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.


Saturday, September 9, 2023

Buddhacārikā a Living Heritage and Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery, Kathmandu

I had an opportunity to give a talk on the Buddhacārikā (Sublime Wandering of the Buddha) to the Venerable Saṇgha of Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery (more commonly called Shechen Institute/Monastery), Kathmandu. The idea behind the PowerPoint presentation was to share the present understanding of the Sublime wanderings of the Buddha with the Venerable Saṇgha of Shechen Temple

The present-day in the footsteps of the Buddha Pilgrimage is limited to the Eight Great Places namely;  Lumbīnī (the birthplace of the Buddha), Bodhgayā (The place of Enlightenment of the Buddha), Sārnātha (Where the Buddha gave his first sermon), Rājgir, Vaiśālī, Shrāvasti, Sankisa (the places where the Buddha performed miracle) and Kushināgar (The place of the final demise of the Buddha).   In ancient times, the ‘In the footsteps of the Buddha’ pilgrimage was not limited to just the ‘Eight Great Places’ there were many more  Buddhacārikā places in the Gangetic plain where monk pilgrims like Faxian (Fa Hien, 337-422 CE) and Xuanzang (Hsüan-Tsang, 602-664 CE) visited and offered prayers. 

I am currently undertaking a foot journey through northern India to retrace the footsteps of Bodhisattva Xuanzang. The ‘Retracing Bodhisattva Xuanzang (RBX)’ foot journey project was set into motion in February 2020. So far I have completed 2500 kms of my foot journey touching very important Buddhacārikā sites like Sugh, Atranji Kherā, Sankissa, Shrāvasti, Tilaurākot, Lumbīnī, Vālimikinagar, Rāmpurwā, Vaiśālī, Bodhgayā, Rājgir, Nālandā and many more. My objectives for the walk: (1) To create awareness about the neglected state of sacred sites where Buddha walked and the need to transform the sites into Living Heritage; (2) To create awareness about the contribution of Xuanzang to the Buddhist pilgrimage legacy. 

Xuanzang was a Chinese Buddhist monk-scholar who visited the Indian Subcontinent in the 7th CE. Xuanzang’s account of his 16 years of travels in the Indian Subcontinent played a pivotal role in the resurrection of the Buddhist geography of India in 19th CE. I believe that without the accounts left by Xuanzang, we would have never known in such detail about the footsteps of the Buddha. Therefore, this walk is my personal tribute to the world citizen, Xuanzang.

The PowerPoint presentation I made to the Venerable Saṇgha of Shechen Monastery/Institute on 1st September was based on the on-site documentation done under the RBX foot journey project. Readers who are interested in learning more about the Retracing Bodhisattva Xuanzang project and documentation stories from the foot journey may visit the blog Nālandā - Insatiable in Offering  There are more than 45 first-hand stories from the most sacred Buddhacārikā sites published on the blog.

I want to thank Most Venerable Khen Rinpoche Gyurme Tsultrim, monk-in-charge of the Shechen Monastery for the honours and opportunity. I also thank Venerable Khenpo Nyima Senge for making arrangements for the PowerPoint presentation. I appreciate the Venerable Saṇgha for so patiently listening to my presentation and for the wonderful interaction that followed the presentation.

My 3-day stay in the Shechen monastery was very fruitful, especially the insightful conversations I had with the senior Khenpos of Shechen Institute. Last but not least, I want to thank Venerable Khenpo Nawang Tenzin, monk-in-charge of Shechen Temple, Bodhgayā for facilitating my visit.

'Buddhacārikā a Living Heritage' banner.
The auditorium getting ready.

Thanks to Venerable Khenpo Nawang Tenzin for giving an amazing introduction to the presentation.

Venerable Khenpo Nawang Tenzin made an introduction to the presentation.

Myself making the presentation. Also, Venerable Khenpos in the audience.

Venerable Sangha in Audience.

Question and Answer session.

Thanks to Venerable Khen Rinpoche Gyurme Tsultrim for the Honours.
 I offer my gratitude to Shechen Institute for the opportunity.
With Khen Rinpoche Gyurme Tsultrim and Khenpo Nawang Tenzin.
Myself at the Charumati Stupa shrine, Kathmandu.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Buddhacārikā a Living Heritage: A Stakeholders Meet

Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed to be University) organized a One-Day conference titled, ‘Buddhacārikā a Living Heritage: A Stakeholders Meet’ in Nalanda on the 15th July 2023. The focus of this first-of-its-kind conference was to discuss revitalisation of the very significant ‘sublime wanderings of the Buddha’. The conference saw more than 70 stakeholders coming together for the first time to discuss Buddhacārikā, focusing on how to facilitate revitalisation of the lesser known Buddhacārikā sites like Toprā, Newal, Kosam, Atranji Kherā, Buddhavana, Chechar, Fatehpur and many others.   

The present-day, ‘In the Footsteps of the Buddha’ pilgrimage is focused on the Eight Great Places, Lumbīnī, Bodhgayā, Sārnatha, Rājgir, Vaishālī, Shrāvasti, Sankissa and Kushinagara. But, according to the ancient Buddhist literature this very sacred pilgrimage was very elaborate. Ashokavadāna, a 5th CE Buddhist text has given vivid details about the pilgrimage taken by King Ashoka (3rd BCE) to thirty-two places related to the life and events of the Buddha. Following the example of King Ashoka, over the next few centuries, subsequent kings furthered the sacred pilgrimage by linking the small events related to Buddha, from birth to Mahāparinirvāṇa – now entire life of the Buddha became a sacred trail. Buddhist monk scholars Faxian (5th CE) and Xuanzang (7th CE) besides visiting the Eight Great Places also visited many sites in Gangetic plains like Shrughnā, Kanyākubja, Navadevakula, Vilosanā, and many others that had shrines to mark the visit by Buddha to those places. 

Unfortunately, at the turn of the 2nd millennia CE, the political climate in the subcontinent underwent drastic changes. The new political climate was not conducive for sustenance of the Buddhist monasteries and pilgrimage.  The history of the origin of Buddha Dhamma in India remained unknown to the world until the beginning of the 19th century. By the time the Turks made inroads into the Indian Subcontinent, effacing Dhamma from its land of origin, Dhamma had gained fertile ground in Myanmar, Thailand, Tibet, China, Sri Lanka and other regions of east Asia.


In 1853, translations of the works of Xuanzang revealed for the first time detailed information about places associated with the Buddha and his prominent disciples, important monasteries, kings and kingdoms and so on.  Alexander Cunningham, who worked painstakingly on the travelogues of Xuanzang, felt the need to organise the various efforts at exploration, excavation and restoration of the Buddhist heritage. Owing to Cunningham’s persistent efforts, the Archaeological Survey of India was established in 1861.

The discovery of the Buddhist origin of India in the 19th century revealed hundreds of significant places associated with the Buddhacārikā in states of Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India and Lumbīnī, Rātmagrātma, Tilaurātkot etc., in Nepal. Identification of places mentioned in the Buddhist literature was the first stage of the process of revitalisation of the sacred traces of the Buddha because these places held vital clues to understanding the history of the Buddha and Dhamma, and their relationship to the sacred landscape of the Gangetic Plains. Many of the identified sacred sites were brought under government protection for archaeological study and subsequent conservation of their historical and religious value. Ideally all the sites identified with the sublime wandering of the Buddha should have been listed on a priority basis and then excavated, documented, examined and restored. But the number of protected and unprotected sites are so large that this process is likely to take up several decades at the least.


Fortunately, some of the important Buddhacārikā sites, like Bodhgayā, Shrāvasti, Rājgir, Lumbīnī, Sārnātha, Vaiśālī , Nālandā and few others, were excavated and have today become pilgrimage centres after a gap of more than one millennium. But there are many more Buddhacārikā sites in Gangetic Plains like Sugh, Toprā etc in Haryana, Ahichhatra, Newal, Sankissa, Atranji Kherā etc in Uttar Pradesh,  Buddhavana, Nandangarh,  Indraśailaguhā etc in Bihar which needs immediate attention.


Numerous towns, cities and villages in the Gangetic Plains are filled with the remnants of the Buddhist past. This vast tangible and intangible Buddhist heritage in the Gangetic Plains cannot be protected by legislation alone. It needs awareness generation among the stakeholders specially the communities about the importance and significance of the heritage we are bequeathed with. These sacred traces of an ancient cultural movement may also serve as a livelihood opportunity if properly presented to the world.   


Nava Nalanda Mahavihara and the Buddhacārikā

Nava Nalanda Mahavihara was conceived in 1951 by Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India and the most venerable Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap to carry forward the legacy of ancient Nālandā Mahāvihāra (Saṅghārāma).


NNM in 2007 conceptualised the ‘Mapping of Nālandā, Rājgir and Around’ project. Followed by other projects like ‘Participatory Rural Appraisal in Nālandā’ in 2008 and ‘Revival of the ancient Buddhist pilgrimage in Bihar’ in 2010. These projects by NNM have very successfully facilitated documenting the tangible and intangible remains of Buddhacārikā and engaging the local community towards its preservation. NNM in 2010 conceived ‘Engaged Buddhism’, a platform for stakeholders of the glorious Buddhist legacy of Nālandā and its surroundings, to come together and collectively conceive, design and build the revitalization of the priceless tangible and intangible Buddhist heritage available here. More than 200 heritage volunteers from villages that have ancient remains participated in various activities under the  Engaged Buddhism initiative.


NNM realises the need of stepping up its awareness generation activities under the Engaged Buddhism initiative, taking it beyond the state of Bihar and extending it to the Buddhacārikā sites in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Revival of the Buddhacārikā and the tradition of Cetiya Cārikā is also significant because Cārikā was an integral part of the Buddha Dhamma right from the time of the Buddha himself.  

The Buddhacārikā conference organised by NNM on 15th July 2023 was the first time that the grassroots heritage volunteers who are playing an active role in safeguarding the Buddhacārikā gathered under one roof. It was felt that more such conferences will facilitate an understanding and cohesion among the stakeholders towards a common goal of revitalisation of the Buddhacārikā. Highlight of the one-day conference was conferring of the “Saṅghassa Patiṭṭhāpako Mahākassapa Yāvajīvam Sammānopādhi” to Shri Ranvijay Singh ji for his outstanding contributions towards protection and preservation of  Buddhacārikā site of Buddhavana in Ayer-Pathri, District Gaya.

Heritage Volunteers from Bihar, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh participated in the conference. Heritage Volunteers Participants of the Buddhacārikā conference:- 

  1. Shri Manoj Kumar, Toprā Kalan, Haryana

Read more about revitalisation of Toprā Kalan

  1. Shri Suresh Baudh from Sankissa, Uttar Pradesh

Read about the contributions of  shri Suresh Baudh

  1. Shri Praveen Kushwaha, Newal, UP

4. Ranjit Sinha from Dubbā, Gaya

Read about the Heritage of Dubbā

  1. Shri Chandrabhusan Singh ji, Chechar, Vaiśālī

  2. Shri Gautam Singh, Fatehpur, Vaiśālī

  3. Shri Radharaman Singh, Madurāpur, Vaiśālī

Read about the Heritage of Chechar, Madurāpur and Fatehpur

  1. Shri Dinesh Singh ji, Jethian, Gaya

Read about heritage of Jethian

  1. Shri Ranavijay Singh, Ayer, Gaya. Read about Ayer-Pathri

  2. Vijay Sao, Maher, Gaya. Read about Maher

  3. Ramesh Pandey, Lohjarā Read about Lohjarā

  4. Shri Rajiv Pandey, Tetrāwan. Read about Tetrāwan

  5. Shri Awadhesh Gupta, Telhadā, Nālandā, Bihar

NNM in collaboration with its team of dedicated heritage volunteers is committed towards the revitalisation of the Buddhacārikā and facilitate it becoming a Living Heritage as it was in the past. 

Thanks to Prof. B. Labh,  Vice Chancellor, NNM, Prof. Dipanakar Lama, Prof Purushottam Rana and other teaching and non teaching faculty for organizing this very successful conference.

Prof. B. Labh,  Vice Chancellor, NNM

Prof. B. Labh felicitating Shri Niraj Kumar, Director, MoC, GOI

Prof P. Rana, Dhri Niraj Kumar, Honourable VC, Shri K C Choudhary, Principal, VIMS, Pawapuri and Dr. Sujeet Nayan, SA, Excavation Branch, Patna, ASI.

Shri Ranavijay Ji from Ayer-Pathri being conferred Saṅghassa Patiṭṭhāpako Mahākassapa Yāvajīvam Sammānopādhi 

Shri Ranavijay Ji sharing his experiences

Dr Sujeet Nayan sharing his thoughts on Community-Heritage interface


Shri Niraj Kumar sharing his views and encouraging the heritage volunteer participants

Shri K C Choudhary ji expressing his views

Dr. Shankar Sharma, Incharge, Nalanda Museum, ASI made a presentation of Uttrāpatha and the first journey of the Buddha from Bodhgayā to Sārnātha.

Assembly of the evening session at Xuanzang Memorial

Inside the Xuanzang Memorial, Venue of the evening session

Shri Manoj Kumar representing Toprā Kalan sharing his views

Padmashree Dr. R N Singh, the Chief Guest felicitating Shri C B Singh ji from Chechar
Shri C B Singh from Chechar, sharing his thoughts

Shri Suresh Baudh from Sankissa sharing his views

Shri C B Singh ji presented a book on Chechar to the dignitaries

Shri Radharaman Singh ji from Madurapur sharing his views 

Shri Niraj ji felicitating Gautam ji (Fatehpur)

Shri Niraj Ji felicitating Shri Praveen Kushwaha, heritage volunteer from Newal

Dr R N Singh ji felicitating Shri Manoj Kumar

Shri Suresh Baudh and Shri R N Maurya presenting memento to Shri Niraj ji

Shri Vijay Sao from Maher sharing his views

A group photograph to end the event, Xuanzang Memorial

An Exhibition titled  'Buddhacārikā a Living Heritage' was displayed on the ocassion

Myself explaining the Exhibition to the participants.


Registration Desk

Dr. Dipankar Lama, the Coordinator of the conference

Ms. Roli Bajpai, Vipasanna Practitioner, Dhammabodhi, Bodhgaya at the registration desk

Shri Deepak Dangi from Dharaut at the registration desk

Bhante Dhammaratana at Registration desk

Filmmaker Surinder Talwar

With the filming crew Pauly and Ravi Chauhan

Shri Awadhesh Kumar from Telhada

Prof. Purushottam Rana facing the camera

Heritage Voluteers from Jethain

Heritage Voluteers from Village Maher