Bodhi Tree Meaning and Symbolism

 5 min read

The bodhi tree also called the sacred fig, pipal, bo or Ficus religiosa is extremely revered by Buddhists. This is because Buddha sat beneath one as he achieved enlightenment.

Also, it’s said that for an entire week after gaining enlightenment, he gazed at the tree with love and admiration.

Even though it is said that a queen who was jealous of the attention her husband paid to the original tree cut it down, and two other monarchs have done the same to its successors, people still visit the site where Buddha’s descendant bodhi resides. Many descendants of this holy man at different monasteries are also pilgrimaged sites.

The bodhi was sacred to Hindus even before the Buddha’s time, and legend has it that both Buddha and Vishnu were born beneath one.

It is said that when the leaves of a bodhi tremble even though there is no wind blowing, this is an indication of its divinity.

It is said that the bodhi tree symbolism has a lot of meanings like protection, wisdom, fertility, meditation, and enlightenment. In addition, the tree is often used as a focal point for meditation and contemplation, as it is believed to promote inner peace and tranquillity. The Bodhi tree holds a special place in many cultures and religions, and its symbolism is rich and varied.

Symbolism:Protection, wisdom, fertility, meditation, and enlightenment
Divine Association:Buddha
Astrological Association:The universe

About Bodhi Trees

Bodhi tree leaves
Bodhi tree leaves

The bodhi tree (F. religiosa), a deciduous, fast-growing member of the Ficus genus, starts its life as an epiphyte. Its round-ovate leaves have a unique, narrow terminal projection that is half the length of the main leaf body.

The sessile, dark purple figs are up to ½in (1.3cm) in diameter and were found in India and Southeast Asia before being widely planted in tropical climates elsewhere.

Practical Uses

For centuries, Hindus and Buddhists have respected the bodhi tree. Indigenous Indians view the tree as a symbol of sacredness.

Only objects containing soma (a drink said to provide immortality) or fire drills used in religious ceremonies were crafted from wood taken from the bodhi tree.

Natural Healing

The pipal tree is central to traditional Indian medicine. The leaves are used to treat earache, and the bark can be powdered and applied to wounds as an astringent or antiseptic.

In Ayurveda, decoctions of powdered bark are also used for treating infections of the uterus and vagina.

Folklore, Myth and Symbol of the Bodhi Tree

Bodhi tree roots
Bodhi tree roots

Brahma, the Hindu god of creation, appointed the bodhi tree as ruler over all trees more than 2,600 years ago. The large bodhi tree in northeast India’s Bodh Gaya was a demarcation for Vishnu’stree sanctuary and was greatly respected by Prince Siddhartha Gautama.

Siddhartha selected this tree to find the understanding that might free all creatures from pain. The most ideal position under the tree was discovered by Siddhartha- this physical location under the World Tree is representative of an equilibrium in one’s thoughts. From a state of serenity and lack of attachment, he had clarity regarding how the world functioned. The holy tree became his main support, and every set of conflicting forces joined together in one central point; similar to spokes on a wheel originating from its hub.

After Siddhartha attained bodhi, or “ultimate and unconditioned truth”, he became Buddha, the “Enlightened One”. The tree that had given him refuge and strength came to be called the bo or bodhi tree – the “tree of awakening”. In devotion to Buddha’s journey, many images and statues have since been created depicting him underneath the bodhi tree during his inner battle against demons and temptation.

Buddha was not originally depicted as a human sitting under a bodhi tree. Instead, he was represented by the bodhi tree itself. This symbolized that enlightenment is not about the individual, but about transcending the boundaries of the human condition and becoming one with the universe. In this sense, it is not Buddha who is the Great Awakener, but rather the bodhi tree itself.

The sacred bodhi tree that Buddha sat beneath at Bodh Gaya was still alive and well during the seventh century CE, as per Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsiang (603-664). He estimated that the tree was 40 to 50 feet tall. Each year, there was a festival where its roots were bathed in scented water and perfumed milk. There would also be music playing in the background along with the smells of flowers and incense burning. Lastly, tens of thousands of people would join in on these festivities.

The Buddha himself had instilled the importance of worshipping the bodhi. He asked his most trusty disciple Ananda to go get a branch from beneath the bodhi tree in which he found enlightenment and the plant is at Sravasti’s Vihara court. According to Indian anthropologist Randhawa, Buddha said that whoever pays homage to it (the bodhi tree) will be graced with the same fortune as if they worshipped him directly.

King Ashoka, who ruled in the third century BCE, took a cutting (or, according to some sources, a fig) from Buddha’s bodhi tree and sent it as a gift to King Tissa of Sri Lanka. The king planted it himself in Anuradhapura and prophesied that it would remain standing forever. Many sacred bodhi trees in temple gardens throughout Sri Lanka are believed to be cuttings from this original tree, which is still standing today.

Conclusion

The Bodhi tree is a powerful symbol of enlightenment, and its story shows us that it is never too late to learn and grow. We can all benefit from taking the time to reflect on our own lives and journey towards understanding.

Who knows, maybe you will be able to find your own personal Bodhi tree someday.