On Friday, November 19, 2021, University of the West held a momentous ceremony to plant a Bodhi tree on the front lawn of the campus. The Bodhi tree was a gift from Venerable Walpola Piyananda, Abbot of Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara, Los Angeles. It is believed that the tree was a branch from the original tree that descended from the actual Bodhi tree that the Buddha gained Enlightenment under.
The event was the highlight of a weeklong annual celebration of International Education & Interfaith Week. It was attended by faculty, staff, students and important guests, including Venerable Hui Ze (慧澤法師), Venerable Zhi Hsi (知西法師), and Venerable Zhi Ching (知晴法師) of Hsi Lai Temple.
The ceremony was hosted by Dr. Jens Reinke, Director of the Institute for the Study of Humanistic Buddhism. As the first speaker, UWest President, Dr. Minh-Hoa Ta expressed profound gratitude toward Venerable Piyananda in accepting the Bodhi tree. Venerable spoke next and conveyed his gratitude toward Hsi Lai Temple, Fo Guang Shan, and Master Hsing Yun for their friendship and support for Sri Lanka. Venerable Piyananda then ceremoniously handed the Bodhi tree over to Venerable Hui Ze and President Ta.
Following the handing over of the Bodhi Tree, Venerable Hui Ze offered his remarks on behalf of Hsi Lai Temple. Venerable Hui Ze emphasized that the planting of the Bodhi tree was not only important for religious reasons, but it was also important as a gesture of our environmental responsibility. Along with Venerables Zhi Hsi and Zhi Ching, Venerable Hui Ze chanted a blessing and read a prayer written by Master Hsing Yun.
Afterwards, Dr. Reinke read a statement by UWest Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Jane Iwamura, who was away for a conference. Dr. Iwamura reminded the audience that the planting of the Bodhi tree is an affirmation of our compassionate vow for all beings. Dr. Miroj Shakya, Chair of the Religious Studies Department, was the final speaker. Dr. Shakya shared a brief history and significance of the Bodhi tree for Buddhism.
Students from UWest then offered chanting from all three major Buddhist traditions. The ceremony concluded with the planting of the Bodhi tree. Venerable Hui Ze, Venerable Piyananda, and President Ta delivered the first scoops of soil and poured the first drops of water after the Bodhi tree was placed into the ground. The audience was invited to do the same. Refreshments and food were served at the end.
This auspicious occasion marks a continued effort by UWest since returning to in-person activities to recommit to our community partners and engage with friends near and far. The Bodhi tree represents the Buddha’s heart and its place at UWest will be an inspiration to students, staff, and visitors alike.