May 19, 2011

Building the Buddha's Birthplace

People around the world are celebrating Vesak this month (the exact date of the holiday varies according to different calendars used in different countries and traditions), which honors the life of the Buddha. Even though the holiday encompasses the birth, enlightenment, and death of Siddhartha Gautama, many people celebrate it as the Buddha's birthday.

Over 2,600 years ago the Buddha was born in a grove in Lumbini, Nepal. At Tricycle, we've been celebrating the Buddha's birthday by exploring his birthplace. Earlier this week we shared a short documentary about the history of the sacred site and some of the issues facing Lumbini today. In the current issue of Tricycle we have an illustrated historical timeline of the Buddha's birthplace, which covers the major events and figures that have helped develop and maintain the place. And today we are featuring an interview with Venerable Metteyya, a young Buddhist monk who calls Lumbini home (you might recognize from the PBS documentary The Buddha). In this video interview Metteyya discusses pilgrimage, history, and what it means to him to be from the place where the Buddha entered the world.

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rinchen_wangmo's picture

A year ago, I went on a pilgrimage to Bodnath and Bodhgaya. It's definitely increased my personal connection and commitment to the Dharma.

Although I did my best to soak up the amazingly inspiring atmosphere there and to "manifest enlightened activity" (making offerings, aspiration prayers, turning prayer wheels etc), I wish I'd found this sooner: A book by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche entitled, What to do at India's Buddhist Holy Sites. It's available for free upon formal request here:

Dharma Sanctuary's picture

Thanks Rinchen for the link to the pilgrimage support material. It's a type of treaching I haven't come across before.

A couple months ago I was in Burma and went to a most interesting pilgrimage site: The Golden Rock on Mount Kyaiktiyo. It is the second most visited pilgrimage site in Burma, the first being the Schwedagon Paya in Yangon. It was a classic mountain top aerie with a bus - truck - hike (in that order) effort to get there. It's all about the golden rock and the golden stupa on top, witnessing it glowing in the dark with the floodlights on. There are very few Buddhas anywhere - it's all about the stupa rock (large boulder), improbably perched on the mother rock below. The Buddha is only peripherally part of the story about the rock.

I found the whole scene fascinating, everybody up and partying through the night. I didn't get the deep Dharma connection of previous pilgrimages to Bodhgaya or Boudnath, but it was one more for the storybook.

To see my 3 minute video of the whole scene just before daybreak:

The Schwedagon Paya in Burma is the real thing - major goosebumps for me - up there or surpassing India, Nepal and Tibet temples. Most people don't realize what a significant Buddhist heritage site it is. The time to see Burma/Myanmar is now. My video of the Schwedagon experience:


Sam Mowe's picture

Will, I've been a pilgrim in a few Buddhist places, and while on the road I both learned a lot about myself and deepened my practice. It's hard to say whether some of the magic on those trips wasn't simply due to the adventure of it all—any travel is magical—but I think there is something to be said about going to a certain place purposefully. If you explicitly go looking for something, you stand a better chance of finding it than if you never go. Sometimes a place that has a certain history behind it, the right stories, can help inspire a healthy, inquisitive, and reverent state of mind. And then once you get there you realize you could have been anywhere. I'm only speaking for myself, of course. —Sam

Will.Rowe's picture

Thanks, Sam. Have you, or others for that matter, ever visited any Buddhist places of pilgramages? I am curious to know how it may have afffected you or others. This would be an interesting topic. I will think on my own possible pilgramage in the future.

Will.Rowe's picture

I recognize Venerable Metteyya from the PBS DVD of Buddha, which I currently have. I enjoyed this short but quite interesting video. I loved the images, especially the outside areas and the diagram of the center. Mettyya does a good job covering such a broad topic in such a short time while still keeping this viewer in rapt attention. Tricycle is to be commended for continuing to broaden their scope in Buddhism and keep its readers/viewers so informed. Thanks.

I have never thought seriously about a pilmgramage. Perhaps now I might. After all, it is the internal mind and connecting to the Buddha nature, which is right here, that I seek. Yet when I think back to my few foriegn visits or, in one case, living overseas for a couple of years, I know that there is an actual experience that is very different from an intellectual one. Moreover, I carry some of that experience with me now.

While I do not see visiting Lumbini as touching sacred dirt or viewing sacred trees, etc (anymore than any other part of earth), I do see where the experience of visiting this place as perhaps deepening my dharma practice by experiencing Buddhism in a new way. For example I once traveled to another state on buisness and on a Sunday was able to sit in meditation with complete srtangers. Now, over a year later I still feel deeply that this experience--as simple as it was--affected me wonderfully and still does.

Would not the experience of visitng such a place where Budhha once was, where many fellow Buddhists are, and the experience of meditaing and connecting with others there not be an experience worth undertaking? It would seem so.


Sam Mowe's picture

Will, Thanks for commenting. I definitely think that visiting places where something significant has happened—places that are the setting for stories that are meaningful for you—is a powerful experience. In my own life, the Buddha has served as a symbol of my highest aspirations, but visiting Lumbini transformed a potent symbol into something real. Pilgrimage can be an amazing experience. Sometimes people knock it for being strictly a devotional practice—something for the overly dogmatic—but if you ask any pilgrim what they get out of the practice it is clear that it can be a deeply transformative practice that can lead to serious insight.