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The Birth Place of the Buddha

The Buddha - Siddhartha Gautam was born into the Shakya royal family in Lumbini in south Nepal. Using historical records referring to Alexander the Great and Emperor Ashoka, the Buddha's birth date is usually given as May 563 BC. His mother, Queen Maya Devi was on her way to her parent's home at Rangram for the birth as was the tradition at that time. Before reaching her destination, she went into labour at Lumbini. There, she bathed in a bricked pool called Puskarni and then walked 25 paces to deliver the baby. The Buddha was born as she leant against a sal tree. He is said to have emerged from her right side and taken seven steps in the four directions; as he walked, lotus flowers bloomed. Sadly, Maya Devi died seven days after his birth and he was brought up by her younger sister and the second wife of Suddhodan, Pajapati. The central focus at Lumbini is the Maya Devi temple. A stone relief (probably 2nd century AD) shows her giving birth to the Buddha watched by the two Hindu gods Brahma and Indra. The area is currently being developed into a Sacred Peace Garden spread over 8 sq. km. along with the building of several stupas and monasteries by Buddhist traditions from all over the world. The Ashokan Pillar stands out quite clearly and is surrounded by the ruins of four stupas. In 1995, an international team uncovered a commemorative stone resting on top of a platform of bricks under the Maya Devi temple. The stone dates back to the time of the Emperor Ashoka who visited Lumbini is 249 BC. Ancient Buddhist texts which describe the place of his birth as being 25 paces from the pool where his mother bathed have been validated by this discovery. There has been much dispute over the years as to the exact location of the Buddha's birthplace; even treated as an issue of national pride between India and Nepal. Chinese pilgrim Huian Tsang in AD 636 described the place thus "where the lord was born is a piece of heaven on earth and one could see the snowy mountains amidst a splendid garden - embedded with stupas and monasteries". He also noted a stone pillar broken in two surrounded by four stupas. At Lumbini in 1896, Dr Fuhrer re-discovered the stone pillar erected as a mark of respect by Ashoka, the Indian Emperor and a follower of the Buddha's teaching. The pillar is inscribed "Twenty years after his coronation, King Devanampiya Piyadasi (Ashoka) came here and paid homage, because the Buddha, the sage of the Shakya clan, was born here. He ordered a stone relief to be made and a stone pillar to be erected, to indicate that the Blessed One was born here. He exempted the village of Lumbini from taxes and reduced its toll of produce (from the usual quarter) to one eighth." The inscription was made in the local dialect Magadhi, using Brahmin script.

Tilaurakot

Nearby is Kapilvastu now called Tilaurakot where the young prince spent his youth. Dr Fuhrer identified Kapilvastu from the writings of another Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Fahien (c 400 AD) who had also visited the area. Archaeologists have discovered 13 successive layers of human habitation dating back to the 8th century BC. The eastern gate of the palace is where Buddha left the palace on his search for enlightenment. Several other places around Lumbini are significant archaeological sites including Niglihawa and Gotihawa and both have pillars erected by the Emperor Ashoka on his pilgrimage to the area.

Bodhgaya - Place of Buddha's Enlightenment

Bodhgaya is the place where Gautama Buddha attained Enlightenment . It is in the state of Bihar in India and it contains the Mahabodhi Stupa with the diamond throne and the holy Bodhi Tree. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, had been dwelling on the banks of the Nairanjana River with five ascetic followers for six years practicing austerities. Realising that austerities could not lead to realisation he abandoned them. His companions disgusted at his seeming failure, deserted him and left for Sarnath. He then moved to the village of Senani where he was offered rice milk by a Brahmin girl, Sujata. Accepting from a grass-cutter a gift of kusha grass for a mat, he then took a seat under a Bodhi tree facing East. He resolved never to rise again until Enlightenment was attained.

As Gautama sat in deep meditation, Mara, Lord of Illusion, perceiving that his power was about to be broken, rushed to distract him from his purpose. The Bodhisattva touched the earth, calling the Earth Goddess to bear witness to his countless lifetimes of virtue that had led him to this place of enlightenment. When the earth shook, confirming the truth of Gautamas words, Mara unleashed his army of demons. In the epic battle that ensued, Gautamas wisdom broke through the illusions. The power of his compassion transformed the demons weapons into flowers and Mara and all his forces fled in disarray.
THE MAHABODHI TEMPLE

The historical place at which the Enlightenment took place has become a place of pilgrimage. About 250 years after the Enlightenment, the Buddhist Emperor, Ashoka visited the site there founded and built the Mahabodhi Stupa and Temple. Following tradition, Ashoka, not only established a monastery but also erected a diamond throne shrine at this spot with a canopy supported by four pillars over a stone representation of the Vajrasana, the Seat of Enlightenment. The temple architecture is superb but its history is shrouded in obscurity. It was constructed with the intention of making it a monument, not as a receptacle for the relics of the Buddha. Several shrines were constructed with enshrined images for use as places of worship. The basement of the present temple is 15m square, 15m in length and breadth. Its height is 52m rising in the form of a slender pyramid tapering off from a square platform. On its four corners four towers gracefully rise. The whole architectural plan is balanced and proportional. Inside the temple there is a beautiful image of Buddha in the "touching the earth" mudra. This image is said to be 1700 years old and it is facing East exactly at the place where Buddha sat in meditation with his back to the Bodhi tree and then became enlightened.
THE BODHI TREE

For seven days after the Enlightenment, the Buddha continued to meditate under the Bodhi tree without moving from his seat. In the second week, he practiced walking meditation. A jewel walk, Chankramanar, was built as a low platform adorned with

nineteen lotuses parallel to the Mahabodhi temple on its north side. For another week, the Buddha contemplated the Bodhi tree. In this place, a stupa was built called Animeschalochana, situated to the north of the Chankramanar. On the back of the main temple situated to the west, there is an ancient Bodhi tree. It was under this tree that Gautama sat for Enlightenment. The present tree is the descendant of the original tree. The story is that Ashokas wife had it secretly cut down because she became jealous of the time Ashoka spent there. But it grew again and a protective wall was also built around it. A shoot of the original Bodhi tree was taken to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. by Bhikkhuni Sangamitta, daughter of Ashoka and there the Sri Lankan king Devanampiyatissa planted it at the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura where it still flourishes today. While the Vajrasana was the specific site of Enlightenment, the Bodhi tree became a central focus of devotion amongst devotees. Pilgrims sought the seeds and leaves of the Bodhi tree as blessings for their monasteries and homes. Around the Bodhi tree and the Mahabodhi temple are quadrangular stone railings that date back to about 150 BC. The older set has a number of designs representing scenes from the purchase of Jetavana by Ananthapindika at Sravasti, Lakshmi being bathed by elephants, Surya riding a chariot drawn by four horses, etc. On the more recently built set there are figures of stupas, Garudas, etc. In most of these railings lotus motifs are commonly used.
BODHGAYA REVITALISED

Since 1953, Bodhgaya has developed into an international pilgrimage place. Buddhists from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan and Japan have established monasteries and temples within easy walking distance of the Mahabodhi compound. The site of the Enlightenment now attracts Buddhists from around the world. FPMT has a beautiful peaceful Center in Bodhgaya known as ROOT INSTITUTE. Between December and March, a continual stream of international pilgrims walk the roads or arrive in buses, circumambulating the temple, performing prostrations and offering prayers in a multitude of languages. For those who aspire to awaken their full potential, Bodhgaya is truly vibrant with the potential of enlightenment and inspiration to the world. Sarnath : First turning of the Wheel of Dharma Sarnath is one of the four most-visited Buddhist pilgrimages of North East India located at 6 Kms north of Benares in the city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh near the highway to Ghazipur.Other three pilgrimage centres are the birthplace of Buddha - Lumbini, second is place where he attained Enlightenment - Buddha Gaya, fourth is Kushinara or Kashi in Uttar Pradesh, where he finally gave up his mortal self. It is said that in search of his companions Lord Buddha walked from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath in order to meet the five ascetics. During his visits and stay in Sarnath, a number of legends are associated with the life history of Lord Buddha, out of which the legend of Deer Park is very popular. The Buddhist temples at Sarnath are the contribution of Buddhist countries like China, Tibet, Japan and many other countries

Buddhist Temples at Sarnath It was at Sarnath Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon to his disciples for whom he left Bodh Gaya. In this sermon he had preached the middle path of attaining the "Nirvana" that avoids the extremes of pleasure and austerity, the four noble truths and the eightfold path. In 3rd Century BC when Ashoka realized the sanctity of the site of Sarnath, he built one of the rarest monuments. However, the main Buddhist temple located at Sarnath is Mulagandhakuti Vihar which is 110 feet high with an image of Buddha inside it decorated with carved sandstone railing inside the temple. The temples of other countries are also located at nearby areas like temples of China, Burma and Jain temples.

Other Attractions near Sarnath Besides, the famous Buddhist temple, the pilgrimage to Sarnath offers various other specimens of Buddhist art and culture which are found in its Museum which has credited for the rich collection of sculptures, artifacts and edifices, figures and sculptures from the Mauryan, the Kushana and the Gupta periods. The Ashoka Lion capital or the Sarnath lion capital is the national symbol of India which is believed to symbolize different steps of Lord Buddha's life. Broadly speaking, two interpretations - the religious and non-religious - are made on this National Symbol of India, one interpretation corresponds to the Buddha's way of life and other corresponds to the inherent power of Ashoka the Great. A number of monasteries is located at Sarnath like Chaukhandi Stupa, Dhamekh Stupa, Dharmrajika Stupa, Digambar Jain temple etc.

Place of Buddhas Death, Mahaparinirvana.

A small dusty town in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, Kushinagar is the place where Lord Gautam Buddha breathed his last. This is also the place where Lord Buddha preached his last sermon. There are many places of religious importance in Kushinagar. Rambhar Stupa is the most important landmark of Kushinagar. The stupa is said to have been built on the same spot where Lord Buddha was cremated in 483 BC. Mahaparinirvana Temple is another important attraction in Kushinagar with a huge statue of Lord Buddha in reclining position. Mathakuar Shrine is the place where Lord Buddha had given his last sermon. There are many modern temples, stupas, and shrines in Kushinagar built by various Buddhist countries. A museum here houses objects found during the excavation of Kushinagar. History Kushinagar was an important centre under Mauryan King Ashoka, a great Buddhist follower. Most of the religious structures here were constructed between 3rd century BC and 5th century AD. For a long time Kushinagar remained lost in the jungles and was unknown to the world till 19th century when the British rediscovered it in 1880. Extensive excavations have indicated the presence of a large number of monks here as late as 11th century AD.

The quote below comes from the excellent: Middle Land, Middle Way A Pilgrim's Guide to the Buddha's India by Ven. S. Dhammika Published by Buddhist Publication Society ISBN 955-24-0095-3 Then Ananda said to the Lord: "Lord, do not pass away into final Nirvana in this wattle-anddaub town, this jungle town, this town in the woods." In the last year of his life the Buddha set out from Rajagaha and headed north on what was to be his final journey. He passed through Nalanda, Patna and Vesali, probably with the intention of visiting Kapilavatthu once more before his death. Being old and weak, his progress must have been difficult and slow. He said of himself: "I am now old, worn out, full of years, one who has traversed life's path, being eighty years old. I have reached the end of my life. Just as an old cart can only be kept going by being held together with straps, so too, the Tathagata's body can only be kept going by bandaging it up." The Buddha and the monks who accompanied him passed through Bhandagama (not yet identified), Hatthigama (Hathikhala, near Hathua), Ambagama (Amaya, 10 kilometers southwest of Tamkuhi), Jambugama (Jamunahi, 13 kilometers northwest of Hathikhala) and Bhoganagara (Bodraon, 10 kilometers west of Amaya and Fazilnagar in Deoria district) before arriving at Pava. Here the smith Cunda gave the Buddha his last meal, after which "the Lord was attacked by a severe sickness with bloody diarrhea and sharp and deadly pain." Later, the Buddha told Ananda to visit Cunda again and, lest he be plagued by remorse, tell him that to offer a Buddha his last meal is a most auspicious act. After recovering his strength, the Buddha continued some distance to where he met Pukkusa, who offered him a set of robes woven from golden thread. When Ananda put the robe on the Buddha's aged, sickly body, the body glowed with such a radiance that the golden robe appeared dull by comparison. The party crossed the Hirannavati River (now a small stream called Hirakinari) and arrived in Kusinara, which despite being the principal town of the Mallas, was only a small place. This was not the Buddha's first visit to Kusinara. During several previous visits, he had preached the Kusinara Suttas and the Kinti Sutta, and so enthusiastic and so numerous were the disciples he made that the Mallas council passed a resolution that anyone not welcoming the Buddha on his arrival in the town should be fined. Now he had returned, and the Mallas, hearing that he was about to die, came in crowds to the sal grove where he lay to see him for what they knew was to be the last time. It so happened that Subhadda, a wandering ascetic, was in the district and he heard that Gotama, the famous teacher whom he had heard much about but never met, was to die that night, and so he hurried to the sal grove hoping to ask him some questions. When he tried to approach the Buddha, Ananda firmly held him back, saying that the teacher was tired. When the Buddha saw what was happening, he called Subhadda to him, and though he had only hours to live, taught him the Dhamma. Some months before, the Buddha had said that even if he was so old that he had to be carried about on a litter, he would still have the energy to teach the Dhamma, and now, as he lay dying at Kusinara, he was true to his word.

Later, taking the instructions he had received to heart and meditating diligently, Subhadda attained enlightenment. As the end drew near, the Buddha gave some last instructions on practical matters, and then reminded those gathered around that they could still practise the Dhamma even though he would not be there to guide them: "Ananda, you may think: The Teacher's instruction has ceased, now we have no teacher!' But it should not be seen like this. Let the Dhamma and the discipline that I have taught and explained to you be your teacher after my passing." Then the Buddha uttered his last words: "Now, monks, I say to you - all conditioned things are subject to decay; strive on with diligence" (vayadhamma sankhdra, appamddena sampadetha). Those who were not yet enlightened wept and cried, saying: "Too soon has the Lord passed away, too soon has the Happy One passed away, too soon has the Eye of the World closed." Others remained calm and composed, reminding the others with both their words and example of what the Buddha had taught: "Friends, enough of your weeping and crying! Has not the Lord already told you that all things that are pleasant and delightful are changeable, subject to separation and to becoming other?" Then the monks spent the rest of the night discussing the Dhamma. Over the next few days, the Mallas made elaborate preparations for the cremation of the Buddha's body, and then on the seventh day the body was taken out of the town to the Makuta Bandhana Shrine and cremated. Because of the important events that took place here, Kusinara must have attracted pilgrims and become a center of pilgrimage quite early.