THERE WAS ONCE A MONK who recalled that Sakyamuni attained Enlightenment while sitting under a tree known to Buddhists ever since as The Bodhi-tree or Tree of Awakening. So he decided to sit under such a tree, thinking he might become Enlightened thereby.

It is not hard to find ficus religiosa trees (the Latin name for this kind of tree) in Asia; their seeds, dropped by birds, lodge in cracks and crevices, and grow very easily and quickly; they can even force apart huge stones. So, choosing a nice shady tree, the monk sat there, but as time passed and nothing happened, he began to wonder what was wrong, and why he hadn’t become enlightened.

He turned around and looked at the tree, wondering where the enlightenment could be, but couldn’t see it anywhere—not in the trunk, not in the branches, not in the leaves. "Where can it be?" he thought. "Ah ... maybe ... er ... maybe it’s inside". So he got up, and went to get an axe, and began to cut down the tree, expecting to find enlightenment inside. But at the last stroke of the axe, when the tree crashed down, a ferocious demon jumped out and tore him limb from limb!

The Buddha did not become Enlightened by sitting under a particular kind of tree, but by the fruition of the wisdom He had developed. After His Enlightenment, the tree came to be known as ‘the Bodhi-tree’, as that is where he was sitting when He became Enlightened. We respect it for this reason, and not because it is better than any other kind of tree. It could just as easily have been another kind of tree He was sitting under when it took place—like a mango-tree, tamarind, or oak-tree—but He could sit under only one kind of tree at a time, just like you and I.

Realization of Truth does not depend upon trees, no matter what kind or how beautiful they are. Nor is one day better than another, whether it be the day of the full-moon or any other; the full-moon also had nothing to do with the Buddha’s Enlightenment, which could have taken place on any other night, and not just on the night of the full-moon. We attach undue importance to trivial things.

In Thailand, there are about 300,000 monks, most of who go out to gather alms every day. Sometimes, because there are so many of them, it is difficult for some to get enough to eat. But on the days of the new-moon and full-moon, it is easy to get more than enough, as those days are considered more auspicious than other days, and so more people make offerings to the monks then, thinking they will acquire more merit thereby. This, of course, is not so; one day is not better than another—different, yes, but better, no. Surely, it is more meritorious to feed a person when he’s hungry than when he has too much to eat. Such giving is clearly motivated by greed, the wish to get something in return for their offerings, not content to let effect follow cause, fruit follow seed. They are really giving to themselves in this way, not to others. They are not the only ones so motivated, of course; it is normal.

Some years ago, when Tibetans fled their land as refugees, Christian missionaries visited one of their refugee-camps in Nepal, intent on gaining converts. They let it be known that those who converted to Christianity would be given material aid. But Tibetans are—or were, at that time—very staunch Buddhists, whose faith could not be shaken by mere material trifles, and they told the missionaries, very plainly, that if their ‘aid’ was given only as bait on hooks, they had better go elsewhere, and take their ‘gifts’ with them. Unable to catch any fish there, the missionaries went away disappointed. All praise to those Tibetans! If only other Buddhists—like many of the Vietnamese and Cambodians, who succumbed to the unethical pressure applied to them—had been as firm as them, instead of allowing themselves to be swayed and cheated!



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