The Urban Dharma Newsletter - December, 2010

In This Issue: Bodhi Day

1. 2011 Buddhist Calendar
2. Bodhi Day / From Wikipedia
3. Bodhi day: the day of enlightenment – Written by Fa Dao, OHY
4. How To Celebrate Bodhi Day – by Alden Smith
5. Is Christmas any less Christian if you put up a Bodhi Day tree?
6. A Bodhi Day Tree – by Sheri
7. Bodhi Day Lapbook – by Sheri

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This newsletter is all about Bodhi Day the December Buddhist holiday… Plus a free 2011 Buddhist Calendar thanks to the Forest Sangha Community… Have a peaceful holiday season.

Peace… Kusala

1. 2011 Buddhist Calendar / Free Download

2011 Calendar

This 2011 calendar is an expression of a variety of skills offered by several friends
and supporters. In particular: Tubten Yeshi (January photo), Chinch Gryniewicz (Dec.
photo) and Neil Taylor (design). We are grateful for their generous contributions.

The quotes on each page are extracts from teachings
given by Luang Por Sumedho.

This calendar has been sponsored for free distribution
by generous supporters in Malaysia with gratitude and respect
for the Forest Sangha – Vassa 2010


These days are devoted to quiet reflection at the monastery. Visitors may come
and take the Precepts for the day and join in all or part of the extended evening meditation.

The dates for the lunar calendar are determined by traditional methods of
calculation, and are not always the same as the precise astronomical occurrences.


Magha Puja February 18 (‘Sangha Day’)
Commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1250 arahants, to whom the Buddha
gave the exhortation on the basis of the discipline (Ovada Patimokkha).

Vesakha Puja (Wesak) May 17 (‘Buddha Day’)
Commemorates the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha.

Asalha Puja July 15 (‘Dhamma Day’)
Commemorates the Buddha’s first discourse, given to the five samanas
in the Deer Park at Sarnath, near Varanasi. The traditional
Rainy-Season Retreat (Vassa) begins on the next day.

Pavarana Day October 12
This marks the end of the three-month Vassa-retreat. In the
following month, lay people may offer the Kathina-robe as
part of a general alms-giving ceremony.


Calendar design & production by Aruna Publications,
Aruna Ratanagiri Buddhist Monastery.
© Aruna Publications 2010

2. Bodhi Day / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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).[1] It is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautauma, experienced enlightenment,[2][3] 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.[4]

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 god Mara (literally, "evil one" in Sanskrit), demon of illusion.[4][5] 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),[6] the Buddha describes his Enlightenment in three stages:

1. 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.
2. During the second watch, the Buddha discovered the Law of Karma, and the importance of living by the Eightfold Path.
3. 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.'[6] ”

All traditions agree that as the Morning Star rose in the sky in the early morning,[7] the third watch of the night, Siddhartha finally found the answers he sought and became Enlightened, and experienced Nirvana.[7] Having done so, Siddhartha now became a Buddha or "Awakened One".[7][4]

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.[8] 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 simply 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.[9][10] Individuals may choose to commemorate the event through additional meditation,[10] study of the Dharma,[10] chanting of Buddhist texts (sutras), or performing kind acts towards other beings. Some Buddhists celebrate with a traditional meal of tea, cake, and readings.[9]
[edit] Rohatsu

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.[11]

3. Bodhi day: the day of enlightenment – Written by Fa Dao, OHY

It was the 8th day of the 12th lunar month, the story goes, that Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Shakyamuni, awoke from a week of meditation to view of the morning star - Venus - and exclaimed, "That's it! That's it! That's me! That's me that's shining so brilliantly!" In that single moment he fully realized the Dharma - that body of unalterable, immutable, unending Truth that he would spend the rest of his life teaching to others.

Zen Buddhists of Japanese traditions celebrate Bodhi Day (Rohatsu) on December 8th (even though "Rohatsu" means, literally, "the eighth day of the twelfth _lunar_month"); In China this important event is mostly forgotten in popular culture even though the day is not. The 8th day of the 12th lunar month, Laba Jie (làbajié), is celebrated yearly by billions as a reminder of the upcoming New Year. Knowledge of the Buddhist origins of the Laba festival has become lost to contemporary Chinese culture, just as the Christmas Tree has mostly forgotten origins that predate Christianity.

Many eastern Mahayana Buddhist traditions around the world now celebrate Wesak (in Sanskrit, Vaisakha - Buddha's birthday) to commemorate the Buddha's life and enlightenment on the first full moon of the fourth lunar month. Our Chinese Chan sect celebrates both the Buddha's Day of Enlightenment -- going by the lunar calendar (the 8th day of the 12th lunar month) -- as well as the Buddha's birthday (fatdáahn) on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month. Confusing? Regardless of the day we choose to celebrate Bodhi Day, commemorating the day of the Buddha's enlightenment offers a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on our own spiritual practices and consider the significance of an event that changed the course of history for humankind some 2500 years ago.

For many sanghas of Japanese Zen traditions, the week leading up to Rohatsu is a week of intense meditation as followers work to become enlightened by re-creating the circumstances surrounding the Buddha's enlightenment experience. However we celebrate the Buddha's Day of Enlightenment, let's remember that, while the Chan tradition teaches us to respect the Buddha's teachings, it also teaches that we cannot expect spiritual growth merely by copying or mimicking the masters. Lin Chi explained it as well as anyone: we "don't seek the masters, we seek what the masters sought." A week or even a single day of meditation will not bring us to self-realization/enlightenment if our purpose is false. Walking in the shadow of another is to remain a slave to darkness. Enlightenment happens only through our own effort focused on our own lives. And it's through deep and honest self-inquiry that we come to realize that life-altering eureka moment as the Buddha did and exclaim, "It's _me_ who shines so brightly!"

Let's approach Bodhi Day by considering whether our regular spiritual practices are enabling us to see our own shining light. If we discover that we don't shine so brightly as to offer competition to the Morning Star, let's re-evaluate our spiritual practices and determine why not. Are we attending to our daily lives with the same fierce concentration and awareness that we apply to our meditation practice? Regardless of where we are on the Path, if we consider ourselves to have reached our maximum dharma brightness we have not only undervalued the Dharma, we have undermined our progress. The light of en-_light_-enment knows no boundaries.

Let's celebrate Bodhi Day not as a ritual or as an effort to "suck sustenance from the dry bones of the masters," but as an opportunity to give thanks and to re-affirm our own spiritual lives. Let's remember that what we're celebrating on this day has brought us vast quantities of beautiful art and literature from thousands of communities and cultures around the world. It has brought us the wisdom of Lin Chi, Hui Neng, Hsu Yun, and so many other great spiritual leaders and inspired countless millions of people to greatness.

And it all began with one man awakening to his True Nature; one man who would not rest content until the ultimate question of his life was answered.

Let's celebrate Bodhi Day by caring for our own spiritual lives, our own spiritual practices, and by caring for the wellbeing of others. Let's muster the force of Will needed to pierce the veil the illusory world has draped over us. Then, with unrelenting determination, let's drop our baggage and let our spirits shine as brightly as the Morning Star. Then we, too, become Buddhas.

Namo Amitofo, Fa Dao / December 7, 2007

4. How To Celebrate Bodhi Day – by Alden Smith

In the world of Buddhism, an important day of celebration is December 8th. This is the day that many Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day. It was on this day in 596 BC that the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. Buddhism has the ability to adapt to any culture where it becomes a presence. It picks up the customs and bits of the culture around it. The Buddha expounded that we should, as Buddhists, fit into the neighborhood in which we live, not make a spectacle of ourselves or do anything that draws undue attention.

The Buddha Attains Enlightenment

Siddhartha Gautama, who would later become the Buddha, was a prince who left his home in Nepal at the age of 29 to search for the meaning of life. His family had protected him from the cares of the world, but as Siddhartha was an inquisitive sort, he traveled about. He saw the misery of old age, sickness and suffering. Because this profoundly affected him, he chose to leave his comfortable surroundings and seek meaning.

Siddhartha, after spending six years living the life of an aesthetic and serving under six teachers, still did not find what he was searching for. He tried many different disciplines, such as surviving by eating only one grain of rice per day, but soon realized that this was not the answer. Because he could not find the answers to his questions he vowed that he would sit under the Bodhi tree (sometimes called Pipal tree, Peepul tree, Pippul tree, or Bo tree in certain texts) until he had his answers. Siddhartha fasted and meditated under this tree for a week, and on the morning of the eighth day came to several realizations which were to become the principles of modern Buddhism. It was here, as Siddhartha meditated and gazed upon Venus rising, that the basis of The Noble Eightfold Path and Four Noble Truths were born.

From this point forward he was referred to as the Buddha -- The Enlightened One. He was also known as Shakyamuni (the sage of the Shakya clan) Buddha.

Celebrating Bodhi Day

Bodhi Day, the day of enlightenment, can be celebrated in many ways. To the Buddhist, it is a day of remembrance and meditation, much like the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25th.

To the layman, a good way of recognizing this important event in Buddhism is to dwell on its meaning and place reminders in the home of this event. Often, colored lights are strung about the home to recognize the day of enlightenment. They are multi-colored to symbolize 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 symbolize enlightenment.

In Buddhist homes, you will sometimes see a fiscus tree of the genus ficus religiousa. Beginning on Bodhi Day, these trees are decorated with multi-colored lights, strung with beads to symbolize the way all things are united, and hung with three shiny ornaments to represent the Three Jewels - The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

A meal of rice and milk is significant on this holiday. According to Buddhist legend, Sujata offered this to the Buddha upon his awakening to help him regain strength.

To get children involved in this holiday, make cookies in the shape of a tree to symbolize the Bodhi Tree, or make leaf shaped cookies. The leaves of the Bodhi tree are heart shaped, so a Valentine's Day cookie cutter would be appropriate.

Bodhi Day is of importance to Buddhists. Especially celebrated by Buddhists of the Pure Land, it is a noteworthy experience for anyone of any culture.

5. Is Christmas any less Christian if you put up a Bodhi Day tree? – By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

One of my daughter’s Jewish friends from preschool once said that she liked coming to our house this time of year because we were the only other people who did not have a Christmas tree, either. Her mother described the conflict her child felt at school having to do Christmas-themed art projects such as decorating trees, which, regardless of what you call them, are still Christmas trees. Even a 5-year-old could see this. Is Christmas any less Christian if you put up a Bodhi Day tree?

It felt good to know that she found comfort in our home, although I had to confess that the real reason we did not have a Christmas tree at that time was that we used to always travel over the holidays. I was raised Catholic. We do celebrate Christmas. However, we did it reflexively.

So then I nearly scared my children to death with the pronouncement, “Now that we’re Buddhist, maybe we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas anymore.”

You can imagine their response, “NOOOOO!!!!”

Curious, we did some research and discovered that some Buddhists put up Bodhi Day trees on Dec. 8 to celebrate the day of the historical Buddha’s enlightenment. Bodhi Day trees are ficus religiosa trees (or an evergreen in a pinch) decorated to represent the Jewel Trees in the Pure Land, which are encrusted in precious gems, fruit, and flowers. Bodhi Day trees are wrapped with multicolored lights to represent enlightenment, strung with beads to symbolize the way all things are connected, and hung with shiny ornaments to represent the three jewels of Buddhism—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The star on top represents the morning star to mark the moment of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Candles are lit and presents are exchanged.

It looks suspiciously like a Christmas tree.

Still, the discussion did open up doors for us to think more deeply and deliberately about Christmas, Buddhism, and what we wanted to create together for our family traditions. Both Christmas and Buddhism have become more meaningful to us because of this conversation. The kids sometime joke about our Bodhi Day tree, but we all know ours is an unabashed Christmas tree with Buddhist ornaments.

Lucky for us, Christmas is not philosophically incompatible with Buddhism (as it is philosophically incompatible with Judaism, Islam and the Jehovah’s Witness faith). I do not envy those families trying to make their way through the Christmas season with both children and integrity intact.

In a very thoughtful and insightful article, second-generation Muslim Palestinian American writer, Hadeel Masseoud, wrestles with whether to put up a Christmas tree for her preschool-aged son, “A Very Muslim Christmas: Would having a tree betray our faith?” My favorite passage:

I mentioned these childhood memories of Christmas once to my former law school classmate, Eric, who grew up Jewish in Connecticut. After I described how we used to celebrate Christmas like any other Christian family up until I was 12, he looked at me in shock and said, “What? You used to celebrate Christmas? I am a bad Jew and even we never celebrated Christmas!” I felt a bit ashamed that a Jew who enjoyed pepperoni pizza was chiding me for putting up a Christmas tree as a kid.

In “Baha’i gift-giving season follows different cycle,” Baha’i writer Ellen Price flips the perspective around and shows how a Christian friend saves “Christmas gifts” until the appropriate Baha’i gift-giving season. What a great idea.

Sometimes people are defensive about being able to celebrate Christmas without having to worry about the feelings of others, but I find that the more I learn about why other religions do what they do, the more meaningful my own choices become.

6. A Bodhi Day Tree – by Sheri

Bodhi day will be here on the 8th. It’s the day that marks the Buddha’s enlightenment. The day that he conquered Mara the tempter, and saw the interconnectedness of mankind. It’s the day that marks beginning of his teachings to mankind and what he describes as the middle path. We have been practicing for a couple of years, but have never officially celebrated, this year we decided to take the proverbial “plunge”. It was especially important to me because there is so much focus on materialism around the Holidays. I wanted a way to center ourselves as well as be reminded of what generosity and compassion really are.

I’m always caught between trying to find how our eastern religious practices fit into our western culture lives. I have found that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. In celebrating Bodhi day we won’t be having a big feast, there will be no gift exchanges, or parties. There will however be a small Christmas tree that we have converted to a Bodhi tree.

We decorated it in the following way: The multicolored lights symbolize that here are many paths to enlightenment. We painted leaves to look like Bodhi leaves, feet to remind us to walk in the footsteps of the Buddha, and hands to remind us that we always have the power to help another in need. Each shape is adorned with our favorite quotes from the Buddha and our favorite symbols.

We finished the tree with ribbon that gold and red, the color of the Dalai Lama’s robe to remind us that even in the face of despair, we can remain peaceful and in the present moment.

7. Bodhi Day Lapbook – by Sheri

Though technically Buddha’s enlightenment was in the spring, we choose to celebrate it as a December holiday. Several reasons back this decision. Mostly we want to give them a sense of normalcy with their peers. I mean let’s face it; there aren’t a whole lot of Buddhist homeschooling vegetarian families out there. (Well, at least they don’t seem to be oozing out of the woodwork in any of the regions that we have lived.)

Most of all though, I want them to feel something during this season other than the social pressure of “more more more”. A feeling that runs deeper than just a perfunctory night of trimming the tree or waiting for presents to be delivered from Santa Clause, something that at least gives a small glimpse of interconnectedness and sacrifice.

I realized that when the kiddos and I sat around and talked about Siddhartha’s enlightenment, they knew a lot more than I thought they would. Turns out, they really do listen to me. (Oh my goodness the pressure!) However, there were some big misconceptions about why he renounced his life as a prince and how he came to sit under the fig tree. The Dhammapada translated by Eknath Easwaran is my absolute favorite reference because of how descriptive Mr. Easwaran is. As we read about the Buddha’s enlightenment, they were particularly amazed with Mara. Each child came to their own conclusions of what they felt he embodied.

I was able to share with them my favorite part of the story, which is when Mara confronts the Buddha in person and asks who had given him the right to escape Mara’s realm of temptation and worldliness. In response, the Buddha lays his hand on the Earth for witness. Such a lovely simplistic action that makes me smile every time I read it.

Now, at least when people ask about Bodhi day and what it means to them, they each have something to share. A favorite quote or action will hopefully linger as they find meaning within. Should anyone want a copy of our files to use at home, just drop a note in the comments or email me and I would be happy to pass it along. :)
from → Buddha is my Homeboy

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