Bodhi Day is the precious day we celebrate Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment, primarily in Mahayana Buddhist traditions. Although it is, perhaps, the most important day of the Buddhist calendar — celebrating the ultimate goal of the path, Enlightenment — it is a quiet day in most traditions. It is meant to be a day of contemplation, practice, and purification. For this reason, there are no parades or fireworks.
It is celebrated by very devout Buddhists, lay and monastic, on the lunar date (8th day of the 12th month) and this year falls on Monday, January 10, 2022.
Bodhi means Enlightenment
Bodhi literally means Enlightenment in both Sanskrit and Pali.
For this reason, the tree under which Buddha sat for his contemplations — his great mental battle with Mara — leading to his ultimate Enlightenment is named after this event, the Bodhi Tree. This grand Ficus tree is forever sanctified with the name Bodhi Tree.
The ancestor of this great Ficus Religiosa Tree still thrives in Bodhgaya, a symbol of Buddha’s triumph as the Conqueror. That great and sacred tree witnessed Buddha’s great vow to the Earth. The tree witnessed Buddha’s epic battle with Mara, the destroyer. The tree protected Buddha as he sank deeper and deeper into meditation.
As the morning star rose in the sky, in the third watch of the night, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha found the answers to our suffering, and experience Nirvana. It was in this moment, he became the Buddha — which simply means the “Awakened One.”
In the long Discourse to Saccaka (MN26), Buddha described the phases of his Enlightenment in three stages during which he saw all of his past lives in the cycle of rebirth, every moment of every life through countless cyclic times. He discovered a way to overcome the prison of karma and Samsara by living the Eightfold Path. He realized the Four Noble Truths and finally reached Nirvana.
Ultimately, after he gave up the austerities and adopted the middles way, he meditated on the four “Jnanas” (or stages):
“So when I had taken solid food and regained strength, then — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, I entered and remained in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain. With the stilling of directed thoughts and evaluations, I entered and remained in the second jhana: rapture and pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought and evaluation — internal assurance. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain. With the fading of rapture I remained in equanimity, mindful & alert, and physically sensitive of pleasure. I entered and remained in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’ But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain. With the abandoning of pleasure and pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — I entered & remained in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.” [MN36]
How to celebrate Bodhi Day
We celebrate the Conqueror and his epic Bodhi experience on Bodhi Day — and every other day of the year.
In Mahayana Buddhism, including Zen and Pureland all around the world, Bodhi Day is a day of practice, study and Dharma rather than a day of fireworks and celebration. The most popular way to celebrate Bodhi Day is to read sutras — ideally out loud.
Other ways we celebrate Bodhi Day are:
- For the day, even for non-monastics, observe the Pratimoksha vows or at least the five precepts, or Pancha Sila
- Acts of kindness and Metta towards all beings
- Extra meditation sessions through the sacred day
- Retaking Bodhisattva Vows, by stating them outloud.
- Creating merit.
It is said that merit practices are multiplied on Buddha Days, including Bodhi Day, Vesak, Uposatha, and so on. Ways to increase devotional merit on these days include:
- Taking refuge
- Reading Sutras or Suttas or Tantra
Pancha Sila — the Five Precepts
Strictly observe the five precepts — ideally year round, but certainly put extra effort into it on Buddha Days such as Bodhi Day:
- Not to kill
- Not to steal (or fraud or forgery, etc.)
- Not to be irresponsible in sexual acts
- Not to speak falsehoods (including malicious speech, gossip, and lying)
- Not to be intoxicated (any form).
More extensive ways to practice might include the thirteen Sanghadisesas (rules) normally observed by monks or sangha before any big event or communal event:
- Discharge of semen or getting someone to discharge your semen, except while dreaming
- Lustful bodily contact with a woman, including kissing or holding hands
- Making lustful remarks to a woman alluding to her genitals or sexual intercourse
- Requesting sexual favors from a woman, or telling her that she would benefit spiritually from having sex with the monk.
- Arranging for a date, affair, or marriage between a man and woman
- Building a hut without permission from the sangha, or building a hut that exceeds 3 x 1.75 meters in size
- Having someone else build a hut for you without permission from the sangha, or exceeding 3 x 1.75 meters in size
- Making unfounded charges about another bhikkhu in the hopes of having him disrobed
- Making deceitfully worded charges about another bhikkhu in the hopes of having him disrobed
- Agitating for a schism, even after having been rebuked three times
- Supporting an agitator, even after he was rebuked three times (only applies if there are fewer than four supporters)
- Rejecting well-grounded criticism, even after having been rebuked three times
- Criticizing the justice of one’s own banishment, even after having been rebuked three times
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