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A tour of Lord Buddha’s holy places in India and Nepal

12/03/2014

I’m home from a recent 19 day tour of Lord Buddha’s holy places in India and Nepal. A truly magnificent experience! We were a party of 47 pilgrims (including 4 Theravada Buddhist monks) supported by a team of some 10 skilled individuals.

I entered the guided tour world by being comfortable with not knowing what others may think of me; after all this is my life, my choices, my mistakes and my lessons. As long as I’m not hurting anyone, I need not worry what they think of me; someone’s opinion of me is not my problem; the opinions others have about me is their problem, not mine.

I try (I don’t always succeed) to let go of judgements, expectations, wanting to be right, wanting to control, fear of discomfort, fear of uncertainty, fear of failure, fear of boredom, comparing myself to others, wanting distraction, being irritated, complaining.
One of the pleasures was being with like-minded people; that’s become somewhat rare in my life since relocating to Australia. Many if not most members of our party follow a spiritual life with many hours of meditation. Their lives are filled with Buddhist teachers, retreats and recordings of talks, and such like. These people are generous, kind and friendly; also inquisitive and interested. It was a pleasure to be in their company.

The tour, as I understand it, was largely, if not entirely, the product of Phalinee Sawangying’s vision and her huge efforts. She is a women with amazing qualities and strengths and great knowledge of the Dhamma (the truth taught by Lord Buddha). I view Phalinee as a tremendous role model, and I’m delighted to know her. It takes enormous effort, commitment, love and dedication to put together a tour as we experienced it. The scale and content of the tour was enormous. I will be grateful to her for this opportunity for the remainder of my life.

The idea of a pilgrimage came from the Buddha some 2,500 years ago. In answer to Ven Ananda’s concern that the monks would no longer be able to see the Buddha and pay their respects after his Parinibbana. Lord Buddha is said to have identified four sites most worthy of pilgrimage for his followers, saying that they would produce a feeling of spiritual urgency. These are:

  • Lumbini: birthplace of Lord Buddha (in Nepal)
  • Bodh Gaya: the place of Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment (in the current Mahabodhi Temple).
  • Sarnath: (formally Isipathana) where Lord Buddah delivered his first teaching.
  • Kusinara: (now Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India) where Lord Buddha died.

The times of Lord Buddha’s birth and death are uncertain. Our journey covered the full spectrum of his life span in just 19 days: from his birth to his death and included those significant and magnificent sites and events in between.

Our pilgrimage included many more historical Buddhist sites than those four listed above and some Hindu and Muslim ones as well.

Meditation, chanting and lighting of candles and incense was the order of the day at all of the sacred sites. As was making gifts of robes and money.

  • Bodh Gaya temple: the most sacred place in the Buddhist realm. It is here that Lord Buddha attained his enlightenment seated under the Bodhi tree. The throng and colours and noise was enormous yet peaceful. I was aware of my confidence that a peaceful world remains possible. Mahabodhi temple; six sites where Lord Buddha stayed immediately after his enlightenment; Sujata village; Niranjana river; Wat-Pa Temple.
  • Rajgir: Bimbisara jail; Bamboo Grove; Mango Grove; Sattapanni Cave which was the site of the first Buddhist council, where five hundred Arahants met to recite the Buddha Vinaya; early morning climb to Gridhkutt (vulture’s peak) with dawn meditation at the Buddha’s Kutti; Nalanda the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Magadha; the great monastic university; Venerable Sariputta’s home village and Stupa containing his relics and museum.
  • Patna: Patna museum to pay respect to the relics of the Lord Buddha on display there and view the fine collection of Buddhist art.
  • Vaishali: this is where the Lord Buddha spent his last rains retreat (Vassa); Ikchavi’s Stupa; Ashoka Stupa and lion Pillar.
  • Kushinagar: Nirvana Temple for meditation and chanting; the Stupa marking the site where the cremation of the lord Buddha’s body took place; evening offering of robes to the Wat Thai temple.
  • Lumbini (Nepal): the sacred garden that is the birth place of the Bodhisatta (Siddhartha Kumar); evening offering of robes to the Wat Thai Temple.
  • Sravasti: the Stupa of Kapilvastu (India side); the site of the ancient capital of the Sakya and the place where Prince Siddhartha spent the first twenty nine years of his life before leaving the palace; the Nava Jatavana Vihara, offering of robes and pray at the temple and view the mural depictions of incidents from Lord Buddha’s life; the site of Jatavana monastery where Lord Buddha spent nineteen rains retreats; meditation and view the ancient ruins of the city of Sravasti.
  • Varanasi: Dear Park, where the Buddha gave the first sermon to the five ascetics, marked by the Dharmarajika and Dharmekha Stupas, which marks the site where the five ascetics became Arahants while listening to the second sermon; Mulagandhakuti; Sarnath Museum; Wat Thai temple at Sarnath for offering of robes; early morning Sacred Ganga river cruise.
  • Agra: Taj Mahal and Red Ford.
  • Delhi: tour of India Gate, Parliament, President house and Rajghat; National Museum of India to pay respects to the relics of Lord Buddha and offer Buddha Puja and meditation.

I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity to visit Lord Buddha’s holy sites. An unforgettable experience.

Images of Buddhist pilgrimage to India and Nepal are available to view on Google+

I’m in the process of creating a record of our journey with Tour Builder to record the places we’ve visited and the experiences we had there using Google Earth. It will also include photos and narratives.

Further reading

  • Bhikkhu Nanamoli (2006) The Life of the Buddha: According to the Pali Canon
  • Ven S. Dhammika (1999) Middle Land, Middle Way: A pilgrim’s Guide to the Buddha’s India
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