Pilgrimage Experiences

1) Read Austin Pick's "Aboard the Mahabodhi Express: Along Pilgrims' Paths" and appreciate his wonderful photographs at:
 
 
2) Reflections by Catherine Brousseau, a pilgrim who undertook a journey with 19 other people in Feb-Mar 2010.  Some of these comments were published in the Summer 2010 edition of BCBS's Insight Journal.

Getting a physical feel for the geography of the Buddha's meanderings was a huge bonus of this pilgrimage.  I have been studying Buddhist suttas since 2002.  Each sutta locates precisely where a discourse (teaching) of the Buddha took place: the region, the forest, the park.   Most of the suttas were memorized by the Buddha's assistant and cousin, Ananda.  When the Sangha met within a year of the Buddha's Parinibbana, Ananda identified the location of each teaching to verify them in the memory of others, and to anchor each discourse in time and space.  The suttas are not allegories, or parables, or myths, but events described by those present.  A few examples are vivid in my mind:
  • The Exposition of the Truths (MN141) begins:  Thus have I heard.  On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Benares in the Deer Park at Isipatana.  Benares is Varanasi on modern maps.  It is famous for silk production and for the ghats along the Ganges where people bathe in the sacred waters and pour the ashes of their dead.  A few miles away is the Deer Park at Sarnath (another name for Isipatana), where the Buddha gave his first teaching of the Dhamma.  A forest in the Buddha's time, it is now a serene fenced park with lawns and paths, great trees where meditators sit, and ruins of many monasteries built there over the centuries.  Toward the back is a tall, massive brick stupa, which pilgrims quietly circumambulate.  We did this as well, and then found a quiet spot to sit.
  • The Simile of the Heartwood (MN29) begins:  Thus have I heard.  On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Rajagaha on the mountain Vulture's Peak.  This is where the Buddha and senior monks went to meditate in quiet, away from the monastery and the villagers.  He delivered important discourses from this elevated spot.  The region is now called Rajgir and is quite rural.  Vulture's Peak is in a range of low mountainous outcroppings full of crags and caves.  Today, a long paved walk up the mountain passes the holy caves, marked by candle stubs, prayer flags, and gold patches left by pilgrims.  At the highest point, a rock shaped like a vulture sits atop a huge bolder.  Up there the view of the surrounding hills and forests is lovely, and all you can hear is the wind.  It was easy to imagine the quiet peacefulness of 25 centuries ago.
  • Two Kinds of Thought (MN 19) begins:  Thus have I heard.  On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Savatthi in Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's Park.  Sravasti is barely on the map in northeastern Uttar Pradesh.  More recorded suttas were delivered here that from any other place, because the Buddha established a large monastery and spent 24 rains retreats at Sravasti.  Jeta's Grove is now a large walled park, containing gardens, sloping lawns, old groves, and the ruins of many temples, monasteries, and stupas.  Three ruins are where the Buddha meditated, slept, and received guests.  Here we saw monks of various Buddhist traditions and groups of pilgrims from several countries, some chanting, some meditating, some exploring.  Most of the ruins remain buried, and I found a corner of the park where a partial excavation was evident.
Now back home, I scroll through photos recalling the excitement, the curiosity, and the wonder of meandering all those places myself.  I touch a bodhi leaf I picked-up from the grounds where Siddhattha Gotama became the Buddha.  But most lingering of all, when I pick up the scriptures and read the opening lines of a sutta...an image, a feeling, a memory arises that make the teachings of the Blessed One tangible, immediate, and alive.
 
3) Notes from 2010 Pilgrimage Group

DELHI

Our luck begins right off the bat with accommodations.  Aman Delux, a lower mid level hotel  conveniently  located in Rajouri Gardens , south west of Rajeev Chowk (Connaught Place).  It’s a short two block walk to the Rajouri Gardens Metro Stn; there’s a Fab India across the street, an excellent vegetarian restaurant next door, a large shopping mall half a block away and numerous banking options up and down the street.   A pre paid cab (no AC) from the airport was 425 Rs.

A selection of rooms runs from Rs 1500 (small room) to  Rs 3000 a night. Most of us paid for the Rs 2000 room, which had 2 beds in a room that allowed for some space between beds. All rooms have attached baths.  The staff are helpful  and very pleasant to deal with.

Aman Deluxe, A-30-31, Vishal Enclave, Rajouri Garden, Opposite Vishal Cinema, New Delhi – 110027, Telephone – (+9111) 45702658, 25413980, 25421965, Fax: 25450888. 200 metres from Rajouri Gardens Metro. Check internet for website and online booking.

SHRAVASTI

15 Oct. 2010 to 17 Oct. 2010

New pagoda is well designed. As we were leaving for Jetavana a brief shower happened. There was a double rainbow that seemed to connect Jetavana with Dhamma Cakka.

(see photos)

Mr Reddy, SAT at Dhamma Suvatthi, told us that room on the northwest side of the Gandha Kuti at Jetavana is the sleeping place of all the past 4 Buddhas in this kappa. This is where we sat. The sun was hot at midday but as soon as we started sitting the clouds covered the sun and a cooling breeze kept us comfortable. As soon as our sitting was over, the sun came back again....

KAPILAVASTU

17 Oct. 2010

Deepak and Dr Panth said that the 3 archaeologists (Peppe, etc) from both India and Nepal Kapilavastu sites were in cahoots with each other– so chances are that the history may be tampered with, hence history unsure; in fact the casket of relics at Delhi may be ‘pig bones’!!

Presence of the nunnery at Piprahwa near the mango grove. Beautiful park, nice place to meditate and picnic. Clean Wash rooms. Presently there is construction of a museum near Piprahwa where the "relics of the Buddha" from the Delhi museum will be moved to. All ASI sites (including this and many more like Mahaparinibbana at Kushinagar) are open from sunrise to sunset.

LUMBINI

17 Oct. 2010 to 20 Oct. 2010

Wat Thai 960 – just before the Nepal border crossing (great toilets and a refreshing break that gives the illusion that one is in Thailand). For the border foreigners need  a double entry visa in order to return to India. We forgot that one can obtain a free visa for 3 day permit to visit Lumbini and had to pay for the $25 visa instead. Don't forget to take photos for the visa!

Entry to the road leading to Dhamma Janani is best accessed from the gates of Thai monastery  (i.e. you have to enter through the gates of the Thai monastery to get to the road on which is the entrance to Dhamma Janani)

Three Foxes restaurant in Lumbini town is good, internet facility around that area also Biraj Guest House – run by a Vipassana trustee - is in the town

KUSHINAGAR

20 Oct. 2010 to 22 Oct. 2010

Thai Monastery – they are more particular about who they accommodate, so you might need to meet the Bhante there. We stayed at Chinese monastery. OK, but shared bath and mosquitoes were a problem.

VAISHALI

22 Oct. 2010 to 23 Oct. 2010

Wat Thai monastery: We made a great connection with the Thai bhante there. He has respect for Goenkaji and invites us to use at least one large building at the monastery during monsoon if we want to have a course there.

Buddha relics are being returned to Vaishali from Patna museum and will be installed in a new stupa which will be constructed in central Vaishali within the next 2 years time. The Thai bhante has been instrumental in this success by lobbying state and central government.

NALANDA AND RAJGIR

23 Oct. 2010 to 25 Oct. 2010

Info from Dr. Pant and Deepak for areas around Nalanda and Rajgir – Silau is probably the place where the Buddha met Mahakassapa. Jaufardi about 2 km from Nalanda shows strong evidence as the place of Moggalana’s birth and death. More serious plan to build a centre for meditation for Vipassana in our tradition near the Hsuen Tsang Memorial

Jaufardi is now unprotected and not presentable but will be protected soon (U Nyanissara says he will do this when he visits in November). Indasala also to be protected shortly.

Rukministhan – A beautiful statue of the Buddha from the Mahayana tradition can be seen here

Sariputta Walk now being planned (by Deepak)  – To start from the Giriyak mountain.

Jethian – A new train line coming from south and ending in Rajgir stops at Jethian once a day around noon

Route from Patna to Wazirganj is dangerous (extortion or worse), but especially from Rajgir to Wazirganj, whichever route you go.

BODHGAYA

25 Oct. 2010 to 27 Oct. 2010

Good Restaurants – Siam Thai and Swagat Restaurant attached to the Tathagat hotel  - the former for genuine high quality Thai cuisine and the latter for excellent Indian food.

Tailor next to Siam Thai – can stitch up anything that you need and makes excellent bags from small passport pouches to multipurpose shoulder bags. We have an email and phone for them and they can export. Mosquito tents for meditation – there are a lot more options and the prices have come down as they are being made in India and highly recommended for meditation at the Bodhi tree in the evening

It seems they will soon start building a bridge across Niranjana river at the 6 km mark to access the route to Dungishwari/Mahakala cave

SARNATH

26 Oct 2010 to 29 Oct 2010

Jain Paying Guest House, opp Forest Dept, Sarnath: Many meditators stay there. Good food, decent well priced rooms (e.g double with attached bath RS 400). He can arrange for vehicle to airport or tour. Contact info: jpgh@rediffmail.com, jainpgh@gmail.com, www.visitsarnath.com, tel 0091-542-2595621, mobile Dr AK Jain, 09936251407.