According to the story, 2'500 years ago, a young Indian prince named Siddharta Gautama, sat in meditation underneath a Bodhi tree, after several years of unsuccessful search for peace, determined to finally realise the Enlightenment.
As he sat in the night of doubt and temptation, he faced many kinds of mental obstacles that forced him to confront his own demons, who tested him to his very core and tried to persuade him to abandon the quest. Nevertheless, Siddharta resisted all obstacles and remained sitting in deep meditation. After that agony of the nocturnal battle, when the planet Venus ascended into the sky, Siddhartha stared at the morning star and finally made the breakthrough. According to the story, he said, “How wonderful - me, the great Earth, and all beings - all of us, naturally and at the same time awakened. "
At that moment, he recognised the essence of the Self, the cause of the suffering, and the remedy for it. The Gautama was transformed in Tathagata ( "one who has thus gone" (tathā-gata) or "one who has thus come" (tathā-āgata)) and the foundation of the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path was created. This moment of awakening become the central foundation upon which Buddhism has been built in the past 2'500 years.
To honour Buddha’s great awakening, the Buddhists celebrated this event (sometimes referred to as "Bodhi Day”*) on the 8th day of a 12th lunar month. At the present time, however, the date of the festival depends on the Buddhist tradition.
The Bodhi Day is known in Japan as “Rohatsu” (literally, "eighth day of the twelfth month."). However, since Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar in the 19th century, day of Gautama's enlightenment does not follow the lunar circle and is always celebrated on the 8th of December.
In Zen monasteries, Rohatsu is the last day of a week-long sesshin. During this intensive retreat, meditation in most monasteries is interrupted only for the most essential needs (sleep and meals), and the evening meditation increases in duration throughout the week. This culminates in the last night, with an all night sitting on the 7th of December until the dawn of the 8th of December. During Rohatsu sesshin Zen Buddhists dedicate entirely to meditation and observance of their minds, even when they are not in the meditation hall. The meditative focus remains at all times, while eating, washing or doing chores and the silence is maintained unless speaking is absolutely necessary.
This very intense annual ritual helps us to realise that it is not so much what happens to us, but rater how we respond to it that determines, whether or not we create suffering - our own and that of others. This makes Rohatsu very valuable. But even if we cannot devote ourselves to a week or an entire night of meditation, just a few minutes of silence on Bodhi Day can be a reminder of our natural wisdom that helps us to cultivate our minds and recognise our connection to the whole.
*Bodhi means in Sanskrit "awakened", although is in English more commonly referred to as "enlightened"