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Bodhi Day

Bodhi Day (成道会?, Jōdō-e), traditionally the 8th day of the 12th lunar month (in the Chinese Calendar), has been observed on December 8 in Japan since the Meiji Restoration (1862-1869). It is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, (Siddhartha Gautauma,) experienced enlightenment.

Siddhartha Gautama was a prince who left his home in Nepal at the age of 29 to search for the meaning of life. He came from a privileged family and had grown up sheltered from the outside world. Siddhartha was curious though and left his privilege to travel the world. As he traveled, he saw the misery of the human existence, old age, suffering and sickness. Siddhartha was profoundly affected by this suffering and chose to leave the life of privilege and seek meaning.

Siddhartha spent six years as an aesthetic and served under six teachers but did not find the answer he was looking for. He tried various disciplines such as surviving by eating only one grain of rice per day, but realized this was also not the answer. Finally he vowed to sit under the Bodhi tree until he had his answers. Sitting under the tree Siddhartha fasted and meditated for a week and on the morning of the eighth day as the morning star rose in the sky, awoke to several realizations and became enlightened and experienced Nirvana (bliss). Having done so, Siddhartha became a Buddha or “Awakened One”.

The understandings Siddhartha came to were to become the principles of Buddhism. In The Longer Discourse to Saccaka, the Buddha describes his Enlightenment in three stages:

During the first watch of the night, the Buddha discovered all of his past lives in the cycle of rebirth, realizing that he had been born and reborn countless times before.

During the second watch, the Buddha discovered the Law of Karma, and the importance of living by the Eightfold Path.

During the third watch, the Buddha discovered the Four Noble Truths, finally reaching Nirvana. In his words:

“My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.”

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