March 07, 2008
The Tricycle pilgrimage to India was an eventful one, with so many sites visited we were all a bit winded by the end of it. This year, our unflappable Indian guide, Shantum Seth, took us down to the stone-temple caves of Ajanta and Ellora--truly spectacular.
Stephen Batchelor and Shantum led mediations and teachings, and most memorable for me--after Ajanta and Ellora--was our visit to Sanchi, in Madhaya Pradesh. Sanchi is the site of some of the most well-preserved stupas and examples of Buddhist architecture. Stone structures spanning centuries are perched high on a hill overlooking the plains below. The great thing about Sanchi is that it spans a period from the third to the twelfth centuries. The earliest structures show no representation of the Buddha at all, in keeping with the tradition's focus on the teachings, not the man. The appearance in later centuries of Buddha images almost feels like a loss--odd, since we ordinarily find them so comforting.
Which is perhaps an interesting point: I suppose it was inevitable we'd fill the void--in this case an empty throne flanked by deer evoking the Deer Park at Sarnath, where the Buddha first taught--with something. Emptiness is a pretty big challenge.
Take a look at pictures our pilgrims took this year. Especially notable are those of Craig Morton, from Austin, Texas, whose shots--especially his portraits--best capture the feel and tone of the tour.
Next year's In the Footsteps of the Buddha pilgrimage is in the planning, so keep an eye peeled for news of it.
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