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Homage to the Bodhi Tree in Buddhist practice

by Godwin Witane

The Bodhi Tree is one of the Symbols of the Buddha in Buddhist worship. It was nearly four centuries after the Demise of the Buddha that Buddhist devotees created the Buddha Statue to represent the image or likeness of the Buddha in human form. But all along it were Symbols that represented the Buddha that the devotees venerated in paying homage to the Buddha after His Demise.

Among them were the Dharma Chacra or the Wheel, the Sri Pada or the Sacred Foot Print the Chatiya or the Dagoba wherein Buddha's Relics were enshrined and the Chathra or the Royal Umbrella which represented Buddha's Royal lineage, the emblem of Royalty.

We can also believe that the devotees thought it unholy or sacrilegious or that it was a violation of the aura of sanctity of the Buddha if He was represented in Sculpture as the Buddha was above man and gods. Thus the figure of the Buddha was represented by the four Symbols described above.

Bodhi Tree at Gaya

The worship of the Bodhi Tree arose at the time the Blessed One was living at Jetavana Temple at Sravasti. AT that time it was the custom for lay devotees to come to the abode of the Buddha, the Jetavana Temple to worship Him and to listen to the preaching of the Dhamma. However the Buddha was not present always at the Temple for He often travelled about the country on sacred missions of mercy and also on begging alms. The people who came from far away places were sadly disappointed when they found that the Buddha was not present.

When Buddha's august disciple Venerable Ananda noticed this he made the Master aware of the disappointment of the devotees. The Buddha then expressed that the Bodhi Tree at Gaya under which the Bodhi Satva sat and sought protection and refuge to enable Him to meditate and gain Enlightenment represented the Buddha. Homage to the Sacred Bodi Tree was paying homage to the Buddha He said.

Thera Ananda thereupon sought permission of the Buddha to obtain a seed from the Sacred Bo Tree at Gaya to be planted at the entrance to the Jetavana Temple. The Buddha thereupon granted permission to do so saying that it would make Jetavana Temple His abode both during Buddha's lifetime and when He was no more.

Soon after a Bo seed of the Sacred Bo Tree at Gaya was obtained by Arahat Maha Moggallana and it was planted at the Jetavana grounds by the Chief Lay Devotee Anatha Pindika. It is said that immediately the seed touched the ground it miraculously sprouted and a full grown Bodhi Tree with outspreading branches came to life.

The Buddha thereupon spent one whole night seated at the foot of the Tree in meditation to grant it sanctity. This Bodhi Tree was thereafter named Ananda Bodiya, which became an object of veneration for all the Buddhists the world over.

Bodhi Tree at Anuradhapura

2300 years ago theri Sangamitta brought into Lanka the right branch or the Dakshina Shakawa of the parent Sacred Bo Tree at Gaya under which Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained Enlightenment. This sacred Bo Sapling too performed miracles before it was planted at Maha Mega Garden at Anuradhapura.

The Sacred Bodhi Tree at Anuradhapura is one of the most revered objects of the Buddhsit world besides the Sri Dalada or the Sacred Tooth Relic at Kandy and the Sacred Foot Print of the Buddha on top of Adam's Peak. Buddhist devotees from all over the world visit Lanka to worship these three objects.

We owe a colossal debt to Emperor Asoka of India for sending us the Bo Sapling and also for donating his only son Arahat Mahinda and only daughter Theri Sangamita to propagate Buddha's preaching in Lanka during the reign of King Devanam Piyatissa.

Object of Worship

The Buddha Sasana was established in Lanka by Arahat Mahinda which shines as a beacon to the whole world around forever more. The planting of a Bodhi Tree in every Buddhist Temple points to its origin to the Ananda Bodiya at Jetavana Temple in Sravasti and the historical occasion when a Sapling of the Sacred Bo Tree was planted in Anuradhapura.

Thus the Bodhi Tree has become an essential object of Buddhist Worship as much as the Chatiya and Buddha's Image.

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