(Parts of this blog are from a great Huffington Post article on Bodhi Day http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/07/bodhi-day-2014_n_6255748.html, along with some of my thoughts on its meaning and purpose)
Bodhi Day is a Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the Buddha achieved enlightenment/awakening, translated as “Bodhi” in Sanskrit or Pali. Bodhi Day is celebrated on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month. In 2014, Bodhi day was observed on Monday, Dec. 8. (The Tibetan Buddhist celebrate Saga Dawa in April/May which is a combination of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.)
The Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautama into a noble, privileged household. When he was close to 30 years old, he abandoned his material lifestyle and retreated to the forest seeking answers to the problem of suffering, specifically old age, sickness and death. According to tradition, he initially sought bodhi (enlightenment) through meditation, self-mortification and practicing other austerities.
After several years of intense practice, he realized that bodhi was to be found through a Middle Way, away from the extremes of self-mortification and self-indulgence. The story goes that he meditated in Bodh Gaya, a town in northeastern India, under a peepal tree (a species of Banyan fig), now famously known as the Bodhi tree, and resolved to continue meditating until he achieved enlightenment
It is believed that during 49 days of continuous meditation, he confronted Mara, the archetype of craving, desire, unskillful urges—the physical, spiritual and psychological “demons” we all face. After 49 days, he was able to simply sit and be present with whatever arose, learning that it was possible to no longer respond in unskillful ways. He touched the earth to demonstrate this truth. That is the moment when Gautama became “awakened”, at the age of 35. Since then he was known as the Buddha ('the enlightened one').
Buddhists around the world consider Bodh Gaya, India, to be the most sacred of holy places as the birth place of their tradition. Bodhi Day is celebrated in many mainstream Mahayana traditions including Zen and in Pureland Buddhist schools in China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea.
Buddhists commemorate this day by meditating, studying the Dharma, chanting sutras (Buddhist texts) and performing kind acts toward other beings. Some celebrate by a traditional meal of tea, cakes and readings.
In our lives, we each have the ability to become awakened, by tapping into the innate wisdom and compassion that is within every person. We each can experience a “Bodhi Day” when we awaken to the truth of how things truly are. It usually doesn’t result in an “overnight” transformation, but is that moment when we find the strength and courage to transform our thoughts, our words and our actions over time. Happy Bodhi Day!