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For the Thai king, see Uthumphon.

Ficus racemosa fruit

In Buddhism, u umbara (Pali, Sanskrit) refers to the tree, flower and fruit of the Ficus racemosa (syn. Ficus glomerata). [1][2][3] In Buddhist literature, this tree or its fruit may carry the connotation of rarity, parasitism or Vedic mysticism.

The udumbara is also used to refer to the flower of the blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea Sav.).

The udumbara tree’s unseen flowers, parasitic nature and Vedic magical ascriptions have informed the tree’s inclusion in a number of Buddhist texts.

Unseen flowers

The flowers of the udumbara are enclosed within its fruit, as in all figs (see “Fig pollination and fig fruit”). Because the flower is hidden inside the fruit, a legend developed to explain the absence (and supposed rarity) of the visual flower: in Buddhist mythology, the flower was said to bloom only once every 3,000 years, and thus came to symbolize events of rare occurrence. [1]

Allusions to this symbolism can be found in texts such as Theravada Buddhism’s Uraga Sutta (Sn 1.1, v. 5) [4]

and Mahayana Buddhism’s “Lotus Sutra,” both described further below.

Strangling figs

The udumbara tree is one of several trees known as “strangling figs” due to their often developing as seeds dropped on the branches of a host tree (by animals eating the fig tree’s fruit) and, as the branch-borne fig tree grows, it envelops its host tree with its own roots and branches, at times crushing and replacing the host tree. Based on this life cycle, the Mahārukkha Sutta (SN 46.39) likens “sensual pleasures” (kāma) to such fig trees, causing their human hosts to become “bent, twisted, and split” (obhaggavibhaggo vipatito seti). [5]

Vedic amulet

In Vedic literature, fig trees often represent talismans with the udumbara fig tree having been deemed the “lord of amulets.” [6] Thus, in the Pali Canon, when Māra disguises himself as a brahmin in the Sambahula Sutta (SN 4.21), he carries a “staff of udumbara wood” (udumbarada a). [7]

In the Pali literature, the udumbara tree and its flowers are used concretely (as the tree beneath which a former Buddha gained enlightenment), metaphorically (as representative of a caste) and symbolically (evoking the insubstantiality of things and self). [8]

Former bodhi tree

In both the Digha Nikaya [9] and Buddhavamsa, [10] the udumbara tree is identified as the tree under which the past Ko āgamana Buddha attained enlightenment. [11]

Egalitarian emancipation

In the Majjhima Nikaya’s Ka akatthala Sutta (MN 90), the Buddha uses the udumbara tree in a metaphor to describe how the member of any of the four castes is able to achieve the same quality of spiritual “emancipation” or “release” (vimutti) as a member of another caste:

Archetype of nonsubstantiality

In the Pali Canon’s Sutta Nipata, the udumbara fig tree is used as a metaphor for existence’s ultimate insubstantiality (in English and in Pali):

In the post-canonical Visuddhimagga (XXI, 56), the udumbara tree is again used to symbolize the “emptiness of all formations” (sabbe sa khārā suññāti, Vsm XXI,53):

The udumbara flower of the Ficus racemosa tree appears in chapters 2 and 27 of the 3rd century Lotus Sutra, an important Mahayana Buddhist text. The symbolic nature of the udumbara is used in the Lotus Sutra to compare the unique occurrence of its bloom with the uncommon appearance of the Buddha and its doctrine in the world: [1]

Thich Nhat Hanh places the flower in the context of enlightenment:

The Japanese word udonge (優曇華) was used by Dōgen Zenji to refer to the flower of the udumbara tree in chapter 68 of the Shōbōgenzō (“Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma”). Dōgen places the context of the udonge flower in the Flower Sermon given by Gautama Buddha on Vulture Peak. The udonge flower may be symbolic of mind to mind transmission between the teacher and the student, in this case, Śākyamuni Buddha and Mahākāśyapa. [18]

Udonge is also used to refer to the eggs of the lacewing insect. The eggs are laid in a pattern similar to a flower, and its shape is used for divination in Asian fortune telling. [19]

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Last edited 1 month ago by Masebrock

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