Bodh Gaya and Sar­nath, In­dia

Asian Geographic - - Front Page -

With the Dalai Lama ex­iled from Lhasa, it is hard to say where the mod­ern spir­i­tual cen­tre of Bud­dhism lies. Per­haps the an­swer is to be found where it all be­gan, more than 2,000 years ago, in the north In­dian state of Bi­har.

My first en­try into Bodh Gaya was in­aus­pi­cious to say the least: I was towed in on the back of a break­down lorry, my car hav­ing given up the ghost sev­eral hours ago fur­ther along the Grand Trunk Road. Forced to wait for the req­ui­site re­place­ment part to be im­ported from Ger­many, there was noth­ing to do but sit still, be pa­tient, and en­deav­our to put aside the frus­tra­tions of the mod­ern world. And there could surely be no bet­ter place to do so, be­cause Bodh Gaya is the place where the Bud­dha fi­nally achieved en­light­en­ment.

Bud­dhists jour­ney to Bi­har from all over the world. They come to Bodh Gaya, but also to nearby Sar­nath, where the Bud­dha de­liv­ered his first ser­mon, guid­ing those who would fol­low in his foot­steps. Th­ese sites are two of the four main pil­grim­age sites re­lat­ing to the life of the Bud­dha, the oth­ers be­ing Lumbini, the Bud­dha’s birth­place, and Kushi­na­gar, where he at­tained parinir­vana after his death.

The two cen­tral sites are the ter­ra­cotta red stupa at Sar­nath, its ex­te­rior richly carved in de­tails, and the bodhi tree — one of the old­est trees in the world — which was grown from a cut­ting of the orig­i­nal tree which shaded the med­i­tat­ing Bud­dha. The bodhi tree lies within Bodh Gaya’s Ma­ha­bodhi Tem­ple com­plex, an ar­chi­tec­tural mas­ter­piece founded by the Em­peror Ashoka in the 3rd cen­tury BC, and which is now cel­e­brated as a UNESCO World Her­itage Site. No less im­pres­sive is the 25-me­tre high Gi­ant Bud­dha, carved from sand­stone and red gran­ite, which guards over the com­plex. Con­se­crated by the Dalai Lama in 1989, it is one of the largest Bud­dha stat­ues in In­dia.

Pil­grims come here to feel part of the world­wide Bud­dhist com­mu­nity. Dif­fer­ent coun­tries have erected their own monas­ter­ies, tem­ples, and guest­houses, often in their indige­nous ar­chi­tec­tural styles. The Thai, Bhutanese, and Viet­namese tem­ples are es­pe­cially pho­to­genic, and their teach­ings are open to all. Al­though med­i­ta­tion might be an in­di­vid­ual pursuit, learn­ing how to do it ef­fec­tively is not, and there is no end to the num­ber of monks and other prac­ti­tion­ers to in­spire you. Guests who stay in Bodh Gaya more than a cou­ple of days are en­cour­aged to serve the com­mu­nity, clean­ing and cook­ing for fel­low pil­grims. It is a priv­i­lege to eat sim­ple meals with devo­tees and cu­ri­ous vis­i­tors.

above be­low right Th­ese sites are two of the four main pil­grim­age sites re­lat­ing to the life of the Bud­dha

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