At the western side of the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, stands a large and historic Pipal Tree ficus religiosa , known throughout history as the Bodhi Tree, under which Buddha, attained Enlightenment some 2500 years ago.
For seven days after the Enlightenment, Buddha continued to meditate under the tree without moving from his seat. Another week passed in walking meditation, and for a third the Buddha contemplated under the Bodhi tree.
The Bodhi Tree is a symbolic representation of the individual’s journey to infinity. As the seed which begins tiny and hard grows open and free, so should the mind and heart. The tree is rooted in the ground as the self is rooted in matter. But the seed grows beyond the ground, as it perceives its environment, cares about it, and ultimately leaves the limitations of the body and matter behind. The branches reach towards the heaven yet the vines of the tree reach towards the earth. Such is the state of mankind – always being pulled in two directions. One direction is freedom, ultimate liberation, and the transcendence of boundaries. The other direction is security, rootedness, comfort, and tradition – the self that will not turn away from the earth. The traditionalist may justify behaviour by Buddhist or other ethics and ritual, but will ultimately seek comfort rather than freedom. Such people should rest peacefully at the roots of the tree and never climb it.
For the others, the spiritual explorers, comfort and security are left behind. There will ultimately come a question: Which world do you choose? Only those who seek the upper branches of the tree and liberation can progress and follow the stages of the watches of the night.
There were many reasons for the historical Buddha’s incarnation. One was to provide a model for those that seek freedom. The present Bodhi Tree still performs a very important role to Buddhists of all traditions, being a reminder and an inspiration, a symbol of peace, of Buddha’s Enlightenment and of the ultimate potential that lies within us all.