Bodhi Day is a Buddhist holiday which commemorates the day that Suddhartha Gautauma, also known as Buddha, attained enlightenment (bodhi).  He sat under the Ficus religiosa tree, known as a bodhi tree (but Ficus religiosa are not all necessarily bodhi trees; they must trace their parentage to the first Bodhi tree which Buddha gained enlightenment).

The Pali Canon (collection of scriptures in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition) describes Buddha’s three stages to enlightenment. In the first “watch of the night,” Buddha discovered his past lives in the cycle of rebirth. In the second watch, he discovered the law of Karma, and the Eightfold Path. And on the third watch, he discovered the Four Noble Truths, reaching Nirvana.

Bodhi Day is celebrated mainly by the Mahayana branch of Buddhism in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the day of Buddha’s enlightenment is on the 8th day of the 12th month, usually falling in January. However, in the 19th century when Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar, they assigned fixed dates to many of their holidays—including Bodhi Day. Body day was assigned December 8th, also known as Rohatsu—literally the 8th day of the 12th month. Japanese Zen monks meditate the entire night before the holiday, and then a sesshin—a days-long meditation session. Celebrations of Bodhi Day are quiet—as is appropriate for the nature of Buddha’s enlightenment. Celebrants meditate, study the Dharma (teachings of Buddha), chant sutras, and hold services to commemorate Buddha’s achievement of enlightenment. Some may decorate a Bodhi tree, string up colourful lights to represent the paths to enlightenment, or celebrate with a traditional meal of rice and milk (or cookies in the shape of the Bodhi tree).

As the Bodhi tree is a fig tree, check out this recipe for Fig Pudding from our recipe box!

– Emily Hotton