The Japanese celebration of Bodhi Day, locally known as rohatsu, is an annual homage to the formative event in Buddhist history. Buddhism is the most commonly practiced religion in Japan. Ceremonies are typically held by Zen monks, the most ardent protectors of its traditions. Bodhi Day is observed around the world on 8 December, with few variances, on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month.
History of Bodhi Day
Buddhism is an adherence to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, an ancient Indian spiritualist commonly referred to as the Buddha. Throughout his life the Buddha sought to understand the nature of human suffering in order to liberate himself from it. Legend has it that after countless failed attempts the Buddha resigned himself under a peepal tree, now referred to as the bodhi tree, and began meditating. As the sun rose on the eighth day the Buddha attained enlightenment. Also known as nirvana, this sublime state of being is understood to be complete comprehension of the nature of reality and the mechanisms by which desire is rooted in the human condition.
Traditions around Japan
Japanese Zen Buddhists traditionally observe the occasion by preceding Bodhi Day with a week of ritual meditation known as sesshin. Fasting is common for the more devout. Incense and multi-coloured lights are displayed during the following month in the capital city of Tokyo and in towns and villages across the country. The varying colours of light are meant to symbolize the many pathways to enlightenment. Bodhi tree plantings are held throughout the month usually accompanied by tea ceremonies. Services are held by Zen communities where Buddhist texts known as sutras are studied. Guided meditation sessions are held along with public conversations concerning the dharma, a term used in Buddhism to describe cosmic order. Mindfulness, empathy and kindness towards others are the prevailing sentiments during this period of quiet reflection. Bodhi Day in Japan is a noble holiday and many manifestations are easy to find and ordinarily all are invited to participate.