Bodhi Day (成道会, Jōdō-e), traditionally the 8th day of the 12th lunar month (See Chinese Calendar), has been observed on December 8 in Japan since the Meiji Restoration (1862-1869). It is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautauma, experienced enlightenment, also known as Bodhi in Sanskrit or 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 one's self from it.
Traditions vary on what happened. Some say he made a great vow to nirvana and Earth to find the root of suffering, or die trying. In other traditions, while meditating he was harassed and tempted by the asura Mara (literally, "evil one" in Sanskrit), 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 autobiographical discourses of the Buddha, relating to this story. In The Longer Discourse to Saccaka (MN 36), 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, realizing 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. In his words:
|“||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.'||”|
All traditions agree that as the Morning Star rose in the sky in the early morning, the third watch of the night, Siddhartha finally found the answers he sought and became Enlightened, and experienced Nirvana. Having done so, Siddhartha now became a Buddha or "Awakened One".
In Buddhist Culture
Bodhi Day is not as popularly celebrated as Hanamatsuri or Wesak Day, both celebrating the Birth of the Buddha; however, it is still observed in many mainstream Mahayana traditions including Zen and Shin Buddhist schools. In Zen it is also known as Rohatsu. In Tendai and other Japanese sects, it is called either Shaka-Jōdō-e (釈迦成道会) or just Jōdō-e (成道会).
Services and traditions vary amongst Buddhist sects, but all such services commemorate the Buddha's achievement of Nirvana, and what this means for Buddhism today. Individuals may choose to commemorate the event through additional meditation, study of the Dharma, chanting of Buddhist texts (sutras), or performing kind acts towards other beings.
The word Rōhatsu (臘八) is Japanese and literally means 8th Day of the 12th Month. It is typical for Zen monks and layman followers to stay up all evening in the night before Rohatsu practicing meditation and the holiday is often preceded by an intensive sesshin.
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