Bodhi Tree

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Literally the ‘tree of awakening’, also known as the Bo Tree, it is the tree under which Siddhārtha Gautama is believed to have gained enlightenment (bodhi) after meditating under it for 49 days. In Pāli it is known as the bodhirukkha, in Sanskrit as the bodhivṛkṣa, and it is known to botanists as ficus religiosa. Given its close association with the occasion of his attaining Buddhahood, the tree has great symbolic significance and according to legend is the centre of the world and the spot at which all Buddhas past and future gain enlightenment. In the twelfth year of his reign, Aśoka's daughter Saṇghamittā took a branch of the Bodhi Tree to Sri Lanka. When the original Bodhi Tree was destroyed in the 7th century it was replaced with another one from the shoot exported to Sri Lanka by King Aśoka in the third century bce. This was planted in the Mahābodhi temple where it flourishes today. Each Buddha is associated with a particular Bodhi Tree, but since the earliest accounts of the Buddha's enlightenment fail to mention a tree, it is possible that the cult of the Bodhi Tree is a more recent addition. It has become customary to plant a Bodhi Tree, if possible a cutting, in every monastery (vihāra) to indicate the presence of the Dharma. In early Buddhist art the figure of the Buddha was not portrayed, and the image of the tree, along with other symbols, was used to represent him.

Subjects: Buddhism.

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