University of the West joyfully held the donation and planting ceremony of a Bodhi tree on November 18. This Bodhi tree sapling originated from Bodh Gaya, India, and is a branch from the original sacred Bodhi tree that the Buddha sat underneath while attaining enlightenment. It was presented by Venerable Walpola Piyananda, the Abbot of the Vijaya Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles to the University of the West. Ven. Hui Ze, Ven. Zhi Hsi, and Ven. Zhi Ching, of Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple, the President of University of the West, Dr. Minh-Hoa Ta, Ed.D., and nearly 50 university teachers, students, and faculty members participated in this extraordinary, meaningful event.
The Bodhi tree planting ceremony was initiated by the Student Research Association of the Department of Religion, of the University of the West, and was presided over by Dr. Jens Reinke, Director of the Institute of Human Buddhism.President Dr. Minh-Hoa Ta expressed her heartfelt gratitude to the Vijaya Buddhist Temple on behalf of the University of the West, and introduced the significance and deep symbolism of the Bodhi tree. On behalf of Sri Lanka and all monks, Ven. Walpola Piyananda extended the warmth of friendship to Fo Guang Shan, Ven. Master Hsing Yun, and Hsi Lai Temple, by gifting the Bodhi tree to Ven. Hui Ze and President Dr. Ta.
Ven. Hui Ze said planting Bodhi trees does not only symbolize friendship across nationalities and religions, but is also a practical action in protecting the earth's environment. Afterwards, Ven. Hui Ze, Ven. Zhi Hsi, and Ven. Zhi Ching chanted the "Heart Sutra" together, and read Ven. Master Hsing Yun's "Prayer for Nature Ecology", praying for the earth to return to a majestic pure land.
Dr. Jane Iwamura, the Chief Academic Officer of University of the West, sent a letter to express her gratitude for this event because she was unable to attend. She proposed that planting the Bodhi tree demonstrates and reminds us to reflect upon how the presence of the Buddha is still alive in our world today. The Head of the Department of Religion, Dr. Miroj Shakya, introduced the historical origin of the Bodhi tree and its ability to cross religious borders. After that, student representatives from University of the West shared different customary Buddhist ways to pray for and bestow great blessings upon the little Bodhi tree sapling.
Planting the Bodhi tree was a highlight during this year's Multicultural and Interreligious Activities Week at University of the West. This auspicious tree - along with all those present - witnessed the constant efforts of University of the West to practice Humanistic Buddhism and to build a beautiful community, as campus reopens. The Bodhi tree embodies the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha, and also symbolizes Ven. Master Hsing Yun's great vow to build a Buddhist Pure Land here on earth. The Bodhi tree came a long way from Bodh Gaya, and it will surely flourish for many, many, many years to come along with the University of the West.