Mahavamsa : die große Chronik Sri Lankas

19. Kapitel 19: Ankunft des Bodhi-Baums

19.E1: Exkurs 1: Bodhi-Pūjā = Verehrung des Bodhibaums

verfasst von Mahanama

übersetzt und erläutert von Alois Payer


Zitierweise / cite as:

Mahanama <6. Jhdt n. Chr.>: Mahavamsa : die große Chronik Sri Lankas / übersetzt und erläutert von Alois Payer. -- 19. Kapitel 19: Ankunft des Bodhi-Baums. -- E1: Exkurs 1: Bodhi-Pūjā  = Verehrung des Bodhibaums. -- Fassung vom 2006-05-29. -- URL: -- [Stichwort].

Erstmals publiziert:  2001-07-12

Überarbeitungen: 2006-05-29 [Ergänzungen]

Anlass: Lehrveranstaltungen,  Sommersemester 2001, 2006

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Dieser Text ist Teil der Abteilung Buddhismus von Tüpfli's Global Village Library


1. Traditionelle Bodhi-Pūjā / von A.G.S. Kariyawasam

Abb.: Opfer am Mahābodhibaum, Anurādhapura, Vollmondtag, 2005
[Bildquelle: -- -- Creative Commons Lizenz. -- Zugriff am 2006-05-29]

A.G.S. Kariyawasam beschreibt im Büchlein

Kariyawasam, A. G. S.: Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka. -- Kandy : Buddhist Publication Society, ©1995. -- (The Wheel Publication ; No. 402/404). -- ISBN 955-24-0126-7. -- Online zugänglich -- Zugriff am 2001-07-11

die traditionellen Formen der Verehrung eine Bodhi-Baums:

"The veneration of the Bodhi-tree (pipal tree: ficus religiosa) has been a popular and a widespread ritual in Sri Lanka from the time a sapling of the original Bodhi-tree at Buddhagaya (under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment) was brought from India by the Theri Sanghamitta and planted at Anuradhapura during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa in the third century B.C. Since then a Bodhi-tree has become a necessary feature of every Buddhist temple in the island.

The ritualistic worship of trees as abodes of tree deities (rukkha-devata) was widely prevalent in ancient India even before the advent of Buddhism. This is exemplified by the well-known case of Sujata's offering of milk-rice to the Bodhisatta, who was seated under a banyan tree on the eve of his Enlightenment, in the belief that he was the deity living in that tree. By making offerings to these deities inhabiting trees the devotees expect various forms of help from them. The practice was prevalent in pre-Buddhist Sri Lanka as well. According to the Mahavamsa, King Pandukabhaya (4th century B.C.) fixed a banyan tree near the western gate of Anuradhapura as the abode of Vessavana, the god of wealth and the regent of the North as well as the king of the yakkhas. The same king set apart a palmyra palm as the abode of vyadha-deva, the god of the hunt (Mhv. x,89, 90).

After the introduction of the Bodhi-tree, this cult took a new turn. While the old practice was not totally abandoned, pride of place was accorded to the worship of the pipal tree, which had become sacred to the Buddhists as the tree under which Gotama Buddha attained Enlightenment. Thus there is a difference between the worship of the Bodhi-tree and that of other trees. To the Buddhists, the Bodhi-tree became a sacred object belonging to the paribhogika group of the threefold division of sacred monuments, while the ordinary veneration of trees, which also exists side-by-side with the former in Sri Lanka, is based on the belief already mentioned, i.e. that there are spirits inhabiting these trees and that they can help people in exchange for offerings. The Buddhists also have come to believe that powerful Buddhist deities inhabit even the Bodhi-trees that receive worship in the purely Buddhist sense. Hence it becomes clear that the reverence shown to a tree is not addressed to the tree itself. However, it also has to be noted that the Bodhi-tree received veneration in India even before it assumed this Buddhist significance; this practice must have been based on the general principle of tree worship mentioned above.

Once the tree assumed Buddhist significance its sanctity became particularized, while the deities inhabiting it also became associated with Buddhism in some form. At the same time, the tree became a symbol representing the Buddha as well. This symbolism was confirmed by the Buddha himself when he recommended the planting of the Ananda Bodhi-tree at Jetavana for worship and offerings during his absence (see J.iv,228f.). Further, the place where the Buddha attained Enlightenment is mentioned by the Buddha as one of the four places of pilgrimage that should cause serene joy in the minds of the faithful (D.ii,140). As Ananda Coomaraswamy points out, every Buddhist temple and monastery in India once had its Bodhi-tree and flower altar as is now the case in Sri Lanka.

King Devanampiya Tissa, the first Buddhist king of Sri Lanka, is said to have bestowed the whole country upon the Bodhi-tree and held a magnificent festival after planting it with great ceremony. The entire country was decorated for the occasion. The Mahavamsa refers to similar ceremonies held by his successors as well. It is said that the rulers of Sri Lanka performed ceremonies in the tree's honour in every twelfth year of their reign (Mhv. xxxviii,57).

King Dutugemunu (2nd century B.C.) performed such a ceremony at a cost of 100,000 pieces of money (Mhv. xxviii,1). King Bhatika Abhaya (1st century A.C.) held a ceremony of watering the sacred tree, which seems to have been one of many such special pujas. Other kings too, according to the Mahavamsa, expressed their devotion to the Bodhi-tree in various ways (see e.g. Mhv. xxxv,30; xxxvi, 25, 52, 126).

It is recorded that forty Bodhi-saplings that grew from the seeds of the original Bodhi-tree at Anuradhapura were planted at various places in the island during the time of Devanampiya Tissa himself. The local Buddhists saw to it that every monastery in the island had its own Bodhi-tree, and today the tree has become a familiar sight, all derived, most probably, from the original tree at Anuradhapura through seeds. However, it may be added here that the notion that all the Bodhi-trees in the island are derived from the original tree is only an assumption. The existence of the tree prior to its introduction by the Theri Sanghamitta cannot be proved or disproved.

The ceremony of worshipping this sacred tree, first begun by King Devanampiya Tissa and followed by his successors with unflagging interest, has continued up to the present day. The ceremony is still as popular and meaningful as at the beginning. It is natural that this should be so, for the veneration of the tree fulfils the emotional and devotional needs of the pious heart in the same way as does the veneration of the Buddha-image and, to a lesser extent, of the dagaba. Moreover, its association with deities dedicated to the cause of Buddhism, who can also aid pious worshippers in their mundane affairs, contributes to the popularity and vitality of Bodhi-worship.

The main centre of devotion in Sri Lanka today is, of course, the ancient tree at Anuradhapura, which, in addition to its religious significance, has a historical importance as well. As the oldest historical tree in the world, it has survived for over 2,200 years, even when the city of Anuradhapura was devastated by foreign enemies. Today it is one of the most sacred and popular places of pilgrimage in the island. The tree itself is very well guarded, the most recent protection being a gold-plated railing around the base (ranvata). Ordinarily, pilgrims are not allowed to go near the foot of the tree in the upper terrace. They have to worship and make their offerings on altars provided on the lower terrace so that no damage is done to the tree by the multitude that throng there. The place is closely guarded by those entrusted with its upkeep and protection, while the daily rituals of cleaning the place, watering the tree, making offerings, etc., are performed by bhikkhus and laymen entrusted with the work. The performance of these rituals is regarded as of great merit and they are performed on a lesser scale at other important Bodhi-trees in the island as well.

Thus this tree today receives worship and respect as a symbol of the Buddha himself, a tradition which, as stated earlier, could be traced back to the Ananda Bodhi-tree at Jetavana of the Buddha's own time. The Vibhanga Commentary (p.349) says that the bhikkhu who enters the courtyard of the Bodhi-tree should venerate the tree, behaving with all humility as if he were in the presence of the Buddha. Thus one of the main items of the daily ritual at the Anuradhapura Bodhi-tree (and at many other places) is the offering of alms as if unto the Buddha himself. A special ritual held annually at the shrine of the Anuradhapura tree is the hanging of gold ornaments on the tree. Pious devotees offer valuables, money, and various other articles during the performance of this ritual.

Abb.: Anzünden von Kokosöl-Lampen am Mahābodhibaum, Anurādhapura, Vollmondtag, 2005
[Bildquelle: -- -- Creative Commons Lizenz. -- Zugriff am 2006-05-29]

Another popular ritual connected with the Bodhi-tree is the lighting of coconut-oil lamps as an offering (pahan-puja), especially to avert the evil influence of inauspicious planetary conjunctions. When a person passes through a troublesome period in life he may get his horoscope read by an astrologer in order to discover whether he is under bad planetary influences. If so, one of the recommendations would invariably be a bodhi-puja, one important item of which would be the lighting of a specific number of coconut-oil lamps around a Bodhi-tree in a temple.

Abb.: Blumenopfer am Mahābodhibaum, Anurādhapura, Vollmondtag, 2005
[Bildquelle: -- -- Creative Commons Lizenz. -- Zugriff am 2006-05-29]

The other aspects of this ritual consist of the offering of flowers, milk-rice, fruits, betel, medicinal oils, camphor, and coins. These coins (designated panduru) are washed in saffron water and separated for offering in this manner. The offering of coins as an act of merit-acquisition has assumed ritualistic significance with the Buddhists of the island. Every temple has a charity box (pin-pettiya) into which the devotees drop a few coins as a contribution for the maintenance of the monks and the monastery. Offerings at devalayas should inevitably be accompanied by such a gift. At many wayside shrines there is provision for the offering of panduru and travellers en route, in the hope of a safe and successful journey, rarely fail to make their contribution. While the coins are put into the charity box, all the other offerings would be arranged methodically on an altar near the tree and the appropriate stanzas that make the offering valid are recited. Another part of the ritual is the hanging of flags on the branches of the tree in the expectation of getting one's wishes fulfilled.

Bathing the tree with scented water is also a necessary part of the ritual. So is the burning of incense, camphor, etc. Once all these offerings have been completed, the performers would circumambulate the tree once or thrice reciting an appropriate stanza. The commonest of such stanzas is as follows:

Yassa mule nisinno va
sabbari vijayam aka
patto sabbannutam Sattha
Vande tam bodhipadapam.

Ime ete mahabodhi
lokanathena pujita
ahampi te namassami
bodhi raja namatthu te.

"I worship this Bodhi-tree seated under which the Teacher attained omniscience by overcoming all enemical forces (both subjective and objective). I too worship this great Bodhi-tree which was honoured by the Leader of the World. My homage to thee, O King Bodhi."

The ritual is concluded by the usual transference of merit to the deities that protect the Buddha's Dispensation."

2. Bodhi-Pūjā neuer Form / von Richard Gombrich und Gananath Obeyesekere


Gombrich, Richard ; Obeyesekere, Gananath: Buddhism transformed : religious change in Sri Lanka. -- Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press, ©1988. -- ISBN 0-691-01901-0. -- S. 385 - 402

beschreiben die Autoren eine "modernistische" Form der Bodhi-Pūjā:

"Around 1976 a new form of Buddhist ritual came to public notice. It was a form of Buddha pūjā devised, and at that time generally conducted, by a young monk called Panadure Ariyadhamma [gestorben 1986]. The Venerable Ariyadhammais a forest-dwelling monk who began his meditation training, while still a layman, at Kanduboda and received his higher ordination there. His Buddha pūjā revitalizes a traditional form of Buddha pūjā, almost obsolete, in which offerings of the kind usual at 6 P.M. -- flowers, lamps, incense, etc. -- were made before images of the twenty-eight Buddhas (twenty-seven former ones and Gotama) to the recitation of a few Pali verses. Another traditional element that the ritual revives is the custom of honoring the or Bodhi tree as a symbol of the Buddha's Enlightenment. The latter element led rapidly to the new ritual's becoming known as Bodhi pūjā. In August 1978 a month of Bodhi piijds held in Galle culminated with a crowd reliably estimated at nearly 100,000. ...

In 1979 Gombrich wrote, "It is not yet possible to say whether the service can become popular without [Ariyadhamma's] participation as its leader." Events have proved that the Bodhi pūjā has indeed become popular but, in spreading, has changed its form and its meaning to the participants with astonishing rapidity. Its story vividly illustrates the principle that innovations stem from individuals, but what becomes of them is what the many other individuals who constitute society make of them and often has little to do with the intention of the original innovator. In this case the Bodhi pūjā has been adapted to become something of a bridge between Buddhism proper and the spirit religion, which was not Ariyadhamma's intention. This will be fully illustrated below in a case history that thus neatly straddles our expository distinction between the spirit religion and Buddhism. First, however, we must briefly recapitulate our account of Ariyadhamma's original invention while referring the reader to the published material for the full version of his text, and then indicate the general lines along which the institution has been changing.

We have referred to the Bodhi pūjā as a "service" advisedly. Its form is quite new. A traditional Buddha pūjā involves the participation only of the person, whether monk or layman, who is making the offering; he recites (often sotto voce) a few set Pali verses. There is almost no set ritual and the event takes only a couple of minutes. The new Bodhi pūjā, by contrast, takes well over an hour, and throughout that time the congregation are actively involved; they are reciting words, both Pali and Sinhala, after or along with the person who conducts the service. They also know what to recite because the words of the Bodhi pūjā are recorded in readily available printed pamphlets. It is clear that many people already know the words of this fairly long liturgy by heart. We shall see below, however, that important variants have rapidly crept even into the published texts.

In Sinhala Buddhism it is an innovation to have an actively participating congregation at all. A crowd may come to hear a monk preach, but their only role is to listen and express approbation. Another new feature in the Bodhi pūjā is that the leader, who early on was always the Venerable Ariyadhamma or another monk, positions himself so as to appear one of the congregation. Normally when a monk preaches or administers the precepts he faces the laity, is seated on a higher level, and is treated with great formal respect. The monk conducting the Bodhi pūjā sits as a member of the congregation, like them facing the Buddha image in an attitude of humility. In this respect he behaves more like a Muslim prayer leader in a mosque than a traditional monk. This is not to say that either Islam or Christianity has supplied a conscious model for the Bodhi pūjā. However, it is possible that Ariyadhamma was influenced by the Christian service without being aware of it, since Panadura, Ariyadhamma's home, had a powerful Protestant elite and also churches and Christian schools, and moreover, was the venue for the famous controversy between Christians and Buddhists.

The most fundamental innovation, which affects both form and content, is the use of Sinhala. Traditionally only Pali has been used in Buddhist liturgy. Though most laymen certainly have a general idea of what is being said, hardly any of them actually know Pali so that the words in that language can have no emotional immediacy for them. The Bodhi pūjā uses not only Sinhala prose but also Sinhala verses of the traditional type, which are not spoken but chanted melodically. In fact the most famous feature of the original Bodhi pūjā was the Venerable Ariyadhamma's mellifluous chanting of the verses he had composed. This is not to say that their content was not of the greatest importance; but his presentation gave them an aesthetic as well as a purely emotional appeal. He told us that his motive for composing the service was a desire to offer young people an attraction to compete with films and pop songs. In this he certainly enjoyed at least a brief success. While he agreed, when we put it to him, that the comfort people derive from the Bodhi pūjā might meet the needs that drive them to worship the gods, the spirit religion was not in his mind when he composed it. Already when we interviewed him in 1978 he was unhappy about the uses to which his invention was being put.

It has been the innovation in content, itself the main reason for the Bodhi pūjā's initial success, that has contained the seeds from which these other growths have sprouted. The Sinhala text of the service has been used to express emotions hitherto unexpressed by the congregation in Sinhala public ritual of any kind. Everyday emotion may be expressed in everyday language in traditional rituals of the spirit religion, but only by the officiants; and in Buddhist ritual, we have seen, the language is Pali. In the Bodhi pūjā everyone present expresses ādara, the ordinary word for love, for all creatures and the hope to be forgiven for all faults. The Buddha is referred to in emotional language as both father and mother. And the most famous passage is a pair of Sinhala verses that express the hope for comfort and consolation:

To see the Lord Buddha's statue is consolation to the eyes, 
To bow before the Lord Buddha is consolation to the limbs, 
To think of the Lord Buddha's virtues is consolation to the mind, 
To take the path the Lord took is consolation for becoming.

In life there is trouble truly every day 
And to death we approach ever a little closer, 
Only doing good is at least a little appropriate; 
For all of us it is nirvana that is the consolation.

These verses are followed by the words "May all beings be happy," repeated several times, first by the monk and then by the congregation, each time a little softer, till they die away in a whisper. There is a profound silence, as everyone attempts to suffuse his own thoughts, and thence the whole world, with kindness. The silence is finally broken, on the monk's cue, with a loud exclamation of "Sā!" and everyone breaks into a loud, fast repetition in a monotone of the Mettā Sutta, the scriptural and thus the traditional liturgical form given to the same sentiments.

The Venerable Ariyadhamma told us that when Mahā Pajāpati, the Buddha's stepmother, became a nun, she said to him, "You are now my Buddha mother and give me the milk of immortality"; the story makes him weep with emotion. The words constantly on his lips and featuring prominently in his service are kindness, compassion, pity, and above all comfort and consolation. He also frequently mentions equability, both as a quality of the Buddha and as a condition to aspire to. But it has been his genius to realize that between the layman walking in off the street and this ideal state of calm there lies a gap that requires some emotional bridge. Not innovating, but bringing into unwonted prominence an element from the tradition, he stresses both the parental love that the Buddha felt for all suffering creatures and that we may legitimately still project onto him and the love, of the same quality, that we in our turn must cultivate. In recalling these qualities of the Buddha, he said to us, people's thoughts become broader and open out like a flower blossoming. The main message of the sermon we heard him give at a Bodhi pūjā was that everyone should meditate daily on the qualities of the Buddha and practice kindness. We recall here that the same meditation --  recollection might be a better word -- on kindness has been made part of the daily routine of Sinhala schoolchildren. The same traditional value embodied in the same meditative practice can become almost unrecognizable as its context changes. Of this the Bodhi pūjā affords a dramatic example.

The element in the Bodbi piijd that first led to its popular reinterpretation is the series of Sinhala verses in which the worshipper contemplates the Bodhi tree. The tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment by defeating Māra, the personification of death and desire, has always been a popular symbol in Sinhala Buddhism. Immediately after the Enlightenment, the Buddha is supposed to have remained a week in the bliss of meditation and then a second week in unwinking contemplation of thetree, as an expression of gratitude. There is a tradition, going back to ancient India, that all important trees are inhabited by spirits, and this naturally applies also to bô trees. We saw that the Venerable Balangoda Ananda Maitreya believes that he was the spirit (devatāva) in the original tree at the time of the Enlightenment. This spirit is never explicitly identified with the Buddha, but our material will disclose a close psychological connection between the two, a connection perhaps originally fostered by the fact that in early Indian representations of the Enlightenment only the tree is shown, not the Buddha.

The Sinhala chronicles record that soon after Buddhism itself was brought to the island a cutting of the original tree was planted in Anuradhapura and that cuttings from that tree in turn were then planted in temples all over the island. The Anuradhapura tree is still one of the most important national shrines. Virtually every temple has a tree; in fact, its presence-- for some grow wild-- often determines the site of a temple. In a temple it is customary to build a low protective rampart around the tree, sometimes in two tiers, and to pave or at least flatten the ground around the rampart so that worshippers can circumambulate the tree; it is also often adorned with pennants. However, the ancient custom of ritually watering the tree by bathing its roots in scented milk or water was, for the most part, obsolete before the Bodhi pūjā revived it.

The verses in the Bodhi pūjā celebrate in turn the original tree, the Anuradhapura tree, and the local tree -- for religiously all are one. They do not explicitly mention the deity in the tree -- though it would not have been unorthodox to do so -- but the tree is personified in this stanza:

I pass to and fro on this enclosure,
I tread on the roots and leaves of the Bo tree;
Forgiving me, it does away with my sin;
The king Bô tree grants me permission [to worship it}.

The Venerable Ariyadhamma assured us that he envisaged no special regard for the tree deity. His attitude to all the gods is that there must be mutual respect, but he asks no favors of them and merely follows the normal custom of offering merit to all of them without distinction. He regarded Bodhi pūjā as a misnomer for his service and did not approve of the ritual worship of the tree which, he was aware, was already tending to accompany it. In the services he conducted, the only offerings made were of flowers and incense before images of the twenty-eight Buddhas (or fewer, standing for the twenty-eight) and of the traditional "eight requisites" to members of the Sangha present at the end of the service. Nor did the service have to be held in the vicinity of a tree; the tree is addressed in imagination only.

The Metamorphosis of the Bodhi Pūjā

The Bodhi pūjā diffused extremely rapidly. In the late 1970s the Venerable Ariyadhamma's tours, on which he held series of Bodhi pūjās in large towns, received a lot of newspaper publicity. The congregations tended to be young and middle class so that tape recordings of the services began to circulate. Meeting demand, several new editions of the text were soon printed -- three of them are in our possession. Such Bodhi pūjā leaflets are now on sale in stalls and on pavements at pilgrimage centers, to some extent superseding the Sinhala verse versions of Jātaka stories and similar popular ballad literature, which seem to have gone out of fashion. These leaflets did not have to be, and surely were not, authorized by the Venerable Ariyadhamma. The ritual instructions and glosses they contain would certainly not have met with his approval, for they instruct worshippers how to use the Bodhi pūjā for worldly ends.

At the same time, the Bodhi pūjā has become something of a national ritual for Sinhala Buddhists. By this we do not mean that it forms part of civic religion or is associated with the state. We mean that while its emotional appeal makes it attractive to almost all Sinhala Buddhists, it has no association with any particular status group or faction within the society, but seems to belong to all Sinhala Buddhists equally. From this point of view it is not surprising, though deeply ironic, that services have been held with the express purpose of bringing success to the Sinhala army waging war against the Tamils in the north and east. But some officiants consider this very wrong. The incumbent of the Sat Bodhi temple in Narahenpita in Colombo told us:

"That principle [performing the Bodhi pūjā for military success] is all wrong. All of mankind is the same. The Lord Buddha did not divide people in terms of race, or of upcountry and low, or of tall and short, or of American and English. Humankind is distinguished in terms of goodness. Goodness is goodness whether it exists in the Catholic, the Muslim, or among gods and laymen. Gold does not change, whoever wears it. To do a Bodhi pūjā to win a war with the Tamils or Muslims -- that is flatly opposed to the Dhamma of the Buddha. Such actions also do not befit a civilized mind." 

This monk did not, of course, derive his moral stance from the Bodhi pūjā, but from his upbringing as a Buddhist and his training as a monk. Yet he sees the Bodhi pūjā as a fine means to communicate Buddhist values and has therefore introduced it in his temple.

He has, however, profoundly modified it in a conservative direction by using only Pali. The problem that this change is designed to meet is the use of music. All members of the Sangha must, ideally, abstain from witnessing displays of dancing, singing, and instrumental music, and those who take the eight precepts on poya days make the same vow. Pali verses are always chanted, not sung. There is of course no clear line between chanting and singing; but the Venerable Ariyadhamma's rendition of the Sinhala verses in his service comes closer to singing. It has even been suggested that his style has been influenced by that of a certain popular singer. In his own view there is no music in the service because it does not employ instruments. One might add that he breaks up the quatrains into separate lines, each being repeated by the congregation, which enhances the liturgical effect. Moreover, in traditional acts of public worship at Buddhist temples there is always a certain amount of drumming and other instrumental music performed by hereditary specialists and no one objects to that. Nevertheless, some monks do see the singing of the Sinhala verses as a problem. The incumbent at Narahenpita was aware that by restricting to Pali the Bodhi pūjā that he introduced as part of his temple's daily evening service he was sacrificing immediacy, but felt constrained by his tradition.

One might ask whether less scrupulous officiants may not move in the opposite direction and abolish Pali altogether. We are, however, not aware of an instance of a text entirely in Sinhala. Pali sounds sonorous and impressive; as the traditional language of Theravādin liturgy its use imparts dignity, even solemnity. We recall the pseudo-Pali compositions of Uttama Sadhu's disciples. No version of the Bodhi pūjā has similar Pali-sounding gibberish; but one of our pamphlets has added, for example, the following verse in a kind of dog Pali to be recited while circumambulating the tree.

Buddham Buddham Buddham vande 
Dhammam Dhammam Dhammam vande 
Sangham Sangham Sangham vande 
Cetim Bodhim sambham vande.

Allowing for mistakes in the last line, this translates as:

I worship the Buddha, the Buddha, the Buddha
I worship the Dhamma, the Dhamma, the Dhamma 
I worship the Sangha, the Sangha, the Sangha 
I worship every stupa, every tree.

If on the one hand the Bodhi pūjā has been taken up by Sinhala Buddhists as a nation to serve their common purposes, it is on the other being still more commonly used specifically by individuals to serve their private worldly ends. It is being simultaneously universalized and parochialized. We now turn to the latter.

The Bodhi pūjā is increasingly being performed for clients by priests of the spirit religion, whether old-style kapurāla or new-style sāmi, at their shrines. Of this we shall give an illustration in the case of Jayanta, reported below. The service is being adapted to the traditions of Sinhala spirit worship. Most strikingly, it no longer requires public participation, but may be performed for individuals or groups of clients. Its instrumental character is moreover clearly explained in the leaflets. In effect it has become for many a rite of worship of the tree for particular ends, a piece of white magic. At the same time, as we shall see, it has not lost but rather enhanced its expressive character, so that it has a two-sided appeal.

The ritual procedure laid down in our three pamphlets is basically the same, though there are minor variations in such details as the quantity and type of ingredients to be used. Typically the worshipper is instructed to bring baskets of flowers and coconut or mustard oil for lamps, these items being for the worship of Buddha images; and for the worship of the tree, the same plus panic grass, sesame oil, white sandalwood, parched rice, colored pennants, and white sand to sprinkle on the ground. In the early days of enthusiasm some people revived the practice of bathing the tree in milk, but it has been decided that this is bad for the tree and is now actively discouraged, so our texts do not mention it.

The worshipper is instructed to come first to the compound in which the tree stands and to clean and tidy it up. He is then to go to the temple and offer flowers and light lamps before the Buddha image or images there. He is to take the Three Refuges and five precepts (in Pali, as usual), and return to the tree. He is now to bathe it in water perfumed with various prescribed ingredients and pour pots of water over its roots. Trays of flowers and the other offerings are to be placed at the foot of the tree. One then recites (repeats after the officiant) Pali and Sinhala verses from the Bodhi pūjā text. (As a line in one of our printed texts has it, "Ghosts (preta) and demons quake on seeing the Bodhi.") One then remains silent in a meditative posture and repeats a wish (prārthanāva) in Sinhala. We reproduce part of the prayer given in one of our texts. 

"The Bodhi tree that helped the Buddha of the three worlds to attain omniscience; the tree that protected the Bodhisattva from the enemies known as the moral defilements (klesa) . . . this tree, descended from the glorious Great Bodhi of India, which protected the Lord Buddha; may it banish all our sufferings and sorrows, the ill effects of planets, the evil eye and evil mouth, illnesses and the machinations of enemies; and may it fulfill our wishes and give us boundless wealth." 

After circumambulating the tree, the worshipper is then to take home the items that have been offered to the tree (insofar as they are recoverable) to use them for further protective rites. Here are some of the instructions for these.

  • For misfortunes caused by demons and pretax recite the Ratana Sutta over the white sand and then sprinkle it around the house.
  • For diseases recite the Mettā Sutta over the panic grass and put it under the patient's pillow.
  • For nightmares follow the same procedure but put the grass in the patient's hands.
  • For appointments with government officials, for court cases, for taking part in public meetings, rub the sandalwood on a stone to make a paste of it, recite the Mahā Mangala Sutta over it, and make a mark with it on the center of your forehead.
  • For your rice crop recite the Mettā Sutta over the mustard oil and sprinkle it on the paddy field.
  • To scare away snakes, or beetles attacking coconut trees, follow the same procedure.
  • To counteract sorcery recite the pirit text of the twenty-eight Buddhas over the mustard oil, sesame oil, and panic grass and put them in small pots at the four corners of the house.

Similar instructions are given for 

  • planetary troubles, 
  • sores, 
  • stomachaches, 
  • eczema, 
  • fear of demons, 
  • epilepsy, 
  • domestic disharmony, 
  • sprains, 
  • house construction, and 
  • reuniting separated families. 

The Bodhi pūjā thus covers every contingency requiring white magic for which it has been customary to use the spirit religion. This change has been accepted by many Sinhala people. The chief monk at Narahenpita, whom we mentioned above, told us that Bodhi pūjā is for well-being (yahapata) in this world and specifically referred to protection from planetary evil, divine anger, and infectious diseases .

There is of course a Sinhala Buddhist tradition of using the recitation of sacred texts for such protective purposes: the very word pirit etymologically means "protection." Moreover, while there is a much longer classical collection of pirit texts for large ceremonies, the quintessential texts (collectively known as Mahā pirita, "The Great Pirit") are just three: the Ratana, Mettā, and Mahā Mangala Suttas. So we see that the author of the above instructions is consciously tagging onto an ancient tradition. The recital of the Mettā Sutta is already part of Ariyadhamma's Bodhi pūjā, and it is quite natural that those three famous texts should be reprinted in Bodhi pūjā pamphlets. The list of names of the twenty-eight Buddhas, which is not a traditional pirit text, is derived from the same source.

A traditional pirit ceremony consecrates water and thread that are then used for protective purposes. People may wear the thread around their wrists and sprinkle the water on themselves and around their houses. Are there then any important differences between the Bodhi piijd as laid down in our pamphlets and the traditional use of pirit?

Pirit is traditionally a public ceremony and normally recited by monks -- usually several of them. It is often held in private houses, but everyone around is free to come and participate and so gain merit. Moreover, though the occasion for holding a pirit ceremony is almost always quite specific, it is deemed to work in a general, unspecific way. About how it works there are several, mutually compatible theories. The most sophisticated and perhaps also the most impeccably orthodox is that the texts are in fact sermons being preached to convert malign spirits to Buddhist ethics so that they will give up doing harm. Another orthodox theory simply assimilates the recital and hearing of the scriptural texts into the general category of meritorious actions: the merit gained by the participants is offered to the gods in a formula at the end, and in return they afford their protection. Other theories, pan-Indian rather than specifically Buddhist in origin, ascribe automatic efficacy to the sacred word or to the power of enunciated truth (satyakriyā).

Some texts of the Bodhi pūjā and many people we have interviewed use the latter type of theory to account for its efficacy, it has "power vibrations" (balavegaya) that derive from the fact that the tree sheltered the Buddha during his fight for Enlightenment. But in its magical use it has moved from the pirit to the spirit religion model. It is more laicized than pirit and more specific. It is being performed by priests for clients and in this form is a more private affair than pirit. Instead of the unspecific use of water and thread, highly specific ingredients from the magical tradition here appear. For example, the scattering of mustard seed to ward off demons seems to be a pan-Indian magical practice; here we have mustard oil as a local variant.

However, the greatest difference between the Bodhi pūjā and pirit lies in the appeal of the former to the emotions. To this expressive aspect of the text we shall return below after further considering its functional use. Because of this appeal the more orthodox Bodhi pūjā too, the one employing monks and a public congregation, is eroding the sphere of pirit on such occasions as the birthdays of public figures and events of more serious national concern.

There seems to be a widespread feeling that the Bodhi pūjā is a particularly appropriate remedy when one's troubles are due to the planets, that is, to a bad horoscope. Traditionally the countermeasure for such trouble is a rather elaborate ritual known as bali performed by specialists, but in many parts of the country bali rituals have become scarce.

In our earlier article we reported that already in 1978 a woman had seen in her daughter's horoscope that the daughter was about to pass through an unlucky period, so to avert misfortune she had watered a Bodhi tree with milk perfumed with turmeric and sandal every day for a week and given the merit to her daughter. This again illustrates the mechanism by which the Bodhi pūjā is deemed to work: its performance creates good karma, a fund of merit that can be called on at need.

Some printed editions of the Bodhi pūjā include a text called Nava Guna Sāntiya, "The Blessing of the Nine Virtues," which is for warding off the bad influence of the nine planets by invoking the Buddha's nine virtues or qualities. This has strong roots in tradition. The nine virtues are the Buduguna, a Pali formula. A passage in the original Bodhi pūjā text dwells on the same formula, so the connection is evident. What appears to be new is again a certain specificity, matching the virtues to the planets. The first three virtues araham, sammāsambuddho, vijjā-carana-sampanno (the meanings are not relevant here). The first three verses of the Nava Guna Sāntiya translate:

By the virtues of the araham Buddha 
May the Sun's ill effects disappear; 
Without fear of disease or pain 
May happiness and joy approach me

By the effulgent power of sammā-sambuddho 
May the Moon's ill effects disappear; 
May deathly hindrances be prevented 
And my wishes be fulfilled.

By the power of vijjā-carana
May Saturn's ill effects disappear;
The effects of poison verses and calamities [brought by] enemies
May they not approach me.

This use of the Bodhi pūjā is justified in an English-language newspaper article [Sunday Observer, 8 July 1984] by a learned monk, the Venerable Kaduvalle Dhirananda. "The Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara preside over Time, according to the science of astrology," he writes. Each god takes his turn in controlling the universe for a twenty-year period known as vimsatiya. The vimsatiya of Brahma is uniformly propitious, that of Visnu contains both good and bad, but the sway of Isvara is so maleficent that it even cancels out the benign results produced by his predecessors. The year 1984 is an especially bad part of Isvara's vimsatiya.

This year is described in astrology as a dark period of upheaval and destruction marked by murders, kidnappings, rapes, civil strife, droughts, famines, floods, robberies, lootings, drug abuse, instability of religious institutions, disaffection with gods, manifestations of divine wrath and inhuman acts resulting from hate, cruelty and vengeance. . . . Following in the steps of the Buddha, Ven. Meeti-yagala Gunaratana, the chief Sangha Nayaka of Jayawardhanapura, inaugurated the 1095 Bodhi poojas commencing on May 1 to ward off calamities and protect the people from inexplicable harm. . . . Astrology stipulates that a Bodhi pooja is a vital and essential "shanti karma" [rite of blessing] for overcoming malefic planetary influences, the wrath of the gods and achieving one's cherished ambitions.

Having invented an astrological charter for the Bodhi pūjā, the Venerable Dhirananda turns to its Buddhist side: 

"It should be remembered that the Buddha was the first ever to hold the Bodhi pooja . . . during the second week after Enlightenment ... as a mark of gratitude to the tree that helped him in his quest. It was unique because it was a week-long visual concentration on an inanimate object."

Dhirananda thus adds a mythical Buddhist justification to his astrological pseudotradition (note "stipulates") and in so doing legitimizes a blatantly Hinduized astrological doctrine, perhaps also a recent invention, by connecting it with Buddhism, despite the Buddha's well-known injunction to monks to steer clear of such "beastly arts."

We have mentioned that the success of the Bodhi pūjā has led to its being taken up by priests of the gods and adapted to their own traditions. Some of them have reduced the rite to the literal meaning of its popular title, "Worship of the Bo Tree," and have dispensed with the text altogether. When a client comes with a problem, the priest simply makes offerings to the tree, bathes it, returns to the god's shrine, transfers the merit to the god, and utters a traditional invocation asking the god to help his devotee with the problem.

The Venerable Dhirananda's theorizing has brought a Hindu touch into Sinhala Buddhism; the practice of kapuralas has had an even more Hinduizing effect. By tradition all Buddhist sacralia are accessible to both sexes at all times, and menstruating women are not ritually impure when it comes to Buddhist worship, as they are in Hindu culture and in Sinhala tradition for the purposes of the spirit cults. Now a notice has appeared at the great tree behind the main shrine at Kataragama forbidding women access to the inner rampart around the tree, and this restriction is being emulated at other sites. This is a drastic, and to our knowledge completely unprecedented, infringement of the Buddhist principle of sexual equality in worship. It seems that the deity in the tree objects not merely to menstrual pollution, as other gods do, but to the presence of women altogether. If this trend spreads, we shall have to change the view we have expressed above that the Bodhi pūjā "seems to belong to all Sinhala Buddhists equally" and rewrite "Buddhists" as "Buddhist males." However, some kapurālas are emphatic that the exclusion of women is wrong, and one will have to wait to see which party carries the day.

Having described the current ritual uses of the Bodhi pūjā, we return to consider the texts and the emotions they express. If the Bodhi pūjā is tending to supersede pirit, we have suggested, that is largely due to the appeal of the text. The pirit texts, besides being in Pali, are not devotional in tone and never evoke the image of the Buddha. By contrast a line in one of the Venerable Ariyadhamma's Sinhala verses says, "I make my heart into a cool Fragrant Hut," the term Fragrant Hut being a technical term for wherever the Buddha is staying. The sentiment is not new to the literature: an older Pali verse that is used in the service says much the same; but the point is that now it is expressed in the speaker's mother tongue.

In Ariyadhamma's text the worship is directed to all twenty-eight Buddhas, but this does not affect the emotional tone. We quote a few sample verses from the newer printed versions that elaborate on this theme.

  • 1. With the power of alms-merit he brought blessings on the world, Sage Tanhamkara, I worship you. Sadhu!
  • 3. Giving away his children as alms, he defeated Mara. Sage Saranamkara, I worship you. Sadhu!
  • 14. Removing doubt, he opened the way to liberation. Royal Sage Sumedha, I worship you. Sadhu!
  • 21. He defeated the assembled host of Mara. Sage Phussa, I worship you. Sadhu!

However, when Gautama, "our" Buddha, is addressed in these texts, the tone becomes still warmer:

The world is bathed in the lovely rays of the Buddha; 
The Buddha monk uttered such good sermons. 
With full heart I offer lights at your blessed feet. 
My sorrow and sin destroyed, may I inherit content.

Like the full moon seen from the mountain top, 
Wearing a golden robe and giving forth light, 
Showing compassion to the three worlds, 
Behold the beauty of our Lord Buddha.

Another short sequence from one of our variant versions expresses traditional Buddhist themes in simple language; it states the purposes of the ritual:

To spread compassion to beings in all the worlds, 
 To release from suffering those near and far, 
To obtain happiness for all in this world, 
For my mother and father to achieve nirvana.

To live without trouble from our enemies, 
To live in harmony with our friends, 
To live in happiness forever --  
May our friends and enemies achieve nirvana.

To be born in an honorable caste (kula), 
To possess as much wealth as one wishes, 
To build stupas without limit 
May I be born like King Dahamsonda.

King Dahamsonda, "Dharma Addict," was, according to an apocryphal story, the future Buddha Gautama in one of his former births. He was so avid to hear the Dhamma preached that he gave his life for it, though luckily the sacrifice proved to be illusory. In a similar vein this version goes on with verses in which the devotee asks to have the wisdom of Mahausadha (the Buddha in another former birth), the health of the monk Bakkula, and the divine eye (clairvoyance) of the Buddha's disciple Mugalan.

The less traditional themes in our variant versions are three: references to the magical and almost exorcistic uses of the ritual dealt with above; the focusing of worship on the tree; and adoration of the Buddha as a mother figure. The first two of these themes cannot be entirely disentangled in our examples.

The text used by Jayanta has a series of stanzas addressed to the tree that are strongly reminiscent of exorcistic verse. In that tradition it is customary to expel the badness (dosa) from the patient, moving systematically from his head down to his feet.

O Lord Bô, who gave [the Buddha] tenfold power and wisdom, 
By the merit of past births we have come to worship here. 
May all planetary ills and calamities be banished 
From the face, ears, and tongue.

O Lord Bô, who gave tenfold power and wisdom, 
We worship you to calm the fires of sorrow. 
Through the two legs and from the soles 
May all planetary ills and calamities disappear.

O Lord Bô, who gave tenfold power and wisdom,
We have come to deck you with lovely flowers and worship you.
From the waist, intestines, kidneys, and so on
May all planetary ills and calamities disappear.

O Lord Bô, who gave tenfold power and wisdom, 
We have come to offer you lights and lovely flowers. 
Such things as poisons, venoms, and tying [by black magic], 
May such bad planetary ills and calamities be banished.

Expel and banish badness caused by the nine planets.
May we be blessed by the power of the ninefold Sangha.
O Lord Bô, who destroyed the power of Mara,
May we obtain the help (pihita) of the Fully Enlightened One.

We mentioned above that at the climax of Ariyadhamma's service everyone repeats several times, "May all beings be happy." The predicate of the sentence, suvapat vetvā, is so vague as to be hard to translate; one might also translate it, for example, as "attain bliss." Jayanta, however, has given that point in the service a decided twist by inserting the word "physical" (kayika) at one of the repetitions; one would therefore translate the climax of his service as "May all beings be well, / May all beings be physically well, / Be well, be well."

Everyone we have interviewed maintains the traditional theory that the Buddha cannot directly intercede in current affairs or help the worshipper and equally maintains that the Bodhi tree is a king by virtue of the divinity living in it and presiding over it. Clearly if there is an agency that can grant the worshipper's requests, it can only, according to the doctrine, be that divinity. But the last stanza cited above shows that in this context the tree, the tree spirit, and the Buddha himself have all but merged in the mind of the devotee. The standard traditional formula is "The Buddha for refuge, the gods for help"; yet in the verse above the same term "help" from that formula is used to request assistance from the Buddha.

In many verses (we choose three separate ones at random) the tree is said to shine with the Buddha's own halo or effulgence (ras):

By simply gazing our eyes awaken [to truth], 
By worship and offerings the roots of sin are washed, 
By hearing his name the path to liberation unfolds, 
The Buddha's rays shine in the compound of the glorious victorious Bodhi.

In every house may there be a Buddha image 
And may it shine with scented flowers and lamps, 
And may I get the comfort and protection of the gods, 
And may the Buddha rays shine from the King Bô.

May the power of the blessed Gautama Buddha appear,
May the blessed Lord Bô protect this country,
May the power of the Bodhisattvas here appear
And may the Buddha rays radiate from the blessed Tooth Relic.

We mentioned above that already in the original text by the Venerable Ariyadhamma the Buddha is referred to as both father and mother. This is somewhat unusual. In Sinhala the Buddha is usually referred to as "lord" or "king," much less frequently as "father." We are not aware that in the Pali liturgy he is ever referred to by a kinship term. Gombrich has published elsewhere a premodern Sinhala text of uncertain date in which the Buddha is compared to a mother in an elaborate metaphor, but this was worth drawing attention to precisely because it was exceptional. As pointed out in that article, it is much less unusual to attribute to one's mother the qualities (namely, the compassion) of the Buddha. Occasionally the compassion of the mother is attributed to the Buddha. Thus in the Buddha legend as recorded in the thirteenth-century Sinhala text Pūjāvaliya a repentant person addresses the Buddha as "compassionate mother." But in public utterance the Buddha has always been referred to and addressed with a certain distance and formality.

Now we find Jayanta singing, with his audience as chorus:

O Mother, the mother guru of all the worlds, 
O Mother, the mother guru of human beings, 
O Mother, full of goodness and truth, 
Worship the fully Enlightened Buddha-Mother.

Here what was hitherto a private emotion in Sinhala culture has been given public expression. In the traditional pantheon there was only one important goddess, namely Pattinî, so she was the only being onto whom the Sinhala worshipper could project maternal feelings. Her cult is now in decline for other reasons, and her place as a good mother is not being taken by the ambivalent Kali. Possibly, though we would not wish to press the point, the Buddha is here moving into an emotional gap left by Pattinî's withdrawal. Be that as it may, the officiants of the Bodhi pūjā are, as Levi-Strauss has argued, abreacting their own past and opening a breach in the public culture by permitting the emotion of mother love to emerge from individual consciousness into the public cult of the Buddha. We should perhaps add, at the risk of saying the obvious, that none of the worshippers is denying that the Buddha is male; his "motherhood" is metaphorical. It is nonetheless felt for that.

In the Bodhi pūjā texts (including that of Ariyadhamma) we also find the word bhakti, "devotion," which though not unknown to the Theravādin tradition is hardly typical of it. In devotional Hinduism bhakti is passionate love of God; as in Christian mystical tradition the model, implicit or explicit, is often sexual love. The bhakti in the Bodhi pūjā lacks sexual connotations; it refers to the mother's warmth and nurturance and the child's grateful dependence. The Hindu analogue of this Buddhist sentiment is the feeling for the cow. It may be no accident that one printed text of the Bodhi pūjā tells the worshipper not to eat beef, though it enunciates no other food taboo or more general injunction to vegetarianism.

We sum up the emotional development of the Bodhi pūjā with an illustration. Any offering of flowers before a Buddha image is normally accompanied by a Pali stanza that naturally almost everyone knows by heart. It means: 

"I make offering to the Buddha with this flower, and by this merit may there be release. Just as this flower fades, so my body goes towards destruction." 

In other words the offering is made an occasion for recalling the cardinal Buddhist principle of impermanence. The Sinhala equivalent of this verse given in one printed version preserves the main idea but strikes a more hopeful note:

Like these flowers may my mind be pure;
May these flowers make me aware of the body [as impermanent];
May these flowers become an offering for the Sage,
And like these flowers may my mind blossom to nirvana.

Yet another Sinhala verse now current says:

Brimming with the scent of goodness,
To the fully Enlightened Buddha-Mother (ammā Sambudunhata),
Overflowing with scent and color
I offer these flowers. Sadhu! Sadhu! "

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