Farmers of Bodhichitta trees in Nepal are profiting from unprecedented demand for the seeds of the tree, which are used as beads for Buddhist mala, or rosaries. The popularity of the beads has jumped in recent years—particularly among Buddhists in China, India, Korea, Japan, and Singapore—and prices have subsequently skyrocketed. The new interest in the beads is credited to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is reported to have said four years ago that the Nepalese seeds were of best quality. (Global Voices Online)
The Bodhichitta tree is considered sacred by Buddhists, bodhi meaning “awakened” and chitta, “heart-mind” in Sanskrit; bodhichitta therefore literally means “awakened heart-mind.” Rosaries of 108 seeds are used as a counting aid while reciting mantras, with the smaller seeds more highly prized than the larger ones. Farmers in Nepal have been earning millions of rupees annually from the fruit of the tree, which blooms in April and is harvested in August. The farmers can sell a rosary of Bodhichitta for up to Rs5,000 (US$48), while the same rosary can sell in Tibet for Rs100,000–150,000.
Compounding the surge in demand is the comparative rarity of the seeds. A recent research paper by Khem Raj Bhattarai and Mitra Lal Pathak published in the Indian Journal of Plant Sciences identified the Bodhichitta tree as a distinct species—Ziziphus budhensis—unique to central Nepal. The researchers believe that the tree, known locally as Buddhachitta, is found only in a small area of the Kavreplanchok district of central Nepal, and differs from other species of Ziziphus known to grow in Nepal and similar species identified in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, and Pakistan.
Bodhichitta seeds being husked. From myrepublica.com
Traders have been visiting growing areas in Kavreplanchok to purchase the seeds. However, producers have been unable to meet demand due to limited cultivation.
One farmer, Durga Bahadur Shrestha, said he had earned Rs2.9 million this year from selling half a sack of Bodhichitta seeds, although when he first planted the trees about 30 years ago he was unaware of the potential value of the crop.
“I did not know the importance of the fruit in the past, and used to sell a [small] quantity at very low prices. The price of this fruit started to pick up in the last four years,” he said, adding that there had been an unprecedented rise in demand. (Republica)
In the Timal region of Kavreplanchok, the trade in Bodhichitta is worth Rs1 billion a year, and farmers can earn hundreds of thousands of rupees from a single tree. As the trade has increased, however, so have the dangers. Some traders have even chartered helicopters to collect the beads from farmers to avoid theft. The farmers themselves have started expanding their Bodhichitta plantations to meet demand, with some farmers sleeping beneath their trees to discourage thieves or installing security cameras.
“Till last year, I had hired a contractor. This year, we decided to sell the seeds on our own,” said farmer Sonam Singh Tamang, who earned Rs6 million from selling the seeds last year. “But the thieves destroyed the CCTV cameras and stole more than half the seeds from the tree at midnight,” he said, noting that the thieves stole the seeds before they had matured, so would have been unable to sell them anyway. (Republica)
According to legend, the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, left behind three plants after meditating in Lumbini, Namobudhha, and the Timal region of Kavreplanchok—only the third in the Timal region of Kavreplanchok survived, leading to the current limited population of trees. In another story Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century, left a Bodhichitta tree when he visited Kavre for meditation.
Buddha’s Beads Fetch Millions for Farmers in Central Nepal (Global Voices Online)
Farmers earn millions growing Bodhichitta (eKantipur.com)
Farmers install CCTV to protect Bodhichitta seeds (Republica)
A New Species of Ziziphus (Rhamnaceae) from Nepal Himalayas (CIBTech)