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16th August 1998

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Human NatureSri Maha Bodhi - direct descendant of the Bo Tree, beneath which the Bodhisatva sought Enlightenment, stands today enduring the changing millennia

Oldest sacred symbol

By Charith Pelpola

Compared with it the Oak of Ellerslie is but a sapling; and the Conqueror's Oak in Windsor Forest, barely numbers half its years. The yew-trees of Fountains Abbey are believed to have flourished there twelve hundred years ago; the olives in the Garden of Gethsemane were full grown when the Saracens were expelled from Jerusalem; and the cypress of Soma, in Lombardy, is said to have been a tree in the time of Julius Caesar; yet, the Bo-tree is older than the oldest of these by a century, and would almost seem to verify the prophecy pronounced when it was planted, that it would 'flourish and be green for ever'".

Robert Knox, 1681

Over 2000 years have passed since the dawn of Buddhism in Sri Lanka; since the passage of a band The Sacred Bo Tree at Anuradhapuraof pilgrims from the northern steppes of India to these southern shores. They landed here in 288 BC, and with them, they brought a gift that would change the course of Sri Lanka's early history, and bring it surging into the country's Golden Age.

A sapling from the Tree of Enlightenment had been sent by the Emperor Asoka; a symbol of faith for the newly converted Buddhists of the island. He had the sapling planted in a golden vessel, and sent it by sea under the care of his daughter, the nun Sanghamitta. At the end of their journey, at the royal The Sacred Bo Tree at Anuradhapuragates of Anuradhapura, the delegation was greeted with great ceremony and adulation.

King Devanampiyatissa himself saw to the replanting of the tree where it stands today, enduring the changing millennia.

The mists of history and fact, and legend, have shrouded this moment in time - but here stands the Sri Maha Bodhi - a direct descendant of the Bo Tree, beneath which, the Bodhisatva sought Enlightenment, and discarded the fetters of the world. The tree, by its status became elevated above all other members of its wide-ranging family. From the lineage of the tropical fruiting fig, to the strangler fig of the plains, this tree, that has played such a key role in the development of Asian philosophy, was scientifically classified with due accord - Ficus religiosa - the Sacred Bo Tree.

The tree was also granted protection by the people who worshipped beneath its boughs; culminating in a ceremonial festival that was celebrated every year for countless generations. Although its sire is no The Sacred Bo Tree at Anuradhapuramore, succumbed to the ravages of time, the sapling of two thousand years remains, one of the most sacred symbols of veneration for a now million-fold, worldwide assembly of followers.

As successive generations of Sri Lankan Buddhists developed their seats of learning in Anuradhapura and later Polonnaruwa, the great dagobas came to surpass the prominence of the Bo tree, offering a greater scope for pious grandiosity than the Bodhi-Ghara that housed the original cuttings. The simple link that the Bo tree provided with the environment; the preservation of which, the Buddha so often entreated, was soon overshadowed. Nowhere else in the Enlightened One's global realm has the dagoba realised such sublimity in size and elegance and symbolism, as it has in Sri Lanka - but that is another story.

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