Sacred trees in Buddhism | Daily News


Sacred trees in Buddhism

Buddhists believe that there had been 28 Buddhas and that each one had attained enlightenment under a tree. There are several compilations of the trees relating to each Buddha. We may never be able to identifythe correct trees. The following list is gathered from several sources.

Tanhankara – Rukattana, Alstonia scholaris

Medhankara – Kaela, Dalbergia lanceolaria

Saranankara – Pulila, Ficus arnottiana

Dipankara – Kumbuk, Termina Arjuna

Kondanna – Sal, Vateria copallifera

Mangala - Na, Mesus Ferrea

Sumana – Na, Mesus Ferrea

Revata - Na, Mesus Ferrea

Sobhita - Na, Mesus Ferrea

Anomadassi – Kumbuk, Termina Arjuna

Paduma – Murutha, Lagerstroemia speciosa

Narada – Murutha, Lagerstroemia speciosa

Padumuttara – Kiripalu, Buchanania angustifolia

Sumedha – Bakme, Nauclea orientails

Sujata – Una, Bambusa vulgaris

Piyadassi – Kumbuk, Termina Arjuna

Atthadassi – Sapu, Michelia Champaka

Dhammadassi – Rankarau, Margarataria indicus

Siddhattha – Kinihiriya, Cochlospermum religiosm

Tissa – Asana tree, Terminalia tomentosa

Phussa – Nelli Phyllanthus Emblica

Vipassi – Palol, Stereospermum suaveolens

Sikhi – Etamba Magnifera zeylanica

Vessabhu - Sal, Vateria copallifera

Kakusnada – Mara Albizia lebbeck

Konagamana – Dimbul, Ficus racemosa

Kassapa – Nuga, Ficus altissima

Gotama – Pipal, Ficus Religiosa

There are 22 trees in the above list, with different variations. Sal is also the tree under which prince Siddhartha is believed to have been born. It was under another Sal tree that he attained Parinibbana. Probably the Sal tree had been worshipped even in pre-Buddhist India. Many Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka have installed images of the 28 Buddhas, and in some places planted the 22 trees. Most of the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka also perform Atavisi Buddha Puja. In a few temples it is the Patan Bo (Ficus arnottiana) that is worshipped instead of the Ficus religiosa. Yet for the faithful the minor details of a subspecies of the Ficus family would not matter. Anyone who has any doubts about the two types of Bo trees, can visit the temple at Wangiyakumbura in Boralanda which has got both trees growing side by side in the Bo maluwa.

In a temple in Kothmale many years ago there was a Bo tree which had been partly smothered by a Nuga tree. But no one had made any attempt to cut down the Nuga tree. I would like to see it as a symbol of the sacredness of all trees. Because both trees are sacred, as are all trees on earth. In Tamilnadu, Ashvatta and neem trees are planted so close to each other that they mix up as they grow. A naga (snake) idol is placed under them and worshipped. This is believed to bless the worshipper with wealth.

If we could also hold all 22 trees sacred, consider them as Bodhi trees, and add to them all the other trees under which the previous Buddhas were born, and reached parinibbana, and all the trees of the same families, then we need not worry about our ecosystem. Some of these trees are also worshipped by many people in India and other Asian countries.

Theri Gatha offers a hint about the worship of the Bo tree in very ancient times. Sela Theri, in a previous birth in the time of Padumuttara Buddha, had devoted herself in search of Good, after her husband died. ‘She had gone from vihara to vihara till one day she came to the Bodhi tree and sat down there thinking, “If a Buddha be peerless among men, may this tree show the miracle of Enlightenment.” Immediately the tree blazed forth, the branches appeared golden, and the sky was all shining. Inspired by the sight, she fell down and worshipped the tree, and sat there for seven days. On the seventh day she performed a great feast of offering and worship to the Buddha.’

There are many plants associated with Buddhist rituals in Sri Lanka. Almost all varieties of garden flowers are offered to the Buddha. At pirith ceremonies, they use ‘Lada pas mal’, the five varieties of purification items, jasmine buds, eethana (Hernandia ovigera), white mustard seeds, broken rice, and puffed rice. On the canopy are hung areca-nut flowers, betel leaves, tender na (Mesu ferrea) and Bo leaves. Tender coconut leaves are used on many occasions.

In India the worship of trees goes back at least for 5000 years, based on the evidence of the seals found at the Harappan sites. We still worship the same tree, as Ashvattha or the Bodhi tree. Bodhgaya, had been a sacred grove, long before Buddha attained enlightenment there. And Sujatha would have offered khir (milk and rice pudding) to Siddhartha Goutama, believing him to be a tree deity.

Recent archaeological excavations revealed that Lumbini too had been a sacred grove, where deep under the Maya Devi temple they have found probable evidence of pre-Buddhist tree worship.

It could have been a place of worship of a tree goddess or a Mother goddess, a symbol of Motherhood, for fertility and safe childbirth, and the sacred tree could have been a Sal or Asoka. In that case the space would have been appropriated at a later date, as a Buddhist sacred space with Buddha’s mother, Maya Devi as a Mother goddess, or a symbol of Motherhood.

In India we had three types of forests. Shrivan, Tapovan and Mahavan. Today we think that it is man made plantations that gives us wealth and prosperity. There is no Shrivan around our villages to give us sustenance. We destroyed our ancient Tapovan and built concrete ashrams for meditation. Mahavan has been replaced by megacities and mega industries.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide exhaled by animals, and also by man’s destructive acts. Trees release Oxygen, which is needed by all living beings. Trees play a major role in the Water Cycle. We are totally dependent on plant life, even if we consider ourselves carnivores. Plants deserve to be worshipped.

I have always believed that there is a lot we can learn from king Ashoka. Ashoka’s concern about nature, the environment and natural resources is seen in the Delhi-Topra Pillar Edict. Forests must not be burnt either uselessly or in order to destroy (living beings).

When we observe Pansil, we agree to abstain from harming living creatures (siyalu satthvayo) on earth. All living creatures depend on plants, their leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, and roots, even the carnivores, because the creatures they feed on have to live on plants.

When we harm plant life, we are harming animal life, by depriving them of their food and sometimes shelter.

We deprive all animals of their oxygen, and endanger their future with global warming as carbon dioxide increases. Let us protect and nourish all plant life considering them as sacred.

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