Diversity Matters: Bodhi Day

January 23, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

Later this week, some members of the Michigan Medicine community will celebrate one of the most spiritually significant holidays in Buddhism, Bodhi Day.

The holiday marks the anniversary of the enlightenment of the Buddha and reflects upon the wisdom he offered to others who sought to find their own comfort and peace of mind.

In order to better understand patients and colleagues who observe the tradition, here’s what you should know about this sacred time of reflection:

The history behind enlightenment

According to Buddhist lore, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama embarked on a quest nearly 2,500 years ago to find peace of mind and end human suffering. To do so, he renounced his privileged lifestyle and meditated under a sacred fig tree (now known as the Bodhi Tree).

According to the story, the Buddha — or “Enlightened One,” as Gautama came to be known — meditated under the tree for six years, eventually gaining the Four Noble Truths that have been passed on through the generations.

“The Four Noble Truths are the backbone of the Buddhist religion,” said Rev. Lindsay Bona of Michigan Medicine’s Spiritual Care Department. They include the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering and the truth of the path to the end of suffering.

“In essence, Buddhists believe that Buddha came to learn that there is indeed a path to end suffering in the world, known as the ‘Eightfold Path,’” Bona said. “This enlightenment and realization is what makes Bodhi Day such a significant holiday to those who celebrate.”

Traditionally, the holiday is observed on the eighth day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar, which this year falls on Wednesday, Jan. 24. (Zen temples in the Ann Arbor area will be holding Bodhi Day celebrations this weekend, on Jan. 26 and 27.) However, some cultures celebrate it at different times of the year, depending upon their country of origin. In Nepal, for instance, the holiday is typically celebrated in the spring, while in Japan it’s held on Dec. 8 each year.

Marking the occasion

Buddhists associate many traditions with Bodhi Day. First, many mark the day by meditating, a practice that honors Buddha’s commitment under the Bodhi Tree.

“Some individuals choose to meditate alone, while others prefer to do so in a group setting,” Bona said. “If a patient wishes to meditate in a group setting at Michigan Medicine, one of our department’s chaplains can be called and would be happy to assist them.”

People also decorate their homes with colored lights, which signify the many paths to enlightenment. Often, the lights are placed on a miniature tree that represents the Bodhi Tree and remain illuminated for up to 30 days following the holiday.

Adherents to Buddhism traditionally prepare a meal of milk and rice, which was the first food offered to Buddha after he reached enlightenment. That meal may be eaten individually or with family and community members. Should a patient request this meal, consult his or her registered dietitian nutritionist to see what may be offered at Michigan Medicine.

Finally, while there is no traditional greeting associated with the holiday, it is appropriate to wish a patient or colleague who may be celebrating a “Happy Bodhi Day” or “Blessed Bodhi Day.”

“The most important thing is to acknowledge the importance and significance of the holiday,” Bona said. “It celebrates all that is at the core of the Buddhist religion.”


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