Against The Stream ~ THE MONK AND
THE BODHI TREE
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!