“My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released’: I discerned that Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.” – Gautama Buddha
Today is Rohatsu, celebrated widely in Buddhist countries, or countries where Buddhism has many adherents: For example, Japan, China, Korea, India and Thailand. The day commemorates when the historical Buddha, the Prince Siddhartha Gautauma experienced enlightenment in 596 BC. The day is also known as Bodhi in Sanskrit, or as Pali. According to tradition, Siddhartha had recently forsaken years of extreme ascetic practices and resolved to sit under a Pipul tree and simply meditate until he found the root of suffering, and how to liberate oneself from it.
While meditating, some accounts relate, he was harassed and tempted by the god Mara (literally, “Destroyer” in Sanskrit), a demon of illusion. Other traditions simply state that he entered deeper and deeper states of meditation, confronting the nature of the self. In the Pali Canon, there are several discourses said to be by Buddha himself, relating to this story. In The Longer Discourse to Saccaka the Buddha describes his Enlightenment in three stages:
- During the first watch of the night, the Buddha discovered all of his past lives in the cycle of rebirth, realising that he had been born and reborn countless times before.
- During the second watch, the Buddha discovered the Law of Karma, and the importance of living by the Eightfold Path.
- During the third watch, the Buddha discovered the Four Noble Truths, finally reaching Nirvana.
Services to commemorate the day and traditions vary amongst Buddhist sects, but all services commemorate the Buddha’s achievement of Nirvana, and what this means for Buddhism today. Traditionally, Bodhi Day is celebrated on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month in East Asian countries that still observe this calendar. However in Japan, the day is observed on the Gregorian date of December 8th, a result of Westernisation during the Meiji Restoration (1862–1869).
Individuals may choose to simply commemorate the event through additional meditation, study of the Dharma, chanting of Buddhist texts (sutras), or performing kind acts towards other beings. Some Buddhists celebrate with a traditional meal of tea, cake, and readings. A meal of rice and milk is also significant on this holiday. According to Buddhist legend, Sujata offered this to the Buddha upon his awakening to help him regain strength.
Often, coloured lights are strung about the home to recognise the day of enlightenment. They are multi-coloured to symbolise the many pathways to enlightenment. The lights are turned on each evening beginning on December 8th and for 30 days thereafter. A candle is also lit for these thirty days to symbolise enlightenment. In Buddhist homes, you may sometimes see a ficus tree (Ficus religiosa). Beginning on Bodhi Day, these trees are decorated with multi-coloured lights, strung with beads to symbolise the way all things are united, and hung with three shiny ornaments to represent the Three Jewels - The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
May peace be with you on this day and may it last the whole year long!