The Bodhi tree is an important symbol in Buddhism, and there is a lot of significance placed on it, and on similar trees. The Bodhi tree was an old, large and sacred fig tree that grew in Bodh Gaya, and it is a tree under which the spiritual leader Siddhartha Guatama found enlightenment. Siddhartha Guatama later went on to become known as Buddha, and because of this, the tree is considered an important part of Buddhist history.
Today, the Bodhi Tree is a term that is used to reference many important religious trees, and many people make Tibetan prayer beads from the seeds of the Ficus Religiosa, and those seeds are considered to be sacred themselves, because they come from an important tree, and this means that they are ‘close to Buddha” in some ways.
The Bodhi Seed’s Significance
In theory, you could call any seed from one of those fig plants a Bodhi seed, but most people do not. Rather, seeds that come from specific Bodhi trees are considered to be significant, so rather than thinking “what is a Bodhi seed”, consider the source of the seed and the plant itself. There are saplings of the Bodhi plant all over the world – donated by significant religious leaders. The Sri Maha Bodhi has a sapling in Honolulu, Hawaii, for example, which was taken there by Anagarika Dhamapala in 1913, and donated to Mary Foster, who had funded a lot of missionary work for him. Foster planted it at her home, and upon her death her home and the grounds were donated to the people of Honolulu, so visitors are now welcome to view it and the other wildlife in what is know named as the Foster Botanical Garden.
There are three other saplings in Chennai, India, which were taken there by Jinarajadasa in 1950. One was planted at the Adyar Estuary, one was planted by the Buddha temple located at the Theosophical Society, and the other was planted by a meditation center in Sri Lanka itself.
The Mahavamsa says that branches from Bodhi trees of other Buddhas were planted at the site where the sacred Bodhi tree now stands. Other branches were taken there by Rucananda, Kantakanananda, and Sudhamma, all to grow there.
In Thousand Oaks, California, there is a tree that has just (in 2012, so relatively recently compared to the others) been planted. The sapling of the Bodhi Tree from Buddha Gaya was taken there by Brahmanda Pratap Barua Ripon, and given to Angarika Glenn Hughes for his contributions to Buddhism in America. The sapling was planted by Hughes’ students, in a park, so that everyone could enjoy it.
As you can imagine, many meditation practitioners attribute much of the benefits of mala beads to both the Bodhi and Rudraksha seed. The plant is easy to identify, with distinctive leaves, and it has a calming appearance that even someone who does not follow Buddhism would be able to appreciate. If you are ever near one of the sacred trees, then be sure to head over and view it, to soak in the wisdom.