Buddha's Enlightenment Under The Bodhi Tree - Buddha Under The Bodhi Tree
Bodhimanda, and sometimes called Bodhimandala is a Pali word that refers to the spot or seat under the Bodhi tree where the Buddha attained enlightenment. Its literal meaning is "place of enlightenment", and every Bodhisattva is said to occupy such a spot before becoming enlightened.
The tree under which he sat at Bodhimanda was a large fig-tree, of the species called pifpala (Ficus religiosa) and the veneration of the faithful soon made it an object of fervent worship, which lasted for centuries. In the year 632 of our era, that is twelve hundred years after the death of the Buddha, Hiouen-Thsang, the Chinese pilgrim, saw the Bodhi-druma, or at least the tree that passed as such. We are told in the Lalita-vistara that it grew about forty-five miles from Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha, not far from the Nairanjana. The tree was protected by huge walls of masonry, which extended to the east and west, and perceptibly narrowed towards the north and south. The principal gateway opened eastwards, facing the river Nairanjana. The southern gate was in the vicinity of a large pool, no doubt the one in which Siddhartha washed the shroud. To the west rose a belt of steep mountains, and the northern side communicated with a large monastery. The trunk of the tree was of a whitish-yellow colour, its leaves glossy green ; and the traveller was told they did not fall either in autumn or in winter. Only, it was added, on the anniversary of the Buddha's Nirvana they all suddenly fall off, and the following day grow again, finer and larger than before. Every year the kings, ministers, and magistrates assembled on that day beneath the tree, watered it with milk, lighted lamps, scattered flowers, and withdrew, bearing away the leaves that had fallen.
Near the 'tree of wisdom' Hiouen-Thsang saw a statue of the Buddha, before which he prostrated himself; its erection has been attributed to Maitreya; one of the Buddha's most famous disciples. All round the tree and the statue, in a very confined space, a number of sacred monuments, each recalling some pious memories, were to be seen. The devout pilgrim tells us that he took eight or nine days to worship them, one after the other; there were stupas and viharas, or monasteries, of every size and shape. The Vajrasanam or Diamond Throne was more particularly pointed out to the admiration of the faithful; it was the hillock on which the Buddha had sat, and which, according to popular superstition, was designed to disappear when men should become less virtuous.
It seems certain that, aided by the very exact information given in the Lalita-vistara, and also by Fa-Hian and Hiouen-Thsang, Bodhimanda could be found, nor would it be surprising if one day some intelligent and courageous British officer were to announce to us that he had made this discovery, which would be well worth any trouble it might have cost. The features of the country have not altered, and if the trees have perished, the ruins of so many monuments must have left recognizable traces upon the soil
The retreat of the Buddha under the sacred fig-tree at Bodhimanda was not, however, so secluded as to prevent his being visited. Besides Sujata and her young companions, who supported the Buddha by their gifts of food, he saw at least two other persons, whom he converted to the new faith. These were two brothers, both merchants, who were passing close to Bodhimanda on their journey from the south, whence they were bringing to the north, where they dwelt, a large quantity of merchandise. The caravan that followed them was numerous, as it was conveying several hundreds of wagons. Some of the vehicles having stuck fast in the mud, the two brothers, Trapusha and Bhallika by name, applied to the holy ascetic for help, and while they followed his advice, were touched by his virtue and superhuman wisdom. 'The two brothers, the Lalita-vistara tells us, as well as all their companions, took refuge in the Law of the Buddha'
Notwithstanding this first promising token of success, the Buddha still hesitated. Henceforth he was assured of being in complete possession of the truth. But how would men be disposed to receive it? He brought to mankind light and salvation, but would men consent to open their eyes? Would they enter the path they were bidden to pursue? The Buddha once more retired into solitude, and spending his days in contemplation, he thus meditated in his heart:
'The Law that emanates from me is profound, luminous, subtle, difficult of comprehension; it baffles analysis, and is beyond the powers of reasoning; accessible only to the learned and the wise; it is in opposition to all worldly wisdom. Having abandoned all individually, extinguished all ideas, interrupted existence by absolute calm, it is invisible, being essentially immaterial; having destroyed desire and passion, and thus having put an end to any reproduction of entity, it leads to Nirvana. But if I, the truly enlightened Buddha, teach this Law it will not be understood by others, and will expose me to their insults. No, I will not give way to my feelings of compassion.'
Three times was the Buddha on the point of yielding to this weakness, and perhaps he might have renounced his great enterprise for ever, and have kept for himself the secret of eternal deliverance; but a supreme thought decided him at last to put an end to his hesitation.
'All beings, he reflected, whether high or low, whether they are very good, very bad, or indifferent, can be divided into three classes: of which one-third is in error and will so remain, one-third possesses the truth, and one-third lives in uncertainty. Thus a man from the edge of a pond sees lotus flowers that have not emerged from the water, others that are on a level with the surface, and again others that stand up out of the water. Whether I teach or whether I do not teach the Law, those who are in error will not be the wiser; whether I teach or do not teach the Law, those who possess the truth will still be wise; but those beings who live in uncertainty will, if I teach the Law, learn wisdom; if I teach it not, they will not learn it.'
The Buddha was seized 'with a great pity for the multitude of beings plunged in uncertainty,' and this thought, full of compassion, decided him. He was about to open the gates of Immortality to those' who had so long been led astray by error, by revealing to them the four sublime truths that he at last comprehended, and the connecting links of causes.
Having once fixed the basis of his doctrine, and having determined to brave everything in order to scatter abroad its benefits, Siddhartha asked himself to whom he should first communicate it. At first, it is said, he intended to address himself to his old teachers at Rajagriha and Vaisali. Both had welcomed him in former days; he had found both pure, good, devoid of passion and envy, full of knowledge and sincerity. He owed it to them to share with them the new light that shone for himself, and which formerly they had sought together in vain. Before going to teach his doctrine at Varanasi, the holy city (Benares), he wished to instruct Udraka, the son of Rama, and Alara Kalania, whom he gratefully remembered. In the interval, however, they had both died. When the Buddha heard this, he was seized with regret; he would have saved them both, and they would certainly not have scoffed at the teaching of the Law. His thoughts then reverted to the five disciples who had so long shared his solitude, and who, while he practised his mortifications and penances, surrounded him with tender care. It was true they had, in an excess of zeal, left his side; but those saintly personages of high caste were nevertheless very good, easy to discipline, instruct, and purify; they were accustomed to austere practices, evidently their faces were set towards the way of deliverance, and they were already freed from the obstacles which closed it to so many others. Neither would they cast contempt upon the Buddha, and he resolved to seek them.
He therefore left Bodhimanda, and starting northwards crossed over the mount Gay a, which was at a short distance, and where he broke his fast; then he stopped on his way at Rohitavastu, Uruvela-Kalpa, Anala, and Sarathi, where the owners of the principal houses gave him hospitality. He thus reached the great river Ganga, the Ganges. At that reason of the year the waters were high and extremely rapid. The Buddha was obliged to ask a ferryman to take him across, but as he had not wherewithal to pay the fare, it was with some difficulty that he managed to cross the river. As soon as the king Bimbisara heard of the difficulty he had been placed in, he made the passage free of payment to all monks.
Buddha's Enlightenment Under The Bodhi Tree
Text adapted from 'The Buddha and His Religion'
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