Bodhgaya 2005

1 May 2009 - 8:00am 1 Comment

As we sat under the bodhi tree bathed in the bliss and tranquility of the sacred spot where Lord Buddha found enlightenment 2,500 years ago, Rinpoche’s crisp voice aroused us from our repose with a clarion call to experience and feel the divine energy that is both healing and mystifying.

“We are here to experience an experience, to feel an experience to experience, not just an experience to talk about. We are here to plant seeds, develop the awareness and determination to generate the exact qualities of this one Indian man, Lord Buddha. We are here to increase love to the people we love.”

The Bodhi Tree

“We are here to pay homage to Buddha Shakyamuni who overcame his anger, jealousy and attachments to his body by stopping to think about himself. We are here because He found the way to stop taking rebirth and being controlled by karma. We are here to increase love to the people we love.”

Sangha from all over the world pay homage to Lord Buddha at Bodhgaya

Rinpoche reminded us that this life will end, everything will end, and everything will be thrown to the wind. So while we have the chance now, we should develop the courage to transform and not just sit here at another holy place saying, “I’m changed, I’m moved but NO transformation.”

Every year thousands of pilgrims journey to Bodhgaya, one of  the world`s holiest places, to pay homage to Lord Buddha. But for most of us 52 pilgrims from Switzerland, New Zealand, Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia, this journey will mark the beginning of a new lease of  life. Our unique and spontaneous experiences felt with our refuge Lama under the sacred bodhi tree will leave indelible imprints which will transform our lives forever.

Pilgrims gather early every morning to perform prostrations

5:45am on a Saturday is too early for most people, but not for this group who are en route to Bodhgaya via Colombo. Yes, that’s right – Christmas morning! We set off from our dharma centre Kechara House, on a journey that has been eagerly anticipated for many months. And it’s true! It has taken us six years of talking, 3 hours of flying and many hours of bumpy bus rides to get to this stage, and we finally did it.

After a night’s layover in Colombo, we departed on the second leg of our journey to Bodhgaya. The plane took off from Colombo at 11:15am and touched down in Bodhgaya two hours later, smack in the middle of a barren landscape, next to an airport barely distinguishable from the ground because it was just that small.

Passing through immigration, familiar faces in the crowd emerged – Geshe Tsundue Wangchuk, Geshe Puntsok Dorje, Lobsang Wangchuk and Konchok Dorje – all Rinpoche’s monks from Gaden, as well as Kunga Namgyal. They were there to greet us warmly with kathas. Rinpoche learned from them that there had been a massive earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale, causing a giant Tsunami that had devastated numerous coastal communities throughout South Asia. The monks and Kunga had been worried for our safety as Sri Lanka had been one of the most badly affected areas, but we were relieved to hear that we had left half an hour before the Tsunami struck.

Buddha's 'footprints'

The Mahayana Guest House, our home for the next three days, is a 10 minutes’ walk from the Mahabodhi Stupa, and in the middle of all the action. It is located in the town centre which is the hive of activity. Jam-packed with rows upon rows of makeshift stalls, ranging from the family-operated food stalls, to those proffering a variety of dharma items such as malas, Buddha statues, prayer wheels and kathas. To quote the National Geographic iExplorer site, a trip here is an “all-out assault on the senses” – the sights, the smells, the sounds, the tastes. Bodhgaya is vastly different, both sensually and motivationally, from any other place most of us have been.

Offering lights to the Three Jewels

The daily routine for the next three days would deviate a little. Some arose from the warmth of their beds when most of Bodhgaya was asleep and set out for the Stupa, where they were joined by hundreds of other pilgrims doing prostrations, making offerings, circumambulating, or simply sitting and meditating. Sonorous chanting in various languages could be heard at the Stupa. At night the place was warmly lit up by the glow of thousands upon thousands of butter lamps, which the group had the opportunity to offer with the motivation to dispel the darkness of ignorance.

A resident monk assists the pilgrims...

Inside the Stupa, we made offerings of incense, robes, fruits, and flowers to the closest replica of Lord Buddha. It was said that 60 years after His passing, a woman who had actually seen the Buddha in person during His lifetime, asked her four sons to commission an image of Him according to her descriptions.

... to offer robes to Lord Buddha's image

Robes offered to the Buddha

If the beauty of the statue does not hold your imagination, then maybe the magnificence of the Stupa will, as it is an architectural marvel to behold. At night, lit up by spotlights, the whole Stupa seemed to glow, almost like a beacon of hope to inspire those who had gone off the path. Various images of Buddhas and deities – White Tara, Green Tara, Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara – were carved into the Stupa, and we recognised them as we circumambulated on the cool marble floor. Rinpoche said, “Note that these deities aren’t Tibetan in origin, they actually came from India. The Tibetans say our script and religion come from India, our food and clothes come from Mongolia, and our tea comes from China – nothing we have belongs to us.

Exquisitely carved images adorn the stupa walls

On the second morning the refuge ceremony was held. After a short discourse on the significance of taking refuge, the group got up on one knee to request for refuge from Rinpoche. For some it was a request to renew their refuge vows. After a mandala offering, refuge prayers were recited and Rinpoche conducted the refuge ceremony. He then handed out the refuge cards with Dharma names written on them.

These are your new Dharma names. It doesn’t mean you have to change your name… it just means  it is a quality you should aspire towards.

Taking refuge with H.E. Tsem Rinpoche under the Bodhi Tree

The next highlight of our trip was a visit to Root Institute, Lama Zopa’s meditation centre. Our group and Rinpoche had the great honour to offer a set of statue of Lama Tsongkhapa and his two disciples to the centre. What a grand sight to behold when 52 of us ushered in the statues, walking joyfully in single file, with offerings of fruits, flowers, incense and kathas, singing Migtsema to the tune of Gaden Monastery. Rinpoche had mentioned many times the significance of having a Lama Tsongkhapa statue:

“Wherever there is Lama Tsongkhapa, there will be growth, peace and harmony. And for such a wonderful place like Root Institute where thousands of people from all over come to study the Buddhadharma, it will help increase enormous merits for the growth of the place and for anyone who propitiates His blessings.”

An old monk meditates within the confines of the Mahabodhi temple complex

While we were sitting in the gompa, Rinpoche reiterated the significance of offering a Lama Tsongkhapa statue. “People are here for a reason – to practice the Dharma. To learn, to listen, to contemplate and put into action and it took a lot of effort to get here. So if we offer things here, many will come through here to make offerings and they will be able to collect merits towards their practice, and we contributed to that!”

“Another reason why we should be honoured to make such an offering is that we are offering to a high being, a living Bodhisattva, one of the greatest Lamas of our time (Lama Zopa). So when the Lama hears, comes and sees, we get incredible waves of merits. That will contribute to our spiritual practice!”

Saying goodbye before returning to Malaysia

After Bodhgaya, we returned to Sri Lanka and continued our last leg of our pilgrimage to Kandy, where we visited the famous Tooth Relic Temple, housing the tooth of Lord Buddha.  After a quick stop at a local gem museum, we had lunch in a Chinese restaurant atop a hill, enjoying a cool breeze, overlooking a majestic view of a man-made lake and surrounding hillsides. On the way back to Colombo, we paid a special visit to a Vipasanna meditation centre, Upali Tera, where the first Thai monk was actually trained.

Our group was finally homeward-bound on December 31st, satiated, tired but still in high spirits. Stepping foot in KL again made Bodhgaya seem like a dream, a far-off place. Suddenly, “samsara” seems so much less appealing. Maybe moving to “Bodhgaya” doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

One Response to Bodhgaya 2005

  1. [...] In the Buddhist tradition, collecting merits through pujas or visiting sacred places will help to clear one’s obstacles to practice the Dharma. For this reason, I advised Sharon’s father to conduct a few pujas and to also go on a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya… which they happily accepted. It was the first time visiting Bodhgaya for Sharon and her family, but everything went smoothly thanks to Dato Ruby Khong who decided to follow them. Dato Ruby has been to Bodhgaya several times before. [...]