Saturday, February 25, 2012

Greg's Buddhist Travels

Greg's Buddhist Travels, a set on Flickr.
Photos collected since 2004 based on my travels in India, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The main focus is on my 2012 Buddhist 'yatra' to northern India.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Visit to Kushinagar

Wednesday 25th January, 2012

After some free time at the hotel in Kushinagar I managed to walk around the Matha-Kuar Shrine (housing a 10th century bluestone Buddha statue from Gaya) and the Mahaparinirvan temple (where the Buddha passed into nirvana) - thinking I was almost ready to join him! – and then walked back to sleep for the rest of the afternoon. The temple, built in 1956, houses a great 1500-year-old statue of the Buddha resting in the lion’s pose.

Visit to Shravasti

Friday 27th January, 2012
After arriving at Gonda train station, it was another long 65 km bus trip to Shravasti. Here I saw:
* the Jetvana Vihara (where the Buddha gave most of his discourses and spent 24 rainy seasons in residence) within Jeta’s Grove
* Pakki Kuti (a stupa commemorating Angulimala)
* the Anand Bodhi tree (an offspring of the Bodhgaya one) and
* Sehat Mahet

Visit to Sarnath

Tuesday 24th January, 2012

From Varanasi it was a short bus ride of 13 kms to Sarnath (now considered an outer suburb) where the Buddha gave his first sermon (turned the wheel of Dhamma), and where the Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna. I enjoyed seeing:
* the deer park (with authentic 2,500 year old deer! just kidding)
* the Dhamekh Stupa (built between 4th to 2nd century BCE)
* the Sarnath Museum (photos not allowed inside) which included the Buddha statue removed from the nearby ruins)
* the Ashokan pillar (broken into four pieces, with the top carved lions missing) 

Visit to Varanasi

Tuesday 24th January, 2012

The train sped overnight to reach Varanasi, the oldest living city in the world, and one of the major pilgrimage sites for Hindus. 

A short distance from Sarnath we saw the Chaukhandi Stupa (1 km away) built in 1588, which apparently marks where the Buddha first encountered his five companions and convinced them that he had become fully enlightened, and where in 2012 we took a group photo of our tour).

Visit to Nalanda

Monday 23rd January, 2012

Another 1 1/2 hours or so on the bus took us to the remains of Nalanda University. It was founded in the 4th century C.E. and thrived until the 12th century when it was ransacked by the invading Turks, who killed hundreds of students and teachers, torched the huge library (over 9 million volumes) and destroyed most of the buildings. It rests in a wonderful 35-acre park, and includes Sariputta's Stupa which is now a World Heritage Site. Nalanda was one of the world’s first residential universities, and there is now a new one not far away. The Buddha visited the area several times, and here Sâriputta uttered his “lion’s roar” of faith in the Buddha. His stupa is shown below.

Visit to Venuvan

Monday 23rd January, 2012:

Also near Rajgir we walked through Venuvan (bamboo grove) where the first monastery was built, thus allowing the monks to settle in one place, and where the Buddha spent three rainy seasons delivering many important discourses. The original monastery is yet to be excavated due to a dispute, and only the pond remains of the earliest features.

Visit to Vulture's Peak

Rajgir is an amazing place. Rather than take the skyway, we took the many, many steps leading up to Vulture's Peak (Griddhkuta), which also includes some smaller caves and scenic views over the surrounding hills. The Peak was one place the Buddha meditated and delivered some of his famous sermons to thousands of listeners. 

Visit to Bodhgaya

Sunday 22nd January, 2012
We took a short trip to Bodhgaya.

By far the biggest highlight was the Mahâ Bodhi Temple (the place where Siddhartha reached enlightenment) which includes an Ashokan pillar, the Mucalinda Lake (recalling where it is said a giant cobra sheltered the Buddha from the first rains some six weeks after becoming enlightened), and the Bodhi tree or “ficus religiosa” (a descendent of the original brought back from Sri Lanka). The temple was built around the 4th century CE. It was very busy, with many monks chanting, hundreds of people showing devotion by circling the grounds three times clockwise, and lots of hawkers outside. For me, being able to sit under the Bodhi tree and meditate undisturbed for almost 30 minutes was truly superb - among the best moments of the entire journey, in fact. Of course, the Buddha, after achieving enlightenment, spent one week standing nearby simply gazing at the tree out of gratitude, so I couldn’t match that.