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The Bodhi Tree is the enormous, sacred fig tree in Bodh Gaya under which the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, is said to have attained enlightenment. It often symbolizes wisdom, compassion and awareness in the Buddhist faith.
In 528 BC, at the age of 29, Siddhartha fled his privileged life of royalty on an unshakable quest for insight. He spent 49 days meditating beneath the Bodhi Tree. When he rose to his feet, thanking the tree for its shelter and inspiration, he found enlightenment.
Today, the Sacred Fig tree growing at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya is considered a direct descendant of the original Bodhi Tree, whose roots literally stretch back to 288 BC. Whether you take a pilgrimage to sit beneath its umbrage, embark on your own Eightfold Path or simply strive to live a mindful existence, there is much to learn from the Bodhi Tree. So what does the Bodhi Tree symbolize in Buddhism?
What Is Enlightenment?
Enlightenment is a state of heightened consciousness by which a person can grasp the truth of existence, convey compassion to humanity and live in a serene state maintained by mindfulness and knowledge. Spiritual enlightenment in Buddhism is obtained by following what is called the “Eightfold Path,” a system of upholding the following principles:
- Right Understanding
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Conduct
- Right Means of Making a Living
- Right Mental Attitude or Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Concentration
The Journey To Infinite Potential
The Bodhi Tree symbolizes the infinite potential we each have within us and the representation of that journey to achieve it. A tree starts as a seed and grows to bear buds, branches, blossoms and fruit. Similarly, the individual must undergo many stages of self-growth to reach their truest potential. Just as the tree brings life-giving oxygen and nourishment to the environment around it, we must not only aim for self-growth, but for a symbiotic relationship with those around us and the universe itself. That is the true realization of infinite potential.
Reflection Breeds Awareness
The Bodhi Tree is often depicted as growing out of its own reflection. It’s said that the tree’s reflective image represents that same infinite potential we strive to achieve in our lifetime. Through yoga and meditation, the less literal and more spiritual act of reflection brings forth the awareness that summons enlightenment. Just as Buddha did beneath the Bodhi Tree, by sitting still and befriending the self through deep inner reflection, we stop searching for what we want and become aware of what we need.
Root To Rise
The Bodhi Tree is a true lesson in equilibrium. Its resilient roots plant deep beneath the soil to draw nourishment from the waters reflecting it below. But its branches reach high and proud, grasping for sunshine and a place amidst the sky. This dichotomy represents the Yin and Yang of the self, often being pulled in two very different directions while striving for a fulfilling balance. If we trust the strength of our powerful roots as we reach for the sky, we’ll remain grounded with no fear of the unknown!
Cultivate A Sense Of Playfulness
While the Bodhi Tree represents many profound and complex notions, it’s also known for its release of positive and playful vibes! One of its lessons is to let go, embrace the now and have fun! When the wind blows through its branches, the Bodhi Tree is said to dance. Cultivating an exuberant energy and watching it grow into joy is one of the most important undertakings of our existence—an act to strive for over and over again!