Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Bodhi Day, Rohatsu, or Waking Up ~

Bodhi Day — or Rohatsu, as it’s known in Japan — is the day the Buddha awakens. It’s the day he finds enlightenment, sitting under the pipul tree. December 8th, traditionally.

A dear friend asked me the question I’m usually asking: so what? What does Bodhi Day mean? Disclaimer here: I’m not a worshipping kind of Buddhist. I don’t believe the Buddha was a god, nor even divine. The whole point to Buddhism is that a human being did this — achieved enlightenment. And that the rest of us — because he elected to teach — can also choose that path.


So here’s what I believe, and why Bodhi Day is important:

I believe in little enlightenments — like the day I realised that all the people and beings and plants and seas and fallen stars still live. In our breaths. That as we breathe out, we breathe our own cells into the air. And as we breathe in, we breathe in dinosaurs and comets and poets and bees and Frederick Douglass and Christopher Marlowe and Rumi and wars and loss and love and all that makes up our amazing world. And this connects us. To each other ~ in a kind of web that extends in all directions. Forever.


I believe in the day I drove into honeyed golden light — it might have been November — and drank in the  air and the blue Oklahoma sky and thought: this is enough. This moment, this light ~ it’s enough. Or the night when I listened to my heart breaking, felt it fall to pieces for my mother’s old age, and realised: we are all this fearful. And in the ragged breathing for all of us, I was comforted. Or the moment I held my aging mother-in-law in a tight hug, and inhaled deeply, grateful for the material presence of her fragile, birdbone body. You’re still here. Dimming mind does not shadow bright heart.

None of these is enlightenment, not by a long shot. They’re each only a  tiny glimpse along a journey full of detours (my anger at injustice, my frustration with my own impatience), a path strewn with obstacles my vanities, my prides. A life lived with a fallible human heart.


And the point to Bodhi Day?It celebrates possibility. Ours. Because a guy named Siddhartha achieved enlightenment, we know it’s possible. Because he laid out some fairly simple suggestions life is transient/ desire is suffering/ compassion is the way we can live better lives. Become better people. Leave this world better for our having breathed into it.

I’m so far from anything other than tiny glimpses of possibility that I’m profoundly grateful for Bodhi Day. For the knowledge that someone else managed to get it together. That he thought some of us might be able to, as well. And Bodhi Day is like a promise to a child (at least for me): when you grow up? Things will be different. You’ll make it. I promise.

Happy Bodhi Day. Happy Rohatsu, if you’re in the Zen tradition. Happy Possibility.



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