Monday, May 27, 2024

Vaiśākha Pujā at the Pipphaligūhā, Rājgir

Vaiśākha Pujā Prayers at the Pipphaligūhā. Venerable Saṅgha led by Ven. Tenzin Ananda

It is so heartwarming to witness Pipphaligūhā (Pipphali Cave), an important Buddhacārikā site on the path to revitalisation. Asian Buddhist Cultural Centre (Bodhgayā) and Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University, Nālandā) on 24th May 2024 organised the Vaiśākha Pujā offering ceremony at Pipphaligūhā (Pipphali Cave). More than 50 venerable monks from the Mahabodhi Society of India, Banglore and Nava Nalanda Mahavihara offered prayers and chanted Buddhist Suttas.

Pipphaligūhā is a very significant site where the Buddha had an important discourse with Mahākassapa. The cave is situated on Vaibhavagiri Hill, Rājagṛiha (now Rājgir). Many of my readers may not be aware of the fact that Buddha Dhamma was lost in the Indian subcontinent by the turn of the 2nd millennium. All the sacred sites related to the Buddhist pilgrimage ‘in the footsteps of the Buddha’ including Pipphaligūhā were abandoned and gradually turned into ruins. Translation of the travelogues of Buddhist monks, Faxian (Fa Hien, 337-422 CE) and Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang, 602-664 CE), in the early 19th century, revealed the existence of ‘In the footsteps of the Buddha’ pilgrimage (Buddhacārikā) in the Gangetic Plain. Many important sites like Mahābodhi Temple, Shrāvasti, Sārnathā, Lumbinī etc., got revitalised but many lesser-known sites like Pipphaligūhā are still lying under utter neglect.

Pipphaligūhā was in a grim shape, inaccessible, and covered with dense vegetation. Because of ignorance about the significance of the cave, people were using the cave as a garbage dump. After days of work, we got the cave free of garbage and thorny vegetation. We are thankful to the officials of the Forest Department (the Government of Bihar) for their cooperation. 


Venerable Saṅgha offering Vaiśākha Pujā Prayers at the Pipphaligūhā. 

Venerable Tenzin Ananda shares the revitalisation journey of the Pipphaligūhā.

Vaiśākha Pujā on 24th May 2024 

Venerable Tenzin Ananda, the Secretary of the Asian Buddhist Cultural Centre (Bodhgaya) took this initiative to facilitate the revival and revitalisation of the Pipphaligūhā. ABCC, Bodhgaya in collaboration with Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University, Nalanda) conceived the idea of organising the Vaiśākha Pujā on 24th May 2024 at Pipphaligūhā.

Venerable Saṅgha of Mahabodhi Society of India, Banglore and Nava Nalanda Mahavihara offered prayers and chanted Buddhist Suttas.

In Attendance:

1. Ven. Tenzin Ananda, Secretary, ABCC, Bodhgaya.

2. Ven. Kassapa Mahathera, President, Mahabodhi Society of India, Bangalore. 

3. Ven. Geshé Ngawang Tenzin Gyatso, President, International Buddhist Council. 

4. Prof. Rajesh Ranjan, Hon’ble Vice Chancellor, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda.

5. Prof. Dipankar Lama, Head, Department of Tibetan Studies, NNM.

6. Dr. Mukesh Verma, Head, Department of Buddhist Studies, NNM.

7. Miss Penny and Friends, Taiwan.

8. Staff, Scholars and students of NNM.

Significance of Pipphaligūhā

Pipphaligūhā, according to Pali sources, is the place where  Mahākassapa (Mahākashyapa) found shelter for his intense meditation. This cave was called Pipphali after Mahākassapa who was also known by this name. The Buddha stayed at Veḷuvana during his visits to Rājagṛiha and after his one meal for the day, he would walk the path up to Pipphaligūhā. On one such visit, he found Mahākassapa affected with disease and in terrible pain. The Buddha found this time perfect to teach him the seven factors of Awakening. What Buddha preached here is now preserved as Gilana Sutta. 

Identification of Pipphaligūhā

Faxian and Xuanzang mention Pipphali cave as the place where the Buddha often lodged. According to Xuanzang, it was west of hot water springs. A.M. Broadley, sub-divisional magistrate of Bihar (Bihar Sharif) in 1871, cleared this cave. He found: 

…the floor considerably below the surface and was reached by a flight of eight or nine brick steps several of which he uncovered almost entire…the chamber was 36ft from east to west 26ft from north to south. The roof was 18-20ft high. The whole was lined, as it were, by a brick wall about 2ft thick…in midst of the rubbish which filled up the bottom of the cave, I found a very perfect standing figure of the Buddha in black basalt.

Ven. Kassapa Mahathera, Ven. Tenzin Ananda,  Dr Dipankar Lama, Mrs Oplin Lama and Deepak Anand. 

A group of lay followers from Taiwan and Malaysia.

Hon'ble VC Prof. Rajesh Ranjan and Dr Mukesh Verma standing behind the Venerable Saṅgha.

Venerable Monks, Professors, Faculty, Scholars and  Students of NNM.

Buddhacārikā a Living Heritage

My mind is clear that the journey of facilitating the neglected Buddhacārikā sites into living heritage sites is going to be a long-drawn affair.  I am reminded of a beautiful quote by Martin Luther King Jr. (I Have a Dream speech (1963)).

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. 

Vaiśākha Pujā by the venerable Saṅgha at the Pipphaligūhā is the first step towards restoring the sanctity of this sacred site. The cave needs a long-term conservation and protection plan. Most importantly, there is a need to raise awareness among the Buddhist pilgrims and other stakeholders about the site for their effective participation.

Myself standing in front of Pipphaligūhā. Nov 2020.

Pipphaligūhā before clearing the vegetation.

Cleaning of the Pipphaligūhā. May 2024.

Pipphaligūhā ready for the Vaiśākha Pujā, 24th May 2024.

Thanks to Shri Surinder Talwar for proofreading the story.
Thanks to Dr Arun Kumar Yadav, Associate Professor, NNM  for all his support.
Thanks to Shri Manoj Kumar, Telhada for his support.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Commemorating the Mahāprajāpatī Gotamī Therī Parinibbāna Day

Our sincere thanks to Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Deemed University, Nalanda for conceiving the commemoration of  Parinibbāna of Mahāprajāpatī Gotamī (MPG) in the very locality where MPG attained Parinibbāna. As per the Buddhist texts, Mahātherī Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī along with courageous 500 Shākyan Therīs entered Parinibbāna in Vaishalī. According to 7th CE monk scholar Xuanzang the vicinity of the village Birpur should be the Kśetra (area) of the Parinibbāna of Mahāprajāpatī Gotamī Therī.

Gotamī Theirī Apadāna of Pali tradition does not give the date, but it is implied. However, the same Chinese and Tibetan translations/parallels give the date. As implied in the Kudrakavastu of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya (extant in Tibetan and Chinese translations), Mahātherī Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī(MPG) along with 500 Shākyan bhikkhunī attained Parinibbāna seven days after the Buddha announced his impending Mahāparinibbāna on Magha Masam Pūrṇimā. Therefore, seven days after the Magha Masam Pūrṇimā according to the Indian lunar calendar falls on Phāgun Masam Krishna Paksha Saptamī.

Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī was the foster mother of the Buddha.  Inspired by the transformation in her foster son (Buddha), she too aspired to be initiated into the Buddha Dhamma.  Her values, vision, leadership and resolve led to the formation of the bhikkhunī saṅgha and her being the first bhikkhunī. Mahāpajāpatī means ‘great leader of the assembly’. True to her name she became a source of strength and support for many women during her life and after her death. Her contributions to the Buddha, Dhamma and saṅgha are a lasting legacy that goes beyond mortality.

It is gratifying to witness the beginning of the resuscitation of the ‘Mahāprajāpatī Gotamī Therī Parinibbāna Kśetra’. We are thankful to the Vietnamese Nunnery (Vaishali) and the Buddha World School (Vaishali) for their participation. We are grateful to the people of ‘Mahāprajāpatī Gotamī Therī Parinibbāna Kśetra’, i.e. the village Birpur for taking time out of their busy schedules and welcoming us with enthusiasm and great warmth. Village Birpur had many archaeological mounds until a few years ago. Villagers now realise the significance of this place and are committed to protecting the potential mounds. In the coming years, we hope to engage more stakeholders to facilitate the rejuvenation of the tangible and intangible legacy of Mahātherī Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī, the progenitor of the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha.

Read about the renunciation journey of Mahātherī Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī.- The Arduous Journey: Mahāprajāpatī and the Courageous, Committed 500

Thanks to Venerable Tathālokā Therī for her invaluable guidance.

Here are some pictures from the event.

All Pictures- Vikash Kumar and Shantu Simple

An aerial view of Mahāprajāpatī Gotamī Therī Parinibbāna Kśetra

Venerable Bhikkhunīs offering prayers.

Venerable Bhikkhunīs offering prayers.

 A Group Picture of the Participants.

Venerable Bhikkhunīs distributing sweets.

Dr. Harsh Ranjan Kumar, Archaelogy Directorate, Government of Bihar with ancient pottery found at the site.

Pottery found from the site suggests this site to be from the Buddha's time (6th BCE).

With Dr Harsh Ranjan Kumar.

Remains of votive stupa?
The process of revitalisation has begun!!

Monday, December 4, 2023

Ven. Seck Kai Li Mahathero Pilgrimage to the Ancient Kuru

As per Xuanzang, the present-day Sugh in Haryana was intimately associated with the sublime wandering of the Buddha (i.e. the Buddhacarika). Xuanzang saw an Ashokan stupa to mark the visit of the Buddha in Sugh. Sugh and its surroundings consisting of sacred Buddhist sites of the Ashokan Pillar site of Topra Kalan, Ashokan Stupa of Chaneti and the monastic site of Adi Badri represent the ancient Uttara Kuru where the Buddha delivered some of the most profound teachings like Mahasatipatthana Sutta, Magandiya Sutta and Mahanidana Sutta.

Read more about the Ashokan Pillar Site of Topra Kalan

Read more about the Ashokan Stupa site of Sugh

Ven. Seck Kai Li Mahathero from the Awakening Hermitage Temple, Kulim, Kedah, Malaysia along with his 37 disciples visited the sacred sites of Kurukshetra, Topra Kalan, Sugh and Chaneti on 24th November 2023. We are grateful to Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra Development Board, Ms Valeri Hara, Community of Topra Kalan and Chaneti for making his visit memorable. We hope such visits of eminent masters from Buddhist Countries will help us facilitate making these Buddhacarika sites a Living Heritage as they used to be in the past.

Thanks to Siddhartha Gauri, Shri Rajendra Singh Rana ji, Shri Upendra Singhla ji, Shri Ashok Rosha ji, Shri Surendra Saini ji and Bharat Sharma for facilitating the Pilgrimage.

Guests at the University Guest House, Kurukshetra University.
Offering prayers at the Ashokan Relic Stupa, Kurukshetra University.
The pilgrimage group at the Brahma Sarovar, Kurukshetra.
Venerable Seck with the officials of Kurukshetra Development Board.
Venerable Seck with the hosts at the Topra Edict Park

Ven. Seck, his followers and the people of Topra under the Dhamma Wheel, Topra Edict Park.

Ven Seck offering prayers at the Chaneti Ashokan Stupa.
Ven Seck and his followers circumambulating the Chaneti Ashokan Stupa.

A group picture with the people of Chaneti, Chaneti Stupa.

The house of Late Surinder Singh Hara is settled over the remains of the Ashokan Stupa mentioned by Xuanzang,  According to Xuanzang, the Ashokan Stupa at Shrugna (Now Sugh) was to mark the place where the Buddha gave sermons.  Ms Valveri Hara, wife of the Late Surinder Hara welcomed  Venerable Seck and his followers. The Group offered prayers at the site and thanked  Ms Hara for their contributions to preserve the precious footsteps of the Buddha.

The group offered a painting as a token of gratitude to Ms Hara.
The group with Ms Hara at her residence.