Legend of the Anandabodhi Tree

Venue: SBS
Special occasion: Wesak Day 

The word Wesak is derived from the Pali word, Visakha because on Wesak night, the full moon is di-rectly aligned above our head with the Visakha constellation of stars in the sky. Yesterday night, Ven Kumara explained to us that Wesak is also the day Siddhattha Gotama became enlightened. After his supreme enlight-enment, he went to Savatthi where Anathapindika, a rich man, heard his sermon and achieved the first stage of enlightenment. He then offered a piece of orchard land to the Buddha and built Jetavana Monastery there. The Buddha spent many vassas in this monastery. Vassa is the rainy season period where monks are required to spend 3 months practising intensively in one place and not travel about.

Legend of Anandabodhi Tree

The people of Savatthi were therefore fortunate to frequently meet with the Buddha, listen to his dis-courses and perform dana. However, according to the Commentary to KalingaBodhi Jataka ( Ja 479), when the Buddha was not at Jetavana Monastery, the lay people who could not meet him were very disappointed. Ana-thapindika approached Ven Ananda, one of the foremost disciples of the Buddha, and asked him for a solution to this problem. Ven Ananda then asked the Buddha how many types of cetiya (pagoda) there were to represent the Buddha as an object of worship for the lay people when he was not around.

During the Buddha’s time, people did not draw portraits of the Buddha or create statues in his image. They felt that to do so would be an insult to him as the Buddha was a perfectly formed being and nothing cre-ated by man would be able to do justice to his image. In fact, for a few hundred years after his parinibbana , no such objects were created.

The Buddha said that 3 types of cetiya could represent him:

    1. Saririka Cetiya – this is derived from the remnants of his cremated body after his parinibbana. At that moment in time, the Buddha was still alive so this cetiya was not available.
    2. Paribhogika Cetiya – the things used by the Buddha such as his alms bowl, his robes or the Bodhi tree. The Bodhi tree is regarded as a cetiya as it was used to shelter him from the elements when he was striving to achieve enlightenment.
    3. Udissaka Cetiya – this is a symbolic cetiya that represents the Buddha and his teachings. One of them is the Dhammacakka (the Buddhist Wheel). The other examples are the Buddha’s footprints and the white coloured umbrella. The Buddha was descended from a royal family and the white umbrella was used to shield them. In Malaysia, we have the yellow coloured umbrella used for our royalty.

Please bear in mind that what I have just mentioned is not found in the Pali Canon but is based on the Jataka Commentary.

The Buddha further said that since the third cetiya would not be able to invoke much faith among the lay people, the second cetiya was the preferred one.

However, the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment was located in Bodhagaya, which was far away from Savatthi. Ven Ananda then requested the Buddha for permission to transplant a seed from this tree to Savatthi. The Buddha gave his consent. Ven Ananda asked Ven Moggallana (the foremost dis-ciple of the Buddha who was known for his psychic powers) to obtain a seed for him using his psychic abilities. Moggallana then collected the seed from the Bodhi tree and carried it in his robes to Savatthi.

King Pasenadi, Anathapindika, Visakha and all the people of Savatthi were informed of the date of planting the seed. It was to be planted beside the main door inside Jetavana Monastery. A golden flowerpot was prepared. King Pasenadi was invited to plant the seed. However, being the wise man he was, King Pasenadi declined from doing so, saying, “I won’t be king forever. Better let Anathapindika plant it.” Why did he say that? If he were to plant it, a future rival king might chop it down in anger and pride. It was thus better for a lay person to do it. Anathapindika was then requested to plant the seed.

The Commentary states that the moment the seed was planted, it sprouted into a tree 75 feet tall with a canopy diameter of 150 feet! I do not know whether you will be able to believe this magical occurrence. How-ever, do bear in mind that this was not stated by the Buddha.

Upon seeing the miracle of the sprouting tree, King Pasenadi’s faith was intensified. He conducted many pujas and surrounded the tree with blooming lotuses in golden pots, which were sprinkled with scented water. The railings around the tree were made of gold. The soil at the base of the tree was a mixture of sand and gold dust. The whole area was further fenced up using cloth incorporated with diamonds and precious stones. Anathapindika then invited the Buddha to make use of the Bodhi tree by meditating under it in order to enhance the sacredness of the tree. The Buddha then meditated under the tree for one night.

Many people who go for Buddhist pilgrimages to India will visit the Jetavana Monastery in Savatthi where they can see the Anandabodhi tree, so called because the planting was initiated by Ven Ananda. How-ever, it has been more than 2,500 years since the Buddha’s Parinibbana and no one really knows if this is still the original tree. Buddhism also underwent a period of decline in India during which the Jetavana Monastery was neglected and became almost a jungle. It was only in the 19th Century that certain Buddhist scholars ap-proached the Indian government for permission to restore and repair this holy area. It has only been re-opened to the public recently.

S. Dhammika wrote a book on Buddhist pilgrimages to India and questioned how the original Anand-abodhi tree at Jetavana Monastery could have survived all this devastation. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, the Commentary stated that the tree was planted beside the main gate while the current Anandabodhi tree is ac-tually found somewhere further away.

According to the 1999 edition of Eicher Guide, Walking with the Buddha—Buddhist Pilgrimages in India, which was verified by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, the Anandabodhi tree was brought as a cutting from the Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The history of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka began when Ven Mahinda, the son of King Asoka of India, who had achieved Arahanthood, was sent by his father to propagate Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The king of Sri Lanka embraced Buddhism and requested for the Buddha’s relic and the Bodhi tree. King Asoka then arranged to transplant the southern branch of the Bodhi tree from Bodhagaya to Anuradhapura. Thus, the Anandabodhi tree is actually the second-generation Bodhi tree of the original Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.

This book also mentioned that the Bodhi tree currently found in Bodhagaya is not the original Bodhi tree because it had been destroyed many times (at least 5 times) and replanted over the years. It is said that the Bodhi tree found in Bodhagaya currently is a branch from the Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, i.e. another second-generation tree. The Bodhi tree we are going to plant a little while later is from the seed of the present Anand-abodhi in the Jetavana Monastery, i.e. a third generation tree. In Sri Lanka, the people there like to venerate the Bodhi tree. Many influential and prominent Buddhist personalities like to associate and live near a Bodhi tree


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