and read scriptures (sutras). Some decorate trees with colorful lights or candles, symbolizing Buddha's enlightenment, and have special family meals. Others engage in acts of kindness and generosity (dana) to reflect on the Buddha's teaching and improve their karma, Lopez said."

→ In the Zen, Chan and Seon Meditation Schools of East Asia, a seven-day intensive meditation retreat is often held leading up to Bodhi Day. In China and Korea, there are special traditional mid-winter holiday foods for Laba, such as festive sticky rice porridge with beans and chestnuts.

"Some eat rice and milk — believed to be the sustenance that helped Buddha make his final push for enlightenment, Tricycle, a Buddhism-focused magazine, writes in its online "Buddhism for Beginners.""

→ That's 'milk-rice' a highly-refined and highly-nutritious special porridge-like food known as 'kheer' in India. Such milk-rice was offered by the lady Sujātā, also remembered as the Buddha's first disciple to undertake the Three Refuges (the traditional formula for become Buddhist).

"What does Bodhi mean?

✓ "'Bodhi' comes from a verb in Sanskrit and Pali that means 'to awaken' or 'awakened.' In Buddhism, it's generally understood to mean 'enlightenment.'

✓ "Siddhartha Gautama spent years seeking the answer to the problem of suffering. Finally, he attained awakening and became the Buddha while meditating under a peepal tree in Bodh Gaya, a village in the northeastern Indian state of Bihar.

✓ "'He was determined not to arise until he had solved the problem. Seated at the base of the Bodhi tree, facing East, he began a meditation that was to last through the night,' said Philip Almond, emeritus professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at Australia's The University of Queensland.

✓ "That night, he said, 'Gautama directly knew the true nature of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the way to its cessation.'"

"What is the Bodhi Tree?

✓ "The tree Gautama mediated under is called the "Bodhi Tree" or tree of awakening. As a result, the ficus leaf became a Buddhist symbol. Many Buddhists plant ficus trees."

→ Ficus is a whole genus of trees - figs. The Bodhi tree's botanical name is named ficus religiosa, in English translated as the "sacred fig". It is known for its distinctive heart-shaped leaves. The oldest documented planted tree in the world is the southern branch sapling of the original Bodhi tree, which was brought from India to Sri Lanka by emperor Ashoka's daughter Sanghamittā and planted in Sri Lanka's ancient capital Anuradhapura, where it is still alive and highly-revered today.

✓ "Today, Bodh Gaya — and its Mahabodhi Temple Complex — is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites. The giant Bodhi Tree near the main temple is believed to be a descendant of the original tree, according to UNESCO."

→ The current Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya is from a cutting of the Anuradhapura sapling above; that is, a cutting of a cutting. So, botanically, it is not a 'descendent' of the original tree, but is still first generation.

— end of article and comments —


Thank you for your patient reading and consideration -- I hope this is helpful!

May we gain in our strength and unity through better knowing, understanding, and appreciating one another, and our awakening practices.

1. Learn more about the 'Seongdo Jaeil' - 'Day of Enlightenment' (Bodhi Day) observance in Korean Buddhism.

2. The article "What is Bodhi Day? And when do Buddhists celebrate it?" - by Luis Andres Henao (8 Dec 2023)


To all my friends celebrating Bodhi Day today

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