Ven. Shravasti Dhammika today provides a delightful clarification on the difference between the bodhi tree and the banyan tree, and why this is important.
Saying that the Buddha was enlightened under a Banyan tree is a bit like saying Jesus was born in a milk pail or that he was nailed to an octagon, that a water melon fell on Newton’s head, that Santa’s slay is pulled by aardvarks or that the jolly swagman jumped into a bath tub. On one hand it’s not really that important, on the other it shows a superficial and casual attitude to clearly discernable differences and easily discoverable facts. In 2008 Time ran an article on corruption at Bodh Gaya entitled ‘Big Trouble Under the Banyan Tree.’ The August 8th 2009 edition of the Economist commenced a column called ‘In the Shade of the Banyan Tree’ in which it stated that the Buddha was enlightened under a Banyan. An excellent ecological website called Eco India (‘brings you down to nature’) says that Bodhi is another name for the Banyan (‘just brings you down’). Another website, Science Museums of China, gives a picture of a Bodhi tree, has its correct botanical name, lists its proper colloquial names and then spoils it all by calling it a Banyan tree. The tourist website for Phimai in Thailand gives a slightly different version of the muddle, stating that the Buddha was enlightened while ‘standing’ under a Banyan tree. Wikipedia, as I have come to expect by now, also buys into the confusion, at least in its article ‘Banyan Tree’. Out of 40 websites I logged on to at random, 36 got it wrong.
Now you can’t say no one ever told you.