The History of the Bodhi Tree

Siddartha Gautama was born as a prince. He belonged to a Hindu family in northern India. He was raised in the life of luxury and married young. As he matured he had a change of heart. He began to notice the suffering of those around him. When he reached his early thirties he renounced the life he had been living, and became a wandering monk. He went around trying to discover the causes of suffering he saw before him.

In his 36th year, he happened to be wandering through the town of Uruvela. He stopped to rest in the shade of a fig tree and decided that he would not move from that spot until he had reached enlightenment. Because he chose that spot to sit, underneath that bodhi tree, the ground underneath that tree is sacred, the tree is sacred, and the seeds from any bodhi tree are also sacred. Malas made from bodhi seeds are also special to use during meditation.

For the next 40 years, Buddha (the enlightened one) wandered through the Ganges Valley teaching people and gathering disciples. He died when he was 80 years old.

When Buddha’s modern disciples return to Bohd Gaya they will find a bodhi tree in the same spot Buddha once sat. This is the Bodhi tree, though it is not the same tree that once gave shade to a tired and wandering monk, though that tree stood into the third century when the Emperor Asoka’s daughter, Sanghamitta, broke a branch off that tree and carried with her to Sri Lanka. There she planted the branch, and it grew into a Bodhi tree, the descendant of the first.

It is fortunate she had the foresight to plant a descendant tree, for legend has it that the wife of Emperor Asoka became jealous over the amount of time the Emperor sat meditating under the sacred tree and destroyed it. But the tree grew back. Whether it grew as a sprout from the roots of the destroyed tree or if it was replanted from a cutting taken from the tree in Sri Lanka is the focus of many stories. Pilgrims who came to this tree carried seeds or cuttings home with them to plant in Buddhist monasteries around the world. And so the descendants of the sacred Bodhi tree traveled, put down roots and grew, just as the message Buddha Seeds learned under the tree.

Over the ages many trees have grown, died for various reasons and been replanted in that spot. The Bodhi tree that stands today was actually planted in 1881 by a British Archaeologist after the previous one had died of old age several years before.

After his enlightenment, Buddha remained underneath the Bodhi tree for seven days. After the seventh day, Buddha embarked on a walking meditation. You can walk in the same path that Buddha walked because it has been marked with 19 lotus trees. This path is called the Jewel Walk.

In the third week he sat and contemplated the Bodhi tree. The spot where he sat to meditate is currently marked by the Animeschalochana Stupa.

 

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