On the first day of Christmas my True Self gave to me,
A Buddha by the Bodhi Tree
We are all familiar with the story of Gautama’s life and enlightenment, and if one is not then there are numerous and accessible sources of this information in various formats to suit your preference. So, there is little point of me copying it here, but I do wish to briefly talk about two poignant factors of the tale. The Tree and Buddha’s relationship with Mara.
The Protectors of Wisdom
The Bodhi Tree, Ficus religiosa, is a wonderful tree with its heart shaped leaves and fruits the sacred fig. The Mahabodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya was the tree where Gautama Buddha realised Buddhahood and is especially revered, but the Bodhi Tree generally is a very sacred tree in the Indian Peninsula. What the Bodhi Tree symbolises, for me, is the protection of the Buddha during the haunted stages of his meditation, but also the timeless wisdom that was the fruit of the sadhana.
Personally, trees hold those two characteristics; protection and wisdom, in perfect harmony. They are the organic, fleshy, natural embodiment of protection and wisdom. This leads me to view trees as great protectors of wisdom itself. For in many spiritual traditions in times gone by trees have played a fundamental role, the Tree of Life/Creation or Sacred Tree, can be viewed as quite the common denominator of so many prominent theologies/cosmologies connecting the wisdom of the heavens with human life rooted in the Earth; Yggdrasil of Norse Legend; the Tree of Life of Genesis and the Book of Revelation and Kabbalah; the Grandmother Ceder of Ojibway cosmology; the leaves of the Akshaya Vata of which the baby Lord Krishna rested upon during the great destruction and also of featuring in Biology’s own centrepiece, the Evolutionary “tree” of life.
I practice the Dharma as realised and taught by the Buddha over 2000 years ago the best I can, but I do not live in India, there are no Bodhi trees to protect me during my sadhana, or produce that conducive atmosphere of wisdom. Should I be concerned? No. Because in Europe, there is the Oak.
The Oak, Zeus’ own tree in Ancient Greece, Thors’ in Scandinavia and in my own native islands of Albion, the Oaks were the sacred groves of the druids. I feel something distinctly different when meditating by the Oak, as oppose to meditating inside for example. There is a certain presence, accompanying me. I am not alone. The Dharma, in its way, is present and is rich in the Oak tree. I can’t help but wonder if this sometimes subtle, sometimes intense feeling of wisdom and protection I experience when meditating by an Oak, is conductive enough to express at least a stream of the Buddha’s own awakening by the Mahabodhi Tree over 2000 years ago, through soils and roots, through air and leaves, through timeless wisdom and spirit.
But what do we need protection from, or wisdom for?
This is where Mara springs to mind, but hopefully not too literally!
the Buddha and Mara
Mara is the demon figure that arose during the Buddha’s sadhanas, the Great Tempter; tempting us off the spiritual path of awakening and instead leading us towards the mundane, unwholesome activities and thoughts. This is all too evocative for me, since Mara has succeeded more than once in my own path. For me, it’s the illusion that I have done enough, the collapse of structure and discipline and then, all of a sudden, I find myself completely lost, on the more unfortunate occasions with Mara whispering in my ear; paranoia strikes, anxiety erupts, the noise of my mind becomes unbearable, scattered, voices merge into one, fear freezes any kind of skilful response.
But this is OK.
The Buddha and Mara, they are but the Rose and Faeces. The Rose blooms because the soil is fertilised; the Buddha realises Awakening because of Mara’s visits. Without Mara’s visits, there is no Buddhahood to be realised.
The Buddha, in his sadhana, transformed the temptations and illusions of Mara, he didn’t resist, ignore, go along with/accept and fall into Mara’s temptations. He used the energy of transformation, by cultivating compassionate one-pointedness, and was thus able to work with Mara and the Dharma only built in momentum. Now, I hear, the Buddha and Mara sit and have tea together. It’s not about defeating, winning, victory against temptation or sin; it’s about blooming and growing at every opportunity, and this, for me, is what is so poignant about this tale. That even when Mara comes to call awakening is possible; the Dharma does not disappear under any circumstances, just one’s awareness of it.
sitting with the tree
Isn’t it a wonderful practice to be?
In to the body,
Out to the tree.
Isn’t it a peaceful practice to be?
In to the tree,
Out to the body.
Isn’t it great to share a breath?
The disappearance of me is not the end,
Goodbye to the Tree, is my True Death.
Everything and everyone, every moment;
Every momentary glance and fleeting thought;
is an invitation to stop and look deeply,
hence to realise the limitless capacity of heart.
Thank you kindly for reading, and I hope to see you visiting again soon!
Feel free to like and share, but most of all- feel Free!