Monday, 05 June 2017

Lumbini -The Birthplace of Lord Buddha

Lumbini is a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the Rupandehi District of Nepal. Being rich in cultural and religious diversity, Nepal has many people who live together in harmony who follow different culture and religion and have their own rituals and practices. The majority of the people in Nepal follow the Hindu religion with Buddhism coming a close second on the majority scale. Lumbini is the place where Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama in 563 BCE. Siddhartha Gautama, who achieved Enlightenment sometime around 528 BCE, became Lord Gautama Buddha and founded Buddhism. Lumbini is one of many magnets for pilgrimage that sprang up in places pivotal to the life of Gautama Buddha. Listed in the World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 1997, Lumbini has a number of temples, including the Maya Devi Temple and several others. Many monuments, monasteries and a museum- the Lumbini International Research Institute, are also within the holy site. There is the Puskarini, or the Holy Pond, where Buddha’s mother took the ritual dip prior to his birth and where he had his first bath. At other sites near Lumbini, earlier Buddhas were, according to tradition, born, then achieved ultimate Enlightenment and finally relinquished their earthly forms. Among the pilgrims in the ancient times was the Indian emperor Ashoka, who erected one of his commemorative pillars there. The site is now being developed as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, where the archaeological remains associated with the birth of the Lord Buddha form a central feature.  Lumbini is one of the holiest places of one of the world’s great religions, and its remains contain important evidence about the nature of Buddhist pilgrimage centers from as early as the 3rd century BC.

The Tale of Lord Buddha

Gautama Buddha was an ascetic and sage on whose teachings the religion of Buddhism was founded. Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism. He is recognized by Buddhists as an enlightened teacher who attained full Buddhahood, and shared his insights to help sentient beings end rebirth and suffering. Accounts of his life and discourses, monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarized after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition and first committed to writing about 400 years later.

Gautama was born as a Kshatriya, the son of Śuddhodana- “an elected chief of the Shakya clan”, whose capital was Kapilvastu. Gautama was the royal family name. His mother, Maya Devi, Suddhodana’s wife, was a Koliyan princess. Legend has it that, on the night Siddhartha was conceived, Queen Maya Devi dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side and ten months later, Siddhartha was born. As was the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya Devi became pregnant, she left Kapilvastu for her father’s kingdom to give birth. However, her son is said to have been born on the way, at Lumbini, in a garden beneath a Sal tree. The infant was given the name Siddhartha, a name that means “he who achieves his aim”. During the birth celebrations of the baby, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode and announced that the child would either become a great king or a great sadhu. By traditional account, this occurred after Siddhartha placed his feet in Asita’s hair and Asita examined the birthmarks. King Śuddhodana held a naming ceremony on the fifth day, and invited eight Brahmin scholars to read the future. All gave a dual prediction that the baby would either become a great king or a great holy man.

Siddhartha was brought up by his mother’s younger sister, Maha Pajapati. By tradition, he is said to have been destined by birth to the life of a prince and led a very luxurious and dream-like life at his early years. When he reached the age of 16, his father reputedly arranged his marriage to princess Yaśodharā. She then gave birth to a son, named Rāhula. Siddhartha is said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilvastu. Because the predictions made by the great seers predicted that he would either be a great ruler or a great sadhu, Siddhartha’s father- Śuddhodana created a very luxurious life for his son within the confines of his palace. Inside the opulent palace, Siddhartha was shielded from all human suffering. He was surrounded by merry-making and no suffrage. Thus, he never knew of human ailments or people’s hardships during his time at the palace. When he was married and his wife birthed a son to him, Śuddhodana finally permitted Siddhartha to leave the palace to have a tour of his city, thinking that he would not want to leave because of his love towards his son. Śuddhodana thought that his responsibility and love towards his son Rāhula would make Siddhartha stay.

When Siddhartha stepped out of the palace for the first time, Śuddhodana ordered the removal of all sick, old and disabled people out of the streets. But as chance would have it, as Siddhartha was having a tour of his city for the first time in his life, he came across an old person. This for him was very peculiar as he had never before in his life seen an old person. Nor a sick person. Nor a corpse. With a piqued curiosity, he asked what was wrong with the person. “He is old, sire”, replied his charioteer- Channa, “All humans grow old and die at some point or the other”. The prince then went on further trips beyond the palace after this. On these, he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome aging, sickness, and death. Because of this, Siddhartha felt more out of place at the palace and did not feel like he belonged there or at the dream-like atmosphere of his palace when so much suffering was present outside of it. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything he could ever want or need, Buddhist scriptures say that the future Buddha felt that material wealth was not life’s ultimate goal.

Accompanied by Channa and riding his horse Kanthaka, Gautama quit his palace for the life of a mendicant. He left his opulent life at the palace, his family, his wife and his son to pursue a greater meaning in life. It is said that, “the horse’s hooves were muffled by the gods” to prevent guards from knowing of his departure. Gautama initially went to Rajagaha and began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. After King Bimbisara’s men recognized Siddhartha and the king learned of his quest, Bimbisara offered Siddhartha the throne. Siddhartha rejected the offer, but promised to visit his kingdom of Magadha first, upon attaining enlightenment. He left Rajagaha and practiced under two hermit teachers of yogic meditation.

Siddhartha tried to find enlightenment through deprivation of worldly goods, including food, practicing self-mortification. After nearly starving himself to death by restricting his food intake to around a leaf or nut per day, he collapsed in a river while bathing and almost drowned. A village girl named Sujata gave him some kheer, after which Siddhartha got back some energy. Such was his emaciated appearance that she wrongly believed him to be a spirit that had granted her a wish. Siddhartha began to reconsider his path after this ordeal. Then he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season’s ploughing. He attained a concentrated and focused state that was blissful and refreshing, the jhāna.  Following this incident, Gautama was famously seated under a Bodhi tree—in Bodh Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment, and became known as the Buddha or “the Awakened One”. “Buddha” is also sometimes translated as “The Enlightened One”. According to some sutras of the Pali canon, at the time of his awakening, he realized complete insight into the Four Noble Truths, thereby attaining liberation from samsara– the endless cycle of rebirth, suffering and dying again. Nirvana is the extinguishing of the “fires” of desire, hatred, and ignorance that keep the cycle of suffering and rebirth going. Nirvana is also regarded as the “end of the world”, in that no personal identity or boundaries of the mind remain. In such a state, a being is said to possess the Ten Characteristics, belonging to every Buddha.

For the remaining 45 years of his life, the Buddha is said to have traveled in the Gangetic Plain, in what is now Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and southern Nepal, teaching a diverse range of people: from nobles to servants, murderers such as Angulimala, and cannibals such as Alavaka.

Upon hearing of his son’s awakening, Suddhodana sent, over a period, ten delegations to ask him to return to Kapilvastu. On the first nine occasions, the delegates failed to deliver the message, and instead joined Buddha’s sangha to become arahants. The tenth delegation, led by Kaludayi, a childhood friend of Gautama’s, however, delivered the message.

Now two years after his awakening, the Buddha agreed to return, and made a two-month journey by foot to Kapilvastu, teaching the dharma as he went. At his return, the royal palace prepared a midday meal. Buddhist texts say that Śuddhodana invited Buddha’s sangha into the palace for the meal, followed by a dharma talk. During the visit, many members of the royal family joined the sangha. Lord Buddha’s cousins Ananda and Anuruddha became two of his five chief disciples. At the age of seven, his son Rāhula also joined, and became one of his ten chief disciples. His half-brother Nanda also joined and became an arahant.

After his death, Buddha’s cremation relics were divided amongst 8 royal families and his disciples; centuries later they would be enshrined by King Ashoka into 84,000 stupas. Many supernatural legends surround the history of alleged relics as they accompanied the spread of Buddhism and gave legitimacy to rulers.

Lumbini’s highlights

The Maya Devi Temple

The main temple at Lumbini, the Maya Devi Temple is a site traditionally considered the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. The temple stands adjacent to a sacred pool known as Puskarini and a sacred garden. The archaeological remains at the site were previously dated to the third-century BCE brick buildings constructed by the Indian emperor- Ashoka. A sixth-century BCE timber shrine was also discovered in 2013. The sacred pond beside the temple is believed to be where Maya Devi bathed before giving birth to the Buddha. Dotted around the grounds are the ruined foundations of a number of brick stupas and monasteries dating from the 2nd century BC to the 9th century AD. Inside the Maya Devi Complex is a small landscaped garden area that consists of the Maya Devi Temple, a pool of water, the Ashokan pillar and the sacred Bodhi tree. There are drawings depicting his birth inside the temple. The current whitewashed temple was built to protect the older temple under it.

The Asoka Pillar

This Ashoka Pillar is located in Lumbini close to the Indian border. It is one of many stone pillars built by the Indian Emperor Ashoka during his reign in the 3rd century BC. Today, only 19 pillars remain that have inscriptions, most of which are found in India. The one located in Lumbini holds a particular importance as it is the oldest inscription found in Nepal. It also commemorate Ashoka’s visit to Buddha’s birthplace after he converted to Buddhism. The Ashokan Pillar in Lumbini stands at 6 meters and is made from pink sandstone. The pillar was lost until 1896 when a team of Nepalese archaeologists rediscovered it. What might seem like just a commemorative pillar by a long dead King actually has quite an intricate linage and historical standing.

Ashoka was an Indian Emperor who ruled nearly all of the Indian sub-continent. The link with Nepal is routed during the brutal Kalinga war where over one hundred thousand of Ashoka’s troops died. Based on political and economic expansion of the Muaryan Empire, the war started prior to the Muaryan dynasty in India. On Ashoka’s 8th year as king, he set about conquering Kalinga. The war was fought by the Dhauli Hill on a great flat plain by the Daya River. Over 400,000 of Ashoka’s army went against over the 60,000 Kalingan army in the war. The casualties resulted in the death of 100,000 soldiers on Ashoka’s side. The war was brutal, and resulted in the Daya River turning red with blood. Over 100,000 people were deported following the war. The Kalingan war remains one of the most important wars in world history. The sheer scale of the bloodshed, which Ashoka believed he was the cause of, prompted him to follow Buddhism and devote the rest of his life to Ahimsa (non-violence) and to Dharma-Vijaya (victory through Dharma).

Ashoka ended the military expansion of the Muaryan Empire which continued on with nearly 40 years of relative peace and prosperity after the war. The Muaryan dynasty lasted fifty more years after Ashoka died. While most of the Ashoka’s accomplishments would have disappeared into history, credit is given to him for recording much of his life. This came in the form of many pillars and boulders with inscriptions written onto them. Ashoka was said to have visited Lumbini around 249 BC.

The Sacred Pond

The sacred pond called Puskarini is where legend says Maya Devi bathed before giving birth. Today it’s been renovated and is filled with turtles. During the twilight and late evenings, the pond gives off a nice reflection of the Maya Devi Temple, making it look ethereal in the religious ambiance.

The Famous Bodhi Tree

The tree is one of the most colorfully decorated sights in Lumbini. It is famous for its relation to an ancient fig tree and is characterized by the heart-shaped leaves it possesses. The term was given to the tree in relation to the Bodhi Tree where Lord Buddha achieved enlightenment in India.

Additionally there are the excavated remains of Buddhist viharas (monasteries) of the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD and the remains of Buddhist stupas (memorial shrines) from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD. The site is now being developed as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, where the archaeological remains associated with the birth of Lord Buddha form a central feature. The archaeological remains of the Buddhist viharas (monasteries) and stupas (memorial shrines) from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD, provide important evidence about the nature of Buddhist pilgrimage centers from a very early period in Lumbini.  The integrity of Lumbini has been achieved by means of preserving the archaeological remains within the property boundary that give the property its Outstanding Universal Value. The significant attributes and elements of the property have been preserved. The buffer zone gives the property a further layer of protection. There are various other monasteries built around Lumbini as well. These opulent monasteries are reverently decorated and are very beautiful. Along with that, there is also the Flame of Eternal Peace. The flame has been burning since 1986.

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