I’ve been thinking about the perpetual troubles of the world. Humanity is engaged in greed, selfishness, self-centeredness, hatred, bigotry, warfare, and all the rest of the thoughts and actions that are harmful to other people, animals and the environment. Nations believe they are superior to other nations, religions and some priests and ministers believe they own the exclusive paths to salvation. Racism, sexism, homophobia, mental and physical violence and oppression fill the daily headlines.
Finally, we reach the holiday season. When we get past the marketing and acquisitiveness, we notice that most of the world religions and wisdom teachings have brotherhood, peace, sharing, caring, and selflessness as core lessons and examples.
Lately, it seems as if our troubled planet is in need of kindness, acceptance, and compassion more than ever before in history. There is a desperate need to stop papering over what ails mankind with public relations campaigns, materialism, and insincere generosity. Many of us really want to tear away the superficial, glittery façade of the holiday season. But, such a thing is not socially acceptable. Such genuine expressions of honest selflessness and compassion make many of us uncomfortable.
There are reasons that I enjoy celebrating Bodhi Day as an American Buddhist. Today is Bodhi Day, but few westerners are aware of it. While, many Asian nations traditionally celebrate Bodhi Day as official, legal holidays, it is an arcane, regular calendar day in the U.S., Europe, and much of the rest of the world. There are no Bodhi Day cards, no Bodhi Day shopping sales, there is little or no recognition of Bodhi Day at all. There are only a very few people who remember to greet us with a sincere and joyful, “Happy Bodhi Day”. I guess, that’s just fine with us.
I put up a Bodhi Day Tree and keep it displayed through the end of the year. My intention is to merge my special holiday, today, with those that come later in the month. Bodhi Day becomes the Bodhi Season. Everything comes together. Holidays like Hanukkha, Saturnalia, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, and New Year’s Eve overlap with the Bodhi Season.
Most of us have read and listened to the stories of Christmas and Hanukkha many, many times. The other holiday stories have been largely ignored, especially that of Bodhi Day. Since today is Bodhi Day, I simply want to share my special day with you.
This is the day that many Buddhists commemorate the occasion when Siddhārtha Gautama became the Supreme Buddha, or Shakyamuni Buddha-the sage of the Shakya Clan. Out of the millions of human beings who have existed on Earth, Shakyamuni Buddha awoke from life’s dream of unsatisfactory living. The word, Buddha, means the awakened one.
An important aspect to remember is that Shakyamuni Buddha is not some supernatural deity who attained something we can only hope for and worship. The Buddha was one of us. What he attained, we can attain. The Flower Garland Sutra is often remembered on Bodhi Day. Legend says that upon his enlightenment, Shakyamuni Buddha said to himself, “I now see that all sentient beings, everywhere fully possess wisdom and virtues of the enlightened beings. But, because of false conceptions and attachments, they do not realize it.”
It is when we finally shed the concepts and attachment to views, that we can also awaken.
Shortly after his realization and awakening, the Supreme Buddha understood that he could offer the wisdom and awakened life to everybody who desires to reveal their own, innate Buddha Nature.
Even though he faced intolerance and persecution, Shakyamuni Buddha never failed to practice deep respect and recognition of everyone’s Buddha Nature. So, without the Buddha’s teachings and examples, we might have never discovered what is already in our heart of hearts.
This is why the Buddha’s awakening is celebrated with a special holiday. When we remember Bodhi Day, we remember our own Buddha Nature.
The Blue Jay of Happiness asks the question, “From where does our authentic, compassionate response to the world’s pain spring forth?”