The most sacred tree for Buddhists is the “ficus religiosa”. It is called “bodhi” in Sanskrit because the Buddha attained enlightenment or bodhi while sitting under it. The Sinhalese call it the Bo Tree.
A sapling of the original tree under which the Buddha sat was brought to Sri Lanka as the result of a royal mission to the Northern Indian state of Bihar in the year 249 BC. Amid great ceremony, it was planted in a monastery in the old capital of Anuradhapura. Throughout history Anuradhapura endured periods of invasion, occupation, plundering, and destruction. Yet no harm was ever done to the Maha Bodhi, the Great Bo Tree.
Like any living organism of an advanced age, the Maha Bodhi now requires some help. Supports have been placed under its huge 2,250 year old spreading branches. The monks have kept a diary of the Maha Bodhi faithfully throughout the centuries, chronicling it originally on dried banana leaves bound loosely into books. Nowadays the tree has its own website, www.srimahabodhi.org
I was there during a full moon – every full moon is a national holiday in Sri Lanka -- when the people of Anuradhapura come to Sri Maha Bodhi carrying bundles of firewood on their heads to light bonfires around it to keep wild elephants from eating the tender leaves.
Even though legend has it that the leaves of the Maha Bodhi never fall to the ground to be trampled, I was able to find a few to bring with me. I gave most of these cherished leaves to my closest friends, but kept one which was the inspiration for an artwork that now hangs in my bedroom. I reproduced the leaf by pen and ink, by colored pencils, and by oil on paper, placing them side by side next to the real leaf. The Bo Tree in its various symbolic phases.
Buddhists believe the Maha Bodhi to be endowed with magical powers. The Buddha found enlightenment after sitting under the tree for a prolonged period, then spent a full week gazing at it with motionless eyes as a mark of his profound gratitude to the tree that sheltered him during his struggle. I find a great inner peace in contemplating the various phases of the leaf of the Maha Bodhi. Perhaps you will, too.