The Four Holy Places
The four holy places where Buddha had set foot draw thousands of followers each year – Lumbini, Bodh Gaya,Sarnath and Kusinagar.Buddhism as a religion started about 2,500 years ago and is followed by
millions of people around the world today. There is no God as such but Buddhists follow the teachings of Buddha with regard to Dharma. It is more spiritual than religious and Buddha preached enlightenment.
Birth – Lumbini
Buddha was not always the spiritual person that we know today. He was born in Lumbini to King Sudhodana and Queen Maya Devi into the warrior clan of kshatriyas. It is believed that he started
walking and talking as soon as he was born. Back then, Gautama Buddha was known as Siddhartha Gautama.
Lumbini continues to hold the Shakya Tank, the remains within the Maya Devi Temple and the Ashoka pillar. Remains of many viharas and stupas can be seen too.
As the story goes, the king decided to call a council of Brahmins to bless the child and tell his future. To his dismay,the Brahmins predicted that the boy would either become a great monarch or an ascetic. In order to protect his son from a life of spirituality and asceticism, Sudhodana went to great lengths to train him in warfare and not expose him to any kind of suffering.
Youth – Kapilavastu
However, at the age of 29, Siddhartha wished to go out and see the city of Kapilavastu, the capital of the Shakya Kingdom. There was much enthusiasm and the whole city was decorated.
Anything upsetting or anyone suffering was kept out of his way. But, on his ride, Siddhartha came across an old man, a diseased man and a decaying corpse.
This saddened him and he started thinking about life and death and suffering. He then came across a hermit who was sitting peacefully on the sidewalk.
Despite his unkempt look, he appeared satisfied with life. Siddhartha then felt the need to leave his family and his present life behind and to seek answers.To this day, remains of the eastern gate of the palace through which Siddhartha Gautama left the palace on his horse,Kanthak are visible in addition to many stupas.
Buddha discovered the importance of moderation and how it is necessary to balance things in life. He realised that suffering and death are part of life and wished to find a solution for the same. He meditated under a Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya for 49 days and attained enlightenment at the age of 35. That is when Siddhartha became Buddha. He gained insight into the cause of suffering and how to eliminate it. The Bodhi Tree stands to this day in present-day Bihar.
Relics of Buddha are located in many different places. He had once given some of his hair to two merchant brothers – Taphussa and Bhallika. It is believed that his hair has been preserved in Shwe Dagon, a temple in Rangoon,Burma. Moreover, relics of his right tooth have been retained at Dalada Maligawa in Sri Lanka.
Buddha Teaches – Sarnath
He spent the next few years travelling and preaching what he had realised. He gave his first sermon in the current-day deer park of Sarnath, which is 13 km to the north-east of Varanasi. People started
following him and he formed a Sangha with his disciples. He roamed on foot mostly in the Gangetic plains around Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and southern Nepal.The deer park, the Dhameka Stupa and relics of Buddhist monasteries and stupas make it worth the visit.
Through all of these phases, his father tried to make contact with him and to call him home. When he finally did come, he gave a sermon on Dharma which made many members of the royal family join him. Two of his cousins and his seven-year old son Rahula also followed suit. His foster mom wished to
join him then but it was only much later that Buddha permitted women to join the Sangha with the understanding that men and women have the same capacity for attaining Nirvana. It was at Vaishali that he first ordained female nuns.
Not only was he known for his principles and teachings but also for his miracles. His story with the murderer, Angulimala who was known for killing people and chopping off their little fingers and hanging them around his neck is quite well known and is also narrated to children as a fable. When he
wanted to kill Buddha, Buddha with only his words convinced him to leave his life of murder and greed.Angulimala eventually became a monk and joined Buddha.
Parinirvana – Kusinagar
Gautama Buddha passed away in Kusinagar at the age of 80 with the words– All composite things are perishable.Strive for your own liberation with diligence. Buddha’s parinirvana stupa and the parinirvana temple are the holy sites to visit in Kusinagar in addition to the remains of many other stupas.