The Buddha first became Enlightened 2500 years ago, in meditation beneath the sacred Bodhi tree. Bodhi Day is the Buddhist holiday that remembers the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautamam or Shakyamuni experienced awakening. ‘Bodhi’ means enlightenment.
This year Bodhi Day falls on December 8th, but this is a lunar festival and so the date varies from year to year. It is celebrated on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month, Rohatsu. In Japanese.
Buddhism is a path of spiritual development leading to insight. Buddhist practices such as meditation are a way of changing yourself in order to develop compassion and wisdom. This tradition has existed for thousands of years. All those who reach Enlightenment are termed ‘Buddha’, although Siddhartha Gautama was the original. Buddhist teachings are clear and practical. They include
- Nothing is fixed or permanent
- Actions have consequences
- Change is possible.
Buddhists follow five precepts;
- Do not kill
- Do not tell lies
- Conduct sexual relations in a proper manner
- Do not steal
- Do not become intoxicated
However, on special feast days such as Bodhi Day these precepts are extended to eight, to include humility, morality and simplicity
Buddhism is non-dogmatic, non-violent and tolerant. It teaches the practical methods of meditation which enable you to become wise and compassionate. There are 350 million Buddhists, and a growing number are Westerners. You do not have to have been brought up in an Eastern culture to be inspired by the idea of Buddhist enlightenment and be part of the movement towards world peace.
Enlightenment is a state sought by Buddhists, with Gautama as their example. This is a mind-set of calm awareness, where everything is connected and suffering is transcended. Enlightenment means you detach from your thoughts and feelings and let go of attachment to things. It is an awareness of eternal truth – an experience above and beyond the everyday.
Those who are enlightened let go of anger, greed, doubt and restlessness. They are aware of a serene reality that lies beyond the everyday. Yet enlightenment is all around, and within. The Buddha attained this through meditating, which is central to Buddhist practice.
For Buddhists all over the world Bodhi Day means remembering Siddhartha Gautama and meditating, following his example. Houses may be decorated with pictures and little statues of the Buddha, sometimes placed under a fig tree, to mark his day of awakening. Many colours are used in the decoration, showing that enlightenment is joyful, and may be attained in many different ways.
Candles and lights are lighted on this day and kept burning for 30 days, into the following lunar month. Buddhist homes may have a small tree decorated with coloured lights strung on a cord, to symbolise that all things are connected. There are also three hanging ornaments that symbolise the three jewels of Buddhism, Buddha, Dharma (teaching) and Shanga (community).
It is traditional to eat a meal of rice and milk – the very meal the Buddha ate after his Enlightenment took place, served by a girl called Sujata. Buddhists get together to stay in prayer through the night and reflect on the precepts of their spiritual path.
Many people believe that when the thoughts of peace-loving people unite, the whole world can be helped. Even if you are not a Buddhist, celebrating Bodhi Day can bring tranquillity and insight into your life.
- Set aside at least 10 minutes each day to meditate (see FIVE STEPS TO LEARN THE SKILL OF MEDITATION on this site, also FIVE TIPS TO BRING MEDITATION INTO DAILY LIFE)
- Burn a joss stick in thanksgiving for wisdom and gentleness
- Light a candle as a symbol of enlightenment
- Let go of hostile, unkind or negative thoughts with love (not guilt)
- Perform an act of kindness in a spirit of compassion
- Eat simple, unprocessed food and refrain from meat – this is a great opportunity for a detox!
- Decorate a festive tree and place a figure of the Buddha under it – your Christmas tree can do double duty!
- Consult a spiritual teacher, such as those available in The Circle
In this article we have looked at what Bodhi Day is, when it is celebrated, and what you might like to do on that day. We have also looked at what Buddhism is and Buddhist enlightenment.
Observing Buddhist wisdom can make a great difference to your life. Enlightenment itself may be hard to attain and involve a long journey, but it is the journey that counts.
If you wish to follow the Buddhist enlightenment path, this Bodhi Day could be when you begin your journey. An old tradition from Zen teaching says ‘Every day is Bodhi Day’.
PUBLISHED: 07 DECEMBER 2015