Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Buddha Valley

The picturesque Jeṭhian valley in the heart of Magadha is an ensemble of places with valued cultural heritage relating to the sublime wanderings of the Buddha. The beauty and calmness of this valley enticed Buddha. Chinese monk-scholar Xuanzang (7th CE) who stayed in this valley and studied under monk Jayaṣena for two years has mentioned about many sacred traces of the Buddha’s stay in this valley. The remains of this association of the Buddha with the valley can be found all over the valley. 
The valley is 20 km, running east to west and on an average 4 km wide. Presently, there are more than 50 villages settled in this serene valley and the valley still retains its pristine character with verdant landscape.
Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University) under its ‘Engaged Buddhism’ initiative is facilitating awareness generation among the people of this sacred valley towards the rich heritage the place is bestowed with.  People living in many villages of this Buddha valley are proud of the legacy that they are a part of. This valley is very sacred and holds a special meaning to Buddhists all over the World who are slowing trickling in. Efforts are now being made to facilitate creation of an ambiance suitable for pilgrims and Buddhist meditation practitioners.

The Buddha Valley                                                                                                                                 @Yves Guichard

Map-1. The Buddha Valley

Map-2. Buddha Valley on the Bodhgayā- Prāgbodhi- Jeṭhian- Rājgir- Pārwati, Buddha Trail

Map-3. Buddha Valley in the heart of Magadha (of the Buddha's time).

Sacred places in the Buddha Valley and its significance

Supatiṭṭha Cetiya 
Temple created over the ancient Supatiṭṭha Cetiya.                                          @ Jashoda Chettri
Before leaving Rājagriha in search for the truth, Siddhārtha promised King Bimbisāra to share his experience once he attained Enlightenment. Keeping his promise the Buddha, after his Enlightenment, on his way to Rājagriha, arrived here and stayed at Supatiṭṭha Cetiya. King Bimbisāra with a myriad of followers came here from Rājagriha to receive the Buddha (Vin.i.35ff; DhA.i.88; AA.i.166; BuA.18). King Ashoka later built a stūpa at this place to mark the presence of the Buddha (Beal 1969).
Chinese monk-scholar Xuanzang mentioned an interesting legend where a man made a failed attempt to measure the height of the Buddha with a bamboo stick (Laṭṭhi) and he threw the bamboo on ground. His bamboo took root and the place became Laṭṭhivana (Bamboo Grove). 
Read other stories about Jehian 

Asura cave (now Rājāpinḍā Cave)
Asura Cave                                                                                                                                     @ Douglas Mason
Xuanzang wrote about a wide road constructed by king Bimbisāra leading to Asura Cave where the Buddha once dwelled and preached Dhamma for three months. Xuanzang has also described how king Bimbisāra cut out a passage through the rock, opened up the valleys, leveled the precipices and built up a wall of stones to reach the place where the Buddha was present (Beal 1969).
In 1899, Sir Auriel Stein identified the Rājāpinda Cave on the eastern hill with Asura’s Cave. Sir Stein reported a 6 to 12 feet wide road around 500 meters long leading to the cave as mentioned by Xuanzang. Sir Stein also mentioned in his report a big stone platform and a massive wall (measuring 16 ft wide and 18 ft high) leading to the 25 ft high by 20 ft wide by 91 ft deep cave (Asura Cave) (Patil 2006: 188-189).
Our objective is to restore this ancient Bimbisāra path so that pilgrims can once again pay respect and meditate at the Asura Cave where the Buddha stayed and gave important discourses. 

Buddhavana (Ayer-Pathri)
Rock shelter where the Buddha stayed, Buddhavana                                          @ Mathieu Jaquinet
While making cārikā through this beautiful Laṭṭhivana valley (now Jeṭhian valley), a rock shelter in the middle of the mountain (later called Buddhavana mountain) (Beal 1969) was where the Buddha chose to take shelter for a night as mentioned by Xuanzang. The sacred cave amid earthly surroundings is not only a tangible reminder of the Buddha but also a place to reflect on the sublime wandering of the Buddha ‘for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, and out of compassion for the world.’ Xuanzang mentions that during the Buddha’s stay at the rock shelter, Lord Śakra and Lord Brahma descended from the heavens to visit the Buddha one night. Out of great respect for the Buddha, they ground ox-head sandal-wood on a big stone by the Buddha’s rock shelter and anointed the Buddha with it (Beal 1969). A 50mt climb from the sacred rock shelter is the remains of an ancient Buddhist temple and an ancient man-made platform, probably a place for meditation for the residing monks.  
Read other stories about Buddhavana 

Ancient stūpas over the hills of the Buddha Valley
Remains of an ancient Stupa in the Buddha Valley

Entirely captivating, this pilgrimage path through the valley marked by stūpa remains over its hills is reminiscent of the ancient tradition of the votive offering at Yaṣṭhivana witnessed by Xuanzang. 
In his words, It is custom in India to make little stūpas of powdered scent into a paste; their height is six or seven inches, and they place inside them some written extract from a Sūtra; this they call Dharma-Śarīra (Beal 1969). 
Xuanzang mentions how Upāsaka Jayasena at Yaṣṭhivana made numerous Dharma-Śarīra and placed them in a great stūpa here.
Efforts towards revitalization of the valley 

Revitalisation of Supatiṭṭha Cetiya

Ven. Sataori Hanoka and people of Jethian at the restored temple.

Though, the place was correctly identified long back in 1901 by Sir Auriel Stien, but not much happened after that. The real revitalization of the place started when in 1999, Venerable monk Satori Hanaoka along with Gencyu Hayase and Kenryu Ito of the Japanese All Kochi Young Buddhist Association created a Temple to house the sacred images of the Buddha that were lying neglected for centuries. 

 Buddha trail and Dhamma Walk
Venerable Monks, Nuns and laity, Dhamma Walk, 2014                                @ Alok Jain

In recent years Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (NNM)made efforts towards revitalization of the sacred places in the valley. NNM in collaboration with International Tipitaka Chanting Council (ITCC) organized a Dhamma Walk on 13th December, 2014. More than 1500 participants from 15 Buddhist countries participated in the Walk and most of them expressed they were not aware of this beautiful stretch existed. Many of them wanted this to be organized more frequently so that they could join it again. Idea behind the walk is to generate awareness towards the rich legacy of the Buddha particularly towards the lesser known but significant places associated with the Buddha. Hundreds of youth from Jehian generously volunteered for the walk this year.  
More pictures of Dhamma Walk 

Significance of this Buddha Walking Pilgrimage trail 
Before leaving Rājagriha in search of the truth, Siddhārtha promised King Bimbisāra to share his experience once he attained enlightenment. Keeping his promise the Buddha, along with the Saṅgha, left Gayāsisa (Brahmayoni) for Rājagriha. Walking 25 miles north-east along the hills they reached a beautiful bamboo forest, Laṭṭhivana (Jehian).
King Bimbisāra gathered news of the Buddha’s presence. King Bimbisāra along with his retinue of ministers and a myriad of followers from the town of Rājagriha came to greet this enlightened one at Laṭṭhivana, about 7 miles west, along the Rājagriha hills (Vin.i.35).
The Buddha and the Saṇgha, escorted by King Bimbisāra and myriads of people from Rājagriha then took this route through Jeṭhian-Rājgir Valley to reach Rājagriha, where the King Bimbisāra offered the Buddha and the Saṇgha his favorite pleasure garden, the Veḷuvana (Bamboo Grove) (Vin.i.39f).


Beal, S.; 1969, Si-yu-ki: Buddhist records of the Western World, Translated from the    Chinese   Of Hiuen Tsiang, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation,Delhi, (1st Pub. 1884. London: Trubner & Co.).

Patil, D. R.; 2006, The Antiquarian Remains in Bihar, K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, (1st Edition: 1963). 

Abbreviations of Bibliography: 
Source of Pāli references:

P.T.S.    Means published by the Pāli Text Society.
SHB.     Means published in the Simon Hewavitarne Bequest Series (Colombo).
AA.      Manorathapūranī, Anguttara Commentary, 2 vols. (S.H.B.).
BuA.   Buddhavaṃsa Aṭṭhakathā Commentary (S.H.B.).
DhA.    Dhammapadatthakathā, 5 vols. (P.T.S.).
PED    Pāli English Dictionary.
Vin.      Vinaya Piṭaka, 5 vols., ed. Oldenberg (Williams and Norgate).

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ashokan Stūpas Calling!

Footsteps of Bodhisattava Siddhārtha on Prāgbodhi Hill 
Shadow cave, Prāgbodhi Hill (now Dungeswari Hill) has a series of stūpas remains running from East to West on its top. The 7th CE Chinese monk-scholar Xuanzang who undertook pilgrimage to these stūpas mentions these stūpas were dedicated by emperor Ashoka to mark the footsteps of Bodhisattva Siddhārtha.  From centuries of neglect, these stūpas are in a deplorable condition and need protection and conservation.
Six years of practice (austerities) at the East bank of Nirāñjanā is an integral part of the Enlightenment of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree (Mahābodhi, now Bodhgayā, on the West bank of Nirāñjanā). The places and events associated with the Austerities (that includes Ashokan stūpas on Prāgbodhi Hill) and the Enlightenment of the Buddha should be integrated and developed into an ‘Enlightenment Zone’.
Fig. Prāgbodhi Hill has a series of remains of Ashokan stūpas on its top.
@Alok Jain
Pāli accounts maintain that Sujātā offered food to Bodhisattva Siddhārtha on full-moon day of Visākha (Vesāk). After having the food Siddhārtha spent rest of the day in sāla-groove and in the evening, crossed Nirāñjanā (also Nilāñjanā, Nerañjarā) and arrived at the foot of the Pīpala tree (Bodhi tree, Bodhgayā) (A.iii.240; Mtu.ii.136f).  However, the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (7th CE) mention that after having the food offered by Sujātā,  once the Buddha gained some energy, he embarked again upon the meditative path in order to achieve enlightenment. He left the immediate vicinity of Senānigāma, the village of Sujātā, in search of a new place to make a fresh beginning. In this way walking seven kilometers in north-easterly direction he arrived at a hill which is now called Dungeswari Hill.  Xuanzang mentioned this hill as Prāgbodhi Mountain, meaning the mountain leading to perfect enlightenment (Beal 1914: 114). It seems the sāla-groove of Pāli texts and Prāgbodhi mountain of Faxian (5th CE) and Xuanzang are probably the same place.

Fig. The footsteps of Bodhisattva Siddhārtha on the day of Veshākha Pūrṇimā

When Siddhārtha climbed to the top of this hill, the earth shook, warning Siddhārtha, ‘This Mountain is not a fortunate place for Vajra Samādhi.’ Siddhārtha, while descending, found a cave and as he sat down cross-legged, there was another earthquake. Deva urged him to go further west to the Pīpala tree, perfect for Vajra Samādhi. As Siddhārtha prepared to leave, the dragon of the cave urged him to remain. Siddhārtha, to appease the dragon, left his shadow in the cave and departed (Beal 1914: 114). Faxian saw the shadow of Bodhisattva Siddhārtha in the cave which he says was very bright (Beal 2005: ch xxxi). From the base of the hill, one can see a series of huge stūpas running from east to west, gracing Prāgbodhi Hill. According to Xuanzang, King Ashoka indicated each spot up and down this mountain that Bodhisattva Siddhārtha had passed by erecting distinguished posts and stūpas (Beal 1914: 114).  Xuanzang stated how on the last day of the season of Vassā (a rainy season retreat), religious laymen from different countries ascended this mountain, made offerings, stayed for one night and then returned.
Leaving his shadow in the cave, Siddhārtha was then guided by the deva-s and left the eastern bank of Nirāñjanā, where he had the realization to follow the Middle Path towards the western bank of Nirāñjanā. There ultimately under the Pīpāl tree on the night of Veshākha Pūrṇimā, he attained Enlightenment and became the Awakened One.

Fig. Ashokan stūpas to commemorate the footsteps of Siddhārtha

Fig. Shadow cave, Prāgbodhi Hill (now Dungeswari Hill) 
@Arnold Hui

Walking Pilgrimage Track 
The footsteps of Bodhisattva Siddhārtha on the day of Veshākha Pūrṇimā should be developed as a Walking Pilgrimage trail. This 22 km trail has more than 10 villages on its route. Development of this trail will facilitate revitalization of the sacred trail; the followers of the teachings of the Buddha who want to experience the spiritual journey, the meritorious walk on the Buddha-Path will get opportunity to experience and earn merit. This revitalization will also provide livelihood opportunities to the people who live in many of these villages.    
Fig. 'Enlightenment Zone' ( Bodhgayā- Prāgbodhi- Brahmayoni) Pilgrimage Circuit

The Middle Path Avenue

The act of leaving the worldly life by Siddhārtha is called Mahabhinikkhamana, the great renunciation, a renunciation unparalleled in history. Mahabhinikkhamana consisted of Siddhārtha leaving Kapilavastu, walking all the way to the east bank of the river Nirāñjanā, took austerities for six years, crossing the river Nirāñjanā, and finally reaching the Bodhi tree. One of the best ways to celebrate and pay tribute to the Mahabhinikkhamana (the great renunciation) is by dedicating this last stretch of Siddhārtha’s walk from Prāgbōdhi to Bodhi Tree connecting the two banks of the Nirāñjanā, as the ‘Middle Path’ Avenue.

Fig. Venerable Monks crossing the Nirāñjanā river, Mahābodhi (Bodhgayā)
@Arnold Hui 
Fig. Standing on the top of  the remains of  an Ashokan stūpa

Geographic Information System (GIS) plotting of the Faxian and Xuanzang's description of    six year of Buddha is the Urvelā area (Bodhgayā, Prāgbodhi and Brahmayoni)


 Beal, S.; 2005, Travels of Fah-hian and Sung-Yun, Buddhist Pilgrims from China to India, Low
        Price Publications, Delhi: (Originally published London: Trubner and Co.: 1869).
--------------. 1914, The life of Hiuen-Tsiang by Shaman Hwui Li, Kegan Paul, Trench Trubner &
Co. Ltd, London. (New Edition 1911).
            ---------------. 1969, Si-yu-ki: Buddhist records of the Western World, Translated from the Chinese Of Hiuen    Tsiang, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation,Delhi, (1st Pub. 1884. London: Trubner & Co.).

P.T.S.    Means published by the Pāli Text Society.
 A          Anguttara Nikaya, 5 vols. (P.T.S.).
Mtu.     Mahāvastu, ed. Senart, 3 vols.