Monday, October 24, 2016

Takuhatsu in the streets of Jeṭhian

Monks and nuns with alms bowl in Jeṭhian 
Sixteen monks and nuns from different Buddhist monasteries of a small town Kōchi located on the island of Shikoku in Japan, with their alms bowls in their hands walked on the streets of Jeṭhian (50kms from Bodhgayā)   on 1st October to do Takuhatsu, meaning, collection of food by request. Taku in Japanese means ‘request’ and hatsu means ‘with eating bowls.’

Ven. Sataori Hanoka, the group leader and also the Head Priest of the Gugan Ji temple in Kōchi thanked the village community for offering the Saṅghadāna.  He said, My association with Jeṭhian goes back to 1998 when I along with other fellow monks from Japan first visited the Jeṭhian. On behalf of the group I thank the people of Jeṭhian for this spiritual experience of  recreating the ritual of collecting alms that Buddha did here in Jeṭhian centuries ago.

The tradition of collecting food by begging was instituted by the Buddha (6th BCE) himself. Every day in the morning, the Buddha and the monks and nuns of the Saṅgha took their begging bowls and go out into the community to seek food (Pāli:Piṇḍapāta). That is why the Buddhist monks and nuns are ceremoniously called Bhikṣu and Bhikṣuṇī, one who begs.  The Buddha saw this interdependence between the Saṅgha and the community as a spiritual connection. Laypeople have a responsibility to support the monks physically, and the monks have a responsibility to support the community spiritually. Also, according to the Buddha, to be able to feel the true nature of self, one needed to give up one’s ego. The Buddha advised monks to go seeking alms to eradicate their egos.

The tradition of Piṇḍapāta now survives only in Southeast Asian countries practicing the Theravāda Buddhist tradition. The practice of Piṇḍapāta has mostly disappeared in Mahāyana countries like China, Korea, Tibet, Mongolia, etc for various reasons but in Japan monks from some Mahāyāna sects periodically do Takuhatsu. Sometimes these monks recite sūtras or chant ‘Ho’ (Dharma) as they walk, signifying that they are bringing the Dharma, in exchange for alms.

The monks and nuns who participated in this Saṅghadāna have a deep connection with Jeṭhian. All of them belong to All Kōchi Young Buddhist Association (AKYBA), the Buddhist organization that has contributed towards creating the temple to safeguard neglected Buddhist sculptures in the village. Ven. Sataori Hanoka, on his first visit to Jeṭhian spotted ancient sculptures of Buddha and Buddhist deities lying neglected near the pond in the village. He shared his thoughts with monk members of the All Kochi Young Buddhist Association in Japan. With the contributions from AKYBA, the Temple (Buddha Manḍap) was completed in 2002. Ven. Sataori Hanoka and members of AKYBA have been now visiting Jeṭhian regularly to pay pilgrimage and contribute towards further revitalisation of Buddhist remains in Jeṭhian.

Jeṭhian during the times of the Buddha was called Laṭṭhivana (bamboo forest) and Buddha visited this valley many times in his lifetime. Later, in the first millennia this valley became an important seat of learning. The 7th CE Chinese monk scholar Xuanzang studied here under the eminent monk Jayaṣena.  In 13th CE, when Buddhism came to its ebb in Indian subcontinent, Yaṣṭhivana monastery and other vestiges of Buddhism in this valley fell into ruins. The name Yaṣṭhivana got corrupted and became Jeṭhian. In 17th CE, the new population who migrated from Rajasthan came and settled over the ancient Buddhist remains in this valley. In 20th CE, it was revealed that Jeṭhian was the ancient Yaṣṭhivana monastery mentioned by Xuanzang. Since then the community of this valley have been making efforts to preserve the place and create awareness locally and internationally about the significance of the place. They have even formed a committee named ‘Bhagwan Buddha Gram Vikas Samiti’ (BBGVS). The objective of the committee is to protect and preserve this sacred heritage and also facilitate safe and successful pilgrimage for the pilgrims coming from different countries. 

The communities of Jeṭhian valley are aware that in ancient times Buddhist monks walking in the lanes of the villages in this valley for collecting daily alms was a common scene. They feel so blessed that Buddha often visited this serene valley to practice meditation. In the words of Shri Sadhu Saran Singh, the president of the BBGVS, The very thought that the Buddha might have walked on the streets of Jeṭhian to collect food is inspiring.

The community of Jeṭhian offered their first Saṅghadāna in year 2015 when more than 100 monks from thirteen countries under the banner of ITCC (International Tipitaka Chanting Council) collected alms in the streets of the village. Shri Ramuchit Prasad Singh, Treasurer of the Committee said, this was the tradition of the place in ancient times and in future also we will continue with offering Saṅghadāna to all the visiting monks and nuns. 

Shri Dinesh Singh, a senior volunteer from the village thanked the monks and nuns for accepting the food offered by the villagers and hence offering the villagers an opportunity to earn Puñña (merits) in return.

Ven Sataori Honoka and his colleagues with the Buddha statue in 1998

Buddha statue now kept at Buddha Mandap

prayers being offered at Buddha Mandap

From Right Shri Dinesh Singh, Shri Sadhu Saran Singh, Shri Awadhesh Prasad Singh and others

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Sublime Creation

It is indeed a welcome development that after centuries of neglect, the Giriyak stūpa is now getting restored. The restoration work began in 2011-12. I learnt from ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) sources that the restoration of the cylindrical pillar of the stūpa has been partially completed. I along with a few students of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University) climbed up the Giriyak hill to see the restored stūpa and capture this beautiful piece of Buddhist architecture at the break of the dawn. This was my 7th visit since 2009 when I along with my kite photographer friend Yeves Guichard first visited the place to take aerial pictures of the place using a kite. The hill is around 750 feet high and steep. The path leading to the top is around 400mt  of walk. It is a 30 minute climb. We started climbing to the top at 4.45 am so that we could make it to the top before the break of dawn.

Ongoing restoration work of  Giriyak Stūpa

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

From Metropolitan Museum to its Rightful Place

An 8th CE statue of Buddha in Abhayamudrā (gesture of fearlessness) stolen from mahant compound (Brahmanical Monastery), Bodhgayā somewhere between February 1987 and February-March 1989 will be soon brought back to Bodhgayā and will be placed in Bodhgayā Museum. Probably, this is the first time in Bihār, where a stolen sculpture from this state, is returning back from a foreign country to its find spot. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Debala Mitra, former Director General, Archaeological Survey of India (1975- 83) that this stolen statue has been returned by the Metropolitan Museum, New York and is presently lying at Central Antiquity Collection Section, Archaeological Survey of India, Purana Quila, New Delhi. 

The Buddha statue  published in Catalogue pf Metropolitan Museum, New York

The story goes back to February 1987 when Dr Mitra on her visit to Bodhgayā had seen this statue of Buddha in the premises of Maṭha (mahant compound). In her next visit to Bodhgayā in March 1989, she found the same statue missing. Dr. Mitra discovered that the Maṭha people had not reported the theft to the local police. One of the friends of Dr. Mitra drew her attention to image of standing Buddha figure in published in catalogue Arts of South and South-East Asia (Lerner, Martin and Kossak, Steven, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, Fig. 30, Accession No. 1990.115).  Dr. Mitra after comparing her own records with the details published in the catalogue concluded that the Buddha image published in catalogue was the same statue of the Buddha that had gone missing from Bodhgayā Maṭha. She reported the matter to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on 4-5-1990. ASI noticed that the statue was registered by Shri Shatanand Giri of Bodhgayā Maṭha on 4-10-1976 vide registration no. GYA/ BH/68/.  Once it was ascertained that it was same sculpture that was missing from Maṭha, the ASI reported the matter to the Indian Embassy, New York. The Embassy after an enquiry with the Metropolitan Museum confirmed that it was the same statue. The Metropolitan Museum agreed to return the statue without any compensation. The statue was collected from Metropolitan Museum by ASI on 23-3-1999.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ancient Nālandā University: Now a World Heritage Site

Excavated remains of the ancient Nālandā Mahāvihāra (University) has joined the elite group of World Heritage Sites (WHS) that currently includes over 1000 natural and cultural treasures in over 150 countries in the world. Nālandā University was discovered in the year 1862 on the basis of travel accounts of 7th CE Chinese monk scholar, Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang). More than 150 years after its discovery, WHS is not only well deserved but was also long overdue. 

Aerial view of ancient Nālandā University 
The excavated remains of the ancient Nālandā University  are a protected site under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).  International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the International Non-Government agency that offers advice to UNESCO on WHS has pointed out several weaknesses in the submitted nomination dossier (by ASI) and it even suggested deferring the nomination.  
The report claims Nalanda Mahavihara might have the potential to meet requirement for Outstanding Universal Value; however this has not yet been demonstrated (WHC/16/40.COM/INF.8B1, page 91).

The inscribed property by the ASI is limited to the Excavated Remains of the ancient Nālandā University, which is a small fraction of the archaeological remains of the ancient Nālandā University. ICOMOS in its report has suggested India (ASI) to take necessary actions pertaining to the integrity of the property, including the identification of the area and extent of Nālandā Mahāvihāra before its destruction and final abandonment, which should inform the boundaries of the whole property (WHC/16/40.COM/INF.8B1,page 91).

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2nd Dhamma Walk (Jeṭhian-Rājgir Buddha trail) & Saṅghadāna

2nd Dhamma Walk along the Jeṭhian-Rājgir Buddha trail organized by Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (NNM) on 13th December saw a huge turnout of the people from the villages of the Jeṭhian Valley. More than 1500 monks and nuns from 10 different countries under the International Tipitaka Chanting Council (ITCC) led the Walk. The 15km walk along the footsteps of the Buddha concluded at Veḷuvana, Rajgir. 

Highlight of the Dhamma Walk was the Saṅghadāna by the community of Jeṭhian. More than 60 monks from Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Lao etc walked in the streets of the village Jeṭhian to collect food as Buddha and Saṅgha did in the streets of the villages of the Valley some 2500 years ago. 

Buddhist literature has many references of patronage of King Bimbisāra to the Triple Gem. Bimbisāra offered Veḷuvana, the first monastery to the Buddha on his maiden visit to Rājāgṛiha after his enlightenment. Light of the Buddha Dhamma Foundation International (LBDFI) offered a statue of King Bimbisāra at Veḷuvana. 

Community of Jeṭhian offering Saṅghadāna