Like all the religions, the metaphor of “climbing” is common in the buddist simbology. Visiting religious sites in Sri Lanka I often had to climb hundreds of steps, barefoot, to reach peacefull and meditation sites at the top of hills or inside caves. All the temples are full of prayers and the silence and the white dresses of the rituals explain perfectly the mood.
Folk names: Bo-Tree, Peepul Tree, Pipul Sacred Tree
Deities: Buddha, Vishnu
Powers: Fertility, Protection, Wisdom, Meditation
Ritual Uses: The plant is sacred to Vishnu who, like Buddha, was said to have been born beneath it. In the East, sacred fires are fed with its wood. Since Buddha also sat beneath this tree in meditation for six years, it is sacred to Him, and the heart-shaped leaves still tremble remembering the divine vibrations.
Magical uses: If you feel evil near, simply circle this tree several times and the evil shall flee in terror.
Barren women walk naked beneath a bodhi tree to become fertile.
Use the leaves in meditation incenses and all mixtures designed to give wisdom.
(Source: Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs)
West of Bangkok, Phutthamonthon is a Buddhist park, highlighted by a 15.7m high Buddha statue. This statue is considered the tallest free standing Buddha in the world.
Around the statue are sites memorialising the four main stations in the life of Buddha: his birth symbolized by seven lotus flowers; his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree; his first sermon; and his death.
The park is also a popular place of recreation, attracting joggers, cyclists, picnic goers, and visitors wanting to feed the fish.
Green invasion. This is a photo of my aunt’s house, who “accidentally” got too much green growing on their tiny typical tube house in Vietnam. From the inside the view is always nice and private, the heat is low, and no-one could easily break in. The only cons about this is my aunt used Bodhi tree ( Ficus Religiosa ) that has an extremely strong roots that could attack deeply into brick walls. If they are not controlled well, the Bodhi could easily “eat up” the whole house.
But you know, I would prefer a house with this much vertical green to nothing at all.
The Sacred Bo Tree
by Allan Stewart and Mrs C. Creyke, published in Alfred Clark’s Ceylon 1910.
“Perhaps the most interesting thing at Anuradhapura is the Sacred Bo-Tree, the oldest historical tree in the world. It is said to have grown from a cutting from the Bo-Tree in Northern India, under which Buddha ‘attained Enlightenment’…
It grows on a large brick-built platform, with steps leading up to it, and there is nothing impressive about the dilapidated buildings which surround it. The tree itself is insignificant in size and appearance, and gives little indication of its venerable age.
There can be no doubt, however, that it is the identical tree frequently mentioned in the ancient Singhalese chronicles, and that it has been an object of adoration to Buddhists for nearly two thousand two hundred years. Its fallen leaves are carried away in large numbers as relics.” Alfred Clark 1910
The Mahavamsa has a long description of the magical harvesting, potting and nuture by king Ashoka of the southern branch of the Bodhi tree.
The Indian king had agreed to send part of the sacred tree to king Devanampiya Tissa in Sri Lanka.
Once the southern branch was established in its golden pot, the transplant developed a will and power of its own:
“At the moment that the great Bodhi tree set itself in the vase, the earth quaked and wonders of many kinds came to pass.
By the resounding of the instruments of music which gave out sound of themselves among gods and men, by the ringing out of the shout of salutation from the hosts of devas and brahmas, by the crash of the clouds, the voices of beasts and birds, of the yakkhas and so forth and by the crash of the quaking of the earth, all was in one tumult.
Beautiful rays of six colours going forth from the fruits and leaves of the Bodhi-tree made the whole universe shine.
Then rising in the air with the vase, the great Bodhi tree stayed for seven days invisible in the region of the snow.” Mahavamsa
More than 2,500 years ago a man named Siddartha in ancient India began seeking a way to understand the meaning of life. He meditated under the Bodhi Tree for 7 weeks. On the sunrise of the 49th day he found his answer: the cause of all suffering is greed, selfishness, and stupidity. If people rid theselves of these emotions they will be happy. From then on he became “The Enlightened One”, or “Buddha”, and hence came the beginning of the Buddhist way of thought. In the Sanskrit language “Bodhi” means “fully awake”. Since that time the Bodhi Tree has been called “The Tree of Enlightenent”.
‘Right before the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, he was tempted in every conceivable way. He was assaulted by objects of lust, objects of craving, objects of aggression, of fear, of all the variety of things that usually hook us and cause us to lose our balance. Part of his extradordinary accomplishment was that he stayed present, on the dot, without being seduced by anything that appeared. In traditional versions of the story, it’s said that no matter what appeared, whether it was demons or soldiers with weapons or alluring women, he had no reaction to it at all. I’ve always thought, however, that perhaps the Buddha did experience during that long night, but recognized them as simply dynamic energy moving through. The feelings and sensations came up and passed away, came up and passed away. They didn’t set off a chain reaction. This process is often depicted in paintings as weapons transforming into flowers - warriors shooting thousands of flaming arrows at the Buddha as he sits under the Bodhi tree but the arrows becoming blossoms. That which can cause our destruction becomes a blessing in disguise when we let the energies arise and pass through us over and over again, without acting out.
A question that has intrigued me for years is this: How can we start exactly where we are, with all our entanglements, and still develop unconditional acceptance of ourselves instead of guilt and depression? One of the most helpful methods I’ve found is the practice of compassionate abiding. This is a way of bringing warmth to unwanted feelings. It is a direct method for embracing our experience rather than rejecting it. So the next time you realize that you’re hooked - that you’re stuck, finding yourself tightening, spiraling into blame, acting out, obsessing - you could experiment with this approach.
Contacting the experience of being hooked, you breathe in, allowing the feeling completely and opening to it. The in-breath can be deep and relaxed - anything that helps you to let the feeling be there, anything that helps you not to push it away. Then, still abiding with the urge and edginess of feelings such as craving or aggression, as you breathe out you relax and give the feeling space. The out-breath is not a way of sending the discomfort away but a way of ventilating it, of loosening the tension around it, of becoming aware of the space in which the discomfort is occurring.
This practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of. We touch feelings that we think we shouldn’t be having - feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage; all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addiction, and phobias. We contact whatever we’re experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue that for a few moments or for as long as we wish, synchronizing it with the breath. This process has a leaning-in quality. Breathing in and leaning in are very much the same. We touch the experience, feeling it with the body if that helps, and we breathe it in.
In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it’s very simple and direct. All we are doing is breathing in and experiencing what’s happening, then breathing out as we continue to experience what’s happening. It’s a way of working with our negativity that appreciates that the negative energy per se is not the problem. Confusion only begins when we can’t abide with the intensity of the energy and therefore spin off. Staying present with our own energy allows it to keep flowing and move on. Abiding with our own energy is the ultimate nonaggression, the ultimate maitri.’
Pema Chodron, Unlimited Friendliness: Three Steps to Genuine Compassion from the Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle, The Buddhist Review.
They are deeply immersed in false views,
They try to eliminate suffering through suffering.
I feel great compassion
For such sentient beings.
Sitting on the terrace of enlightenment for the first time,
Looking at the bodhi tree
And walking about,
During those days I was thinking thus:
The wisdom of enlightenment is subtle and supreme.
But the faculties of sentient beings are dull.
They are attached to pleasures and blinded by delusion.
How can I save such beings?
The story goes that after forty days of fasting and meditative asceticism, Siddhartha was in a very pitiful state, almost starved to death and unable to move. Finding him thus, a saint yogi took care of him and put him back on his feet. And when Siddhartha finally smiled, the yogi taught him this meditation. Then, as we know, Siddhartha found permanent enlightenment under the bodhi tree, and became the Buddha.