Kushinigar, India
flickr image by commitart

On the trail of Buddha


Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha was born over two and a half thousand years ago and yet his teachings, which inspired the world and led to the creation of Buddhism are still practised by millions today.

There are four significant sights of pilgrimage any would be seeker of enlightenment on the trail of Buddha should visit. They are believed to have been sanctioned by Buddha himself and reflect four significant events in Buddha’s life, namely his birth, enlightenment, teachings and death.

 

1. Lumbini, Nepal

Lumbini, Nepal

flickr image by Carlos Adampol

Lumbini means ‘lovely’ in Sanskrit, but the Lumbini Nepal can boast much more. Known as the birthplace of Buddha, Lumbini is located in the town of Kapilavastu close to the Indian border.

Buddhist tradition holds that Maya Devi gave birth to Buddha in May 642 BC under the shade of a tree in Lumbini. The story tells that Buddha announced it as was his final rebirth when he came into the world.

Some four hundred years later Emperor Ashkova visited the site and built a stone pillar and four stupas as a mark of the location’s importance. Many temples were erected until the 9th Century after which Buddhism was lost to the area.

It was in 1895 that a German archaeologist rediscovered the significance of Lumbini. Today, pilgrims flock to Maya Devi Temple, which enshrines the spot where Buddha was born and sits on the location of the previous stupas.

The site at Lumbini is magical with long rows of prayer flags blowing in the breeze, which are thought to send prayers skywards to heaven.

 

2. Bodh Gaya, India

Bodh Gaya

flickr image by marc_p_1970

The eternal quest for enlightenment is one sought by students around the world. It is at Bodh Gaya that Buddha is reported to have achieved his own success of great enlightenment.

Emperor Asoka was once again responsible for the creation of Bodh Gaya as a shrine to this great event in Buddha’s life and an inscribed pillar was located at the site. The pillar was replaced by the Mahabodhi Temple in the 2nd century and is it this temple that remains today.

Whilst the temple fell into disrepair from around 1,200, restoration work was commenced by Sir Alexander Cunningham and completed in 1882 by Burmese Buddhists. The pyramid shape is one of the oldest surviving Buddhist temples and was given UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2002. The bright Buddha image inside the temple draws pilgrims from far and wide, and depicts the cross legged position in which Buddha is believed to have achieved enlightenment.

Outside the temple is the Bodhi Tree, which is thought to be a descendent from the tree under which Buddha is reputed to have experienced his moment of enlightenment.

 

3. Sarnath, India

Sarnath, India

flickr image by colman.rushe

Located 13 kilometers from Varanassi, a holy place for Hindu worshipers in India’s north east, is Sarnath. This beautiful spot is a deer park and is of significance for Buddhist pilgrims as the place where Buddha first delivered his Dharma teachings.

Following his enlightenment it is believed that Buddha travelled to Sarnath in search of his five friends and upon finding them instructed them of what he learned which resulted in them too becoming enlightened. “The turning of the wheel of the dharma” was the name given to this event, which also marked the beginnings of the community of monks, known as Sangha.

Buddha spent a lot of time in Sarnath teaching and it has become a natural location of worship. Although many of the earlier buildings at Sarnath have been destroyed, an ancient stupor remains. The site of Sarnath has seen much restoration as well as the creation of six temples from six Asian countries including Tibet and Sri Lanka.

 

4. Kushinigar, India

Kushinigar, India

flickr image by commitart

Completing the circle of life, Kushinigar marks the final pilgrim spot and location where Buddha died, achieving Parinirvana. Situated in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, Kushinigar is also the place where Buddha’s body was cremated. The date of this occurrence is unknown, but Buddha was believed to have been aged 80 at the time of his death.

Like the other pilgrim sites, Kushinigar fell into decline but was later restored. Today, several temples feature at the site from different Asian countries. It is also possible to see the remains of the ancient stupors.

Whilst Kushingar marks the end of the four locations of Buddhist pilgrimage, for many it spark the continuation on the path to enlightenment. As Buddha once said, ‘Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.’

Date posted: 18th October, 2013

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