-By Sumit Kundra
Bodhgaya, the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment, is among the top five places in the bucket list of every Buddhist seeker. In fact, it is one of the four important sites related to important events in the Buddha’s life.
The aura or vibrations of this place makes you sit and contemplate about your life. People, from all over the world, come there as seekers to find out how the Buddha understood the origin of suffering and how he liberated himself from it.
As one reaches the main temple–Mahabodhi temple–one can see an amalgamation of different ethnicities. No matter which part of the world they belong to, in Bodhgaya they are all equal, all seekers. Some yearn to learn the Buddha’s teachings, others seek his blessings, while some are simply on a journey to self introspection.
Despite studying Buddhism and the Buddha’s life closely, before I visited Bodhgaya, I perceived it only as a place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. It was after my first blessings, while some are simply on a journey to self introspection. Despite studying Buddhism and the Buddha’s life closely, before I visited Bodhgaya, I perceived it only as a place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. It was after my first visit to this holy town, I understood how ignorant I was. As I walked through this serene and peaceful site, a sense of calm enveloped me. When I saw people from diverse backgrounds with the same seeking spirit and soaked in the spiritual ambience of the main temple, I finally stopped and looked at life from a different perspective. As the Buddha emphasised, we have to experience things ourselves to understand its true meaning.
A walk through Bodhgaya. As soon as you enter the outer areas of Bodhgaya, you can feel the presence of the Buddha everywhere–whether in a university named after the Buddha, or in any regular workshop or furniture store. There are hotels and resorts with the Buddha’s name prominently displayed.
At the entrance of the main lane–which leads to the Mahabodhi temple –you are greeted with a beautiful gate, sambodhidwar, meaning full of knowledge. It sets the tone of your entrance into the town where Siddhartha became the Buddha.
As you walk through the main road, enthralled by the visual display of beautiful monasteries from different countries, and places named after people associated with the Buddha’s life, you forget the tiredness of your journey. You find everyone courteous, smiling and at peace with their lives.
With so many people from around the world assembled at the same place with a common goal, it seems as if life has finally transcended all boundaries and is one with the universe. When you reach the Maya Sarovar–named after the Buddha’s mother–near the Thailand monastery, you are almost lost in the beauty of the garden surrounding the mystic pond.
Of course, one of the main attractions of the town is the Mahabodhi Temple. A Unesco World Heritage site, the temple earmarks the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. It was considered to be built in the 6th century AD, on top of a temple that was constructed by Emperor Ashoka. The temple had been invaded by foreigners in the 11th century AD, and since then, underwent several restorations. As you stroll around the perimeter of the temple, you could see an assortment of monks and lay people praying or sitting in meditation, each one seeking the blessings of the enlightened one. However, if you are looking for solitude, the Meditation Park, built within the temple complex, is a must visit.
While Bodhgaya so far might have awed you, the majestic Bodhi Tree leaves you spellbound. It stands embodying the truth that enlightenment comes from within as was with Siddhartha who became the Buddha at that same spot more than 2500 years ago. It is said that after attaining enlightenment, the Buddha had stared at the tree unblinkingly. Read our feature on Mahabodhi Temple in this issue to know more about this ethereal place.
A visit to the Archaeological Museum, near by showcases the history of Bodhgaya. It houses many Buddhist sculptures made of stone, from the period between the 8th and 12th centuries. One could also find a collection of original sandstone railings , pillars and granite that, in fact, predates the temple by around 700 years.
However, nothing beats the joy of walking along the various monasteries and temples adorning this sacred town. Each monastery has its unique Buddhist culture and architectural styles. While Indosan Nipponji Temple makes a quaint Japanese statement, the nearby Bhutanese Monastery stands in contrast with its colourful and intricate frescoes. For an unmatched display of Tibetan decorative arts, Tergar Monastery of the Karmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism wins the viewer’s admiration hands down. Other attractions include the Thai Temple, the Tibetan Karma Temple and Namgyal Monastery.
As you come to the end of the temple lane, you find a towering 25-meter high Great Buddha Statue sitting in meditation. The monument, unveiled by Dalai Lama in 1989, is partially hollow and contains around 20,000 bronze Buddhas.
Land of spiritual seekers
My visit to Bodhgaya definitely changed my outlook about life. It made me realise that essentially, we all are same, and if we can imbibe this truth in our lives, lots of issues in this world would never arise. Rather than using our energy in proving ourselves, if we can just think that we are all alike, the world would be a far better place.
As I sat near the Bodhi Tree, contemplating about life, I thought of asking people around me about their experience in Bodhgaya. I wanted to understand if we all have the same goal, if we were all seekers of spiritual knowledge.
Sitting next to me was a young man deep in meditation. As he stirred to take some photographs, I struck a conversation with him. He was Edison Xie from Hongzhou,China, who didn’t believe in any religion. He said, “Visiting Bodhgaya is not a religious trip. Instead, I find Mahabodhi temple to be a very peaceful and a calm place. Sitting here and meditating for just 20 minutes makes you peaceful. It is more about understanding yourself than thinking about religion.”
While walking around the perimeter, I was greeted by Bhante Anand Bhole from Maharashtra, who was at awe with the energy of the place and has been living in Bodhgaya for more than a year. He gave me a vital lesson in life. He said, “Only when you connect with yourself you can connect with everything else. By knowing yourself you will understand the true reality. It is similar to you being in a pond right now and not knowing about the ocean at all. The first step towards connecting with yourself is by controlling your mind with the breathing–inhale and exhale–exercise.In today’s chaotic world, Buddha’s path and his teachings should be followed. It is time for to follow Buddha’s teachings and the only way forward for peace.”
At the meditation garden, I met with a lady who was a vipassana teacher. She said,“The vibrations of this place are very strong and positive, and to feel the aura one would need to control his / her mind. It is very important to control one’s mind and controlling our breath is the easiest way to control the mind.”
In all these small conversations and the long discourses I attended, one thing was clear, each individual visiting that holy town was equal in his seeking for Buddha’s teachings and blessings, and each one of them was trying to awaken to their true inner self.
The monks or common people are in harmony at this place and have the same seeking spirit to awaken their true self. The experience is not just a one-time incident, but stays with you for a lifetime. And, even after coming back from Bodhgaya, I am still basking in the aura of that place.
After all, Bodhgaya is not just about the Buddha, but it is here that the Buddha found himself.
About the author:
A philosophical seeker, bitten by the travel bug, Sumit Kundra is an MA in Buddhist Studies, who loves to opine on everything connected with Buddhism.
How to Reach:
Airways: The nearest airport, Gaya airport is around 17 kilometres from the town, catering to domestic as well as international travelers. Although, the frequency of direct flights is less, there are several flights that connect the town with main metro cities. The second nearest airport is Jai Prakash Narayan International Airport in Patna, which is around 135 kilometres away from Bodhgaya. This airport is well-connected with major metro cities in India and international destinations.
Railways: The nearest railway station is Gaya Junction, which is 13 kilometres away from Bodhgaya. It is well-connected with major Indian cities. From the Gaya railway station, you can reach the town by hiring a local taxi. The second nearest railway station is in Patna,around 110 kilometres away from the town, which is connected with most of the Indian cities including metros.
Roadways: A main road connects the town with the city of Gaya. One may take the bus service run by the Bihar State Tourism Corporation from Patna to Bodhgaya. Bus services are also available from Rajgir, Varanasi, Nalanda and Kathmandu.
Area: 249 km²
Population: 45,349 (2015)
Location: In Gaya district, Bihar, India
Climate: Summer–hot and humid;
Best time to visit: October to March
Significance: Known as the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment
Languages spoken: Magadhi, Hindi, English