After traveling for six years, studying with several teachers, and practicing extreme asceticism to the point where he nearly died, Siddhârtha Gautama resolved to practice the “middle way.” A woman named Sujata nursed him back to health on rice milk. When he was strong enough, he sat overnight in meditation under a ficus tree. By dawn, he had become the Awakened One – the Buddha.
That day was the 8th day of the 12th lunar month of 596 BCE (plus or minus a few years). Using our modern calendar, most Buddhists commemorate Bodhi Day on December 8th. Bodhi means “awakened” in Sanskrit and Pali.
If you’d like to mark this important holiday, here are some things you can do:
- Set aside a few extra minutes to meditate. Or take the time to read up on the Dharma or the life of the Buddha.
- If you’re feeling festive, you can decorate your home or a tree with multicolored lights. The different colors symbolize the many paths to enlightenment. The tree represents the original ficus – now often referred to as the Bodhi Tree – that sheltered the Buddha on the night of his enlightenment.
- You can also decorate with a strand of beads representing the interdependence of all things.
- You can choose three special ornaments – shiny is best – to represent the Three Jewels of the Buddha (teacher), Dharma (teachings), and Sangha (spiritual community).
- Have a meal of rice and milk. Try eating in silence, using the process of eating as your meditative focus.
At the very least, it’s a good opportunity to remember that Siddhârtha was a human being who woke up to the nature of reality. If he can do it, so can we.
Happy Bodhi Day!