The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The Bodhi Tree, also known as Bo (from the Sinhalese Bo) and 'peepal tree' in Nepal and Bhutan, was a large and very old Sacred Fig tree (Ficus religiosa) located in Bodh Gaya (about 100 km (62 mi) from Patna in the Indian state of Bihar), under which Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher later known as Gautama Buddha, is said to have achieved enlightenment, or Bodhi. In religious iconography, the Bodhi tree is recognizable by its heart-shaped leaves, which are usually prominently displayed. Bodhi trees are planted in close proximity to every Buddhist monastery.
The term "Bodhi Tree" is also widely applied to currently existing trees, particularly the Sacred Fig growing at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, which is a direct descendant planted in 288 BC from the original specimen. This tree is a frequent destination for pilgrims, being the most important of the four main Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Other holy Bodhi trees which have a great significance in the history of Buddhism are the Anandabodhi tree in Sravasti and the Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Both are believed to have been propagated from the original Bodhi tree.
On December 8, Bodhi Day is celebrated by Buddhists, of which are from Japan, Nepal and north of India. Those who follow the Dharma (Buddhism), greet each other by saying, “Budu saranai!” which translates to “May the peace of the Buddha be yours.”
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The Bodhi tree at the Mahabodhi Temple is called the Sri Maha Bodhi. According to Buddhist texts the Buddha, after his Enlightenment, spent a whole week in front of the tree, standing with unblinking eyes, gazing at it with gratitude. A shrine, called Animisalocana cetiya, was later erected on the spot where he stood. A British archaeologist planted a Bodhi tree in 1881 at Bodh Gaya after the previous one had died due to old age. The spot was used as a shrine even in the lifetime of the Buddha. King Asoka was most diligent in paying homage to the Bodhi tree, and held a festival every year in its honour in the month of Kattika. His queen, Tissarakkhā was jealous of the Tree, and three years after she became queen (i.e., in the nineteenth year of Asoka's reign), she caused the tree to be killed by means of mandu thorns. The tree, however, grew again, and a great monastery was attached to the Bodhimanda called the Bodhimanda Vihara. Among those present at the foundation of the Mahā Thūpa are mentioned thirty thousand monks from the Bodhimanda Vihara, led by Cittagutta.
Buddhist recounts that while the Buddha was yet alive, in order that people might make their offerings in the name of the Buddha when he was away on pilgrimage, he sanctioned the planting of a seed from the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya in front of the gateway of Jetavana Monastery near Sravasti. For this purpose Moggallana took a fruit from the tree as it dropped from its stalk, before it reached the ground. It was planted in a golden jar by Anathapindika with great pomp and ceremony. A sapling immediately sprouted forth, fifty cubits high, and in order to consecrate it the Buddha spent one night under it, rapt in meditation. This tree, because it was planted under the direction of Ananda, came to be known as the Ananda Bodhi.
King Asoka’s daughter, the nun Sanghamitta, brought a piece of the tree with her to Sri Lanka where it is continuously growing until this day in the island’s ancient capital, Anuradhapura. The Bodhi tree that is growing in Sri Lanka to this day was originally named Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, and was a piece of another Bodhi tree planted in the year 245 B.C. Although the original Bodhi tree deteriorated and died of old age, the descendants of the branch that was brought by Emperor Ashoka’s son, Mahinda and his daughter, Sanghmitta, can still be found on the island.
According to the Mahavamsa, the Sri Maha Bodhi in Sri Lanka was planted in 288 BC, making it the oldest verified specimen of any angiosperm. In this year (the twelfth year of King Asoka's reign) the right branch of the Bodhi tree was brought by Sanghamittā to Anurādhapura and placed by Devānāmpiyatissa his left foot in the Mahāmeghavana. The Buddha, on his death bed, had resolved five things, one being that the branch which should be taken to Ceylon should detach itself. From Gayā, the branch was taken to Pātaliputta, thence to Tāmalittī, where it was placed in a ship and taken to Jambukola, across the sea; finally it arrived at Anuradhapura, staying on the way at Tivakka. Those who assisted the king at the ceremony of the planting of the Tree were the nobles of Kājaragāma and of Candanagāma and of Tivakka.
The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is also known to be the most sacred Bodhi tree. This came upon the Buddhists who performed rites and rituals near the Bodhi tree. The Bodhi tree was known to cause rain and heal the ill. When an individual became ill, one of his or her relatives would visit the Bodhi tree to water it seven times for seven days and to vow on his or her behalf of the sick for a speedy recovery.
To Honolulu, Hawai'i
In 1913, Anagarika Dharmapala took a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi to Hawai'i, where he presented it to his benefactor, Mary Foster – who had funded much Buddhist missionary work. She planted it in the grounds of her house in Honolulu, by the Nu'uanu stream. On her death she left her house and its grounds to the people of Honolulu, and it became the Foster Botanical Garden.
According to the Mahavamsa, branches from the Bodhi trees of all the Buddhas born during this kalpa were planted in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) on the spot where the sacred Bodhi tree stands today in Anurādhapura. The branch of Kakusandha's tree was brought by a nun called Rucānandā, Konagamana's by Kantakānandā (or Kanakadattā), and Kassapa's by Sudhammā.
Bodhi, a Pali word meaning ‘awaken,’ is the name given to the individual tree growing at Bodh Gaya which the Buddha was sitting under when he became enlightened. This Bodhi Tree was a variety of fig known to botanists as Ficus religiosa and which has large spreading branches and rounded leaves with a characteristic pointed tip. In the several accounts of the Buddha’s enlightenment in the Tipitaka, the Bodhi Tree is only mentioned once (Udana 1, repeated at Vinaya 1. 1-7). Tradition says that after his enlightenment the Buddha sat for seven days gazing at the Bodhi Tree out of gratitude for the shelter it had given him (Jataka 1. 77); and modern Buddhists still revere this species of tree for the same reason. The present Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya was planted in 1880 and is a distant ancestor of the original one. Bodhi trees are sometimes mistakenly called banyans which is another species of tree altogether.
In the 3rd century BCE King Ashoka of India sent his daughter Theri Sanghamitta to Sri Lanka with a sapling from the right branch of the Sacred Bodhi Tree in Buddhagaya. This was planted in the Mahameghavana garden in Anuradhapura by King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka. This Bodhi Tree is still being venerated as the most sacred spot on the earth by Sri Lankan Buddhists. It remains the oldest historical tree in the world with a written history updated generation after generation (The Bodhivamsa).
The Bodhi Trees of the 28 Buddhas
The Pali Canon records some biographical information of the current Buddha, along with the previous Buddhas in known history. See: 28 Buddhas. Each Buddha attained enlightenment sitting under a tree. All of the trees are considered Bodhi Trees but they were not all the same species of tree.