SEVEN SACRED PLACES AND 49 DAYS FASTING OF BUDDHA IN BODH GAYA

MAHA BODHI MANDALA

I reached to Gaya, Bihar, India for second time on a warm sunny day of late February, 2015. Main destination for me in Gaya is the campus of Maha Bodhi Vihara temple, which is also known as Maha Bodhi Mandala.

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It is an exciting visit to “Bodhi-mandala” which Buddhist mythology claimed as first spot to appear when the world emerges into existence, axis navel of “the Earth” or central point of all sacred energies, since no other place can support the weight of the Buddha’s attainment. As lotuses bloomed in accordance with the number of Buddhas expected to arise, 5 were bloomed in our age. According to legend of Lord Gautama Buddha, a Bodhi tree sprang up here on the day he was born. When the world will destroy at the end of a kalpa, the Bodhi-mandala is the last place to be disappeared.

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MAHA BODHI VIHARA

I visit to Mahabodhi Vihara “Great Awakening Temple”, which is marking where the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Since the time of Lord Buddha, Gaya became an important place. In 250 BCE, Emperor Asoka visited here to build a temple on the holy site. Although the original temple was built by Emperor Asoka, it was renovated and rebuilt for several times. Current structure dates from 5th–6th century, late Gupta period. The tallest tower is 55 metres (180 ft).

Became a UNESCO World Heritage in June 2002, it is one of the oldest brick structures survived. According to UNESCO, “it is one of the earliest and most imposing structures built entirely in brick from Gupta period”. It is a fine example of Indian brickwork, and highly influential in the development of later architectural traditions.

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IMAGE OF THE LORD BUDDHA

When entering inside the Maha Bodhi Vihara temple, there is a colossal image of Lord Buddha in “touching the Earth pose”, bhumisparsha mudra, said to be 1700 years old and facing east exactly at the place where the Lord Buddha in meditation with his back to the Bodhi tree. The original statue is of black stone sculpted by Pala kings of Bengal (8 to 12th A.D.) At present it has been gilded with gold and dressed in bright orange robes. Breath-taking on a glimpse and blessedness perceived.

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STONE RAILINGS

I wandered around the Mahabodhi Vihara temple, which is surrounded on all 4 sides by stone railings, about two meters high, revealed 2 distinct both in style and materials. Older ones made of sandstone dated about 150 BCE and others, constructed from unpolished coarse granite believed to be of Gupta period (300–600 CE). Its pillars, cross-bars, and coping are decorated with Jataka views, Buddha’s life events, historical and folk’s scenes, demi-deities figures such as goddess of wealth being bathed by elephants, Surya (the sun god) riding a chariot drawn by four horses, zodiac signs, figures of stupas, garudas, flora and fauna. Images of lotus flowers appear commonly. Some inscriptions of Brahmi recorded the names of donors.

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SEVEN SACRED PLACES AND 49 DAYS FASTING OF BUDDHA

We all Buddhists know that, in Maha Bodhi Mandala Lord Buddha enlightened. Myths said that Bodhisattva Gautama, had a meal of rice-milk offered by a lady Sujata. It was notable that he had 49 handfuls of that meal probably associated with his upcoming 49 days fasting in Maha Bodhi Mandala, resided 7 places, a week for each (total 49 days) in fasting and meditation.

It is a great opportunity for me to stop at all these 7 holy places.

Sujata

  1. SRI MAHA BODHI TREE AND VAJRASANA (DIAMOND THRONE) သီရိ မဟာ ေဗာဓိပင္ ပထမ သတၱဟ

After having meal and heading towards Bodh Gaya, Bodhisattva Siddhartha Gautama accepting a gift of kusa grass from a grass-cutter, made a seat under a Pippala (Bo) tree facing east. Bodhisattva resolved not to rise until enlightenment was attained. As the diamond throne (Vajrasana) appeared, Mara the Lord of Illusion with his army of demons rushed to distract Bodhisattva. In the furious battle that ensued, power of Bodhisattva’s compassion transformed the fiends’ weapons into flowers and evil forces scattered. Finally wisdom broke through all the illusions and enlightened as Lord Buddha.

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Bodhisattva Gautama attained enlightenment on the full Moon day of Vaisakh Purnima (May) beneath the sacred Peepal tree (Ficus religiosa), where the diamond throne (Vajrasana) appeared. Lord Buddha spent first week (7 days) in meditation here. It was earlier destroyed several times by man-made misery and natural calamities. King Ashoka’s queen, Tissarakkha with a jealousy tried to kill the tree by mandu thorns. However, it grew again. Once more cut down by King Pushyamitra Sunga (2nd century BC) and by King Shashanka in 600 AD. Every time it was destroyed, a new tree was grown at the same place. In 1881 a British archaeologist, Sir Alexander Cunningham planted a new tree as the previous one died for old age. Present Bodhi tree is probably the 5th succession, direct descendant from the original specimen.

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  1. ANIMISA (UNBLINKING) CETI အနိမိသ ဒုတိယ သတၱဟ

About 50 meters, north-east of Maha Bodhi Vihara temple, there is a small stupa on a hillock, known as “Animisa Ceti” (Unblinking Shrine). It is to mark the place where Lord Buddha spent his 2nd week (now it reached total 14 days), remained standing and gazing unblinking towards Sri Maha Bodhi tree, where he had been enlightened and remained his first week. As some deities doubt about his Buddhahood by questioning on the attachment to Bodhi tree, Lord displayed miracles of water-fire from his body and cleared all the suspicions.

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  1. RATNACANCAMA ရတနာ စကၤမ တတိယ သတၱဟ

Lord Buddha spent third whole week in meditation and fasting (reaching 21 days), walking back and forth uninterupted from the Sri Maha Bodhi tree to unblinking Animisa” spot. Presently at the side of Maha Bodhi Vihara temple, there is a corridor like path where a raised structure with symbols of lotus flowers, known as Jewel promenade (Ratanacankama Cetiya) showed where the Lord Buddha’s feet once rested and lotus flowers sprang up.

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  1. RATNAGHARA ရတနာဃရ စတုတၳ သတၱဟ

A small shrine (Ratanaghara Cetiya or House of Jewel) at the north-west of Maha Bodhi Vihara, is where Lord Buddha sat for deep meditation and fasting during 4th week after enlightenment (reaching 28 days). All through He considered 3 baskets (Tripitaka) of teachings: Sutra, Vinaya and Abhidharma. Among the 7 texts of Abhidharma, when contemplation reached to the highest Patthana (ပဌာန္းက်မ္း), Lord Buddha filled with bliss as a huge whale enjoying in the wide open ocean, and the auric rays of blue, yellow, red, white and orange (pink) emanated from His body, which now symbolized on the Buddhist flag.

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  1. AJAPALA NIGRODHA အဇပါလ ပဥၥမ သတၱဟ

When descending the stairs towards Maha Bodhi Vihara temple, there is a stone pillar marking Ajapala-Banyan tree, where Lord Buddha spent his 5th week of meditation and fasting after enlightenment (reaching 35 days). Three demonic daughters of Mara the evil (Ta-nha, Arati, and Raga) came here to seduce Lord Buddha with glittering beauties, but the Lord swept them away. Some refer as 5 daughters, besides 3 poisons of desire, aversion, and passion, also the pride, and fear. Here also Lord Buddha made a response to a question raised by a Brahmin named Hunhunka that only by the good karma (action) but not by birth made an Aryan.

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  1. MUCALINDA မုစလိႏၵာ ဆဌမ သတၱဟ

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Just beyond south-east corner of Maha Bodhi Vihara temple, there is a 6 m high stone pillar, supposedly erected by King Ashoka. Adjacent to it is a large pond, called Mucalinda, where Lord Buddha spent his 6th week of meditation after enlightenment (reaching 42 days). Prince of serpent (Naga) protected the Lord during that whole week from a stormy rain. When it ceased Lord Buddha preached serpent prince about the bliss of a saintly monk who attained Nirvana, and merits get from the freedom of anger which devastates others, freedom of desire which appended to others, freedom of pride which compelling upon others.

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7. RAJARATNA ရာဇရတန သတၱမ သတၱဟ

A few meters south of Mahabodhi Vihara temple, a Banyan tree လင္းလြန္းပင္ (Hura crepitans) marks a place where Lord Buddha spent his last 7th week of meditation and fasting after enlightenment. As 49 days accomplished Lord Buddha washed his face on that morning and accepted the food offerings by two merchant brothers, Tapussa and Ballika of Ukkala (modern day Yangon of Myanmar). Lord Buddha gave them 8 strands of hairs and sermons two gems “Buddham saranam gacchami and Dhammam saranam gacchami” as there was no Sangam at that time. Those hairs were enshrined as relics inside the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon.

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BODHISATTVA MAITREYA ဂါယာေျမ မဟာေဗာဓိ ၀ိဟာရ ရွိ ေနာင္ပြင့္ေတာ္မူမည့္ အရိေမတၱယ် ျမတ္စြာဘုရားေလာင္းကို ဖူးေမွ်ာ္ ပူေဇာ္

I’d worshipped an image of Bodhisattva Maitreya located at the northern outer wall of Maha Bodhi Vihara temple.

Bodhisattva Maitreya will be the 5th Buddha of this Bhadrakalpa, will appear in future as a successor to the Lord Gautama Buddha, achieve enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. Maitreya means “loving-kindness”, which in turn derived from mitra (mitta) in the sense of “friend”. Currently resides in the Tusita Heaven, pictured seated on a throne, waiting for his time.

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POLYCHROMATIC VOTARIES
I am one among the Buddhist devotees of different regions, different countries from far corners of the world come as the streams of multihued people with various faces, diverse clothes, gathered here.

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We all held our prayers and take haven under the shelter of Bodh Gaya temple campus with same intense faiths: their own meditative mind.

MEDITATION SESSIONS
Fortunately I’d a chance to get the guidance of Venerable Ashin Sandavarabivamsa (ဘဒၵႏၲ ေဒါက္တာ စႏၵာ၀ရာဘိဝံသ) of International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, during a week of time when I was in the sacred land.

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AN AUSPICIOUS SIGN

I’d seen, in a split of coincidental moment, a white bird on the lap of the image of Lord Buddha, directly facing the Bodhi tree, just ahead of Vajrasana (Throne of Diamond).

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Foretelling peace, tranquility, silence, harmony, and serenity!

Sharing here to the all sentient beings.

Thardu, Thardu, Thardu!

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