WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka
Religious beliefs and practices in
relation to the Bo-tree
By George Tillekeratne
"Prince Kalama do not believe what I said thinking it is correct because I said it. Do not believe anything because it is an age old belief coming down from generation to generation. Do not believe anything thinking that it was said by the ancient religious teachers. Do not believe anything because it is stated in the Tripitaka. Do not believe anything said by your teacher because he is a Bhikku. Examine what you heard thoughtfully and think carefully whether it is correct, whether it is of some benefit for the human being and whether it has been said thoughtfully with purity of mind and after you have examined and understood it clearly that it will be of benefit to you and to the others as well then only should you accept it" - The Buddha.
I have been toying with the idea of writing this article for sometime consequent to a statement made to the Press sometime back by the erudite monk Rev. Dr. Walpola Rahula when he quite rightly lamented about Buddhists who hold Bodi Pujas instead of Buddha Pujas thus relegating the Buddha to the second place and giving pride of place to a thoughtless Bo Tree which itself is a thoughtly act. Buddhists hold Bodi Pujas expecting relief from distress etc. as if a tree is capable of granting relief to human beings in distress. If you ponder over it carefully and intelligently you will not believe in such fantacy. Being a member of the plant kingdom it is only sensitive to external stimuli and nothing more could it do. To believe that it is capable of granting favours or relief from distress to human beings is being apish. Unlike in the case of a Buddha Puja no merit is accrued to the devotee for offering pujas to a thoughtless tree. But when an offering is made to a Buddha, it is not only for that particular Buddha but it is intended for all past, present and future Buddhas so that the merit accrued from it is said to be immense. The Buddha has never told his disciples or lay Buddhists to worship the bo tree but the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sanga the Triple Gem. In fact, he said that after his death his Dhamma should be considered as supreme and never mentioned the Bo Tree for any religious consideration whatsoever. So Buddhists must always strive to hold Buddha Pujas and not Bodi Pujas.
The advocates of Bodi Pujas adduce the argument, that in gratitude for providing shelter from sun, rain and wind the Buddha spent his first week after Enlightment gazing at the Bo Tree without battling an eyelid and that we in turn should worship the Bo Tree. This is a complete distortion of facts and a deliberate departure from the truth. Bodisatvas or Aspirants to Buddhahood sit under large trees having large canopies which provide some protection from sun, rain and wind, besides it is very cool under such large trees. They sit under them in meditation. However, there is no sanctity attached to such trees. In fact all previous Bodhisatvas too sat under large trees not only Bo Trees but trees of other kinds too. None of those trees have been venerated. After they reached Enlightment such trees were a forgotten lot. They were never venerated or considered holy. This is a fact which cannot be disputed. Such trees grow in the wild like the Bo Tree in question and the Bodhisatva just sat under it and did not select it as a tree of sanctity. To prove my argument I would like to refer to a Book titled Bauddha Dharshanaya Saha Sanscruthiya written by Professors Chandima Wijebandara who often appears in the T.V. Buddhist Panel discussions and H. M. Moratuwegama. They are two eminent persons well versed in the Dhamma and who has written this book after a perusal of numerous Buddhist Texts. In page 13 of this book it is stated that the Buddha spent only four weeks after he attained Enlightment in peaceful serenity. The first week he had spent under the Bo Tree in the same posture with his back to the Bo Tree contemplating on his valuable discourse the Pattichcha Samupadaya or the Doctrine of Dependent Origination in ascending and descending order and not gazing at the Bo-tree without battling an eyelid as mistakenly believed. The second week has been under the Ajapala Nuga Tree, the third week under the Muchalinda alias Midella Tree and the fourth week under a Kiripalu Tree.
The authors say that the Buddha spent only four weeks under the said trees and that someone had later added another three weeks to say that the Buddha spent seven weeks in peaceful contemplation. It is therefore crystal clear that the Buddha never sat gazing at the Bo Tree as mistakenly believed or made to believe. After he departed from the place the Buddha has never revisited the Bo Tree and neither did he ask his disciples or followers to pay homage to the Bo Tree. Now let us examine the life style of the Buddha. It is said that he slept for only two hours per day and the rest of the day was spent for the moral upbringing of the people. His aim was to see that people attained Nirvana through meditation. To say such a Buddha wasted one week gazing at the Bo Tree is unbelievable. It is sheer baloney I would say. Another thing some Buddhists do is to wrap a yellow robe around the branch of a Bo Tree.
The Buddha himself designed the yellow robe to be worn only by himself and his desciples. Is the Bo Tree equal to the Buddha to be draped by a yellow robe. In the Sunday Schools it is taught that the Bo Tree is Enlightment by saying Bodiya num Budubavai. There is nothing in this world which can be compared to the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sanga as stated by the Buddha himself. "YANG KINCHI RATHANANG LOKE VIJJATHI VIVIDA PUTU RATHANANG BUDDHA SAMANG NATHTHI THASMA SOTTI BAVANTU TE", The meaning of which is that there is nothing in this world which can be compared to the Buddha. So how can you equate a thoughtless Bo Tree to Enlightment or Buddhahood. Lord Buddha possessed several great wisdoms or Gnas as they are called including the Dasa Bala Gna or the Ten Great Wisdoms. He also possessed the Mahakarunasamapatti Gna which only a Buddha has. All these great wisdoms are a part and parcel of Enlightment and is therefore a part and parcel of the Buddha himself. Now to equate a thoughtless Bo Tree to Lord Buddha and Enlightment is utter nonsense. The Bo Tree being a member of the plant kingdom can respond to external stimuli affecting its growth, it can do nothing beyond it. It is a sad state of affairs to see Bo Trees sprung up from the droppings of crows being venerated and Bodi Pujas offered to it. Can you call such trees sacred.
Lord Buddha is the only religious teacher who said that people of other faiths who lead meritorious lives would be reborn in in low spiritual plans or higher spiritual plains depending on the merit gained by them. These beings of low spiritual planes often take refuge in Bo Trees. When people offer Bodi Pujas to such Bo Trees they at the end offer merit to beings in the Bo Trees. These beings accept the merit offered to them and gets elevated in the spiritual world. It may be that some of them are capable of granting relief to persons in distress who offer Bodi Pujas to the Bo Tree seeking relief.
Unlike Buddhists in Sri Lanka their counterparts in Singapore, Malaysia, Hongkong and Nepal appeal directly to the Buddha for relief and favours and they do not pray to Gods or offer Bodi Pujas in the firm belief, that all Buddhas after their sojourn in this world take refuge in a "Buddha Realm" and that they could therefore assist them. This seems to have some relevance to an age old belief by Buddhists that just before the end of the world Buddha relics all over the world would unite to form the living Buddha who would deliver his last sermon.
I cannot understand why a Bo Tree is referred to as "Bodinvahansa". The word "Vahansa" is a very highly respected form of address to the King and Queen when they are addressed as "Devayanvahansa", Lord Buddha as "Budurajananvahansa" and the members of the Maha Sanga as "Swaminvahansa". They are all human beings except for Lord Buddha who is a super human being above all men and Gods. However all the Chaityas some containing Buddha and Arahath relics enshrined in them are just commonly referred to as "Chaityrajaya". The Ruanweli Maha Chaitya the most sacred of all Chaityas since it has Buddha relics enshrined in it is referred to as Ruanweli Maha Chaitya but a thoughtless Bo Tree is referred to as Bodinvahansa. Here pride of place has been given to a Bo Tree ignoring the Chaityas most of which contains relics.
Lord Buddha is referred to as "Asamasama" or incomparable. Hence it follows that Enlightment too is Asamasma or incomparable since it is the Buddha who is the Enlightened One. So by what logic could one equate Lord Buddha or Enlightment to a thoughtless Bo Tree which has no human feelings. It is perhaps a strage quirk of human nature in that some people tend to believe what is palpabably false as the Truth despite evidence to the contrary. With that mental attitude they tend to influence others too to accept their beliefs and practices. As a matter of fact people generally resent the introduction of changes as such some people just stick on to old beliefs and practices come what may.
I therefore call upon all Buddhists, the Clergy as well as the Lay Buddhists who disagree with the findings of these two Authors to adduce relevant documentary evidence from the Buddha Dhamma not only to prove that they are wrong but also to prove convincingly adducing relevant documentary evidence that Lord Buddha spent his first week after Enlightment gazing at the Bo Tree without battling an eyelid as an act of gratitude. In conclusion I would like to state that the purpose of this article is two fold, firstly to sift the grain from the stalk in relation to Buddhist Religious Beliefs and Practices and secondly to open the eyes of those entrenched in age old beliefs contrary to the pristine incomparable Dhamma preached by Lord Buddha. In case I have erred anywhere in this article I would like to be corrected. (The Island)
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