Bodhi Day marks the day that Siddhartha Guatama reached enlightenment and became the Buddha. Siddhartha had been a coddled prince and, afterwards, an austere ascetic; then, after meditating throughout the night under a Bodhi tree, he finally realized the truth he was seeking about human suffering. On Bodhi Day, he formulated the Four Noble truths that unlocked the problem of human suffering. These truths acknowledge that to be human is to suffer, and that suffering has a cause; the cause of suffering is attachment, and enlightenment comes from following a path of non-attachment.
At the moment of enlightenment, the Buddha said, “I now see [that] all sentient beings everywhere fully possess the wisdom and virtues of the enlightened ones, but because of false conceptions and attachments, they do not realize it.”
So, on Bodhi Day, Buddhists celebrate the “birth” of the Buddha and also the potential of all beings to become enlightened. To celebrate, Buddhists symbolize enlightenment by lighting candles or stringing lights around temples or altars. The thirty days following Bodhi Day are a time to reflect and set commitments.
(Though December 8 has been set aside as a permanent date to honor the Buddha, this holy day is celebrated at different times in different Buddhist sects and cultures, often according to the lunar calendar.)
To Name This Day:
- Fix a meal with very few ingredients. This can remind us how simple life can be when cravings for things or “more” do not overtake us. Legend has it that the Buddha was served a meal of rice with milk after he rose from the Bodhi tree.
- Do one thing very slowly. According to Kenneth Kraft, a student once asked Thich Nhat Hanh, "There are so many urgent problems. What should I do?" He replied, "Take one thing and do it very deeply and carefully, and you will be doing everything at the same time."
- Meditate. What could honor Buddha better than practicing the discipline that led him to enlightenment? If meditation is new or daunting to you, it can help to try a method that involves movement. Try walking meditation.