December 8 is the day that Japanese Zen schools celebrate Rohatsu, also known as the Buddha’s enlightenment day (Japanese: Jōdō-e, 成道会). Many Zen Buddhists mark this day often the week leading up to it with diligent practice, as James Ford (from Monkey Mind) did in 2013; and here’s his post-Rohatsu sesshin post from that year as well as his post from 2015 in which he recounts the awakening of the Buddha thus:
So, Gautama decides if there is truth to be known, it must be found in our human body, and it must be accessible. And he recalled from his childhood, how once he sat under an apple tree and in the quiet of the day was overcome with bliss.
Following this intuition he settled himself under the branches of a fig tree, and he just sat. His mind traced the course of his life. He experienced again all his hopes and aspirations, all his successes and failures, looked at the stories he had woven out of these experiences, and as each thought arose after acknowledging it, he let it go. He just sat.
Now, this is a story, so a lot went on around him. Angels and gods came to witness the birth of something special. And delusion, the deity of ignorance worried that the time of his reign over the world was coming to an end did everything he could to stop it from happening. He manifested in a hundred different ways, offering sex and power, the fulfillment of every desire, and the quenching of every resentment in just vengeance.
But Gautama, acknowledged each thing, and returned to presence. He just kept sitting. Some versions of the story had him pass through forty-five days, others three days, and some a single day and a single night.
But then it happened. As the morning star arose he glanced up. And he understood. [read more]
In the Western Buddhist world, it is probably the second best known Buddhist holiday after Vesak (Pali: Vesākha), which is still celebrated according to the lunar calendar, taking place on the full moon usually occurring in the Gregorian months of April, May, or June.
Borrowing from a post in 2011:
This week we celebrated Rohatsu, the Japanese Buddhist celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment. For Theravadins, he was born, enlightened, and died on Vesak, which falls in May or June in many places, or April in China, Japan, Korea according to wikipedia – which seems to mean that Japanese Buddhists celebrate the Buddha’s enlightenment twice. In any case, along with very nice messages from Shako Yuinen at the Buddhist Military Blog, James at the Buddhist Blog, and Uku at Zen – the Possible Way, came a very poignant story of redemption and acceptance through practice.
Marking the occasion this year I’ll be grading a large stack of student essays on Buddhism, a practice that is both enriching and humbling. Likewise, as I did back in 2013 and 2015, I’ll re-share some of my photos from Bodhgaya from 2010. Wishing all a day of peace, reflection, calm, and ease in all of our perfect imperfection.
East Asian Nuns chanting at the Mahabodhi Stupa.
One of the many Buddha images around the base of the Mahabodhi Temple.