Sacred sapling from Buddhist bodhi tree in Australian quarantine ahead of Bendigo planting

Tree sapling ceremony

A Sapling from the famous bodhi tree in Sri Lanka is currently in Australian quarantine waiting to be planted in Bendigo.

The specimen is a direct descendent of the tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment.

That tree is the oldest tree known to have been planted by humans some 2,300 years ago.


Australian quarantine is nursing a sacred sapling from a Sri Lankan bohdi tree that can be directly linked back to Buddha more than 2,300 years ago.

Sri Lanka’s sacred tree is revered by the world’s Buddhist community and is a direct descendent of the original tree under which Buddha obtained enlightenment.

It is the oldest living tree with a known planting date.

The sapling will sit in Australian quarantine for 12 months and, eventually, will be planted at The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion in Bendigo, Victoria.

Chair of The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, Ian Green, said once the sapling was planted, Bendigo would become a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from all over the world.

“To have that connection with history is very unusual and inspiring, and it brings the whole story of the Buddha to life,” Mr Green said.

“There was so much effort and expense went into obtaining this tree. It’s value is much beyond money.”

The tree will eventually be planted in a temple known as Bodhi Vhamma Vihara, and will become the first place in regional Victoria for Sri Lankan Buddhists to practice their rituals.

World’s oldest living tree

Mr Green said the significance of the tree to the Buddhist community was immense because the original tree was where Buddhism was born.
Buddhist monks in saffron and white robes gather around a tree sapling as it is sent on its way to Australia

 

Ceremony for Tree Sapling
The first bodhi tree sapling from the original “Sri Maha Bo” tree to be sent to Victoria. (Supplied: Deeptha Wickramaratna)

“After going through a whole effort of trying to find the spiritual meaning for his life, the Buddha sat under the shade of a bodhi tree in India and stayed there until he had this experience where he obtained enlightenment – meaning he understood the answer to his questions and, from that moment, Buddhism was born,” he said.

“The original tree that Buddha was enlightened under had been destroyed by invaders but, fortunately for the Buddhist world, the Sri Lankan community had actually taken sapling from that tree and replanted in Sri Lanka.

“It’s still there today — it’s actually guarded and looked after by a botanist and the whole thing is protected like a living treasure.

“To have a descendent from the tree that the Buddha sat under more than 2,000 years ago is incredibly emotional,” Mr Green said.

Year in quarantine

Australia’s chief plant protection officer, Dr Gabrielle Vivien-Smith told ABC’s Fiona Parker that quarantine authorities were hoping to have the sapling released in May 2022.

 

Sapling in laboratory
The precious bodhi tree sapling will spend 12 months in quarantine and be tested weekly. (Supplied: Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment)

“It arrived in May this year,” Ms Vivien- Smith said. “It was meant to be chaperoned by Buddhists [but], unfortunately, [COVID-19] limited that and it had a bit of a rough ride over. It looked a bit like a stick when it arrived.”

The sapling will be tested weekly for pest and diseases for biosecurity reasons.

“It arrived as a bare-rooted sapling without any soil,” she said.

“We look at all the plants that come into Australia very carefully for pests and diseases. There are some really important pests that we need to keep out of Australia, such as Xylella fastidiosa, which is Australia’s number one plant pest threat.”

Mr Green said the planting ceremony would be a “once-in-a-lifetime event” that would have to wait until pandemic restrictions allow it.

“It’s such a significant thing for Buddhists and the Sri Lankan community,” he said.

“We’re just waiting for some clear air to make that ceremony significant.”

Will tree bode well in Bendigo’s winter?

 

Sapling and roots
The bare roots of the tree sapling lying on a white bench. They look healthy and hairy. The treasured bodhi tree sapling is due to be released from Australian quarantine in May, 2022.(Supplied: Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment )

Mr Green said one of the concerns with the sapling was making sure it was protected from harsh Bendigo winter frosts.

“The thing about this particular fig tree is that it’s not ideally suited to Victorian winters,” he said.

“So, we have to be very careful with frost. Once it gets established and gets a little bit higher, then it will above the frost line and it will be protected.”

“We’ve been acclimatising it under direct supervision.

“It’s been treated with as much reverence and security as if it was back in Sri Lanka.”

 

Tree sapling ceremony
A ceremony was held in Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka) when the sacred sapling was sent to Bendigo.( Supplied: Deeptha Wickramaratna)

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