Religion 101

(Note: Part Three of my series on Buddhist Demographics & Denominations will appear in a subsequent entry.)

Today (Saturday, December 8, 2012) is Rohatsu, a Japanese Buddhist holiday celebrating the occasion of the attainment of mystical enlightenment and the perfect bliss of nirvana by the Buddha (a title which literally means “the Enlightened One” or “the Awakened One”) in the sixth century BC.

Rohatsu is also known as Bodhi Day (bodhi meaning “enlightenment”).

Different Buddhist sects in different parts of the world celebrate the occasion of the Buddha’s enlightenment at different times during the year. Tibetan Buddhists, for example, usually celebrate the event in June, while Theravada Buddhists usually celebrate it in May. In Japan, Rohatsu (which means “8th day of the 12th month” in Japanese) happens to fall upon December 8.

Buddhists believe that the historical Buddha, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BC), abandoned his royal home at the age of 29 to devote his life to the pursuit of spiritual awakening and illumination (and, with it, release from the otherwise endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth).

At the age of 35, after extremes of asceticism had failed him, Gautama sat down under a tree (a tree now traditionally referred to as the Bodhi Tree) and resolved not to arise again until enlightenment was his. After 49 days of increasingly deeper meditation beneath that tree, he at last “woke up”: spiritual awakening, or perfect enlightenment, was attained.

Gautama thereby directly experienced the infinite and eternal bliss of nirvana, and attained release from the cycle of rebirth. He was now the Buddha — the Awakened One, the Enlightened One.

Bodhi Day, or Rohatsu in Japan, commemorates Gautama Buddha’s spiritual breakthrough into direct and total metaphysical awareness of the true nature of reality, of the problematic and painful nature of the human condition, and of the way or path to follow which leads to blissful and eternal transcendence of that condition.

Rohatsu celebrates the Buddha’s own achievement, as well as the example that his achievement set for other spiritual seekers who aspire to follow in his footsteps, in order to thereby also awaken to mystical enlightenment and blissful nirvana.

To my Japanese Buddhist friends and readers: Happy Rohatsu!