Thursday, January 22, 2015

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi - the most sacred of the sacred trees

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, a direct descendant of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha reached enlightenment.

I've always loved trees, so I wasn't surprised when my Tai Chi Master told during our first lesson that trees contain positive chi (a kind of a 'life force' in Daoism). Even more, he told that just being close to a large old tree will transfer some of that life force into one, which sounds quite natural to me. After all, the huge old oak in my garden in Saltsjöbaden has always seemed to radiate protection, like it would be tapping into some kind of a secret underground force with its deep root system.

Stone walls and a golden railing surround the tree; originally, these were built to keep the tree safe from hungry elephants and other 'predators'.

This explains partly why seeing the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the most sacred of all living sacred trees in Buddhism, was nonnegotiable while traveling in Sri Lanka - even if the huge flooding in the northern parts of the island almost managed to keep us from it. But I'm very happy we managed to get there; the sacred Bodhi of Anuradhapura definitely seemed to have an aura of that special 'life force' around it.
So why so sacred? It all goes back to the birth of Buddhism. The founder of the religion was born in sixth century BC as Prince Siddhartha Gautama. After years of spiritual searching, he finally reached enlightenment after meditating intensively under a tree in a place called Bodh Gaya in Northern India. From then on, he became known as the Buddha - and befittingly, the tree was renamed the 'Bodhi' - the tree of enlightenment. 

Golden supports (and some less fancy ones) protect the remaining branch of the tree from circa 288 BC. The rest of the tree consists of younger branches, grown from cuttings from the original tree (several cuttings of different ages are propagated on the site,to ensure continuity even in the future).
Bodhi is traditionally translated into English as 'enlightenment', but literally it means 'awakened'. The verbal root "budh" means 'to awaken' - hence the Buddha, the 'Awakened One', or the 'Enlightened One'. A sacred tree of not just for Buddhists but even for Hindus and Jains, the Bodhi was aptly named Ficus religiosa  in the Linnean binomial nomenclature, and is known even by the names of peepal/peepul and the bo-tree. 
The old Bodhi is sacred and highly revered; whole families from tiniest babies to grandparents came with flower offerings and said their prayers in front of the huge tree.
The Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura is said to be the oldest living historical tree in the world, with a well-documented past. It was first brought as a cutting in a golden vessel from the original Tree of Enlightenment in Bodh Gaya to Sri Lanka by nun Sanghamitta, who was a daughter of Emperor Ashoka. After spending a couple of years in its golden container, it was planted in 288 BC in the Mahameghavana Park in Anuradhapura by King Devanampiyatissa. The original Bodhi in Bodh Gaya has since died, and the tree growing there is a cutting taken from Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura - so the circle of rebirth continues...

During its lifetime - an astonishing 23 centuries - the Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi has seen empires and kingdoms rise and fall. It has been ravaged by storms and attacked by elephants (hence the stone wall with golden railings), almost been overtaken by the jungle, and even seen a massacre  in 1985, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan ('Tamil Tigers') killed some 170 monks and nuns by its feet. But even if only one large branch of the original tree remains, it is still deeply revered by Buddhist of all ages and all nationalities as a living reminder of the life and teachings of the historical Buddha.

Beautiful flowers sold outside the to the devotees outside the site of the Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi - pink and white lotuses, and blue waterlilies (Nymphaea stellata) that are the wonderful national flower of Sri Lanka. Flowers fade very fast, so they are meant to remind the devotees of the impermanency of all things and to inspire them to think of the virtues and teachings of the Buddha.

1 comment:

balsamfir said...

I just wanted to thank you for these wonderful slide shows. From snowy gray northern New York, its a reminder that there is more in the world and how important travel is.