Part 1 Pilgrimage from Varanasi to Kathmandu November 10 – 18
A pilgrimage tour to India to visit sacred sites associated with Buddha has been on my list for years. After the pilgrimage tour to Sri Lanka by the Buddhist Charity last December, I plan to join its pilgrimage trip to India and Nepal from November 10 to 19 this year and go on to Darjeeling and Sikkim afterward. Owing to problem at the Sikkim-China border a few months ago, the travel agent is unable to confirm whether tourists can visit this region. As a result, Bing and Flora who have joined the pilgrimage trip arranged a 15-day historical tour of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra (November 19 – December 3) from Delhi to Mumbai. As time is not a problem, I plan to roam in southern India for ten days and return to Hong Kong on December 14.
The Buddha (circa 563 BCE to483 BCE)
According to the Buddhist tradition, Siddhartha Gautama, the son of Suddhodana who was an elected chief of the Shakya clan, was born in Lumbini in a garden beneath a sal tree. His mother Mayadevi died soon after and he was bought up by his mother’s younger sister. He grew up in Kapilavastu and married Yasodhara and they had a son Rahula. He lived as a prince till he left the palace at the age of 29 in search of life’s ultimate goal. He led a life of a mendicant and first went to Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha, where King Bimbisara offered him his throne. Siddhartha rejected the offer but promised to visit his kingdom first upon enlightenment. After practicing yogic meditation and yoga under three teachers, he realised meditative dhyana was the right path to awakening but extreme asceticism did not work. He discovered the Middle Way- a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self – mortification or the Noble Eightfold Path which is regarded as the first discourse of the Buddha. After having accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl Sujata and regained strength, he sat under a pipal tree (Bodhi tree) in Bodhgaya where he vowed never to rise till he had found the truth. After 49 days of meditation, he attained Enlightenment at the age of 35 and became known as the Buddha or “Awakened One”. In brief, Buddha gained insight into the Four Noble Truths, thereby attaining liberation from samara, the endless cycle of rebirth, suffering and dying again.
After his awakening, he travelled to Sarnath near Varanasi and delivered his first sermon to the five companions with whom he had sought enlightenment. All five became arahants and they formed the first sangha – the company of Buddhist monks.
For the remaining 45 years of life, the Buddha travelled in the Gangetic plain to teach. He kept his promise and travelled to Rajagaha to visit King Bimbisara and spent three vassana (raining) seasons at the Bamboo Grove monastery . Two years after awakening, the Buddha returned to Kapilavastu and talked about dharma. During his visit, many members of the royal family joined the sangha including his son Rahula. Five years after the formation of the sangha, Buddha agreed to the ordination of women as nuns.
At the age of 80, Buddha announced he would soon reach Parinirvana, or the final deathless state. After having his last meal offered by Cunda, a blacksmith, Buddha died in Kushinagar. His body was cremated and the relics were divided amongst 8 royal families and his disciples. Centuries later King Ashoka (who reigned from 268 BCE to 232 BCE) enshrined them into 84,000 stupas.
The most important places of pilgrimage in Buddhism are located in the Gangetic plains of northern India and southern Nepal: they are places where the Buddha had lived and taught. The Eight Great Places include four main pilgrimage sites (Bodhgaya, Lumbini, Sarnath and Kushinagar) and four places associated with certain miraculous events (Sravasti, Rajgir, Sankassa and Vaishali). The pilgrimage trip organised by Buddhist Charity would cover the four main pilgrimage sites, Rajgir and Vaishali.