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Pilgrimage to India

Updated: Apr 11

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In the Footsteps of the Buddha

Pilgrimage to India

January 2014

The purpose of a pilgrimage is to be able to Recollect the Buddha.  This is one of the 40 meditation topics suggested by the Buddha.  For inspiration, the Buddha said we should visit his birth place: Lumbini, the place of his Awakening: Uruvela (Bodhgaya), the place where he first taught: Isipatana and the place of his complete release from suffering: Kusinara.

This is the story of my Pilgrimage (Sanghamitta's) to the above places in January 2014.  The Pilgrimage was organized by Phalinee, a member of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia.  The spiritual leader on the trip was Ajahn Brahmali of Bodhinyana Monastery near Perth, Australia.  There were also 2 other monks from Bodhinyana Monastery: Ven. Cunda and Ven. Nito and 4 nuns from Dhammasara Monastery: Ven. Passadi, Ven. Canda, Ven. Upekkha and Ven. Acala.

We travelled by bus to the above places suggested by the Buddha plus other sites as well.  The place names were confusing at times as they have been changed over time.  The following is a list of the places we visited.  I have listed them in the order they appeared in the story of the Buddha's life, not the order in which we visited them.  The first name, in bold, is the name of the place at the time of the Buddha.  The second name is either another spelling or the modern name:

Lumbini - Lumbini Birthplace of the Buddha to be

Kapilavatthu - Kapilvastu Where the Buddha to be grew up

Uruvela - Bodh Gaya Place of the Buddha's Awakening

Isipathana - Sarnath Place of the first turning of the wheel of Dhamma (first teaching)

Rajagaha - Rajgir Place of the Buddha's first Monastery

Vesali - Vashali Place of the first ordination of nuns

Savatthi - Sravasti Location of Jetavana Monastery where the Buddha spent many Rains

Kushinara - Kushinagar Place of the Buddha's Mahaparinibbhana

Entering Nepal

The Buddha's birthplace, Lumbini, is currently in Nepal, about 23 km north of the border with India.  At the time of his birth, it was still part of India.  Lumbini shares the flat, river plane area of NE India where the Buddha spent his life.  Apparently the Himalayan Mountains are visible from Lumbini.  But it was misty the 24 hours we were in Nepal so no mountains were spied.   


Birthplace of the Buddha to be

The Buddha to be's parents lived in Kapilavatthu.  His father was King of the Sakyans.  As was the custom of the day, his mother, Mahamaya, was travelling to the home of her parents to give birth to her child.  Her parents lived in Devadaha.  However, she didn't make it.  She began to have labour pains in Lumbini, which was a beautiful park back then just as it is now.  The Buddha to be, Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born under two Sal trees in 623 BCE on the full moon in May, now known as Wesak.  This date is one of a couple of determinations of the year of the Buddha's birth.

Mayadevi Temple

The white building is the Mayadevi Temple, named after the Buddha's mother.  No photos were allowed inside the Temple.  It was built over the remains of an earlier temple which was built to cover a stone placed on the exact spot where the Buddha to be was born.  This stone was only rediscovered in 1996!  King Asoka placed this marker stone here in 249 BC on top of a pile of bricks, the first marker to the Buddha's birth place.  Ahead of the woman with the red jacket you can see one of the famous Asokan pillars.

Puskarni, The Sacred Pool

This is the pool that Mahamaya bathed in before giving birth.

Asokan Pillar

King Asoka erected pillars all over his vast kingdom of India, which in his reign covered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal.  Their importance is that they carried inscriptions which confirm the history of the Buddha as given in the Suttas.  One half of this pillar has sunk into the marshy ground.

It's fallen off capital: a horse before the effects of weathering.

The inscriptions on the Asokan pillars are the first record of any Indian scripts.  Prior to this, everything was orally transmitted.  The script on this pillar says: "Twenty years after his coronation, Beloved of the Gods, King Piyadasi (Asoka) visited this place and worshipped, because here the Buddha, sage of the Sakyans, was born."  He had a stone figure and a pillar set up and because the lord was born here, the village of Lumbini was exempted from tax and required to pay only 1/8 of the produce.

The next photo is an enlargement of the graffiti found near the top of the pillar.

King Ripumalla of Nepal visited here in 1312.  He had inscribed on the pillar:

"Om mani padme hum

May Sri Ripumalla be victorious"

After his visit, Lumbini was lost in the jungle until 1896.  The Buddha only gave one discourse at Lumbini: MN 101.  Following are 2 photos of Lumbini Park.


Kapilavatthu or Kapilvastu is the capitol of the Sakyans.  The future Buddha lived his first 29 years here.  The Buddha's relics, i.e. the remaining ash and bone fragments after his cremation, were divided  up into 8 parts and given to the 8 clans that lived in the area.  These relics were buried in 8 different stupas.  King Asoka dug up most of the original stupas and reburied the relics in new stupas.  But he didn’t find this stupa.

The reason was a sad story about the Sakyans.  Kapilavatthu.....the original town was wiped out by an upset son of King Pasenadi.  King Pasenadi, a neighbouring King, was a follower of the Buddha.  He requested a bride from a noble Sakyan family as he wanted to be related to the Buddha.  The Sakyans felt haughty and didn't want one of their own to marry into a rival kingdom.  So they offered a bride, posing as a noblewoman, but really she was the offspring of a nobleman and a slavewoman.  She and king Pasenadi had a son.  When he was of age, he wished to visit his relatives the Sakyans.  He found out, thru his servant of the trickery.  In anger he massacred the town.  Those who fled and survived set up a new Kapilavatthu a few miles away.  This all occurred while the Buddha was still living, but it was near the end of his life.  In the new town they built a stupa for the Buddha's relics.   The place we visited was the new town.....several km from the original.

Stupa where the Buddha's cremation remains were buried.

Due to the town of Kapilavatthu being abandoned, it’s location was lost to memory.  It was only 120 years ago that the site of the town and the stupa with the relics was found.  The relics, several pieces of bone up to loonie size are in the Delhi museum.  They are ordinary bones....not crystalized.

Apparently the site of the original town of Kapilavatthu has been identified and if you visit, you can see the location of the east gate where the Buddha left his princely life to become a wandering ascetic.

A view of the grounds at Kapilavatthu

Pragh Bodhi

Pragh (before) Bodhi (awakening) is the name of the hill where Buddha practiced austerities.  Here, he finally realized happiness is not attained through suffering.

The hill containing his cave

The view from the Buddha's cave, looking down the hill

Farmland below his cave

A person emerging from the Buddha's cave.  The woman on the right is applying gold leaf to the rock.  Her attempt to honour the Buddha is, sadly, not in line with the Buddha's teachings.  He asked us to honour him by practicing diligently.

Entrance to the cave

Buddha rupa inside the cave showing the emaciated Buddha

Buddha rupa in the small temple next to the cave


This marker is at Sujata village, named after the young woman who offered food to the Bodhisatta (Buddha to be) which ended his ascetic period.  The food was rice gruel.  His 5 companions thought he’d given up the struggle for enlightenment, partaking in such "rich food".  The idea at the time was that happiness would be found through suffering.  Ajahn Brahmali laughed about this as most people don’t consider rice gruel to be an extravagant food.

A stupa was erected over the site of her home

Walking path around the stupa

We walked on dikes between fields from the stupa marking her home to the place where she offered the rice gruel to the Buddha.  The Buddha had his monastics sew their robes in the design of these dikes and fields.

The spot where the rice gruel was offered

After the meal, the Bodhisatta, which means "one with the intention to enlighten", took the dish and went to the Neranjera river and saying: “If I am to succeed in becoming a Buddha today, let this dish go upstream; but if not, let it go downstream”, he threw it into the water.  There it floated to the middle of the river and raced upstream for eighty cubits (37 m) before it sank in a whirlpool.


The Neranjera River, dry at this time of year

I was invited by the nuns to visit Sanghamitra Institute which is near Sujata’s village and Bodhgaya.  It is run by The Jamming Foundation founded by Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a Tibetan nun in her 70’s, still working at the San Diego University in Religious studies to help fund the 13 schools for nuns and girls from poor, remote areas of northern India, Bangladesh and Laos.  The schools teach school subjects as well as Buddhist Philosophy and meditation.  The goal is to create more options for these girls than being married at a young age with no opportunities.  $20 a month or $240 a year to support a nun or lay girl.  If you'd like to help, please see their website at

Bodh Gaya (Uruvela)

The place of the Buddha's Awakening

The Mahabodhi Temple built in front of the Bodhi tree.

The walking path around the Mahabodhi Temple to the back where the Bodhi tree is. A Tibetan Buddhist is in the process of a full body prostration

The Bodhi tree - where the Buddha was sitting when he realized Nibbana (Awakening).

Our group meditating under the Bodhi tree

Entrance to the Mahabodhi Temple....those are all fresh flowers!

Our spiritual leader for the pilgrimage: Ajahn Brahmali. If one got lost, one just looked for the tallest person! This photo is inside the Mahabodhi Temple.

Buddha rupa inside the Mahabodhi Temple

Map of the area: Pataliputta, Rajagaha and Bodh Gaya are all in the province of Bihar.

One of the hills around Rajagaha, making it easy to defend itself. This is the town where the Buddha was gifted his first monastery.

Venu Vana, The Bamboo Forest: the first monastery gifted to the Buddha. It was a gift from King Bimbisara.

Mango Grove Monastery donated by Jivaka, a physician who donated his services to the monastics. This led to men ordaining just to get free medical care and thus the rule arose that would could not become a monastic is one was ill.

Site of the Mango Grove Monastery

Ajatasatu confined his father, King Bimbisara, in this jail, so that he could take over as king.

Ven. Upekkha, Ven. Canda and Ven. Acala from our group standing inside King Bimbisara's jail cell.

The top of Vulture's Peak, a favourite meditation spot of the Buddha's.

Vulture's Peak. Our group climbed the hill in the dark and meditated where the Buddha sat until sunrise. Very emotional experience. The lady in the yellow toque was our wonderful group organizer: Phalinee.

The First Buddhist council met soon after the Buddha's paranibbana to collect all his teachings.

Our group at the meeting place of the First Council.


A Buddhist university was established at Nalanda....against the recommendation of the Buddha. He encouraged his monks to remain secluded in scattered forest monasteries. But by 1200 BC most of the Buddhist monks in India were located at Nalanda, making it very easy for the Mongol invasion that started in the 1200's to totally wipe out Buddhism in India.

This photo shows the individual cells where the monks lived.


The Buddha walked from Urevala to Isipatana to find the monks he'd meditated with during his austere practice time. He felt they were ripe for the teachings on the Awakening he'd realized. That walk is a distance of 560 km which takes 12 1/2 hours to drive and 111 hours to walk!

Stupa at the Deer Park monastery at Isipatana (now called Sarnath) marking the site of the Buddha's second sermon to his first disciples. Ven. Nito from our group is walking towards it.

These are archeological remains of buildings erected in memory of the Buddha. Most buildings at the time of the Buddha were made of wood, so nothing remains.

These are the remains of a stupa built by King Ashoka.

Remains of a temple built on the spot where the Buddha used to meditate.

Remenants of Ashokan pillars commemorating the place at Deer Park where the Buddha sent monks in different directions to teach the Dhamma.

Modern depiction of the Wheel of Dhamma which the Buddha set in motion at the Deer Park in Isipatana where he gave his first sermon.


This is the site of the Jeta Grove monastery, donated by Anathapindika. This is where the Buddha spent the majority of his Rains retreats.

Jeta's Grove is full of monkeys!

Nearby is the stupa for Angulimala.

The Ganges River at Varanasi before dawn. The Brahmins are setting up their stands. One person, with the towel, has just emerged from a bath in the Ganges.


This is the site where women were first invited into the Buddha's Sangha to become Bhikkhunis. The first Bhikkhuni was the Buddha's stepmother: Mahāpajāpatī.

Entrance to Vesali Monastery.

After the Buddha's paranibbana, his remains were divided amongt the eight tribes of people in the NE of India where the Buddha taught. Most of the sites were destroyed over time but this one at Vesali survived.

The stupa where the Buddha's relics were found in 1958.


Site of the paranibbana of the Buddha. The distance from Vesali to Kushinara is about 215 km and takes 5 hours to drive. The Buddha walked all over NE India to teach. This distance, which he walked at the end of his life when he was 80, would have taken about 50 hours!

Buddha rupa inside the Temple at Kushinara.

Stupa commemorating the Buddha's paranibbana at Kushinara.

The pilgrimage to India was very inspiring.

Buddhānuassati: Recollection of the Buddha

Since the purpose of a pilgrimage is to help with Buddhanussati: Recollection of the Buddha, below is the Itipi So Chant which lists the qualities of the Buddha, with an English translation, followed by a guided meditation on the chant by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Itipi So

Itipi so bhagavā The Blessed One is:

1. Araham Fully Awakened

Worthy of respect

Fully purified...has eliminated all the defilements

2. Sammā sambuddho Completely Awakened: he knows all that relates to defilements and liberation

3. Vijjācarana-sampanno One who is endowed with good conduct/ behaviour and clear knowledge

4. Sugato Well gone....lives perpetually experiencing the bliss of Nibbana and well gone in that he has travelled along the Noble Eightfold Path.

5. Lokavidū Knower of the world....he knows of all the realms from the hell realms to the heavenly realms.

6. Anuttaro purisadamma- sārathi The unsurpassed trainer of those to be

tamed.  He's able to teach people with very different inclinations and capacities.

7. Satthā deva-manussānam Teacher of devas and humans.

8. Buddho He discovered the Four Noble Truths and conveys Awakening to others.

9. Bhagavā One who posseses the factors of good fortune i.e. the paramis: generosity, sila, patience, energy, jhanas and wisdom.

And for guidance in doing Iti pi so as a chant:

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