Thursday, July 4, 2019

Veshākha Pūrṇimā 2019- Revitalisation of the Sacred Landscape of Uruvelā

We are aware that Veshākha Pūrṇimā has a special significance in the life of the Buddha. Buddhists celebrate the three most important life stages of Buddha on Vesak Pūrṇimā: Birth at Lumbini, Enlightenment at Uruvelā (Bodhgaya) and Mahāparinirvāṇa (great demise) at Kushinara.

This year’s celebration of Buddha Pūrṇimā is very special to me. Because I was part of a team which facilitated reenactment of a sequence of events that Bodhisattva Siddhārtha underwent at Uruvelā (Bodhgaya) on the day of Veshākha Pūrṇimā.

Ancient literature mentions a sequence of events that starts with a village girl named Sujātā offering milk-rice early in the morning to Bodhisattva Siddhārtha, and ends with his attainment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree late in the same evening i.e. on Veshākha Pūrṇimā.  Buddhist pilgrims Faxian (5th CE) and Xuanzang (7th CE) have mentioned places associated with these events. These places according to them are on the eastern bank of river Nirāñjanā, further east of village Bakrour (ancient Senānigāma).

We are grateful to Venerable Pragyadeep, All India Bhikkhu Sangha, Venerable Tsering-tenzin Ananda, Asian Buddhist Cultural centre and Venerable Kalyanpriya, Bangladesh temple for their blessings and participation.

Here is a short video of the event.

Some pictures from the event

At the break of dawn, Venerable monks offering prayers at Sujātā temple

Venerable monks eating milk-rice at Ratanāgiri rock

Venerable monks crossing river Moha, following the footsteps of Bodhisattva Siddhārtha

Our Future Plan
Bodhgaya is the place where Bodhisattva Siddhārtha attained enlightenment. I personally think that the most appropriate way to celebrate Veshākha Pūrṇimā here in Bodhgaya is by enacting all the events that took place on the day of Veshākha Pūrṇimā here (see map).   Enactment of events by venerable saṅgha will not only help in engaging the local community, but also facilitate revitalisation of the places associated with the events. These places are presently in utter neglect. This year, we made a small beginning; but, in coming years, we plan to coordinate with stakeholders to facilitate reenactment of whole sequence of events mentioned in Buddhist literary sources.  

Sequence of events that Bodhisattva Siddhārtha went through in Uruvelā on the day of Veshākha Pūrṇimā;

Sequence of events and the places associated with them

In quest of the Truth, Prince Siddhārtha left Kapilvasthu in the middle of the night and reached Rājagṛiha, the capital of Magadha empire at that time.    Seeking places of solitude in which to practice spirituality, Siddhārtha moved to the vicinity of the village Bakrour, formerly the village of Senānigāma, a part of Uruvelā, at that time. Siddhārtha practiced austerities for 6 years at this place now known as Darmāranya.

Early morning- Offering of milk-rice by Sujātā 
Sujātā Temple
Early in the morning on Veshākha Pūrṇimā, seeing the emaciated Siddhārtha (the Buddha) sitting under the banyan tree, Sujātā offered Siddhārtha kheer (rice-gruel) in a golden bowl all the while thinking that he was a tree spirit who had granted her wish to bear a son. Experiencing the extreme penance not worthy of spiritual attainment, Siddhārtha accepted the bowl and consequently resolved to follow the Middle Path.  The act of Sujātā offering kheer to Siddhārtha is considered to be a turning point in his journey to Enlightenment.

Early Morning- ate milk-rice offered by Sujātā at Ratanāgiri rock
Ratnāgiri Rock
Faxian (Fahien, 5th CE) - mentions a rock on which Bodhisattva Siddhārtha sat, facing east, and ate the food offered by the village girl Sujātā. According to Faxian the rock was 2 Li (400mts-700mts) north of the place where Sujātā, the village girl offered rice-gruel (milk-rice) to Siddhārtha. 
Recently, the Ratanāgiri rock, has been discovered 200mt east of village Bakrour  with the indication of the rock site mentioned by Faxian. Read more about the discovery.

Noon- reached Prāgbodhi hill, in search of new place to start meditative practice
Pragbodhi Hill
After consuming the milk-rice offered by Sujātā, Siddhārtha embarked again upon the meditative path in order to achieve enlightenment. He left the immediate vicinity of Senānigāma, the village of Sujātā, in search of a new place to make a fresh beginning. In this way, he arrived at a hill which is now called Dungeswari Hill. Xuanzang mentioned this hill as Prāgbodhi Mountain, meaning the mountain leading to perfect enlightenment.  When Siddhārtha climbed to the top of this hill, the earth shook, warning Siddhārtha that this is not the right place to find the Truth.

Siddhārtha, while descending from the hill, found a cave and as he sat down cross-legged, there was another earthquake. Deva (divine being) urged him to go further west to the Pīpala tree, perfect for Vajra Samādhi (admantine absorption). As Siddhārtha prepared to leave, the dragon of the cave urged him to remain. Siddhārtha, to appease the dragon, left his shadow in the cave and departed.

Evening- crossed abode of nāga living by river
Saraswati Temple
On his way to Bodhi tree from Prāgbodhi hill, Bodhisattva Siddhārtha passed by the abode of a blind nāga (cobra). As a result of bad karma in former births, this nāga had been born blind. Naga suddenly obtained eyesight and predicted to Bodhisattva Siddhārtha the attainment of enlightenment that day.
Late evening- took seat under the Bodhi tree
Bodhi Tree
Leaving his shadow in the cave, Siddhārtha then left the eastern bank of Niraňjanā. When Siddhārtha was hundred steps away from the Pīpala tree (ficus religiosa), he received eight handfuls of kusha grass (desmostachya bipinnata ) from a grass-cutter, Sottiya, in order to make a seat for meditation. Bodhisattva Siddhārtha took a seat under the Pīpala tree facing east with a solemn vow: he would not arise from this spot until he attained perfect Enlightenment. Tradition says that as Siddhārtha sat in deep meditation, māra, lord of Illusion, perceiving that his power was about to be broken, rushed to distract Siddhārtha from his purpose.       Finally shouted māra, ‘even if you find out the truth, who do you think will ever believe you? What right do you have to claim the throne of Enlightenment?’

Siddhārtha touched the ground with his hand and replied, ‘The earth will bear witness, to all my past action of purity. At the break of dawn Siddhārtha, the Bodhisattava attained Perfect Enlightenment and became the Buddha.

Special Thanks to Priya Malhotra

Thanks to  Alok Jain, Jackie Vishwakarma, Shri Pramod Pandey and Srikant Pandey

Team Members (LBDFI)-  Ranjan Kumar, Dharmaraj Kumar, Subhash Kumar, Pramod Kumar, Pintu Kumar

Thursday, January 10, 2019

5th International Dhamma Walk from Jeṭhian to Rājgir and Saṇghadāna

Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University), Nalanda in Collaboration with  the Light of the Buddha Dhamma Foundation International (LBDFI) organized 5th  Dhamma Walk from Jeṭhian to Rājgir on 13th December, 2018. Objective of the Dhamma Walk was to facilitate awareness generation towards the 15km Jeṭhian - Rājgir Buddha trail.  More than 2000 Venerable monks, nuns and laity from 15 countries participated in the Dhamma Walk.The 15km walk along the footsteps of the Buddha concluded at Veḷuvana, Rajgir. 

Community of Jethian offered Saṅghadāna (food-offering to ven. monks and nuns) to the participating monks, nun and laity. This was 4th Saṅghadāna offered by the community. More than 600 Venerable monks and nuns from India, Thailand, Srilanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Taiwan with their alms bowl in their hands walked in the streets of the Jeṭhian village and collected food. 

After the Saṅghadāna, the monks and nuns gathered for the inaugural session of the Dhamma Walk. As in previous years, this consisted of addresses from the various organizers and important dignitaries. Inaugural address was given by Prof. Baidyanath Labh, VC, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara). Ven. Lama Lobzang (President, IBC), and Dr. Ravindra Panth, former director, NNM also shared their views on the occasion. Ms. Wangmo Dixey (Executive Secretary, LBDFI) gave the thanking note.

More than 100 members of Angel Yoga Group, Nalanda under leadership of Shri Jai Singh participated in the Walk. The members of the Yoga group cleaned up litter off the Buddha Path trail.  

Ven. Monk and Nuns queued up for Saṇghadāna

village girls offering Saṇghadāna

Assembly of  the 5th Dhamma Walk

Important dignitaries on Dais
Villagers offering Khadda and welcoming the important guests

Vice Chancellor, NNM giving his inaugural address

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Participants Walking the Buddha Trail

Angel Yoga team engaged in cleaning up the trash

 Wife of Mukhiya Ji, Shri Sadhu Sharan ji expired on the same morning (13th December). Venerable Sangha offering prayers for the departed soul.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Reviving the Dhammayātrā- A Beginning in 2018

I had privilege to be a part of the third annual Dhammayātrā of the International Saṅgha of the LBDFI (Light of the Buddha Dhamma Foundation International).

As all of us know, Buddhism was lost from the Indian subcontinent in the beginning of 1st millennia. Translation of ancient Buddhist texts - kept in monasteries of Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and China- from their native languages into English and French led to the discovery of the Indian origin of Buddhism. Further studies of Buddhist texts, especially travel accounts of Chinese monks Faxian and Xuanzang, led to the discovery of the sacred places related to the footsteps of the Buddha.

Most of the sacred sites associated with the wandering of the Buddha like Śrāvasti, Saṅkāsya (also Sankissa, Sankassa), Kuśhinagara, Vaishālī etc. as they are seen today are but the skeletal remains of their glorious past. But, these sacred places were once living heritage sites.  In ancient times, these sites saw a constant footfall of devouts from different countries who visited these sacred places, relived the legends and stories, performed merit-making rituals and recited sutras delivered by the Buddha.   

Dhammayātrā by the International Saṅgha under the banner of LBDFI is an effort to revive this very same ancient tradition of Dhammayātrā as mentioned in ancient texts; and hence facilitate development of these sacred sites as living heritage sites. 

Earlier this year, International Saṅgha of LBDFI consisting of 34 Theravada monks belonging to India, Maynamar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos made this sacred pilgrimage. The Dhammayātrā started from Bodhgaya on 27thOctober, 2018 - touched Sarnatha, New Delhi, Sankassa, Lucknow, Kuśhinagara, Lumbīnī- and finally ended at Vaishālī on 21st November.  Venerable monks of the International Saṅgha of LBDFI offered prayers and recited suttas delivered by the Buddha at these sites.  Respected monks and nuns places belonging to other Buddhist countries, and from local Buddhist monasteries at Sārnātha, Kuśhinagara, Lumbīnī and Vaishālī also joined in for the chanting. 
I would like to share with you two   highlights of this year’s Dhammayātrā.

First, Venerable International Saṅgha of LBDFI offered prayers and recited sutta at Lāt Bhairava. Lāt Bhairava is situated on the west banks of River Varṇā on the way from Vārānasī to the Deer Park (Sārnātha). Presently, Lāt Bhairava is a contested site between Hindus and Muslims, but in ancient times it was a Buddhist site. Chinese monk scholar Xuanzang mentions the presence of an Aśokan stūpa and pillar on the west side of River Barnā (now Varṇā) on the way from Vārānasī to the Deer Park (Sārnātha). Vincent Smith (1848-1920) has identified Lāt Saraiyā on the west banks of River Varṇā as the place mentioned by Xuanzang.
Venerable International Sagha at Lāt Bharava

Venerable International Sagha circumambulating the Ashokan Pillar at Lāt Bharava

Venerable International Sagha Chanting at the Ashokan Pillar site of Lāt Bharava

According to Smith, the mosque at Lāt Saraiyā is built over the remains of the Aśokan stūpa while the Aśokan pillar mentioned by Xuanzang is being worshiped as Lāt Bhairav (Staff of Lord Shiva). Xuanzang does not talk about the significance of the place but only tells that the stūpa and pillar erected by Aśoka lie on the traditional route connecting Vārānasī and Deer Park. Two months after his enlightenment on the full-moon day of āsālha (June-July), the Buddha preached the Dharmacakraparvartana Sūtra (the First Turning of the Wheel) to his five former companions, setting in motion the ‘Wheel of Dharma.’ The Buddha on his way to Deer Park may have walked this traditional track.

Read more about Lāt Bhairava

Also, recent studies suggest that this could be the place where the Buddha received Yasa, the son of a rich merchant from Vārānasī who wished to join the Saṅgha and practice the Dharma closely with the Buddha. Prayers offered by the International Saṅgha at Lat Bhairava is first step towards reclaiming this ancient Buddhist sites. We hope this will help us facilitating revival of pilgrimage to this Buddhist site.

Second, the International Saṅgha circumambulated the Saṅkāsya (Sankissa) village mound.  This is significant because at Saṅkāsya the Buddha performed the miracle of the ‘Descent from the heavens, accompanied by Indra and Brahma’.  
Venerable International Sagha in village Saṅkāsya

Venerable International Sagha in village Saṅkāsya

Venerable International Sagha interaction with Dixit Family

Venerable International Sagha with Dixit Family

Community-Pilgrim Interface

According to Chinese monks and scholars Faxian and Xuanzang, shrines were built at the place where the Buddha descended from the heaven. Corroborating the accounts of Faxian and Xuanzang with the ancient remains in the village Saṅkāsya, we may say that the Saṅkāsya village is sitting exactly on the top of the enclosed complex that had monastery, stairs temple and numerous stūpas. Circumference of this high mound pregnant with the ancient shrines is around 1.25kms.  Saṅkāsya is the only one of the Eight Great Places of pilgrimage where the main ancient shrine is still buried and unexcavated.  The International Saṅgha walked in the streets of the village and chanted Buddhist sutras.

Read more about Saṅkāsya
We also got an opportunity to interact with the Dixit family. Dixit family has done a lot towards preservation of the ancient site of Saṅkāsya. Shri Raghav Dixit and his brother showed us lost antiquities that they discovered in the village.  We hope the Dhammayātrā will help us facilitate the generation of awareness internationally and also among the villagers who are living over the buried remains of the very sacred temple of the ‘Descent of the Buddha’.

Picture Courtesy- Linda Casey 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Theft of Surya sculpture from Tapovana

Surya Sculpture, 2007

Dr Arun Kumar, Assistant Professor at Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda on his visit to Tapovana in February, 2018 noticed a vandalised shelf inside Tapovan Temple complex which had housed ancient sculptures. According to the priest of the temple, an ancient image of Surya (Sun God) was plastered into the shelf, which has got stolen in the last few years. The priest reports that many ancient sculptures have been stolen from the Tapovan Temple complex in recent years.

Dr Arun informed me about the theft of the Tapovan sculpture. Tapovana has two natural hot water springs. In 2007, during our visit to Tapovana, our team had noticed many sculptures of Hindu and Buddhist deities from medieval period kept on the shelves in the hot water spring enclosure.  The hot water spring campus was renovated in 2010 and the sculptures were plastered into the shelves. Fortunately, in 2007, we had documented the approximately 2.5 ft image of Surya which has gone missing now. 

To facilitate the identification and recovery of the lost sculpture from Tapovana, I provided the images of sculptures of Tapovana to Dr. Arun. Dr. Arun revisited Tapovana on 26th April, 2018, and showed the images of the sculptures to the priest and other local people. The priest confirmed that the Surya image in our database was the one that was stolen from the Tapovan Temple complex. According to the priest, the sculpture was stolen around 5 years ago.  

  Video clip of the priest explaining the theft of the Surya sculpture to Dr Arun. 

Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) in 7th CE on his pilgrimage to sacred Buddhist places took a sacred journey to the two hot water streams of Tapovana that were formed and blessed by the Buddha. The Buddha, according to Xuanzang, bathed here and thereafter people from all around came here to bathe and be relieved of chronic disease. Even now, one can see people from far off places gather here to take a dip in these sacred springs.

The Tapovana sculpture was stolen approximately 5 years ago. Stolen sculptures exchange many hands and go through auction houses like Sotheby’s, Bonhams, Christie’s etc. before reaching their final destination - usually museums. 

Tapovana is located 50 kms east of Mahabodhi Temple Bodhgaya and 30 kms West Rajgir.

We urge like-minded people and institutions to help us find and restore this statue to its find-spot, which is Tapovana.

Surya sculpture in the hot water spring complex, 2007
Vandalised Shelf, 2018

Renovated Hot Water Spring complex 

Thanks to Aparajita Goswami