THE BODHI TREE
At the western
side of the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, stands a large and historic Pipal Tree
ficus religiosa, known throughout history as the Bodhi Tree, under which Shakyamuni Buddha, then known as
Gautama, attained Enlightnment some 2500 years ago.
Gautama, had been practicing austerities for six years in the area of
the Niranjana river near Bodhgaya. Finally understanding that this could
not lead to realization, he abandoned his austerities and in the nearby
village of Senani (now also known as Sujata) the Brahmin girl Sujata
offered him milk rice. Strengthened by this, he took some kusha grass
for a mat and sat under the Pipal Tree facing east. He resolved not
to rise until he attained Enlightenment.
As he sat in deep meditation, Mara, Lord of Illusion, symbolizing the
delusions of one's own mind tried tirelessly to distract him from his
purpose. Gautama then touched the earth, calling it to bear witness
to the countless lifetimes of virtue that led him to this place of Enlightenment.
The earth shook confirming the truth of his words. Mara unleashed his
army of demons to distract and tempt him from his purpose, but Gautama
triumphed over the inner obstacles and the power of his compassion transformed
the demons' weapons into flowers. His mind was utterly subdued.
For seven days after the Enlightenment, Buddha continued to meditate
under the tree without moving from his seat. Another week passed in
walking meditation, and for a third the Buddha contemplated under the
The earliest records on the tree 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 the King, Devanampiyatissa, planted it at the Mahavihara
monastery in Anuradhapura. 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.
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 Vaisakha, 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 Bodhi Tree as it appears today, the fourth direct descendant
of the original Bodhi Tree and
oldest continually documented
tree in the world.
The present Bodhi Tree still performs a very important
role to 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.
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