At the birthplace of Buddhism, it is still possible to replicate the process the Buddha used to achieve liberation from suffering.  Body-Gaya, India is located in one of the most historic regions in all India, home to many of the earliest empires and city-states in the Indian subcontinent.  Once upon a time, Bodh-Gaya was just another forest outside a large urban centre.  

A man named Gautama, once a prince of a vast kingdom, traveled south in search of the solution to the greatest puzzle of all time.  This man recognized that actions have consequences and that the only way to remove oneself from the worst consequences was to attain a high mental state of omniscience.  For years, Gautama practised all the most advanced ascetic traditions. 

After nearly starving himself to death, Gautama wandered to a large fig tree and vowed not to leave its base until he acquired omniscience.  Touching the earth to make it his witness, Gautama attained nirvana and would forever be known as the Buddha.  Today, an ancestor of that same fig tree has grown tall and strong in the exact same spot.


flickr image by mikekelly0303

As the early Buddhist order grew in size, lay patrons of the religion donated more and more gifts.  After centuries of patronage, a great stone temple was erected next to the fig tree in Bodh-Gaya.  Called the Mahabodhi shrine, it is a living testament to the capacity existing within all human beings to attain omniscience just as the Buddha did.

Pilgrims from all corners of the earth routinely visit Bodh-Gaya to meditate underneath the Bodhi tree’s ancestor.  Bodh-Gaya is becoming so increasingly popular that the next largest city, Gaya, recently expanded its airport to become an international center for travel.

People from China, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, and nearly every country in the West fly in with hopes to replicate the Buddha’s act, or at least take a seed or two from the leaves of the Bodhi tree which have fallen down as gifts to its devotees.


flickr image by John H S Falconer

Around the main shrine, visitors will notice innumerable stone heaps. These heaps, known as stupas, usually contain relics or ashes of a prominent Buddhist monk whose physical remains were cremated. Indeed being in the presence of the Bodhi tree, even in death, is one of the most powerful experiences a Buddhist can have.

In and around all the sub-shrines and stupas are hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monks who travel to Bodh-Gaya as part of their initiation process. To become full ordained, they must perform tens of thousands of prostrations with a one-pointed mind. Undertaking this practise at Bodh-Gaya makes the act all the more significant. Other monks use rosary beads to recite verses or mantras.

Aside from the Mahabodhi temple complex in Bodh-Gaya proper, visitors may experience the more than 50 Buddhist monasteries that have arisen in the past 100 years.  Some monastery grounds are beautiful and boast enormous Buddha statues or other artwork of note.  Of particular interest is the Burmese monastery, which is one of the oldest in the city, and the newest Japanese temple. 

Aside from the monastic grounds, visitors to Bodh-Gaya can take day-trips to some of the surrounding mountaintops.  Although many of these locations are pristine sites in their own right, some are mentioned in Buddhist literature and have a long history.  Rajgir, for instance, should be visited to see small caves where the Buddha and his early followers meditated for long hours.  In the end, to visit Bodh-Gaya is to visit the beginnings of Buddhism.  The landscape, and indeed the earth itself, is a constant reminder that a higher plane of existence is possible.

Date posted: 3rd February, 2014

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