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With the Buddha

INDIA | Saturday, 13 February 2016 | Views [354]

We are now in Lumbini, soon to depart Nepal for India once again and Kapilavastu, the home city of the Buddha. There is another Kapilavastu in Nepal, also claimed to be THE Kapilavastu but since we are not going there surely it cannot be??

Lumbini, the birth place of the Buddha, has been a respite from the noise and bustle of India. Crossing the border from India to Nepal last night was like going from one movie set to another, a Russian Medieval science fiction film of Bedlamesque proportions to a quiet Western backwater town with long single storied alleys with empty(ish) barber shops and busy food stalls. I felt a sense of relief and delight in being here mixed with regret that our stay will be so brief. Still, Nepal a place to visit to go along with all my other new hobbies once I return to the UK.

This morning Manidhamma and I hired bicycles to wheel our way to the spot where MayaDevi, the Buddha's mother, gave birth to him. Once again I tried to imagine the situation, reflecting on her early death and how difficult that might have been for the young Gautama.

I am now back at our guest house, the very pleasant Sunnflower Inn, and waiting for Manidhamma to emerge from the bathroom showered and shaved.

We had made our way to Lumbini yesterday from Kushinagar, the place the Buddha chose for his finall passing or Paranirvana. It is also the place where Sangharakshita, my teacher, received his novice ordination into the Theravada order and his name. Irritable pilgrim I may be but I am also a grateful one.

Kushinagar boasts the remains of the original stupa built to hold a part of the Buddha's ashes and also a large reclining rupa of the Buddha from, I think, the 5th century of sublime beauty. 

The rupa is housed in a cylindrical room and I spent around a half an hour yesterday and the day before walking around it and sitting on the floor reflecting. The experience of being there reminded me of the times that I spent with my mother's and grandmother's body as they lay at respective undertakers. As such it was poignantly intimate, with my thoughts going back to those times and to them and my imagination to what it must have been like to have sat with the body of the Buddha. 

I particularly thought of Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and personal attendant for the last twenty years of his life, and Ananda's grief at the loss of the Buddha. An intensely personal grief, in which he lamented the passing away of someone who was so kind.

Sitting on the floor of the room I consequently felt a connection with the Buddha on this basis. A connection based on his kindness and love, akin to feelings I have for my mother and grandmothers. Added to this, a reflection on him as an old man, his body causing him pain and falling apart much as I witnessed with my own mother, and then his imperturbable calm and absolute wisdom. Still, these qualities did not stop Ananda from intense grief at his death. 'The Buddha was a man as we are men (and women)'. 

What I am trying to get at, not very well, is that from this pilgrimage I have been able to get closer to the human side of the Buddha and that this is connecting and integrating for me, a remedy for a certain form of alienation from my real emotions. I'll leave it at that.

At Kushinagar we also visited the old Burmese monaster where Sangharaksita was ordained (twice, the first time it was, rather farcically, realised he had been given a name already possessed by another monk), which I also found very inspiring. Sangharakshita writes about this experience in 'The History of My Going for Refuge' (and the brilliant 'Thousand Petalled Lotus') and, even though he casts doubt about the formal validity of the ceremony, for me it seems important as a fulfillment of a desire to give his life to the Dharma. ANYWAY, I enjoyed and was uplifted by the experience.

To be continued (we're off!)


Tags: border crossings, parinirvana, pilgrimage

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