Where Are We Going

The most important places of pilgrimage in Buddhism are located in the Gangetic plains of Northern India and Southern Nepal, in the area between New Delhi and Rajgir. This is the area where Lord Buddha lived and taught, and the main sites connected to his life are now important places of pilgrimage for both Buddhists and Hindus.

Since the Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha, these four holy sites of Buddhism have become the focal points for pious disciples to rally around and seek inspiration. By the time of King Ashoka, four more places, namely: Shravasti, Sankasya, Rajgir and Vaishali, that were closely associated with the Buddha and scenes of his principal miracles, were added to the pilgrimage itinerary. Together they make the Eight Great Places of pilgrimage.

More than 2,500 years ago, a prince renounced his kingdom, meditated under the Bodhi tree, discovered a path to spiritual enlightenment and started expounding the principles of the Four Noble Truth and Eightfold Path. Based on these principles, 84,000 different methods to attain perfect liberation had been introduced and grouped under the three major vehicles or yanas: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.

The prince who had come to our realm and given us so many different solutions to disentangle from samsaric existence is none other Buddha Shakyamuni, the Exalted One from the Shakya clan.

Holy places are subject to wear and tear and manmade distortion. The recent unfortunate bombings in Bodh Gaya had prompted His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa to lead a pad yatra to the holy places of Buddha, with Rinpoches, monks, nuns and devotees. This is a precious opportunity to pay homage to Buddha’s holy places in the company of Sangha and receiving teaching from His Holiness. Besides, we will be cleaning the environment and promoting peace, resonating the teaching of Lord Buddha and putting it into action.

His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa will be giving discourses on the Pad Yatra.

The total walking distance is approximately 650km over 32 days, covering the Four Great Places of Buddha Shakyamuni: Lumbini (where Buddha was born), Bodh Gaya (where Buddha attained enlightenment), Sarnath (where Buddha first taught) and Kushinagar (where Buddha entered Mahaparinirvana)

Successful registrants will receive a detail copy of the schedule, however the schedule may be subject to minor adjustments, as His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa may readjust the journey as the situation requires.

It is important that you register if you wish to join in the walking pilgrimage, as a respect to the participating masters, the ordained and lay practitioners and the organizers. For security reasons, the organizers will reserve the right to refuse entry and registration. Please send in your registration soon for our immediate processing.

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Brief Introduction

Buddha Shakyamuni was a historical figure, believed to have lived from about 563 BCE to 483 BCE. Born a prince of the Shakya clan, Sidhartha Gautama at the age of 29 embarked on the quest for enlightenment and liberation from the world of sufferings. He finally attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya when he was 35 years old.

Buddha urged his disciples to seek truth within their own experiences. He taught that existence is based on the Four Noble Truths, namely: life is rooted in suffering; suffering is caused by craving for worldly things; one can find release from suffering by eliminating craving; craving can be eliminated by following the Eightfold Path. The path consists of: Right Understanding; Right Motivation; Right Speech; ; Right Action; Right Livelihood; Right Effort; Right Awareness; and Right Concentration

Buddha Shakyamnuni, after attaining complete enlightenment, spent over 40 summers in the samsaric world, teaching the holy Dharma and guiding the ignorant beings on the right spiritual path. The Buddha’s teachings were eventually documented by his disciples after his Mahaparinirvana and are contained in the Three Pitakas.

The Buddha said, “Bhikshus and Bhikshunis, after I passed away, the devout men and women should remember and visit these four holy places as long as they live. What are the four places? This is the place where the Buddha was born (Lumbini). This is the place where the Buddha attained complete enlightenment (Bodh Gaya). This is the place where the Buddha turned the wheel of the Dharma 12 times (Sarnath). And this is the place where the Buddha entered parinirvana (Kushinagar). Bhikshus and Bhikshunis, after I passed away, people will come and circumambulate the stupa and prostrate to the stupa, explain these to them. Those who have devotion to me will be born in the higher realms on their death. After my passing away, the new Bhikshus and Bhikshunis who come and ask of the doctrine should be told of these four places and advised that a pilgrimage to them will help purify their previously accumulated negative karmas, even the five heinous actions.”

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The Eight Holy Sites of Lord Buddha

The most important places of pilgrimage in Buddhism are located in the Gangetic plains of Northern India and Southern Nepal, in the area between New Delhi and Rajgir. This is the area where Lord Buddha lived and taught, and the main sites connected to his life are now important places of pilgrimage for both Buddhists and Hindus.

Since the Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha, these four holy sites of Buddhism have become the focal points for pious disciples to rally around and seek inspiration. By the time of King Ashoka, four more places, namely: Shravasti, Sankasya, Rajgir and Vaishali, that were closely associated with the Buddha and scenes of his principal miracles, were added to the pilgrimage itinerary. Together they make the Eight Great Places of pilgrimage.

Four Main Pilgrimage Sites

Lord Buddha is said to have identified four sites most worthy of pilgrimage for his followers, saying that they would produce a feeling of spiritual urgency. These are:

LUMBINI: birthplace (in Nepal). Lumbini, where the Buddha lived until the age of 29, has a number of temples, including the Mayadevi temple, and others under construction. Also located here is the Puskarini or Holy Pond where the Buddha’s mother took the ritual dip prior to his birth and where he, too, had his first bath, as well as the remains of Kapilavastu palace. At other sites near Lumbini, earlier Buddhas were, according to tradition, born, achieved ultimate awakening and finally relinquished earthly form.

BODH GAYA: the place of his enlightenment (in the current Mahabodhi Temple). Historically known as Uruvela, Sambodhi, Vajrasana or Mahabodhi, Bodh Gaya is the most hallowed place on earth to Buddhists the world over. Situated by the bank of river Neranjana the place was then known as Uruwela. King Ashoka was the first to build a temple here.

SARNATH: (formally Isipathana) where he delivered his first teaching. After his enlightenment, the Buddha gave his first teaching in a deer park at Sarnath. This is referred to as the first turning of the Wheel of the Law (Dharmachakra). It was here that the Buddha also established the order of monks (Sangha). Because of its great importance as a pilgrimage site, Sarnath has been continuously occupied from the 3rd century BCE until the 12th century CE when Buddhism was on the wane in northern India. King Ashoka visited the site and constructed two stupas (Dharmarajika and Dhamekh) and a commemorative pillar. By the 11th century these structures had fallen into disrepair, but excavations in the late 19th century uncovered the pillar together with a marble relic casket and an image of the Buddha delivering his first sermon. The Dhamekh stupa that exists today was built from brick during the 5th-6th centuries and stands on the site of earlier structures. The holy Ganges River is also located here.

KUSHINAGAR: where he passed away. The Buddha chose Kushinagar, capital of the Malla kingdom, for his Mahaparinirvana. Records note that the Buddha had visited the city a number of times and many of the Mallas had become his followers. After his death, the Buddha’s body was cremated at the shrine of the Mallas. His remains were divided into eight parts which were subsequently placed under eight stupas in different parts of the country. King Ashoka made a significant contribution to construction at this site. The Mahaparinirvana stupa marks the spot where the Buddha passed away. The temple contains a six meter long statue of the Buddha in parinirvana posture (lying on one side).

The Eight Great Places

The above four and the following four additional sites:

SHRAVASTI: Place of the Buddha performing Twin Miracle, called so because of its simultaneous production of apparently contradictory phenomena; in this case, fire and water. The Buddha produced flames from the upper part of his body and streams of water from the lower part of his body, alternating this, and did similarly between the left and right sides of his body. Afterwards, the Buddha took three giant steps, arriving in Trayastrimsha heaven. There, he preached the Abhidharma to his mother who had been reborn there as a Deva named Santussita. Shravasti is also the place where Buddha spent the largest amount of time, being a major city in ancient India.

The monastery known as Jetavana Vihara was built by Anathapindika, an extremely wealthy and pious merchant who became one of the chief disciples of the Buddha. Close to the monastery is the Anandabodhi tree, grown from a cutting taken from the Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka which itself grew from a cutting taken from the original Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. The monastery is still an important pilgrimage destination. Located just outside the old city of Savatthi, Jetavana was one of the most famous of the Buddhist monasteries in India. It was the second monastery donated to the Buddha, after the Veluvana in Rajgir. Jetavana was the place where the Buddha gave the majority of his teachings and discourses.

RAJGIR: Place of the Buddha subduing Nalagiri, the angry elephant, through loving kindness. Devadatta, the Buddha’s cousin, who was extremely jealous of Buddha, after scheming against the Buddha to no avail, Devadatta set loose an elephant, known as Nalagiri to kill the Buddha. As this elephant had been intoxicated into a crazed state by his keepers, ran through the town towards the Buddha, a frightened woman accidentally dropped her baby at the Buddha’s feet. Just as the elephant was about to trample the child, the Buddha calmly reached up and touched the elephant on the forehead. The elephant became calm and quiet, then knelt down before the Buddha.

Rajgir was another major city of ancient India. The remains of King Ajatasatru’s palace can still be seen today close to the Burmese Dharamsala. The hill where the hot spring is located was known as the Bipula peak and is one of the five peaks surrounding Rajgir. Close by the hot springs is the cave where Mahakashyapa, one of the Buddha’s most illustrious disciples, and 500 Arhats held the First Buddhist Council, sponsored by King Ajatasatru in the summer following the Buddha’s passing into Mahaparinirvana, to recount and record the Buddha’s teachings into the Three Pitakas. On this occasion, the Buddha’s close attendant, Ananda, recited the collection of the teachings (Sutra) and Upali recited the collection of precepts (Vinaya). North of the hot springs is a mound, site of the Bamboo Grove, a park offered by King Bimbisara to the Buddha. The first community of Sangha was established here. North of Rajgir is Gridhrakuta Hill, or Vulture Peak, where the Buddha taught Prajna Paramita and started teaching the Mahayana path.

SANKASYA: Place of the Buddha, together with Brahma and Indra, descending to earth from Trayastrimsha heaven, after a stay of three months teaching his mother the Abhidharma. Three ladders of silver, gold and jewels were provided for the gods and the event was witnessed by a vast crowd of people to whom the Buddha preached the Dharma. The Chinese pilgrims Faxien and Xuanzang noted that three ladders were to be seen there made from brick and stone. These may have been constructed by Ashoka to commemorate the Buddha’s descent. A shrine marked the spot where the Buddha’s foot first touched the ground and Ashoka also erected a pillar with an elephant capital to mark this holy place.

VAISHALI: Place of the Buddha receiving an offering of honey from a monkey. Vaishali was the capital of the Vajjian Republic of ancient India. Watching an elephant attending the Buddha by bringing him water and fruit, a monkey decided that he too wanted to honor the Buddha by offering a gift. While in the forest, the monkey saw a honey comb, free of flies, and decided that it would be an appropriate gift for the teacher. The monkey gave the honey to the Buddha, but was surprised when the teacher did not eat it. The monkey then realized that even though the honey was free of flies, there were insects’ eggs in the honeycomb, which would be destroyed had the Buddha eaten the honey. The monkey then removed the eggs and once again offered it to the Buddha who, this time, accepted it and ate the honey. The monkey, delighted that his gift was accepted, rejoiced by dancing and leaping from one branch of a tree to another. While he rejoiced, the monkey fell and was killed. However, the Buddha impressed with the monkey’s devotion, predicted that he would be reborn in Trayastrimsha heaven. The Buddhological significance of this story is two-fold. First, the prediction of the monkey’s rebirth in a heaven world illustrates the universal nature of Buddhism, in which release is available to all sentient beings. Second, the death of the monkey made the Buddha realize his own forthcoming death for which he then prepared.

The Buddha made several visits to Vaishali for the purpose of preaching to the monastic community (Sangha) and setting down many instructions and rules (Vinaya). After leaving his kingdom in Kapilavastu for renunciation, the Buddha came to Vaishali first and had his spiritual training from Ramaputra Udraka and Alara Kalama. After enlightenment the Buddha frequently visited Vaishali. He organized his Bhikshu Sangha on the pattern of Vaishalian democracy. It was here that he established the Bhikshuni Sangha, initiating his maternal aunt Maha Prajavati Gautami into the order. His last Varshavasa (rainy season resort) was here and he announced his approaching Mahaparinirvana (the final departure from the world) just three months in advance. Before leaving for Kushinagar, where he laid his mortal coil, he left his alms-bowl (Bhiksha-Patra) here with the people of Vaishali.

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Located in Rajgir, Nalanda University, a religious center of learning from the fifth century CE to 1197 CE, was the first great university in recorded history and one of the world’s first residential university as it had dormitories for students. It is also one of the most famous universities. In its heyday, it accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. The university was considered an architectural masterpiece, and was marked by a lofty wall and one gate. Nalanda had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. On the grounds were lakes and parks. The library was located in a nine storied building where meticulous copies of texts were produced.

The name “Nalanda” may have derived from one of Buddha Shakyamuni’s former births, when he was a king whose capital was here. Nalanda was one of his epithets meaning “insatiable in giving”.

The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning, and it attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey. During the period of Harsha (an Indian emperor belonging to Pushyabhuti Dynasty, who ruled northern India from 606 to 647 CE from his capital Kanauj), the monastery is reported to have owned 200 villages given as grants.

The Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang left detailed accounts of the university in the 7th century CE. He described how the regularly laid-out towers, forest of pavilions, harmikas and temples seemed to “soar above the mists in the sky” so that from their cells the monks “might witness the birth of the winds and clouds.” The pilgrim states: “An azure pool winds around the monasteries, adorned with the full-blown cups of the blue lotus; the dazzling red flowers of the lovely kanaka hang here and there, and outside groves of mango trees offer the inhabitants their dense and protective shade.”

The library at Nalanda University was an immense complex. Called the Dharmaganga, or “Piety Mart”, it was separated into three large buildings: the Ratnasagara, the Ratnadadhi, and the Ratnaranjaka. The Ratnadadhi, meaning the “Ocean of Gems”, was nine stories high and housed the most sacred manuscripts including the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Samajguhya. The towers were supposedly immense, bejewelled and gilded to reflect the rays of the sun. According to the Bhaskara Samhita, an ancient text on organizational practices, the library was to be built in a “finely built stone building” and each manuscript would have been placed on iron shelves or stack and covered with cloth and tied up. Furthermore, the librarian in charge, according to the text, was not only responsible for maintaining the materials but also for guiding readers in their studies. The exact number of volumes of the Nalanda University Library is not known but it is estimated to have been in the hundreds of thousands. The library not only collected religious manuscripts but also had texts on such subjects as grammar, logic, literature, astrology, astronomy, and medicine.

Nalanda was known for its superior scholarship. The Gatekeepers of Nalanda were erudite scholars of the highest repute, well versed in their subjects and drawn from the best in the country to examine the fresh entrants at the Gate itself. A student desiring admission had to be well-versed in both Sanskrit and the Buddha Dharma. Only one in ten students gained admission. So they came to the gates of Nalanda again and again, till they were selected. Once admitted, monks had to be fastidious with their study, discipline, and attention to detail - whether they were attending for two or for 20 years. Wake up was at dawn, bathing was done in outdoor ponds, and food was prepared in their cell-like rooms so that the rest of the day could be devoted to study.

To study or to have studied at Nalanda was a matter of great prestige. Its multi-disciplinary approach to learning attracted students from far off lands. Although the subject of theology was compulsory, Nalanda was not a sectarian or a religious university imparting only Buddhist thought; other subjects were taught as fervently. Almost all sciences, including the science of medicine were taught. So were the Upanishads and the Vedas. Panini’s grammar, the science of pronunciation (Phonetics), etymology, Indology and Yoga were all included in the curricula. Surprisingly, even archery was taught. All three yanas (Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana) were taught at Nalanda. In fact, Nalanda is considered one of the birthplaces of Vajrayana.

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