A long, long time ago there was a man. His name was Siddhārtha Gautama. He was a young prince born in the mountains of the Himalayas who lived a life far removed from his subjects, ensconced in his fathers palace. One day this man went beyond the palace walls and discovered a life that was beyond his imaginings, a life of suffering and hardship. This realisation set him upon a quest to find a better way, a way that would end the suffering he saw. For many years he trialled the different religious teachings of his time.
He tried begging for alms with the life of an ascetic, he tried the yogic meditation teachings but was left unsatisfied with the practise and moved on to learn yoga. Through his yoga Siddhārtha learned the path of higher meditation, but again unsatisfied he moved on. He then took 5 friends and tried to find his own path through self deprivation and self-mortification but when this nearly killed him through starvation Siddhārtha decided there was another path, a middle path, a path of moderation.
He was seated underneath a pipal tree when he came to the decision that he would sit there and wait until he could find the path that was true. His companions believed that he had abandoned his quest so left him to his own meditations. Reputedly after 45 days of meditation Siddhārtha, at the age of 35, gained enlightenment. This man was the Buddha.
The pipal tree under which he sat is now known as the Sri Maha Bohdi tree in India. In Buddhist religion it is one of the most sacred places in their universe. Sadly the original Bodhi tree of India died of old age in 1881 (when a British archaeologist replanted it with the tree that stands there now). In 288BC the daughter of a king brought a branch of the original Bohdi Tree from India to Sri Lanka and planted it at Anuradhapura (the then capital). The tree that stands there now is the oldest planted tree with a known planting date.
And it is awesome!!!!! Visiting this incredible tree literally brought tears to my eyes. The tree itself is propped up with golden staffs to hold its branches from breaking. The temple in front of the tree is a quiet place of gentle prayer. People come bearing fresh flowers and food to place before the Buddha and as offering to the tree while praying for all the things that people pray for. It was a very simple and spiritual place and I loved it.
The photos below really don’t do justice but I was a little absorbed in the moment and in my own prayer to the Buddha for a continued safe journey. I was always taught – when you travel – say a prayer to the God of the people as he is the one who looks after these pilgrims and he might just look after me as well.