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Buddhas and Bodhis

Bodhi Trees in Thai Temples

When you first arrive in Thailand, you are immediately struck by the prevalence of Buddhist temples, known in Thai as Wats. They are everywhere from the tops of mountains to tiny villages to large cities. In Chiang Mai for example, there are more than 300 Wats most of which date back to the 13th-15th centuries. And no Wat would be complete without a Bodhi tree. Buddha attained enlightenment whilst meditating beneath a Bodhi tree; hence the great significance of the Bodhi tree in Buddhism.

Wat Pan Tao
A gilded Buddha sitting beneath a Bodhi tree in Wat Pan Tao. Bodhi leaves feature prominently in the background.

Buddha's Origins

Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama in Lumbini in Nepal. As a prince, his family shielded him from the outside world and he was destined for a good life. However, after stealing away from the royal palace and encountering the suffering of people outside, he chose a different path. He left the palace for good to seek the wisdom of teachers trained in meditation and control of the mind.

Wat Umong Maha Therachan
Buddha in ivory porcelain, sitting beneath a Bodhi tree in Wat Umong Maha Therachan.

Linking the Bodhi Tree with "Enlightenment"

After six years of wandering he came to a place in India called Bodhgaya, where he sat down beneath a sacred fig tree and meditated. It was there that he realized enlightenment, a state of total awareness and bliss in which suffering is vanquished. Consequently he became Buddha, (Buddha means "the awakened one" and the sacred fig tree was known ever after as the Bodhi Tree (bodhi means "awakened").

Buddha in Wat Pan Waen - Front View
A gilded Buddha sitting beneath an ancient Bodhi tree in Wat Pan Waen.

Theme of This Post

This collection of photos taken in various Wats in Chiang Mai, shows some of the depictions of Buddha sitting beneath a Bhodi tree.

Buddha in Wat Pan Waen - Side View showing Bodhi Tree
Side view of the same gilded Buddha in Wat Pan Waen. Notice the size of the Bodhi tree.

Wat Pan On
A gilded Buddha sitting in an alcove within a stupa in Wat Pan On. A Bodhi tree is painted in gold on the rear wall of the alcove.

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