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Any Westerners Looking to Learn About Buddhism
At Wat Dallas we have a Buddhist Discussion Group for Western Students in English Every Wednesday at 7:00 PM in the Main Building after Chanting and Meditation. If you are interested in Buddhism or are a practicing Buddhist.Please join us on for an open discussion on Dhamma. Please question everything and come with all your questions. If you are needing assistance in becoming a monk and wish to learn more please contact Jack Boling. Kent and Jack Boling will be leading the discussion on Buddhism. If you need personal instruction you can contact Jack Boling at 940-594-7794 or Kent at 214-690-7797

Sacred Places for Buddhists

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Guatama Buddha has left his footprints on the soil of India and his mark on the soul of mankind. In the course of the growth of his religion, this human teacher eclipsed even the heavenly gods and the places consecrated by his presence were held in great generation. Before he entered Niravana the Buddha himself spoke of the four places which a pious believer ought to visit with feelings of faith and reverence: the Lumbhinivana where the Tathagata was born. Gaya (Bodhi-Gaya) where he reached perfect Enlightenment, the Deer park at Isipatana (Saranath) where for the first time he proclaimed the Law, and Kusinagar where he reached the unconditional state of Mahapariniravana. He dilated on the merits of pigrimage to these places and declared that "they who shall die on such pilgrimages shall be reborn, after death, in the happy realm of heaven."

These and other events in his life were favorite subjects of representation in early Buddhist art and the eight conventional events, as enumerated above, formed stereotyped steal compositions in sculptures beginning with the Gupta period. In early mediaeval manuscript paintings of Eastern India and Nepal such scenes illustrate the finest tradition of painting of those days.

These holy places, because of their association with the history of the venerable religion, were great centers of attraction for the pious believers and pilgrimage to them was religiously performed. Asoka call such a pilgrimage dhammayata (dharmayatra), or tours of piety. Besides the above, many other places rose into prominence in the course of the development of Buddhism-the site of important stupas, monasteries, etc., -and they also claimed the devotion of the followers of the faith. All such places were held sacred with great veneration, maintained with care and adorned with religious establishments of various kinds. In their flourishing days their splendor and magnificence, no less than their sanctity, attracted visitors from everywhere. With the disappearance of Buddhism from India, such places however, were gradually neglected and ultimate forgotten. With the recent advance in Indian archaeology it has been possible to resuscitate them from their long oblivion.

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1. Lumbini

In the recapitulation of the sacred places of Buddhism, Lumbini, where the Blessed One was born, should come first. According to Buddhist texts, it was situated at a distance of twelve miles from Kapilavastu. It is said that when the time of confinement drew near Mayadevi felt at desire to visit her parents at Devadaha. On arriving at the Lumbini grove she stretched out her arm to take hold of the branch of Sala three which bent down and while she held it she was delivered in a stranding position. The child was received by the gods, including the guardians of the quarters, and from their hands by men. Descending to the ground he stood erect, took seven steps and triumphantly declared: “I am the foremost of the world.” From Lumbini the boy was brought to Kapilvastu. The scene of the Nativity of the Buddha has been a favorite theme in Indian art in all its phases and frequent representations of this scene are found in sculpture as well as in painting.

Lumbini has been identified with the site of Rummindei, about one mile north of Paderai and two miles north of Bhagwanpur in the Nepalese Tehsil of that name, which is situated to the north of the Basti district of Uttra Pradesh.

Rummindei is a picturesque spot and there still stands at the site a pillar engraved with an inscription commemorating Asoka’s pilgrimage to this place in the twentieth year after his anointment. “Here the Buddha was born,” says Asoka, and this statement puts the identity of the spot beyond doubt. Beside the pillar, there is an ancient shrine with an image depicting the Nativity of the Lord as described in the sacred texts. There is no doubt that because of its imperishable sanctity the place grew in importance and the Chinese pilgrims have left an account of the many establishments that flourished there. It is likely that systematic excavations at the place may reveal many such monuments as the Chinese pilgrims have described. There have been some excavations at the site by the Nepal Durbar, but the results of such excavations have not yet been presented to the scholarly world.

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2. Bodh Gaya

Buddhagaya or Bodhgaya as is generally known is an ancient and hallowed spot on earth. Being the seat of Enlightenment of the Buddha it is the holiest of the holies for the Buddhists of the world. Situated on the banks of the river Niranjana, Buddhagaya was originally a part of the Uruvela village (presently Urail). Its geographical location is at 24o 41' 45'' N. Latitude and 85o 2' 22'' E. Longitude and is located in Bihar which again is an ancient and historical place not only due to Buddhagaya but because Bihar is equally important to the Jains, Hindus and Sikhs.

Although Buddhagaya has not attracted as much attention as the world famous Agra or Ajanta, but of late it has become a significant and interesting place due to its having longer and more complete history than almost any other place in the sub-continent. Its history supplemented by geographical, archaeological and literary sources from China, Tibet, Burma and Sri Lanka. The history of Buddhagaya is also made more interesting by the participation of some of Asia's greatest personalities from King Asoka to Hiuen Tsang and Edwin Arnold to Anagarika Dharmapala.

The history of Buddhagaya is not merely an outline of events, or a list of doubtful dates, but it ranks high in importance from an artistic and architectural point of view. The Mahabodhi Temple - where Lord Buddha got divine light has given a place of pride to Buddhagaya in the world map, for religion and tourism is the sole surviving example of what was one a whole architectural genre. It even had an International influence, through models and plans and replicas of it which were carried throughout Asia by pilgrims and from which copies of it were reproduced. The large number of statues and stupas gives one an example of Buddhist art, but also makes it one of the richest repositories of sculpture from the Pala period.

The fame of Buddhagaya as the sacred site where the Buddha attained Sambodhi goes back to very early times giving it a religious significance. For the millions of Buddhists, it is the Navel of the Earth - the geographical centre of their faith. For it is here that Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha after attaining Enlightenment sitting under the Bodhi Tree, and it is from here the phenomenon now called Buddhism began its gentle progress to the farthest reaches of the globe. In keeping with Buddhism's emphasis on calm detachment, Buddhagaya has never evoked in the Buddhists the intense fervour that Mecca, Benaras, Jerusalem or Amritsar have in the millions who hold these places sacred. It has, nonetheless, inspired countless pilgrims throughout the centuries to undergo hardship and danger for the blessing of just being able to walk on its sacred ground. The Buddha's experience at Uruvela not only resulted in the location changing its name to Bodhgaya or Buddhagaya; it has also meant that this, otherwise an obscure village, has been the focus of attention for millions of pilgrims. It became very early and remains even today, the most important place of Buddhist pilgrimage. The exact place where the Buddha sat, when he was enlightened, was called Vajrasana meaning 'Diamond Throne'. It is believed that when the universe is finally destroyed, this could be the last place to disappear and that it would be the first place to form when the universe began to re-evolve again. The Vajrasana was also, sometimes, called the Victory Throne of all the Buddha's (Sabbabuddhanam Jayapallankam) or the Navel of the Earth (Pathavinabhi). The Vajrasana which was also called Sambodhi by King Asoka but the most widely used and also the most enduring of Buddhagaya's names was Mahabodhi
meaning 'great enlightenment'.

Buddhagaya today is a place of attraction for the entire Buddhist world and groups of pilgrims and visitors come to visit it all the year round, some to pay their obeisance to this great edifice of veneration, whereas for some to come and see this great edifice of history.

Buddhagaya remained the cynosure of the Buddhist world upto the 13th century, thereafter due to the sudden political upheavals that took place in and out of India, activities at Buddhagaya were also interrupted and disrupted. The place was deserted and became desolate and it remained neglected and forgotten for several centuries.

But, as if by miracle, Buddhagaya, erstwhile an insignificant village, was transformed overnight for it now hums with life and bids fair to be the center of the Buddhist world once more. History has taken a turn and once again Buddhagaya is humming with life. In the beginning, the pilgrims were only a few and far between, but there is tremendous increase in the number of pilgrims with the development of communication systems and other facilities. When this place is full of pilgrims, it is then a sight to see how they pour forth their devotion in various ways. These they do by offering pujas, circumambulating along the sacred precincts, prostrating round the main shrine, sitting in contemplation under the sacred Bodhi tree and holding meditation retreats, burning of candles and butter lamps. All these inspiring and instilling into us a little hope and a little faith, the aroma of goodwill, peace and devotion pervades the whole atmosphere. Each and every follower frequents the holy place to receive inspiration and blessings at the seat of Enlightenment of the Buddha whose Sambodhi has universal significance.

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3. Saranath

A memorable landmark in the life of the Great Teacher is represented by the holy Isipatana or Sarnath where in the quietness of the Deer Park the Master preached his First Sermon to his five former comrades, revealing for the first time the mystery of suffering and the means of over coming it. This event is described metaphorically as setting the Wheel of Law in motion (dharmachakkar-pravartana) and with his epoch-making incident began the ministry of a religion which was to last for many centuries with far-reaching results.

Sarnath marks the birth of the religion of Gautama Buddha. Hence it became a great centre of Buddhist activities and remained so for more than a millennium and a half. The inscriptions refer to the site as the “Monastery of the Turning of the Wheel Righteousness” (Saddharma-chakkrapravartana vihara) by which name this sacred place was known to the ancient Buddhist writers. Though very little is known if the history of the Deer Park during the early centuries of the rise of Buddhism, the place acquired celebrity, like the other holy centers of Buddhism, from the time of Asoka, the imperial patron of the Good Faith. This saintly monarch erected a series of monuments, including a pillar inscribed with an edict of warning to the resident monks and nuns against creating schisms in the Church. Various sects- the Sarvasivadins, the Sammitiyas, etc.--- successively gained dominance over the establishment and it is probably the controversies and conflicts among these that necessitated this stern warning from the saintly patron. The Chinese pilgrims, Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsang, visited the place in the 5th centuries. A.D. respectively, and have lefts us valuable information regarding this important site. The latter is more graphic in his accounts and gives us a picture of the prosperous condition of the Deer Park with no less than 1,500 monks and nuns residing in the various establishments. Of the numerous edifices temple with a life size brass image of the Buddha represented in the act of turning the Wheel of Law, a stupa built by Asoka and a stone pillar erected by the same monarch. In later periods also the site grew in size and prosperity and inscriptions and other evidences relate to the building of new shrines and edifices, as well as to the renovation of old ones, one of the latest being the Temple of the Wheel of the Law founded by Kumaradevi, one of the queens of king Govidachandra of Kanuj, in the first half of the 12th century A.D. Soon after the place was finally destroyed, presumably by the armies of Muhammad Ghori. There are evidences of earlier vandalism, too, one probably by the Huns and later in the tain of the sack of Banaras by Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni. But such damages as were perpetrated were immediately repaired by pious devotes. This final catastrophe, however, accompanied as it was by hug pillage and destruction led to the waste and desolation of the prosperous establishments. Buddhism had already lost its force and with the decay and disappearance of the religion from India, the magnificent monuments that had grown up at the site during centuries of prosperous history were buried under the dust and debris of the crumbling ruins.

The ruins of Sarnath cover an extensive area. The Archaeological Department has done a god deal of excavating at the site and a number of interesting monuments and sculptures of exquisite beauty and workmanship have com to light. As one approaches the site from Banaras the first landmark that attracts he eye is a lofty mound of brick-work, locally known as the Chaukhandi, surmounted by an octagonal tower at the top. The mound represents the ruins of stupa on a terraced basement erected to mark the spot where the Buddha, on his way from Gaya to Isipatana, first met his five former comrades who were soon to become converts to his faith. From the antiquities and associated objects found during excavations the stupa appears to have belonged to the Gupta period. The octagonal tower at the top is a much later structure having been erected by Akbar in 998. A.H. (1588) to commemorate the visit of his father, Humayun, to this holy spot.

Half a mile to the north is the site of the Deer Park adorned with imposing buildings in the days of its pristine greatness. All is now in ruins, save and except a pattered structure, the Dhamek stupa, which rears its head up to a height of nearly 150 feet above the surrounding level. The ruins have been laid bare by the spade of the archaeologists and the site, as exposed, shows that the temples and stupas occupied the central position with the monasteries in the area around. They belong to different period of construction, the earliest going back to the days of Asoka. Traces of successive restorations and renovations are also evident in some of the important buildings.

The Asoka stupa, seen by Hiuen Tsang, has been identified with the ruins of a large brick stupa, commonly known as Jagat Singh’s stupa after Jagat Singh, the Diwan of Raja Chait Singh of Banaras, who dismantled it in 1794 for bricks for the construction of market in Banaras. The relics exhumed on this occasion were responsible for resuscitating this holy place from centuries of oblivion. The structure, as it is now seen, is the result of successive additions, the innermost core being probably coeval with the period of Asoka. The site of this stupa probably marks the spot where the Buddha delivered his first discoursed and turned the Wheel of the Law. A little father to the north stand the broken stump of the Asoka pillar, already referred to, the magnificent Lion Capital of which may now be seen in the Archaeological Museum nearby. To the east may be seen the ruins of a temple, designed as the Main Shrine, which must have date from the Gupta period, if not earlier. The temple was of the usual square plan with subsidiary chapels on the north, south and west, the east being occupied by a portico forming the entrance to the shrine. It is not impossible that the monument occupying a central position represents the remains of the lofty temple through disclosed an important relic of the Asoka period, namely, a monolithic square rail chiseled and polished with consummate skill as we see in the Asoka pillars and capitals. This rail was originally placed probably over the top of the Asoka stupa around the parasol (chhatravali) and was later transferred to its present position as an important relic of the past.

Around the main shrine there is a paved court with a paved approach from the east. On this court are found innumerable remains of stupas of various shapes and also sometimes of shrines, the remnants of pious benefactions by votaries and pilgrims who flocked to this holy spot. On the north and the south were ranged monastic establishments. The monasteries whether large or small, were all of the same plane, the residential cells being arranged on the four sides of an open quadrangle. Some of them had been re-built again and again, and many earlier establishments were found buried under later constructions. The Saddharamachakkra Jina Vihara, established by Kumaradevi, the queen of Govindachandra, in the first half of the 12th century A.D., envelops several such early monasteries, situated to the north of the main shrine, which go back to the Kushana days, if not earlier. An expansive composition, this latest monument at Sarnath was elaborately planned with a number of open courts and lofty gateways and perhaps connected with an underground shire in the extreme west which is approached by a long subterranean passage. Unfortunately even this latest monument has suffered heavily at the hands of the despoilers and a complete and systematic plan of this establishment cannot be reconstructed at present.

Apart from the ruins and relics of the past a modern place of interest is furnished by the Mulagandhakuti Vihara, erected by the Mahabodhi Society of enshrine certain Buddhist relics discovered at Taxila. It is an elegant structure with marble floors, much of its elevation and decorative arrangements being inspired by old forms hallowed through centuries. On the inside walls are magnificent paintings, depicting scenes from the life of the Master, executed by one of Japan’s foremost painters, Mr. Kosetu Nosu. The anniversary of the vihara takes place on the full moon day of November and the festival is celebrated every year by a splendid assembly and monks and lay devotees representing almost every nationality in the world. An important feature of the celebration is the procession of the Holy Relics, the most authentic remains of Lord Buddha, which are enshrined in the altar of the vihara. Near the Mulagandhakuti Vihara may be seen a modern representative of the Bodhi tree grown out of a sapling brought from Ceylon in 1936.

Sarnath was also a sacred spot to the Jains who look upon it as the scene of the ascetic practices and death of Sri Amsanath, the eleventh Jaina Tirthankara. A modern temple situated near the Dhamek stupa is dedicated to this saint.

The antiquities, so far discovered from the ruins, are numerous and consist of sculptures, bas-reliefs, rail fragments, terra-cotta figurines, seals and sealing, inscriptions, pottery vessels, etc. With very few exceptions they pertain to the Buddhist religion and cover period of approximately 1500 years, from the 3rd century B.C. to the 12the century A.D. They have been housed in a neat little museum and a sculpture shed, situated near the ruins, which will repay a visit. Beautifully arranged, the sculptures and carving attract the admiring gaze of the visitor by their fine and graceful execution. The Lion Capital, originally surmounting the Asoka pillar, now occupies a place of honor in the museum hall. It consists of four adored lions supported on an abacus over a bell-shaped lower member. The abacus itself bears relief figures of a lion, an elephant, a bull and a horse. Wonderfully vigorous and treated with simplicity and reserve, these figures are masterly specimens of animal portraits. The capital was originally crowned by a wheel, fragments of which have been recovered from the ruins, and it is said that is was meant to proclaim the suzerainty of the Law which was first made known by the Master at this sanctified spot. Symbolical of India’s message of peace and goodwill to the world, the capital now forms the emblem of resurgent India.

Numerous sculptures of the Buddhas and Bodhisattavas have been unearthed among the ruins. They belong to different period and it is not possible to refer even to the most important ones. The sculpture dedicated by the friar Bala in the third year of the reign of Kushana king, Kanishka, shows a type dominated by super-human energy and volume and this type gives place to a refined one permeated by calm and quiet spiritual beatitude and divine grace in the Gupta period. One of the foremost of the sculptures of the latter series is the famous sandstone image of the Mater in the act of setting the Wheel of Law in motion (dharmachakrapravartana-mudra), which has been declared to be a masterpiece of Indian plastic art. The mediaeval sculptures, no less appealing on account of their masterly execution, represent, besides the images of the Master, various other Mahayana divinities, while a few stelae depict the eight conventional events in the life of the Buddha. A large lintel of about the 7th century A.D., which delineates the story of the Kshantivadin Jataka (an episode of one of the previous births of the Master), is interesting for the manner of narration as well as for its plastic treatment. Of the important inscriptions, reference may be made to one on the fragment of a stone umbrella which records the original Pali text enumerating the Four Noble Truths enunciated by the Master in course of his First Sermon. The inquisitive laymen as well as the pious pilgrim will find ample recompense among the ruins of this holy place and in the interesting antiquities in the Museum.

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4. Kusinagara

Kusinagara of Kusinara is sacred to the Buddhists as it was the place where under a grove of sala tree the Lord passed into Niravana in his eightieth year. The site has been identified with Kasia in the Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh.

Like other sacred places connected with the eventful life of the Master, Kusinara also rose to be an important place of pilgrimage and in the course of time became adorned with sacred shrines and monasteries. However, for reasons unknown the place was deserted rather early and both Fa-hien and Hiun Tsang note the utter ruin and desolation of this once important site. The remains that have been laid bare in partial excavations are extremely fragmentary, but the identity of the place with the site of Parinirvana was settled beyond doubt by the discovery of inscriptions referring to the Parinirvana Chaitya. The stupa of Parinirvana, which Asoka is said to have built, has not yet been brought to light. The Parinirvan Chaitya, to which the inscriptions refer, dates from the Gupta period and it is not impossible that the Asoka stupa lies buried underneath the later construction. Among the other sacred edifices that still remain may be mentioned the Matha Kunwar ka Kot which enshrines a large recumbent figure of the Buddha in the unconditioned state of Nirvana. The image was found broken in fragments and had been skillfully restored by Mr. Carlleyle. The great stupa which stood on the spot where the body of the Lord was cremated and where the relics of the Master were divided into eight equal portions is probably represented by a large mound locally known as Ramabhar. This mound has only been partially  examined and more systematic exploration is expected to bring to light important material for the history of this venerable spot of sanctified memory.