SACRED VEDIC TREES
TULASI: The botanical name, Ocimum Sanctum, Sanctum (meaning holy), is
used out of respect for a mystic tradition that has a written
foundation of over 5000 years, and an oral one that cannot be dated.
Purifying to the mind, emotions and body, Tulasi beads can always be seen
around the necks of serious yogis and mystics in India. Dispelling
the unwanted influences of others, gross and subtle, is one of
the many benefits bestowed by this most powerful plant.
Tulasi plants are even prized in Ayurveda, where they are an integral
part of that sophisticated healing system. Even the Western chemists
recognize considerable healing properties and have isolated eugenol,
carvacrol, methyl eugenol and caryophyllene from the leaves alone.
In practically every temple in India, there is a special place reserved
for this sacred plant. Mystics, yogis and pilgrims consider it
a great privilege even to water her. Her qualities and amazing
powers are found throughout the oldest writings on Earth, the
Sanskrit Vedas of ancient India, where it states that simply touching
the wood is purifying at many levels.
Tulasi is the plant most loved by Lord Vishnu; and the Goddess ruling
Tulasi, Vrinda Devi, is known as the personification of bhakti
or devotion to the Supreme Being. Therefore Tulasi beads are used
and worn by Vaishnavas to this day.
Bodhi Trees (Ficus Religiosa or Pippala Tree) are a common symbol for
nature and for centuries they have provided shelter for man and
animal alike. Tree worship was a common practice in India at the
time of the Buddha. This can be seen in the story of Sujata -
offering milk-rice to the Bodhisatta seated under a banyan tree
on the eve of his enlightenment in the belief that he was the
deity living in that tree. Trees, in fact all vegetation, are
respected as 'one-facultied life' and there is a vinaya rule giving
them protection. The story is of a monk who was cutting down a
tree and damaged the arm of the tree spirit's child [see: COSMOLOGY].
She asked the monk not to destroy her home - to no avail. The
spirit complained to the Buddha and as lay people heard the story
they too 'were offended and annoyed' so the rule was created for
monks forbidding 'the damaging of any living vegetation.'
That the Buddha was sitting under a tree at the time of his enlightenment
has come to give trees even more significance and most specifially
the asiatic fig, now known to Buddhists as the Bodhi Tree [bodhi
= being awake, enlightened, supreme knowledge] and universally,
botanically known as ficus religiosa (Latin). Bodhi trees are
commonly found growing in Buddhist centres all over the world.
The scriptural account of the Buddha's enlightenment gives further
significance to trees. We read that after enlightenment the Buddha
sat cross-legged for seven days at the foot of the Bo-tree experiencing
the bliss of emancipation and radiating gratitude to the tree.
At the end of seven days he left the the Bo-tree and drew near
to the Ajapala (the Goat-herd's) banyan-tree and likewise sat
cross-legged for seven days. On leaving the foot of the Ajapala
banyan-tree he drew near to where the Mucalinda tree was and,
having drawn near, he again sat cross-legged for seven days. [this
is the prelude to the story of Mucalinda, the seven headed naga
The first scriptural reference to the Bodhi tree being established
as an object of Buddhist worship is in the Kalingabodhi Jataka.
The layman Anathapindika (donor of the Jetavana monastery where
the Buddha was living at the time) asked if there was a place
or object of reverence where devotees could pay their respects
and offer homage when the Buddha was away. The Buddha said that
the Bodhi tree was such a thing and a seed of the original tree
was brought. A bodhi tree (the original?) can still be seen on
the site of the old monastery at modern Sahet Hahet (Savatthi)
The earliest records on the tree at Bodh Gaya are in the 'Kalingabodhi
Jataka', which gives a vivid description of the tree and the surrounding
area prior to the enlightenment, and the 'Asokavadana', which
relates the story of King Asoka's (3rd century B.C) conversion
to Buddhism. His subsequent worship under the sacred tree apparently
angered his queen to the point where she ordered the tree to be
felled. Ashoka then piled up earth around the stump and poured
milk on its roots. The tree miraculously revived and grew to a
height of 37 metres. He then surrounded the tree with a stone
wall some three meters high for its protection. Ashoka's daughter
Sangamitta, a Buddhist nun, took a shoot of the tree to Sri Lanka
where King Devanampiyatissa planted it at the Mahavihara monastery
in Anuradhapura about 245 BC. It still flourishes today and is
the oldest continually documented tree in the world.
In 600AD, King Sesanka, a zealous Shivaite, again destroyed the
tree at Bodh Gaya. The event was recorded by Hiuen T'sang, along
with the planting of a new Bodhi tree sapling by King Purnavarma
in 620AD. At this time, during the annual celebration of Vesak,
thousands of people from all over India would gather to anoint
the roots of the holy tree with perfumed water and scented milk,
and to offer flowers and music. Hiuen T'sang wrote "The tree
stands inside a fort like structure surrounded on the south, west
and north by a brick wall. It has pointed leaves of a bright green
colour. Having opened a door, one could see a large trench in
the shape of a basin. Devotees worship with curd, milk and perfumes
such as sandalwood, camphor and so on."
Much later the English archeologist Cunningham records, "In
1862 I found this tree very much decayed; one large stem to the
westward with three branches was still green, but the other branches
were barkless and rotten. I next saw the tree in 1871 and again
in 1875, when it had become completely decayed, and shortly afterwards
in 1876 the only remaining portion of the tree fell over the west
wall during a storm, and the old pipal tree was gone. Many seeds,
however, had been collected and the young scion of the parent
tree were already in existence to take its place." The present
Bodhi tree is most probably the fourth descendant of that original
tree to be planted at this site.
The Bodhi tree plays a very important role for Buddhists of all traditions,
being a reminder and an inspiration, a symbol of peace, of Buddhas'
enlightenment and of the ultimate potential that lies within us
| Just as Lord Vishnu is very much pleased when He is offered the leaves
of His most beloved Tulasi, so Lord Shiva is pleased by offerings
of leaves from the bilva or bael tree. Thus the brahmanas worshipped
Lord Shiva by offering bilva leaves, for a period of one fortnight
and satisfied Lord Shiva greatly.
Bilva is the bael tree. Its fruit, flowers and leaves are all sacred
to Siva, liberation's summit. Planting Aegle marmelos trees around
home or temple is sanctifying, as is worshiping a Linga with bilva
leaves and water.
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