PHOTO CREDIT: Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree gazing upon the morning star. Image provided by the American Public Broadcasting Service, which was used in their documentary titled, "The Buddha."
Today marks the day that Buddha found his way out of the maze of suffering. Otherwise known as his "enlightenment." Countless Buddhists, worldwide, mark this day each year with personal reflection, meditation, and gratitude. For me, while the actual moment of enlightenment is to be honored, the essence of my celebration on Bodhi Day is that Buddha determined to share his discoveries in the first place!! Upon breaking free of the prison of the mind, he questioned sharing this information.
He wasn't sure if he could be an effective teacher. Remember, he was just emerging from the life of a hermit aesthetic who had given up on society and organized spirituality. Throughout his laborious practice, he had studied under many spiritual teachers, only to realize that true liberation comes from within. No amount of teaching can replace personal insight and awareness achieved through meditative reflection. Given this reality, he wondered if sharing the particulars of his discovery would even make sense or gain interest in a society that was so immensely ingrained in the pursuit of worldly desires.
Why would they listen to some barely clothed hermit who just wandered out of the forest talking about achieving spiritual freedom from just sitting still? Why wouldn't they ignore someone who would not only tell them that the way they'd been living for eons would never make them truly happy, but that even worse, it was causing them deep suffering!! Would he simply be wasting his and their time? But, luckily for us, the profound and unrelenting compassion that comes with the liberation of enlightenment compelled Buddha to share his discoveries. His compassion for those trapped in the suffering of materialism won out.
One of his realizations during his final night of searching was that he was interconnected to all beings. He couldn't have achieved his liberation had it not been for the aid given to him by others who came before him. Thus, given his understanding, it would be like the brain not sharing life-saving information with the rest of the body for him to not offer his wisdom to those would seek him out. It was up to the individual to decide what to do with the information once learned.
I believe that Buddha would be the first one to say that celebrating him on this day is kind but that the center of our focus on this day should be the Dharma itself. Perhaps he would politely remind us of its timelessness and that it is not something be created, but discovered. I think he would not want to be worshiped, because the Dharma belongs to no one and everyone at the same time. It is like oxygen or thermal heat -- universal and timeless. It is not something to own, or sell, or claim as solely yours. That would be like saying you own a patent on the sun. So, the Dharma itself is what I celebrate on Bodhi Day. For Buddha's part, I feel gratitude that he chose to sacrifice the rest of his life to share the discoveries he realized that night, under the Bodhi tree (the scientific name of a Bodhi tree is a banyan fig tree).
Thus, instead of a having a Christmas tree during this month of December, we get into the American, holiday season by decorating a traditional "Christmas" pine tree with Buddhist themed ornaments. Including, a star at the top of the tree that I made from local pine twigs, which signifies the morning star that Buddha saw during the last minutes of the night before his first day as a Buddha. And, at the base of the tree, we place a Buddha statue to signify Buddha meditating under the Bodhi tree. I hope you had a peaceful and renewing Bodhi Day (Rohatsu)!!
~I bow to the Buddha within all beings~