Patna is the last place on our Buddhist pilgrimage. There are two reasons to visit Patna, firstly there is the Patna museum where the ashes of the Buddha from the Licchavi Stupa are kept and secondly, the Pataliputra Karuna Stupa.
The Patilaputra Karuna Stupa
Built in 2010 by the Bihar government to commemorate the 2550th anniversary of the Buddha’s passing (Mahaparinibbana), it houses Buddha relics donated by Thailand, Myanmar, Japan, South Korea and Tibet. The relics are displayed in the inner sanctum of the stupa and was a wonderful place to meditate. The stupa is set in a 20 acre park, The Buddha Smtiti Udyan, with two young Bodhi trees, one a descendent from Bodh Gaya and the other from Anuradhpura in Sri Lanka, which is a descendent of the original Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.
The Patna Museum
The museum houses a relic casket containing the Buddha’s ashes from the Licchavi stupa at Vaishali. The casket is kept in a quiet separate room, providing an opportunity to quietly contemplate.
During the Buddha’s time Vesali, as it was then known, was one of the most prosperous cities in the region and was known for its creative arts, architecture, parks and forests. It was the capital of the Vajjian confederacy, considered to be one of the first states in the world to adopt a democratic form of government.
The people of Vesali loved the Buddha and always offered him hospitality and made him welcome. He spent two rainy seasons in Vesali, the fifth and his last before passing away.
After the Buddha passed away in Kusinagar, his ashes were divided into eight portions that were distributed amongst the various regional kingdoms, where they were enshrined in eight great stupas. The stupa at Vesali was built by the Licchavi tribe to enshrine their portion of the remains. In 1958 the stupa was opened by archeologists who found a small soap stone casket containing the ashes of the Buddha. These are now housed in the Patna museum.
Mahavana Kutagarasala Vihara
Located 5km from Vaishali in the village of Kolhua is the Mahavana Kutagarasala Monastery where the Buddha gave many important teachings. It is the place where the Buddha admitted women into the Sangha and where the remains of Ananda were enshrined in a stupa.
The Ramakund Tank is said to mark the place where a monkey offered a bowl of honey to the Buddha.
The place where the Buddha Slept and meditated. We meditated in this sacred place.
It was here in Vesali that the Buddha announced that he would pass away in three months time. The Buddha spoke to the assembled Bhikkhus thus:
Follow the Tathagata’s example so that the holy life may endure for a long time for the good of many. shooower the world with compassion, for the welfare, good and happiness of both gods and men.
And how shall you follow the Tathagata’s example? By learning, practicing, developing and cultivating the Four Foundations of Awareness, the Four Right Efforts, and the Four Bases of Success, the Five Faculties, the Five Powers, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, and the Noble Eightfold Path. Remember Bhikkhus, all things are impermanent. Strive diligently to attain liberation. In three months the Tathagata will pass away.
(With thanks to Along the Path, by Kory Goldberg & Michelle Decary)
Nalanda Monastery Ruins
The Buddha often stayed in the area around Nalanda, later it became an international center of education that existed for over 700 years. At its height Nalanda housed over eight thousand students and over a thousand faculty, teaching religion, philosophy, linguistic, social and scientific fields of study.. Students of Nalanda included Shantideva, Dharmakirti, Santaraksita, Padmasambhava and Kamalasila.
The Gandha Kuti
The temple site #3 is the place of the Gandhakuti, the place where the Buddha stayed while in Nalanda.
We meditated in this peaceful place.
Xuan Zang Memorial Hall
A magnificent hall built as a tribute to one of the greatest Buddhist pilgrims, Xuan Zang, who travelled from China to India in the 5th Century over a period of 15 years. He carried back to China over 650 Buddhist texts which he then translated into Chinese. He also wrote a journal which later helped archeologists identify and discover many of the lost sacred Buddhist sites connected to the Buddha’s life. It is thanks to him that many of the sites we have visited were found and revitalized for pilgrimage.
During the Buddha’s time Rajgir was known as Rajagaha, meaning royal residence and was the capital of the Magadhan kingdom. It was renowned for its beauty with its ponds, parks, meadows, forests and surrounding mountains.
After shaving his head and becoming a mendicant, he walked to Rajgir in search of a teacher.
The Buddha meditated here for five rainy seasons after his enlightenment and after Savatthi, delivered more discourses here than anywhere else.
We were fortunate enough to again be able to stay in the Burmese monastery for our stay in Rajgir. It always seems more appropriate to stay in a monastery rather than a hotel, among the monks and other pilgrims, with the same intention as our own, often with a temple for meditation.
The Bamboo Grove (Veluvana)
The site of the Sangha’s first monastery, donated by King Bimbisara, in gratitude for his receiving teachings from the Buddha. King Bimbisara was a longtime benefactor of the Buddha, having met him before his enlightenment, requested the future Buddha to return when he had attained enlightenment.
The Peace Pagoda
After a long climb we reached the top of a mountain and the shanti stupa, built by the Nipponzan Myohoji buddhist sect of Japan. Stunning views of the surrounding Bihar countryside and overlooking the famous Vultures peak.
On the way up to Vultures Peak is Ananda’s cave, the cave where the night before the first council Ananda attained Arahantship and was therefore able to attend the council and recite the suttas. We made offerings and meditated at this most sacred place.
The nest cave up the mountain is known as Sariputta’s cave as this is where Sariputta, one of Buddha’s chief disciples and known for his great wisdom, achieved Arahantship. It is Sariputta who asks a question that prompts the delivery of the Heart Sutra.
The most important site in Rajgir for us, as this is where the Buddha gave the ‘Heart Sutra’ discourse which we have studied. The sutra begins ‘Thus I have heard, at one time the Blessed One was dwelling in Rajagriha on Massed Vultures Mountain, together with a great assembly of monks and nuns and a great assembly of Bodhisattvas.’ The sutra is an exposition on Buddha’s most profound teaching on the emptiness of all phenomena and beloved by and committed to memory by many Mahayana buddhists.
We made offerings and meditated here at this most sacred site where the Buddha often meditated and gave many discourses.
The place where the First Council following the passing of the Buddha was held. Convened by Mahakassapa, it was at the First Council that the Vinaya and Suttas were recited and agreed upon and are the teachings that we continue to practice today.
We made offerings and meditated at this most precious place.
Bodh Gaya, the place of the Buddha’s great awakening, the most sacred of all the Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Where thousands flock from all over the Buddhist world to reflect on the Buddha’s great achievement and his great compassion, to circumabulate the Mahabodhi Temple, make prostrations, meditate, chant mantras and perform puja.
The Bodhi Tree
Behind the Mahabodhi Temple is the Bodhi Tree, a descendent of the original tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.
I meditated here every day with Buddhists from all over the world and from different sects of Buddhism and enjoyed many types of pujas and chanting.
The Unblinking Shrine
The Buddha spent the first after his enlightenment sitting under the Bodhi Tree enjoing the fruits of his discovery. He then got up and walked a few steps away from the tree and stood staring at the tree for another week.
The Jewel Promenade Shrine
The spent the third week after enlightenment mindfully walking up and down the jeweled promenade.
The sixth week after enlightenment the Buddha meditated by the Mucalinda Lake and during this time it rained and Calinda, a powerful divine serpent, coiled himself around the Buddha and opened his hood over the Buddha’s head, shielding him from the rain, wind and insects.
A shrine in remeberance of Sujata offering rice pudding to the Buddha. A quiet place out of town and across paddy fields in a small village, perfect to make offerings and a meditation.
The concept of pilgrimage started in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, where the Buddha mentioned four places a devotee should visit: the place where he was born (Lumbini), the place of his enlightenment (Bodh Gaya), the place where he gave his first discourse (Sarnath), and the place where he passed away (Kushinagar). Later a further four places were added, Shravasti, Rajgir, Sankasya and Vaishali. So from four it became eight, and with time, pilgrims began visiting the entire area of Magadha, also called the Middle Land, Majjhima Desa. Pilgrimage grew because pilgrims wished to visit every place connected to the Buddha, the Dhamma and to the Buddha’s chief disciples such as Sariputta, Mahamoggallana and Mahakassapa. By the seventh century when the Chinese pilgrim, Xuan Zang arrived, there was a monastery every three kilometres!
The pilgimage is different from tourism in that one seeks to develop a greater connection to the historical Buddha, which in turn helps to increase faith and devotion to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
During a visit to a sacred site it was important for us to find a place of importance within the site and then to meditate and reflect on the events that took place at the site. During my meditations I will feel a great sense of gratitude to and faith in the Buddha and the Dhamma arise in my heart, strengthening my wish and resolve to follow the path he set out for us. The example of the Buddha, his disciples and all the pilgrims that have gone before are such an inspiration.
Along the way we have stayed in monasteries and met Buddhist from all over the world and from all the different sects of Buddhism. We made friends and shared in the joy of making offerings, meditating, circumambulating, chanting, prostrating and reflecting on the Buddha’s great compassion for sharing the Dhamma, to release all beings from suffering leading them to liberation and perfect happiness.
Following his enlightenment, the Buddha, out of great compassion decided to teach others how to come out of suffering and taste the nectar of liberation. He set out for Isipatana, where the five ascetics who had been his companions were living in the Deer Park. On the full moon day of June/July, the Buddha reached Isipatana. Seeing him approach in the distance the five ascetics made an agreement to let the Buddha sit with them as a fellow Sakya clansman, but not to greet him with folded hands or to take his robe and bowl, as was the custom amongst recluses. In their minds the Buddha had abandoned the holy life and reverted to a life of luxury. However as the radiant Buddhha approached, each of them forgot their agreement and they stood up to meet him, took his bowl and robe, and prepared water to wash his feet. The Buddha told his friends of his experiences and promised if they practiced in the same way, they too would attain liberation. Then with complete spiritual authority the Buddha began his famous first discourse, ‘Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion’. And so his 45 years of teaching began.
Mulagandhakuti (The Fragrant Hut)
We meditated overlooking the Mulagandhakuti, the Fragrant Hut shrine, the place where the Buddha slept and meditated.
The Mulagandhakuti Vihara
The temple where every evening the local monks chant the ‘Dhammacakkapavatthana Sutta’ (Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion Sutta). We meditated and attended the chanting on two evenings. The monks were very kind to us and invited us into the shrine where the Buddha relics are enshrined and then posed for a photo. The Giant Buddha
For the Hindu, Varanasi is considered to be the oldest inhabited and most sacred city in India. Every year countless believers from all over India come to Varanasi to the River Ganges in the city of Shiva for a ritual bath to cleanse all past sins and guarantee swift passage to salvation.
For the Buddhist pilgrim it is the stopping off point for Sarnath, the place where the Buddha gave his first discourse and set the wheel of dhamma in motion.
Boat on the Ganges
View of Varanasi from the Hotel
Banana and pomegranate lassi at the famous Blue Lassi Shop
Kosambi was an important and wealthy city in the Buddha’s time. After hearing the Buddha teach, three wealthy merchants requested him to come to Kosambi, when the Buddha agreed they were so happy they each built a monastery.
The Buddha visited Kosambi on many occasions, he spent three rainy season in and around the city and gave many important discourses.
The place of the Buddha’s passing, the cremation of his body and the distribution of his remains.
The Mahaparinibbana Temple
We meditated every day in the temple and enjoyed pujas performed by different sects from all over the Buddhist world. I truly felt connected to and part of the larger Buddhist community. Wonderful!
The Buddha resting in the lion’s pose
Behind the temple is the stupa that was built over the place where the Buddha under the twin sala trees, left the world of mind and matter. When excavated in 1876 findings included terracotta Buddha figures, and an inscription of the Nidana Sutta on a copper plate and pieces of charcoal from the funeral pyre.
This stupa marks the place where the Malla princes cremated the Buddha.
Relics Distribution Bodhi Tree
The bodhi tree marks the place of the Malla’s royal council hall, where the Buddha’s remains were evenly distributed to eight tribes, so that monuments could be erected far and wide, and that many could see and develop devotion.
Relics Distribution Bodhi Tree
Built in 1927 by Burmese pilgrims to house a 10th century golden Buddha statue from Gaya.
10th Century golden Buddha Statue
The Burmese Temple
The pagoda in the Burmese temple complex
Inside the pagoda are paintings depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha.