I was taught it was better to stand with your mouth shut than to pipe up with empty promises – even to oneself. So, today being “F” day and it now being way too late in the day to begin exploring the very interesting subject of Friendship and Forgiveness which I had planned, I bring you instead:
They say that a large Indian fig tree gave shelter to the Buddha as he sat, deep in meditation, seeking the truth about suffering, at Bodh Gaya. They also say that it is a sapling from that same tree that stands, here in Anuradhapura, propped up on spindly crutches, enshrined behind ornate golden railings at the centre of Sri Maha Bodhi, a living symbol of the ancient roots of Buddhism in this country.
I don’t hold with taking photographs in temples (churches, synagogues, or mosques, for that matter – when people are engaged in acts of worship or devotion), so I haven’t taken a picture to show you the 2,259 year old Anuradhapura sapling. Instead, here is a photograph of the Ficus Religiosa (as we now know it) in the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens, just outside Kandy. I’m sorry there are no people walking about underneath, to give you an idea of its size – believe me, it was bigger than a house, a large house.
I said the Peradeniya Ficus was bigger than a house. Last year when I went up to Kandy for the Perahera, I went to the Gardens, as always, and couldn’t believe what I saw as I came around the bend, down by the river. Instead of acres of inviting shade beneath the branches of our renowned Bodhi Tree, a wide expanse of freshly raked soil covered the entire expanse of the central lawn. They said it had come down in the big storm last month. All they had been able to save of that gigantic living organism was a sapling which had rooted itself at its far extremity.
Around here, if the seed of a sacred Bodhi tree germinates and grows on an unclaimed piece of land, you can bet it won’t be long before some pious person begins leaving offerings. It’s not unknown for a statue to be brought in, an enclosure erected. Before too long, it’s become a sacred site, and the absentee owners will have a hard time, if they return, evicting the bodhi temple that will have grown in the ruins of their abandoned family home.
You will have guessed this isn’t a scholarly piece about this weed of a tree, but an explanation of its sanctity. So revered in fact that the pair of bodhi leaf earrings I had made many years ago became my “get out of jail free cards”. I always wear them when I have dealings with the bureaucracy. They are particularly effective in smoothing the way through security lines, customs and immigration … People just can’t seem to avoid being distracted by the little golden bhodi leaves dangling from my ears!
Monday 23rd April, 11.55pm