|1. The white crane we saw on the New Year's Day. (Sec. 4)|
|2. Feeding pigeons and monkeys with yellow corn. (Sec. 6)|
|3. The Swayambhunath Stupa. (Sec. 6)|
|4. Under the Bodhi tree of Enlightenment. (Sec. 7)|
|5. Kneeling to the Vajra Seat. (Sec. 7)|
|6. The cave on the Pragbodhi Hill. (Sec. 8)|
|7. Meditation on the Vulture Peak. (Sec. 9)|
|8. Praying at the Vulture Peak. (Sec. 9)|
|9. The Dahmekh Stupa at Sarnath. (Sec. 12)|
|10. Sunrise on the Ganges River. (Sec. 13)|
|11. Enjoying Hindu music on the Ganges River. (Sec. 13)|
|12. The reclining Buddha at Kushinagar. (Sec. 14)|
|13. Yogi Chen's calligraphy in the Shuang Lin Temple. (Sec. 14)|
|14. Meditating under the Bodhi tree of Buddha's birth. (Sec. 15)|
|15. Offering butter lamps to Padmasambhava. (Sec. 16)|
|16. Guru Chen's stupa in Taiwan. (Sec. 17)|
|17. Butter lamp offering in the Mahabodhi Temple. (Sec. 8)
photo taken by Janice M. Whipple
|18. Yutang Lin at Sarnath. (Sec. 12)
photo taken by Elena Presser
4. PRELIMINARY SERVICES
|7. THE SITE OF BUDDHA'S ENLIGHTENMENT─ BODHGAYA|
8. THE SITE OF SAKYAMUNI'S AUSTERITIES─ THE BANK OF NERANJARA RIVER
9. A FAMOUS PLACE OF BUDDHA'S SERMONS ─ THE VULTURE PEAK
10. THE ANCIENT CENTER OF BUDDHIST STUDIES ─ NALANDA UNIVERSITY
11. SEEING A RAINBOW BODY IN A DREAM AT BODHGAYA
12. THE SITE OF BUDDHA'S FIRST SERMON ─ SARNATH
|13. WATCHING SUNRISE AND CREMATION AT THE GANGES RIVER|
|15. BUDDHA'S BIRTHPLACE─LUMBINI|
|16. THE PADMASAMBHAVA CAVE, TARA ROCK AND VAJRA YOGINI TEMPLE AT PHARPING|
|17. PILGRIMAGE TO GURU CHEN'S STUPA IN TAIWAN|
|18. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND DEDICATION OF MERITS|
I would like to extend many thanks to the following people for their generous assistance: Robert Pryor and Nancy Stealey for their corrections which resulted in my making a revision on July 29, 1990.
Juan Bulnes for his helpful suggestions.
My English teacher, Ann Klein, for her thorough and fine editing, and her great patience in reviewing the draft so many times.
Laurie Cummins for her suggestions with final editing.
Emilie Yih for the inputting and preparation for printing.
After 15 years of studying and practicing Buddhism, I deeply realized the oneness of the Dharmadhatu, without the barrier of time and space. However, before a practitioner has achieved this realization, he needs to purify his mind by engaging in Buddhist practices. These practices and my personal experiences allowed the concept of impermanence to be deeply rooted in my mind, as a constant awareness. Hence, going on this pilgrimage meant renouncing everything in order to obtain progress on the Buddhist path. One of Buddha's final teachings was that his followers should go on a pilgrimage to the sites where his birth, enlightenment, first preaching and Nirvana took place. I had hoped that, enduring the hardships of traveling, this pilgrimage would crystallize my sincerity, and that the Dharma activities I would engage in during the trip (such as making offerings, doing prostrations, reciting prayers and hymns, and meditative practices), would inspire Buddha's blessings in me so that I might successfully propagate the Dharma to the world.
I applied for a tourist visa to India. I received several kinds of inoculations and bought travel insurance. Besides the usual articles for traveling I prepared a one liter plastic water flask, a supply of water purification tablets, a supply of chloroquinine tablets for malaria prevention, a small first aid kit, a camera with new batteries installed, nine rolls of film, a waistband for hiding money inside my shirt, a waist-pouch for carrying my passport and airline tickets, and quite a few passport photos for visa applications during the trip. Later, I also packed a woolen blanket which I had bought in Bodhgaya (in addition, a flashlight and a lighter would have come in handy for the pilgrimage). I used the blanket as a cape outdoors and as a shawl to cover my legs during sitting meditation. I packed ritual items for the pilgrimage which my Guru had given me: a long Chinese robe, a Chinese cap which constituted the formal wear of my Guru, Yogi Chen, and a Buddhist rosary made of 108 red sandalwood beads. For recitation, I brought my Guru's works: The Collection of Hymns, and Poems on Pilgrimage in The Short Flute Collection (both from his Works of the Bended Arm Study), and my works: A Short Hymn on Guru Chen's Life (in Chinese) and Pureland Daily Practice. One blue lace khata (presentational scarf) and one red lace khata were prepared for Sakyamuni Buddha and Guru Chen, respectively. There were six Buddhist friends who gave me small amounts of money for offering of incense and lamps on the pilgrimage. One Buddhist friend asked me to present a homemade embroidered Five Wheel Pagoda to Yogi Chen in front of his sarira stupa.
On New Year's Day, I performed a fire sacrifice ceremony to Sakyamuni Buddha to pray for a successful pilgrimage. Earlier in the morning, I went first to Timber Cove to offer three precious vases to the Dragon King. There was a white crane standing on kelp in the ocean. We had gone there to offer the precious vases for more than a decade and we had met a white crane only four times; each time it was somehow connected with my Guru. This time it signified Guru Chen's blessing for an auspicious pilgrimage to Buddha's land and to His stupa. In the San Francisco Bay area, December is the rainy season; for the first time in more than 100 years there was not even a drop of rain in the twelfth month of 1989. Hence, I also prayed to the Dragon King for rain, and on that New Year's Day it poured throughout the entire day in the Bay area.
On the second of January, I took a direct flight on China Airlines from San Francisco to Taipei. I arrived in Taipei at 7 p.m. local time the next day. My itinerary included a flight for Bangkok the next day, however, there was one available at 9 p.m. that evening. Regulations required me to take that flight. My parents and brother met me at the airport. They gave me the phone number of a friend, Mr. Tenzing, in Kathmandu, Nepal. I arrived in Bangkok at 11:30 p.m. According to my itinerary, I was to arrive on the 4th and leave for Kathmandu on the 5th. I was hoping to obtain a transit visa upon arrival which would enable me to stay an extra day. As it turned out I arrived on the 3rd and was scheduled to leave on the 5th, however the immigration official did not allow me to enter Thailand and ordered me to leave in the morning. My ticket for Kathmandu was purchased from the Royal Nepal Airlines, and there was no scheduled flight for Kathmandu on the 4th. The airport representative of China Airlines looked for a connecting flight for me. I had a hotel reservation voucher with me for the Airport Hotel at Bangkok which was entrusted to me by Professor Pryor for four members (including myself) of our pilgrimage group. After several phone calls the hotel management agreed to come get it.
Accompanied by a plain-clothes security officer, I walked up to the waiting lounge on the second floor. When he learned that I was on a pilgrimage, he was very friendly to me. He pulled down the cushion from a chair and set it on the floor for me to sleep on. He looked after my luggage and allowed me to move around freely in the huge waiting lounge. I was hungry but all the stores were closed. Fortunately, in my pocket there was an orange and a small bag of peanuts that I had saved from the China Airlines' flight.
It was rather chilly that night in the waiting lounge, but I was comfortably warm lying under my lightweight dampproof aluminized blanket. Nevertheless, finding myself alone in a foreign land with uncertainty casting over my mission made it difficult for me to sleep well. After a short nap, I sat up and started to recite the pilgrimage poems composed by my Guru as well as my work A Short Hymn on Guru Chen's Life. I also prayed for my Guru's blessing to smooth my way for the pilgrimage.
At 9 a.m. on the 4th of January, there was suddenly good news: Royal Nepal Airlines' scheduled flight for the 3rd had been delayed because of fog, and was rescheduled to leave that morning. There was space available for me on this flight! Thus, I was spared the penalty of having to buy an extra airline ticket. Upon boarding the plane I saw a photo of a magnificent statue of Buddha right in front of my seat. It was as though Buddha had come to greet me. I was deeply moved. After lunch, the tension and tiredness which I had accumulated over the last few days faded. With deep gratitude, I prayed that all beings would make smooth progress on the path toward Buddhahood.
I arrived in Kathmandu in the afternoon. In order to obtain a 15-day tourist visa, one needed only to fill out a short form at the airport and submit 10 U.S. dollars. Porters and solicitors for taxis or hotels swarmed around me as I stepped out. I carried my light luggage and walked away from the crowd, then called Mr. Tenzing on the phone. He answered the call himself and drove immediately to the airport to pick me up and take me to his residence. I then made a phone call back home to my father in Taipei to let them know that I had arrived safely one day early, and asked him to call my wife to pass on the news. Upon Mr. Tenzing's kind invitation I stayed in their guest suite that night.
On the way from the airport to my friend's place I felt as if I were visiting a small rural town of the Taiwan two decades ago. The common houses were small, shabby, brick buildings, but there were also some buildings with several stories which were equipped with a "small ear" (the Chinese nickname for a satellite TV antenna.) Mr. Tenzing was the house manager of an elder lama Guru Dewa Rin-po-che. Mr. Tenzing used to be a lama himself and had served Rin-po-che for more than 30 years. A few years ago he returned to the laity, married, and now had two sons. Rin-po-che was over 80 years old. Many years ago he founded the first Tibetan monastery in Kathmandu. A few years ago he offered that monastery of 70 monks to the Dalai Lama. His house was a three-story marble building; on the second floor there was a magnificent altar room, and in the guest suite where I stayed there was a photo of Rin-po-che and a thanka (Tibetan painting scroll) of the female Buddha Kurukula who is a transformation of Avalokitesvara. In the backyard there was a garage, and in the front yard there was a Tibetan furnace which was used for daily smoke offerings to the local deities. A few small rooms by the gate served as the living quarters for the servants. There were a few Tibetan monasteries in the neighborhood.
The famous Boudha Stupa was only a five-minute walk from there. While it was still dusk, I changed into my Chinese formal wear and went on a pilgrimage by myself to Boudha Stupa. I circumambulated the stupa clockwise which was in accordance with the Buddhist tradition to show respect. A crowd of Buddhists would show up to circumambulate the stupa, once in the morning and once in the evening. They were a mixture of lamas and laity, males and females, old and young; most of them were Tibetan. While circling the stupa they chanted mantras and counted with rosaries or turned a hand-held Dharma wheel. Some of them were chatting as they walked. On the wall enclosing the stupa there was a circle of Dharma wheels. Some people would turn them clockwise, one by one, as they passed by. I also turned the Dharma wheels around vigorously to pray for vigorous spreading of Dharma activities everywhere.
Quite often there was on the mouth of a Buddha statue a small chunk of butter offered by some devotee. Later it would be picked up and eaten by some beggar. Many Buddhist statues around the stupa were decorated with gold leaves which was one way for the pilgrims to show their reverence to the deity. Inside the stupa court a few Tibetan devotees, facing the stupa, were chanting, prostrating or sitting in meditation. I prostrated three times to the stupa, and then offered 10 U.S. dollars at the butter lamp offering room. Tibetans use butter to fuel their offering lamps in order to show their reverence for Buddhas and holy beings. On my way back, I bought five khatas with two U.S. dollars from a small shop to prepare for tomorrow's interview with Rin-po-che. (All the offerings made during this pilgrimage are recorded here in this article. Although the monetary amounts were small, nevertheless, serving as records of Dharma activities, they should be precise.)
Rin-po-che's servant, an old lama, was originally from Ching Hai and had been ordained for more than 40 years. He could still converse with me in Mandarin. He kindly prepared a nice dinner for me, but unfortunately, I was too tired from my traveling to enjoy much of it. That night, in my dream, I saw three bundles of hair spreading from the top of Rin-po-che's head which I interpreted to mean that he would be succeeded by three lineages.
On the 5th of January, in front of the Kurukula thanka, I had my breakfast which consisted of a flower-roll, boiled egg and Tibetan butter-tea. It was the first time that I had butter-tea made by Tibetans. It tasted delicious but a bit too salty. The ingredients were black-tea, butter, milk and salt. A teen-age boy, who came not long ago from Lhasa and spoke a little Mandarin, carried a bowl of burning incense (including sandalwood powder, Tibetan red flower and borneol) to perfume every corner of the house.
Mr. Tenzing led me to the interview with Guru Dewa Rin-po-che. I offered him a khata and a red envelope containing a twenty-dollar bill. He gave me his blessing for a successful pilgrimage and kindly tied a red protection ribbon around my neck. He presented me with five packages of Mandala Incense which was specially made from 25 kinds of ingredients in accordance with some sutra. Mr. Tenzing and Mr. Gonpo accompanied me to the Thai Embassy to apply for a transit visa, and the clerk agreed to accept the application for approval. Mr. Gonpo said that usually they did not issue visas to holders of passports of the Republic of China; over the years they granted only two visas to such applicants. This time they showed no reluctance; it must have been due to the blessing from Buddha.
I asked Mr. Tenzing to take me to the Swayambhunath Stupa which stood on top of a small hill in the suburbs. There was a driveway for cars winding all the way to the top of the hill. There was also a stone-paved stairway of hundreds of steps leading straight up to the stupa. Alongside the stairs, there were a few huge Buddha statues and many rocks engraved with mantras or short passages from sutras in Tibetan. Among them, the most popular engraving was the six-syllable heart mantra of Avalokitesvara - Om Ma Ni Pe Mi Hum. There were some stone carvers doing their work and selling Mani stones (small stones with the engraving of Om Ma Ni Pe Mi Hum) to tourists. Some women, children and sick people were there begging for money. I gave a little money to a disabled leper; to the rest, I chanted in silence the six-syllable mantra of Avalokitesvara.
There were many pigeons and monkeys on the hill. The highest section of the stairway was rather steep, with two parallel handrails set up in the middle of the stairs. Some monkeys held the handrails loosely with all four limbs and glided down swiftly. They seemed to enjoy the ride very much. I circumambulated the stupa and turned the Dharma wheels on the wall into motion. On one side of the stupa there was a Kagyu Monastery of His Holiness Karmapa. There I offered 100 butter lamps with 11 U.S. dollars. Mr. Tenzing bought some yellow corns and we threw them all over the ground to feed the pigeons and the monkeys.
We then drove to the Hotel Vajra so I could join my pilgrimage group. This group was organized by Insight Travel, a travel agency led by Professor Pryor. All 13 members were U.S. residents. I invited Mr. Tenzing to have lunch with me in the rooftop garden of the hotel. Before lunch was served, he pointed out a distant mountain where Sakyamuni Buddha, in one of his past lives, and out of his great compassion, offered his body to a hungry tiger. I stood up facing that mountain, and bowed down in reverence.
On the morning of the 6th of January, our group walked up to the Swayambhunath Stupa. At first, I circumambulated the stupa while chanting mantras, then, in H.H. Karmapa's monastery, I offered 50 butter lamps with 100 rupees. Outside the monastery I saw an old lama relaxing in the sun and went up to offer him 50 rupees. (The official rate of exchange was one U.S. dollar to 28.5 Nepali rupees.) A decent wage is from 50 to 100 rupees a day. On the other side of the stupa there was a Drukpa Kagyu monastery. I went in to pay my respects and offered 100 rupees. There I also offered two lamas a total of 75 rupees, and offered 50 butter lamps with 75 rupees.
I bought 16 cups of yellow corn with 20 rupees from the small grocery store by the stupa, then scattered them on the ground and watched the monkeys and pigeons eat them. Professor Pryor said, that according to legend, there was a crystal stupa containing the light of Adi Buddha at the center of the Swayambhunath Stupa. On one side of the stupa were a few shops; behind them was a small temple, and inside this temple there was a locked door. People said that there were six more locked doors behind it, and Shahti (meaning peace) Acarya had been in retreat therein for more than 1,000 years. Local people believed that he was still living and their prayers to him often got answered through inspirations. I went inside the temple and prostrated to him in front of the locked door.
In the afternoon, Professor Pryor invited an archaeologist, Professor Mukunda Raj Aryal of the Tribhuvan University, to come and give us a brief introduction to the local history and then guide us on a tour of the historical sites in the city. Professor Aryal said the Tantra of India and Nepal believed that important knowledge should be taught to specially chosen persons, and should not be readily revealed to the public. This helped reduce the risk of abuses. Nowadays, terrorists are on the loose, and the world lives in the shadow of the threat of nuclear war. These are the consequences of public transmission of high-tech knowledge. In order to keep secrets they used figures to code their alphabet, thus, the paintings and carvings in their temples all contained hidden teachings; quite often a sequence of figures coded a secret formula. The key to unravel these codes had been passed down through the generations only by word of mouth from the teacher to the chosen disciple. Since his childhood, Professor Aryal was taught tantric yogi practices by his father. When he turned 18 he was a college student and had Western friends. His father would not teach him Tantra anymore for fear that the sacred secrets would inadvertently fall into the wrong hands.
The linga-yoni symbol of Hinduism was generally recognized as phallicism; Professor Aryal said it indeed signified the harmony of fire (linga) and water (yoni). Hinduism was commonly classified as polytheism, however, professor Aryal said that it was really monotheism with one God transforming into many deities. He said that many famous Western scholars held the above mentioned misconceptions and yet Indian scholars had never pointed this out to them. Because Indian scholars believed that only those who humbly asked for teachings were worthy of the transmission of true knowledge, those who were arrogant could not be helped, but were left alone within the boundary of their ignorance. His talk made us reflect upon ourselves.
We then rode in cars to Patan to visit ancient temples and palaces. Inside the temples, shoes are not allowed. Nepali wood carvings were refined and lively. Each piece was well-documented as to its date, artist and donor, thus, it later facilitated archaeological studies.
There was a stupa which was a scaled-down model of the Mahabodhi Stupa at Bodhgaya. The founder of this stupa passed away when only the foundation had been laid, and his son carried on his wish and continued to build the stupa. Unfortunately, his son did not live to see the completion of this project. When his grandson grew up the project was again carried on until its completion. Thus, it took 60 years of the efforts of three generations as well as the single-minded devotion and perseverance of his family to accomplish the building of such an immortal monument. We immediately felt deep respect.
This stupa was ruined by an earthquake at one time. The government wanted to rebuild it, but lacked the knowledge of how to make the special brick used for this stupa. Fortunately, at a later date one brick and a stone plate engraved with a detailed description of how to make the brick were unearthed from a spot right outside the courtyard of the stupa; thus, the government was able to rebuild it.
In front of the main entrance of some temple stood a large pillar. On its top, a statue of the protector deity of this temple was kneeling and facing the temple with palms folded in reverence. Such an arrangement showed the spirit of revered protection. Outside the main gate of some huge temple sat stone lions, one on each side, facing outward as though on guard. These lions were shackled on one foot by chains to prevent them from haunting the neighborhood after their invocation. In one courtyard there were several empty niches. Originally, the archaeologists suspected that the statues were stolen. But later, they realized that those niches were meant to represent the vowels and the consonants whose sounds could not be depicted, hence their niches were left empty. Downtown, there was one low courtyard with three dragon heads. Underground water had been pouring out continuously from their mouths for over 1,500 years. Modern hydraulic engineers could not figure out how the ancients achieved such amazing results.
Early in the morning, on the 7th of January, I dreamt of a yogi sitting in meditation. He raised his right hand and issued forth a ray of white light upon my body. I felt a slight vibration as the light fell on me. I believe that he was the Shahti Acarya whom I paid respect to the day before, and that he was giving me his blessing in this dream.
In the morning, Professor Pryor took us for an interview with Choky Nyima Rin-po-che, and we listened to Rin-po-che's teachings. I offered him a khata and 10 U.S. dollars. He kindly blessed each one of us by giving us some nectar pills and tying a red protection cord around our necks.
I heard that Thrangu Rin-po-che had been giving lectures recently to Westerners in his monastery, hence, I stopped by to pay him my respects. It happened to be shortly after the lecture and he was resting in the abbatial quarters by himself. I offered him a khata and 100 rupees, and I bade him farewell after a short interview.
Our group went to visit the Boudha Stupa. The protector deity of this stupa was a Hindu deity; his small temple was on one side of the stupa compound, and I offered one rupee there as a token of respect. In the afternoon, Professor Pryor gave us a brief introduction to the history of Nepal and Kathmandu. Afterwards, I walked up to the Swayambhunath Stupa by myself. There were two huge bells, one on each side of the stupa; I rang them five times each to spread the sound of the Dharma. I circumambulated the stupa while chanting mantras, and then offered 50 and 30 butter lamps in the two Kagyu monasteries respectively. I bought 10 rupees of yellow corn to feed the pigeons and the monkeys, and finally went to the temple of Shahti Acarya to thank him for his blessing. There I made prostrations and offered 30 rupees.
On the 8th of January we flew from Kathmandu to Varanasi, India. Max, Professor Pryor's assistant, came with a 50-seat bus to pick us up at the airport and take us to the Diamond Hotel where we spent the night. On the 9th we went to Bodhgaya, arriving at 4 p.m., and checked into the hotel of the Mahabodhi Society. In the courtyard of its compound there were a few tents where Tibetan pilgrims stayed. After having changed into my Chinese cap and robe, I walked directly toward the Mahabodhi Temple that surrounded the spot of Buddha Sakyamuni's Enlightenment. I had a box of Mandala Incense with me, and two different packages of candles which I had bought from a peddling stand near the outskirts of the temple. One contained 24 candles, and the other 32. There were many people of all ages inside the temple compound including monks and nuns. With deep devotion they were prostrating, chanting mantras, reading sutras, circumambulating, offering incense and lamps, or sitting in meditation. The Tibetans seemed to outnumber all the others.
I went into the temple and prostrated to the statue of Buddha, then I offered the candles under the Bodhi tree of Enlightenment. I lit all the Mandala Incense sticks, and holding them, circumambulated the temple. Near the Bodhi tree of Enlightenment there was a platform with a lama in charge of the offering of butter lamps. There I offered 200 butter lamps with 100 rupees. (The market rate of exchange was 19.4 Indian rupees to one U.S. dollar.)
On the Bodhi tree of Enlightenment hung many strings of prayer flags and a string of small bells. Its trunk was wrapped in several layers of silk with auspicious praises written on them. Beneath the tree there was a rectangular platform called the Vajra Seat, right at the spot where Sakyamuni realized Full Enlightenment. Placed on the seat were some fresh flowers and ritual offerings, and right behind the seat, a tall white umbrella was erected to cover the seat as a sign of respect. The Vajra Seat and the Bodhi tree were gilded in places with gold leaves by the pilgrims as offerings; and right in front of the Vajra Seat was the main temple shaped like a huge stupa.
On the outside walls of this temple, slightly taller than the height of a man, were a row of statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Among them a gilded statue of Sakyamuni Buddha was placed facing squarely the Vajra Seat. The Bodhi tree and the Vajra Seat were enclosed by a stone railing with metal gates on either side which were usually locked. Near the right gate were two large circular stones, a pair of huge footprints was engraved on one of them, while a single footprint with auspicious symbols on the other. All were taken to be footprints of Buddha. Pilgrims made prostrations to them, touched the footprints with their foreheads, or placed flowers, candles, incense, coins or gold leaves on them as offerings. A merchant traced them on pieces of cloth or paper and sold them. The Bodhi leaves would serve as wonderful souvenirs, but at this time of the year there were very few falling leaves. Occasionally one might find one or two. Some pilgrims were walking back and forth waiting beneath the tree with their eyes looking up in hopes of seeing falling leaves.
Along the left side of the main temple was a row of stone lotus steps placed on a long platform with the center of some of the lotuses adorned with gold leaves; this was called the Vajra Path. After Buddha's Enlightenment, he walked back and forth in meditation on this path for a week. The first seven weeks after Buddha's Enlightenment he stayed, for one week each, at seven places in the vicinity of the Bodhi tree. Six of them were within the compound of this temple, the remaining one was a small distance away. Nevertheless, at the spot just before the stairway that led to the main entrance of the compound a stone pillar was erected with a small gilded statue of Buddha sitting on top, to commemorate the seventh place. A stone monument with English and Hindu memorials engraved on either side was erected at each of the seven places. At one of the seven places was a pond with a huge statue of Buddha erected within. Buddha was sitting in meditation and his seat was encircled by a large serpent with its head raised above Buddha from behind to protect him.
There were some people by the pond selling live fish with water in small plastic bags so that the pilgrims might enact the Buddhist practice of saving lives. I heard that these fish were caught during the night from this pond by the people who were selling them for profit. I felt they were taking advantage of the kindness of the pilgrims, so I chose not to buy these fish.
On the outside wall of the main temple there was a statue of Tara (a transformation of Avalokitesvara) that the Tibetans paid special reverence to. In ancient times there was one Indian Buddhist teacher, Atisha, who originally did not want to accept invitations to preach in Tibet because he was quite old. But later, this statue spoke to him telling him to accept the invitations and, based on his Bodhicitta, preach to the Tibetans for their benefit. Thus, he eventually went preaching to the Tibetans.
A Tibetan pilgrim would stand at a distance facing this statue and make a wish, then, with eyes closed, walk toward Tara until reaching the wall. It is believed that, if one reached the wall right under the statue, then the wish would be blessed by Tara and would certainly come true.
In the early days of Buddhism there was no statue of Buddha, he was commonly represented in pictures by an empty platform or a Dharma wheel. Now, on the stone railings within this temple compound, carvings of these symbols can still be found. Within the temple compound there were hundreds of stupas of various sizes. Among them a few were composed from variegated debris of ancient statues or stupas so as to preserve the ever present power of the blessings contained in them.
Professor Pryor said, after the decline of Buddhism in India, this temple was under the management of the Hindus for a long time. During that period the Buddhist and the Hindu statues were placed together for worship. During this century, after five or six decades of lawsuits, the temple was finally judged to be originally Buddhist and returned to Buddhist management. The Hindu statues had been removed from the shrine hall and placed together at one spot in the compound.
The moment I saw the many pilgrims who came voluntarily from all over the world, I immediately realized that all it took was sincere practices and realization of Truth for people to gather spontaneously. Hence, a practitioner who would like to propagate the Dharma need not be preoccupied with propagandistic activities. One need only remain sincere and persevere in one's practices, then the conditions for spreading one's Dharma activities will occur in time.
Here, I was at the spot of Enlightenment, facing squarely the ultimate Truth of Buddhahood. Such directness freed my mind from all considerations and resulted in a spontaneous devotion. How lucky to have the opportunity and means to have arrived at this holy place safely, and to prostrate in person to the seat of Enlightenment. The overwhelming sense of gratitude caused me to unreservedly pray for and turn merits to all sentient beings. The distinguishing of friends or foes, relatives or strangers, and likes or dislikes, became meaningless in the face of Enlightenment and disappeared into thin air. The paragraph above was written according to the notes I took under the Bodhi tree of Enlightenment. The significance of my pilgrimage to this holy land could be capsulized through these spontaneous reflections.
On the 10th of January, I woke up at 4 a.m. and immediately went to the Mahabodhi Temple alone. I got in by climbing over the fence near the main gate. Every night from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. the main gate remains locked; the pilgrims, clergy and laity alike, climb the fence to get in or out. The guards on duty who walk the compound ignore these entries and are on alert only for thieves or beggars. I offered six candles in front of the Vajra Seat; then I sat under the Bodhi tree and did my morning practice in the light from a street-lamp. I recited my Guru's Poems on Pilgrimage, some hymns from his Collection of Hymns, my works A Succinct Supplication to Guru Chen, and A Short Hymn on Guru Chen's Life. Then I returned to the hotel and had breakfast.
Afterwards, Professor Pryor led the whole group to visit the Mahabodhi Temple. In the shrine hall, I offered money from various countries into the donation trunk (one U.S. 20-dollar bill, one Taiwan 100-yuen bill, one Thailand five-baht bill, a few Nepali rupees, U.S. coins and Rep. of China coins) signifying my prayer to Buddha for his blessing to the people of all countries of the world. Later, our group went upstairs to the veranda for sitting meditation, but I went alone to sit in meditation under the Bodhi tree. The Buddhist Tantric tradition requires students to sit lower than the teacher, and hence, I dared not sit upstairs where I would have been higher than Buddha's Vajra Seat. In front of the Vajra Seat I lit six candles and sat down to recite Pureland Daily Practice which was, under the guidance of my Guru, originally edited in Chinese and then translated into English by me. I prayed for Sakyamuni Buddha's blessing to fall on those practitioners who would adopt this daily practice, and for the ever-increase in numbers of such practitioners. After I had completed this practice, I circumambulated the main temple. At that moment I saw a group of Korean pilgrims inside the court of the Vajra Seat, and one of them opened the gate and came out; I took the opportunity to get inside and prostrated to the visualized Buddha on the Vajra Seat.
Later, while circumambulating the main temple, I got another chance to enter this court. A Sri Lankan monk spontaneously showed me how to revere the holy seat and tree. It is done in the following way: while chanting the refuge ("I take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sanga.") or Sakyamuni Buddha's mantra ("Om Muni Muni Maha Muni Yeh Soha"), kneel down on the ground at the right side of the Vajra Seat and salute Buddha by pressing one's forehead on the seat. Then walk clockwise around the Bodhi tree but stop halfway to embrace the trunk with open arms, press one's forehead on the tree in reverence, and then continue around to the left side of the seat. Then kneel down on the ground and press one's forehead on the seat in salutation. Afterwards, I had a chance to see the court open to two groups simultaneously. One was our group coming down following sitting meditation. So I went in for the third time and asked my friends to use my camera to take pictures of me.
At noon our group went in several rickshaws to visit the nearby Burmese Temple. Over the past eleven years Professor Pryor has rented a building in the compound of this temple to house the Antioch College students who are part of the Buddhist Study Project. Once a year the school opens for four months in order to teach these college students from the U.S. In between, there is a three-week break for the students to visit the holy sites of Buddhism or Hinduism in India or Nepal. When we walked by the shrine hall there was a group of Europeans inside learning Tibetan; they came to study Tibetan intensively for four months in order to serve as translators or interpreters in the future.
Their class ended a short while later, and we went inside to revere the Buddha statues. I donated 100 rupees which I put into the offering box. On the temple compound there were women making candles. The manager was a friend of Professor Pryor, so I bought three packages of candles from her.
On our way back we walked by a Hindu Temple; we left our shoes at the entrance and went in for a visit. The Hindu priest told us to dip our right fingers into the sacred water and then touch and wet our forehead to receive blessing from their deities. Since they were not Buddhist and they might have some power to affect one's mentality through the use of their charmed water, I simply ignored their suggestions. We saw various kinds and sizes of linga-yoni sculptures. One each was placed at the center of the small chambers, while the statues of some Hindu deities were placed on the sides. There was also a mandala for conducting Hindu fire sacrifice rituals. Statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were placed outside on either side of the entrance of each chamber signifying the Hindu view that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were merely guards. This showed the arrogance of Hinduism and their ignorance to the teachings of Buddhism.
After lunch, I had diarrhea, so I rested for the remainder of the day. The early morning chill from my morning sitting may have caused it. By evening I was well again. That afternoon I donated 100 rupees to the Mahabodhi Society as a small token of my thanks to them for having sent me their publications over the years.
Outside the main gate, along the wall of the Mahabodhi Temple, were a few rows of beggars squatting or standing. Some beggars would follow a passer-by and keep mumbling for money. Most of the beggars were either senile, sick, women or children. I heard from people who had lived here for some years that some local people who were not poor were acting as beggars to gain extra earnings, and that some children would drop out of school to enjoy the fun of earning through begging. Some peddlers sold coins in plastic bags to make it easy for pilgrims who wanted to spare some change. The beggars then sold the coins they accumulated back to these peddlers, thus, the coins were recycled in their transmigration.
Some pilgrims would bring a small bag of grain and pour some into a few of the beggars' bowls. When someone started to give to the beggars, a crowd would gather around with extended hands. It produced a sense of an ongoing robbery. This kind of situation caused one to hesitate about giving alms to them. I did not want to get caught in an entrapped situation, so I refrained from giving material things. Instead, I chanted in silence the six syllable mantra of Avalokitesvara for them as I walked by. Professor Pryor suggested that we give only to those few beggars who were still waiting there early in the morning or late at night, because they were the needy ones and they would not come forth to bother people.
As to those beggars who followed passers-by, some people would say directly to them in Hindustani, "Go away!" while others would simply keep walking in silence until the beggar lost interest. Granting that they had the right to beg for almsgiving, I chose the silent response. Occasionally, I would give a rupee or so. I was more inclined to give to the sick or disabled. I felt sorry for those kids who, upon seeing foreigners, would cry out, "One rupee, one rupee, ...." Buddha taught us to practice almsgiving. Encountering unusual or difficult situations in our practice is unavoidable. Of course, to practice almsgiving with a pure mind and simply give as much as one is able to, without considering so many factors, would be ideal.
The 11th of January was December 15th of the lunar calendar. In the morning I lit six candles in front of the Vajra Seat, and presented the embroidered Five Wheel Pagoda to the Sakyamuni Buddha visualized on the seat, with the belief that Buddha's essence is undifferentiable from Guru Chen's. Then I sat under the Bodhi tree and recited my Guru's "Collection of Hymns" until I had completed all that were unfinished from yesterday morning's recitation. After breakfast we took a bus ride to the country side, and stopped by the road side so we could walk into the fields. Soon we reached the Neranjara River where Sakyamuni almost drowned. The wide and lengthy riverbed was almost completely dry. There were only a few narrow stretches of very shallow water, not even ankle-deep. We walked across the riverbed easily, then went through vegetable and grain fields, and some villages. It took one full hour for us to reach the Pragbodhi Hill. Half way up the hill there was a small cave where Sakyamuni was said to have practiced austerity before Enlightenment. The opening of the cave was low and small, one needed to bend down to get in. Inside, at the center was a statue of Buddha, and on the right side were two statues of protectors. I lit candles, offered incense, some rupees, and one boiled egg which I saved from breakfast; then I did prostrations. Facing the cave was a big tree which, according to legend, was a transformation of the protector, "Six-Armed Mahakala" which was used to repress some evil spirit.
To the left of the cave was a small chamber with a huge statue of Buddha inside, and to the right was a small temple honoring the Six-Armed Mahakala. Outside the cave entrance I lit one package of Mandala Incense and offered 100 butter lamps. In front of the Mahakala statue, inside his temple, I offered six butter lamps. I offered 100 rupees to the Tibetan Monastery here. The total amount of offering to lamas including butter lamps was 129 rupees.
On our way back at the Neranjara River, we learned that it was customary for Tibetan pilgrims to bring back some sand from this river for worship on their altar, so I took five handfuls of sand and wrapped them in my handkerchief. When I went back to Taiwan and California I presented my Buddhist friends a small plastic bag containing sand from this river, sand from the compound of Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya, and a small chip of Bodhi leaf from the Bodhi tree of Enlightenment. Thus, they were able to share the blessing of my pilgrimage. We went back to Bodhgaya in the afternoon.
In the late afternoon, I offered 1,000 butter lamps with 500 rupees in front of the Vajra Seat. It was a day of the full moon, and traditionally it was considered extraordinarily auspicious to conduct Dharma activities on such a day. Hence, I chose to offer one thousand lamps on this day. A few Tibetans spontaneously helped me light the lamps. An old Tibetan woman came with a small bag of butter in one hand and added a small chunk of butter into those lamps whose butter was nearly depleted. She took delight in others' acts of offering and helped to prolong the light of offering lamps. Such an activity was of great merit and worthy of our praises.
In the courtyard behind the Vajra Seat, two groups of Tibetan Lamas had set up their offerings and thrones and were conducting ritual activities. The Gelupa group was headed by a small child clad in a Lama's robe. He sat on a high throne. Now and again devotees would go up to offer him khatas and to prostrate to him for his blessings. I asked a Caucasian Lama who was watching the ceremony and learned that the child, about five-years old, was recognized as the reincarnation of Ling Rin-po-che who was the late senior tutor of the Dalai Lama.
In the evening I went again to the Mahabodhi Temple. There were lights from butter lamps and candles everywhere on the compound. The number of lights tonight was apparently a lot more than the previous nights; this reflected the traditional importance which was still popularly held for the day of the full moon. All the stupas in the compound (large and small) were surrounded by candles or butter lamps. Candles of various sizes and shapes were placed on top and along the walls on both sides of the circumambulating walkway at all three of the levels. I walked in chanting on the walkway at all three levels, I felt like I was drifting on an ocean of lights. The offering lights that flowed through my vision were sparkling with the flame of faith. All the lights in the compound were silently expressing the pilgrims' reverence for the Enlightenment.
At each gate of the Vajra Seat court I pushed a small clay dish of fresh flowers under the gate as an offering. Pilgrims offered lit candles along the outskirts of the railing surrounding the Vajra Seat court. I, alone, deliberately offered lit candles within the railing. I was able to do so by first holding a lit candle horizontally to slip it under the railing, and then setting it up, allowing the lights to shine upon the Vajra Seat as a perfect offering of brightness. Thus, I offered three candles on each side of the Vajra Seat. Then I circumambulated the main temple while chanting the Mantra of Sakyamuni Buddha. When I encountered candles or lamps that were blown out by the wind, I lit a fire from other candles with an incense stick to rekindle them.
On the 12th of January, we rode in our bus to Rajgir on pilgrimage to Mount Gridhrakuta, the Vulture Peak. While traveling along the highway to Rajgir, we saw winding rock walls on the hills that stretched over 27 miles. They were the remains of an ancient regional defense. One by one we rode the ski lift up to the hilltop where we found a huge stupa that had been built by a Japanese Buddhist group. At each of the four cardinal points was a niche on the wall halfway up the stupa. The gilded statue of Buddha, therein, commemorated the Birth, the Enlightenment, the Preaching and the Nirvana of Sakyamuni. There was a Japanese Temple nearby. From there we walked down to a lower hilltop to the famous Vulture Peak. Near the top of Vulture Peak were a few caves of various sizes along the roadside. Some of the rocks at the entrance of these caves were adorned with gold leaves, and inside the large caves were relics of burnt incense or candles. Some of the main disciples of Buddha were believed to have retreated in these caves. There was also a large pile of big stones on the roadside which appeared to be Tibetan oboo, i.e. a pile of stones used to represent the local deity. On the Vulture Peak there was only a small square of low walls left with an opening at the center of one side. I offered flowers and incense, and made prostrations. It was customary for pilgrims to recite the Heart Sutra here. I recited the Chinese version of the Heart Sutra by Hsuan Tsang from memory, and then recited its English version. I also recited the English version of the Section of the Surangama Sutra on Bodhisattva Mahasthanaprapta's Achieving Complete Unification through Chanting Buddha's Name. Both were translated by myself.
There were no modern buildings here. The natural setting of the surrounding trees and hills brought one even closer to the essence flavor of Buddha's preaching. After circumambulating the square in reverence thrice, I sat down and meditated. I felt as if Buddha appeared in a huge size, sitting in the center of the square. Other members of our group arrived later at the top. They chanted an English version of the Heart Sutra together, and then sat in meditation for a while. We walked down from the hilltop. The road was originally built by King Bimbisara for easy access to Buddha's preaching. After a short ride, our bus stopped by the remains of an ancient monastery. We sat on the foundation of the ruins of a monastery and listened to Professor Pryor's introduction to the basic rules of conduct for Buddhist monks and nuns.
Our bus took us to the remains of Nalanda University. The huge campus stretched as far as one could see. The remains of buildings were arranged in an orderly fashion. We found the ruins of magnificent temples and relics of several-story high dormitories. The scope of the campus we saw was already awe-inspiring, not to mention adding the few hundred acres on either side, that some said were part of the original campus waiting to be excavated. The past grandeur of Nalanda University, as the center of study for the Buddhist world, became vividly real in my imagination. Professor Pryor gave us a brief description of this ancient Buddhist University: It was sponsored by the King through his donation of the tax-collections from 64 nearby villages. The official language used in teaching was Sanskrit. At each of the four cardinal points of the campus was a gate with a senior professor serving as the "gate keeper," i.e. the director of the entrance examinations. One needed only to pass the oral examination given by one of these Elders to become a student and study here for an indefinite time. Aspirants came from all over Asia and lived in dormitories outside, which were classified according to their geographical origins. Thus, students from the same area could tutor these newcomers in their native language to prepare them for the entrance examination. Then I added a few remarks on the highlights of the life of Hsuan Tsang, the famous Chinese monk who pilgrimaged to India and studied here for several years. We returned back to Bodhgaya in the evening. That night I went to the Mahabodhi Temple, and while circumambulating the compound I relit the lights that had been blown out by the wind.
Early in the morning on the 13th of January, I saw in a dream the rainbow body of a female Buddha inside my heart chakra. Bodhgaya was one of the 24 mandalas of Chakrasambhara (the Great Pleasure Vajra), hence this was a sign of blessing for Tantric practices. Through the Grace of seeing the rainbow body I obtained definite understanding on such visualizations. To Tantric practitioners who are practicing the visualization of Yidams, I suggest the following methods to gain some insight into such practices: watch the rainbow as it appears in the sky, watch the rainbow created by a sprinkler in the sun, or watch the rainbow colors that sunlight reflects through a multifaceted crystal. After I returned to the United States I learned that during this period a Buddhist friend in U.S. had a vision of me with a golden Sakyamuni Buddha in my heart chakra emitting lights. In the morning I did Yidam visualization and wind practices in front of the Vajra Seat. Then I happened to encounter an opening to the Vajra Seat court, so I went in to worship the Seat and the tree. The thought of having to leave here the following day brought forth a deep sense of attachment to this holy site. I offered two fruits and six candles in front of the Vajra Seat. Then I went to the other six spots where Buddha stayed for one week each, right after his Enlightenment, and offered one candle each and did circumambulations. Afterwards, I offered 400 butter lamps in front of the Vajra Seat. Beginning at 11 a.m. I circumambulated, once each, all the stupas on the temple compound. Under the trees, by the walls, between small stupas and inside the court of big stupas within the temple compound were practitioners who were diligently practicing chanting, recitation, prostration or meditation. There were monks, nuns, men and women, both elderly and young. Most of them were Tibetans and a few were young Westerners. I took a break at 12:40 p.m. and went back to the hotel for lunch and rest.
At 2 p.m. Professor Pryor led us to the Gelupa Monastery next door to have an interview with the abbot Tara Rin-po-che. While waiting we saw the Tulku of Ling Rin-po-che playing with a battery-run toy car in the corridor. I went up to him, knelt down on my right knee, and offered him a khata and 50 rupees to establish a Dharma connection with him. He accepted my offerings, dexterously put the khata around my neck as a token of granting his favor, gave the 50-rupee bill to his child novice monk attendant, and then put his left palm on top of my head to give me his blessing. After the interview with Tara Rin-po-che I offered him 100 rupees, and his Caucasian interpreter 50 rupees.
At 3:20 p.m. I went back to the Mahabodhi Temple to resume the circumambulation of stupas. I lit a whole package of incense and held it while I walked around the stupas, and at 4:40 p.m. I completed circumambulating each stupa on the compound. In the evening I went to the temple compound again and offered six candles and a package of incense. While I passed by the Vajra Seat court, I saw a group of pilgrims from Tai-Chung, Taiwan conducting rituals. I went in and perfumed the court with the lit package of incense in my hand, then I worshiped the Seat and the tree. During my stay in Bodhgaya, I visited this court five times; each time I was allowed. Later I heard that some pilgrims got in by paying the gatekeeper, while others by climbing over the railing in the night.
On the morning of the 14th of January, I saw in a dream that I was burning newspapers and washing my hands with soap. I felt these were auspicious signs of eradicating some of my negative karmas. I also had dreams of converting sentient beings to Buddhism which could be considered an omen. After previous day's circumambulation of all the stupas on the temple compound, I felt the site of Enlightenment had become engraved in my mind. Hence, although we were leaving that day, I no longer felt a sense of departure. It became easy to understand the deep significance of some practitioners' pilgrimage on foot with one prostration at every third step. If a pilgrimage were conducted like viewing flowers on horseback, it could deteriorate into tourism.
Later in the morning, I offered eighteen candles in front of the Vajra Seat, and entrusted 100 rupees to the Lama in charge of butter-lamp offerings for lighting 200 butter lamps later on my behalf. I also offered him 20 rupees. At this site of Enlightenment I offered a total of 1,800 butter lamps to glorify the 18 unique merits of Buddha. I lit a package of incense and while holding it, circumambulated the temple compound for the last time. In Bodhgaya there were many monasteries, and a huge statue of Buddha had recently been constructed by some Japanese devotees. However, I omitted visits to these places of interest in order to concentrate on the Mahabodhi Temple where Sakyamuni attained Enlightenment.
Our bus went directly to Varanasi. At noon we stopped by the mausoleum of a Moghul King, Sher Shah. A Hindu teenager walked a small monkey on a leash. He let the monkey climb on my left shoulder and asked me to give the apple in my right hand to the monkey; as soon as I handed him the apple the monkey started biting into it. Seeing this, the audience, adults and children alike, burst into laughter.
That night we stayed in the Hotel de Paris. At dinner, Professor Pryor revealed to us that the following day the Dalai Lama would visit the temple of the Mahabodhi Society at Sarnath to attend a congratulatory ceremony cerebrating his receiving the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. He went on to say that the abbot of Mahabodhi Society at Bodhgaya had given us his invitation letter to the ceremony, hence, our group would be able to attend. I announced to our group that I had a dream two years ago that I would meet the Dalai Lama during my pilgrimage. I felt this was an omen. Now that it was about to come true, totally unexpectedly, everyone was amazed at such a mystic wonder.
It was possible to phone the U.S. from this hotel. Connections were via a satellite antenna in Calcutta, hence, calls had to be requested two hours in advance. I placed a call home for 8 p.m. and got through at 8:40 p.m. Our voices through the receiver were weak and mixed with noises, therefore, we decided to cut our conversation short after only a few exchanges of reports on our well-being. The cost for three minutes was 300 rupees, about the equivalent of 15 U.S. dollars. After the phone conversation I wrote a poem in Chinese; the following is its English version:
Homesick across the ocean met poor transmission;
Three hundred rupees for three-minute unification;
Thousand words were ready to pour, but
Only "How are you?" got its realization!
On the morning of the 15th of January, we went to Sarnath. Professor Pryor led us to the park of historical sites to see the remains of the Asoka's pillar and the nearby apsidal temple; both were considered to be the possible spot of Buddha's first sermon. Then we visited the Archaeological Museum near the park; the most famous item displayed there was the Lion-capital of Asoka. Ancient stonecutters were able to polish the statue so well that one had to admire and praise their skillful craftsmanship. The current Hindu coins were engraved with the image of this Lion-capital. Then we went into the park again and I went to circumambulate the huge Dhamekh Stupa. This was the monument where the pilgrims presently did their veneration. I offered six candles, lit a package of incense and holding it, did the circumambulation. While circumambulating I felt a force coming from the stupa which went into my body through my right side, hence I believed that this was the spot of Buddha's first sermon. Five months later I came across the pamphlet on Sarnath published by the official Archaeological Survey of India, and found therein, arguments based on archaeological evidences supporting this identification.
Many Tibetans, clergy and laity, men and women, elderly and young, were engaged in doing circumambulation, prostration, recitation or offerings. I offered two Lamas 10 and five rupees respectively, and gave three disabled beggars one or two rupees each. An old Tibetan lady was offering dried petals of small white flowers on the foundation of the stupa and she placed small stones on the petals to keep them from being blown by the wind. She kindly gave me some white petals and I offered them to the stupa following in her fashion. Inside this park were ruins of many stupas and monasteries. On one side there was a wire fence to keep the tourists away from a herd of domestic deer.
We had our baggedlunch in the park. After lunch a few of us went to the nearby Chinese Monastery where I offered 50 rupees. Then we went to the temple of the Mahabodhi Society to attend the ceremony honoring the Dalai Lama. We waited amid the audience (outside the main hall) for almost two hours for him to appear; we finally saw him, surrounded by monks and security guards, walking into the main hall. From the loudspeaker came the sounds of the ceremonial proceedings inside the hall. The deep voice of the Dalai Lama's chanting was resonant. There were hundreds of Tibetans gathered outside the temple holding a khata in their hands and waiting for a chance to offer it to the Dalai Lama in person. But the Dalai Lama left right after the ceremony.
In this temple, one relic of Buddha was kept in reverence. Every year this holy object would be displayed only once for one hour for the public to venerate. It was shown as recently as last November; nevertheless, today, in honor of the Dalai Lama's visit and to celebrate his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, the Buddha's relic was displayed for veneration after the ceremony. There were a few hundred people in the audience, and most of them were Tibetans. As soon as the door to the main hall was opened many Tibetans swarmed the entrance trying to get in, but, consequently, clogged the entrance so that no one could move forward. The situation remained so for quite a while and then the clergy in charge of the temple opened all the doors to let the crowd in and sit on the floor. A monk went up to the altar platform and instructed the crowd on the necessity of orderliness; then the crowd was ordered out of the main hall to start a new single line. Even after the monk's instruction some people still tried to squeeze themselves into the line, and those in the line kept pushing forward. The Western tourists, seeing such a scene, shook their heads in disbelief and gave up. It was already dusk and I did not want to delay the schedule of our group, so I entrusted a khata and a red envelope with 21 U.S. dollars inside to the Tibetan people that were in the line with me for offering to the Buddha's relic.
After I went back to Taipei, fortunately, on the 3rd of February, I got the chance to see a photo of the Buddha's relic, which was taken by Professor Tseng during his pilgrimage last year. I held the photo and tapped the top of my head with it signifying my reverence, and thereby receiving its blessing. Thanks to the Grace of Buddha, I had unexpectedly fulfilled my wish to revere the Buddha's relic within such a short time.
At 5 o'clock, on the morning of the 16th of January, our group left the hotel by bus to see the sunrise at the Ganges River. Upon arrival we got into a big rowboat and cruised along the river. I chanted the nectar mantra to bless some clean water, then poured it into the river for purification. I also poured some milk-tea as offering to the river deity. On the river were cruising boats full of tourists and small rowboats peddling a boatload of souvenirs. On one side of the river was a sandy wasteland; on the other side was a cluster of variegated villas and Hindu temples crowded together. The sun rose from the sandy wasteland, its reflection in the water formed an orange-red slender string. A spill of bright yellow and red was spreading in the sky and on the river. Amid such a tranquil atmosphere, a small boat rowed slowly along the sandbank, adding ripples to the colorful water. In the dim light of dawn we saw two piles of burning wood on the city-side of the riverbank; these were the sacred cremation ceremonies and no photographs were allowed. It takes 26 kg of wood to cremate a corpse completely. In India this would amount to no small sum for an ordinary person. The fire used to start the cremation, in accordance with the Hindu faith, should be the sacred fire obtained from the untouchable caste called Doms in order to ensure its function of spiritual purification. This fire has been kept by the Doms and passed from father to son for generations. According to the financial situation of the deceased's family, the Doms would try to get as high a price for the sacred fire as possible, consequently the cost of fire would often be more than the cost of the wood. The Hindu cremation ceremony prohibited females from attending. At the end of the cremation the skull is broken up in order to release the soul to God's realm. A mother's skull is traditionally broken by her eldest son, hence the Hindus have a special regard for their eldest sons.
On the riverbank there was also a modern electric crematory. In the river near and along the heavily populated bank, some people were doing laundry, while others were bathing in a ritualistic way. This river was also the source of water for the city. Hinduism proclaimed this river to be sacred, and hence, bathing in its sacred water would purify and remedy one's sinful karmas. Hindu pilgrims who went to the Ganges River customarily brought some Ganges water home to share with folks; hence, the souvenirs sold in this area included many varieties of water containers. When we reached the shore, I dipped my bare feet into the river, thereby, symbolizing my wish to have my negative karma reduced.
We saw a corpse, completely wrapped in red clothing, lying on a long ladder; it was being carried, with its feet first, to the riverbank by four men. They put the ladder with the corpse on the ground while awaiting its turn to be cremated. I stood at a distance, away from them, and performed the Tantric ritual of Three-Kaya Powa to unify the deceased's consciousness with the three Kayas of Amitabha Buddha. I kept a distance from them to avoid annoying the Hindus with a Buddhist practice.
After breakfast, some of us went to visit the local bookstore of the famous publisher, Motilal Banarsidass; I bought two Buddhist books in English which had just been published. As we walked on the streets and in the alleys, domesticated cows were leisurely pacing on their own, and it was said that the local people were able to recognize each cow's ownership. I peeled a banana leftover from my breakfast to feed a cow, it took her just one bite to swallow the whole thing. At noon I returned to the hotel and got diarrhea, probably due to the early morning chill, so I rested the rest of the day.
On the morning of the 17th of January, I recovered from the diarrhea and went to Sarnath. First, I went to the temple of the Mahabodhi Society to pay my respects to Buddha. The monk attending the shrine hall spontaneously opened the small gate and gestured for me to go up to the altar platform. So I went up to prostrate to Buddha and circumambulate the altar while chanting. Upon leaving I put 50 rupees into the donation box.
Afterwards, I went to the Dhamekh Stupa and offered six candles and a package of incense. With the package of lit incense in my hand I circumambulated the stupa. The wind was blowing so strongly that the incense bundle bursted into a torch. When more than half of the incense had burned I put the remaining on the lowest level of the stupa and went to a spot not far from the stupa for sitting meditation.
Then two Hindu men carrying a very long ladder to the Dhamekh Stupa walked by. One of them stayed on the ground to hold the ladder steady, while the other climbed up to the niches in search of coins and khatas that pilgrims had thrown in as offerings. There were eight niches and they cleared all of them out. When they were ready to leave, some pilgrims bought the khatas from them that they had just gathered because things that had been offered to Buddha would carry the blessings granted in return from Buddha.
After a short lunch break I lit another package of incense and, holding it, circumambulated the Dhamekh Stupa. A group of Tibetan Lamas came on a pilgrimage. They lit more than 100 candles and dozens of packages of incense, which they scattered around the stupa on the lowest level.
Later, on the street, I met a Chinese monk limping and using the help of a long stick. He said that he came from China over four decades ago and was on his way to visit a dentist for his toothache. I offered him 50 rupees and he said in return that he would pray to Buddha for my well-being.
At dusk we went to the Ganges River for a concert of classical Hindu music. We boarded a large houseboat which was rowed by one adult and two kids; our local tourist-guide passed a wreath of orange-yellow flowers to each one of us to wear. We went up to sit on the flat roof of the houseboat. There were already two Hindu musicians, a sitar player and a drummer, waiting in silence. The boat slowly rowed from the city side toward the quiet sandy wasteland; cool breezes gently caressed us, and noises of the city gradually faded away. In the twilight, the ripples on the river were dancing to the mellifluous music; as the musicians improvised, an exotic mood filled the air. Sipping hot milk-tea I was immersed in the tunes that came and immediately vanished, leaving no traces. The night's darkness slowly swallowed the magnificent edifices along the riverbank, sparing only the twinkling of city lights. Stars emerged with bright cool light, but it was not the familiar constellations as back home. We were all drunk with the mystic beauty of such an unearthly moment. When we returned to the city side and went ashore, two men were carrying a corpse, wrapped in white cloth, on a ladder. In life Impermanence was so vividly pressing. I immediately practiced Powa for the deceased.
On the 18th of January, we went to Kushinagar. Our bus ran on the narrow highway for nine hours. Quite often cars from opposite directions passed each other with little margin between them. The ride was rough and dusty. We saw five or six traffic accidents on our way. In most cases it was trucks turned over on the roadside. Hindu buses were loaded with passengers to such an extent that the driver was usually crammed in by baggage or people. Some buses had passengers squatting on the roof holding on to metal railings. Some buses had no panes in the windows, but ineffectively used small pieces of cloth to ward off the dusty wind. A few trucks were used as passenger vehicles with a truckload of people crouching. Traveling afar in such a manner was rather painful. Nevertheless, some Tibetans traveled in this way on their pilgrimage. Everywhere we saw destitute and malnourished crowds of people. By comparison, the common life enjoyed in America was like living in heaven. The impoverishment and overcrowdedness of these people was overwhelming. So difficult to improve! We arrived in Kushinagar in the evening and stayed at the tourist hotel which was run by the government. Early in the morning, on the 19th of January, I saw myself smoking a cigarette in a dream. Here was the site of Buddha's Parinirvana, hence, it was an omen of continuing Buddha's lineage. (In Chinese, cigarettes are called "Hsian Yen" which also has the meaning of continuation of lineage.)
In the morning we went on pilgrimage to the gigantic reclining Buddha statue at the Parinirvana Temple. A thick fog covered the holy compound, adding a dismal atmosphere to our mourning. The whole group sat silently in front of the statue. I put a 100-rupee bill into the donation box.
After breakfast we visited the nearby monasteries. At the Burmese temple I donated three U.S. dollars. At the Tibetan Monastery I offered 100 butter lamps with 100 rupees, five U.S. dollars to the monastery and one U.S. dollar to a Lama. At the Japanese temple I offered 100 rupees. The Japanese temple was built on a three-level square platform with smaller upper levels; this resembled the basic structure of a Tibetan Buddhist Tantric Mandala. The temple, shaped liked a dome, situated at the center of the concentric square platforms, had three doors, and the inside was just one huge hall with five small stained-glass skylights. On the inner side, at the center, was a statue of Buddha carved by a famous Japanese sculptor. On the wall behind it (five on each side), were images of Buddha's 10 top disciples painted by a Japanese master who was recognized officially as a "National Formless Treasure of Japan." The outward structure and the inner arrangement were all done very carefully with mastery works, hence, I was very impressed with the temple. The abbot of this Japanese Temple was a Sri Lankan monk, exemplifying the transcendence of Buddhist unity over national limits.
Then we walked for about 20 minutes to where Buddha's corpse was cremated and his sariras were distributed. In this area there were a few pilgrims and the atmosphere was very tranquil. In the light fog we leisurely strolled on the asphalt road that stretched amid green fields with many clusters of tiny yellow blossoms. An oxcart carrying two or three people slowly came up from behind us, and slowly went past us to the front. Only the slow steps of the ox and the sound of the cart wheels, occasionally mixed with a few birdcalls, were heard. A feeling of peace and happiness naturally filled my heart.
As we arrived there we saw a huge stupa shaped like a small hill. I lit a package of Mandala Incense and circumambulated the stupa while chanting the Mantra of Sakyamuni Buddha. Jorge, from our group, voluntarily joined me in circumambulating, so I gave him the Mantra and the Mudra of Sakyamuni Buddha, as well as half the package of incense to hold. Finally we offered flowers and a little money to the stupa.
At noon I heard that there was a Chinese Temple nearby, so I strolled over to visit. When I entered the main hall of Suang Lin Temple I was surprised to see my Guru, Yogi Chen's, calligraphy carved on the wall on the two sides of the central Buddha statue. The paired sentences read:
Two trees casting shade, through such Grace all would attain the Bodhi fruit;
Grove yard resting shadow, realizing suchness would wide open the Pureland lotus;
Unexpectedly overjoyed, I rushed back to the hotel to get my Chinese robe, cap and camera, and asked Jorge and Elena to accompany me back to the temple. I offered incense and 100 rupees, and was photographed with my Guru's calligraphy. In my Guru's Works of the Bended Arm Study there was a black and white photo of this altar with his calligraphy; but it did not come to my mind during my preparation for this pilgrimage. Fortunately, with my Guru's blessing, I did not miss the opportunity to admire the original this time. After lunch I went to the Tibetan Monastery to offer 150 butter lamps with 150 rupees. I offered a young Lama 10 rupees; at first he refused, then he accepted the offering and told me to wait. He went inside and came back with three small paper pouches of nectar pills and gave them to my friends and me. He said that these nectar pills had been blessed by the Dalai Lama, that he came here from Dharamsala on a pilgrimage, and that he would return there after a two-month stay. After I went back to Taipei I soaked some of these nectar pills in drinking water and offered the drink to visitors so that we all might share the blessing.
Then I went to worship the gigantic reclining Buddha statue. I lit a package of Mandala Incense and holding it, circumambulated the Buddha; I sang the Mantra of Sakyamuni Buddha, but later I had forgotten the melody that I had improvised. The hall had a high ceiling, allowing pigeons to fly freely above the Buddha statue, with their resounding "Kuru Kuru Kuru ...."
Professor Pryor took us to the small local museum for an interview with the Elder in charge. He did us a favor by showing us some archaeological finds which are usually not for public display, and he explained in detail their time and characteristics. We saw, for example, a 3,000-year old clay seal, water vases which were used in common households as well as in Royal Palaces, coins of numerous small dynasties, etc. We passed the antiques to each other as we listened to his talk. It was as if we were going through the transitions of ancient Hindu kingdoms. Where was the history of thousands of years? Only the few items before our eyes had remained. They aroused in us a feeling of wonder for the past and caused us to conjecture about what had happened. In addition to the offering from our group, I borrowed 15 rupees and offered it to the Elder. After we returned to the hotel, we sat in a circle in the yard drinking tea and listening to Professor Pryor's talk on the basic distinctions between Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism.
After dinner, it was already 7:30 p.m. and I found out that the Parinirvana Temple closes at 8 p.m., so I left the hotel by myself and walked into the darkness of night (I did not have a flashlight). Within the temple compound there were no streetlamps. I walked according to the impressions I had in the daytime. Not knowing the local dialect nor foreseeing what I might run into, I simply wanted to see the reclining Buddha again, so I advanced calmly in search of the path. Following my sense of direction I walked on a new route and still successfully reached the temple.
There was only one caretaker left on duty, and the electric lamps were dim. After three prostrations to Buddha I circumambulated Him. During the fifth round my body suddenly became so light as though it had no weight, and I felt that I had merged into one with the environment. I continued to circumambulate and the sense of merging into one with the environment grew stronger as I strolled on. Soon the door would be closed, so I could not stay much longer and I bade farewell to Buddha. Afterwards, upon reflection, I thought that tonight's special blessing came as a reward for my special endeavor to make an extra pilgrimage in the night. After all, the Law of Inspiration was still -Buddha helps those who help themselves.
On the morning of the 20th of January, our group pilgrimaged to the reclining Buddha statue again. We sat in silence in front of the Buddha. On the way back I detoured through the Tibetan Monastery to offer 100 butter lamps and also offered an old Lama there 10 rupees. In Kushinagar I offered, in total, 350 butter lamps, signifying the thirty-five-Buddha purification to repent for all sentient beings' heavy karmas which prevents sentient beings from enjoying Buddha's presence in this world.
After breakfast there was still an hour before departure, so I went to see the Buddha again. As soon as I entered the main gate of the temple compound, on the pavement leading straight into the compound a group of indigenous silver monkeys came toward me. They were of fairly large sizes, on the average about half a man's height; some seemed to be related as parents and children. An outstanding characteristic of this species was the white hair bristling on their cheeks. We walked past one another side by side, then I turned around to count them - the number was nine. Some fellow pilgrims had met one or two silver monkeys the previous day. I offered a khata over Buddha's protuberance on his head and five rupees below his feet.
We rode the bus to the Indian border, then walked across the border and entered Nepal. Our luggage was transported by three hired rickshaws. Then we boarded a prearranged Nepali chartered bus to go to Lumbini, arriving there in the evening; we stayed at the one and only hotel which was surrounded by a small forest. The air was peaceful. When I asked for soap from the manager I was surprised to hear "sa-boon," Taiwanese for soap, and learn that it was also Nepali for soap.
On the morning of the 21st of January, I saw, in a dream, numerous yellow blossoms spreading over fields; this was a sign of the wide propagation of Buddhism. In another dream, I saw a Chinese stupa in India, signifying that Yogi Chen's hermitage (L. M. Lodge in Kalimpong where he had retreated for 25 years) is also a holy place worthy of pilgrimage. Our route could not include this sacred place, so I would have to wait for another opportunity in the future. In the morning we pilgrimage to the Mahadevi Temple at Buddha's Birthplace. I offered two large and 10 regular size butter lamps with 100 rupees. Having lit my last package of Mandala Incense I held it and circumambulated the temple compound. An old Tibetan lady was prostrating repeatedly in the small corridor outside the left side-entrance, and simultaneously chanting some hymn. Her voice was so beautiful that one intuitively sensed her inner beauty. Some pilgrims were worshiping the Bodhi tree on the top level of the temple. Many Tibetans were circumambulating the temple compound. Some of them used counting rosaries, some held and swirled Dharma wheels, while a few were doing one prostration at every third step.
The rectangular pond near the temple was believed to be the bathing place for the infant Buddha and his holy mother. Seven white geese strolled in the vicinity of the pond and sometimes swam leisurely in the water. Three Tibetan girls crouching on the side of the pond scooped up water with bare hands to clean their faces, signifying their receiving the blessing of the holy water. Following their example, I scooped up the holy water to wet my forehead.
All the holy sites that we had pilgrimaged had large flocks of crows. According to the Tantric teaching, crows were transformations of the protector Four-Armed Mahakala. Once, in a dream, I saw a flock of crows all transformed into short men with weapons in their hands. Hence, the crows were there to guard these holy sites.
During our pilgrimage, we saw monasteries, temples, monks and nuns, and pilgrims from various Asian countries at each sacred site. Nevertheless, only the Dharma activities of the Tibetan people made me feel that Buddhism was alive in the heart of the people as a whole. Everywhere we went there were Tibetan-style monasteries with resident Lamas, Dharma activities, butter-lamp offerings, and pilgrimage crowds of all ages. They came in crowded buses or trucks, and they stayed in shabby tents. They came on the pilgrimage despite physical hardships. Some Tibetan families went on a pilgrimage once a year. Although they were refugees in a foreign country, the smiles on their faces and the brightness in their eyes revealed fully their indomitable spirit. Buddhism had been deeply rooted in the Tibetan hearts and infused in their lives, and had nurtured them to become such a relaxed, simple, happy and sturdy people.
After breakfast I visited the holy site of Buddha's Birth again. Near the pond there was a large Bodhi tree with half of its lower trunk hollowed; inside the hollow was a small stupa enthroning a statue of the reclining Buddha. Erecting a stupa for the reclining Buddha, which signifies Buddha's Parinirvana, at the site of Buddha's Birth, was indeed a very wise way to remind pilgrims of Buddha's life as a whole. I offered a khata and five fruits at the stupa.
In the afternoon I visited the holy site again. At the Tibetan Monastery I offered 50 rupees; at the Hinayana Monastery I offered 26 rupees; In the Mahadevi Temple I offered two large and 20 regular size butter-lamps with 100 rupees. After having circumambulated the holy site of Buddha's Birth, I sat under the large Bodhi tree by the pond to the right of the small stupa for a rest. Janice, a member of our group, happened to walk by. She liked to ask me questions about Buddha Dharma, so I explained to her as well as Richard who had joined us, the essence of what I had learned from the Dharma:
What Buddha achieves at Full Enlightenment is the realization that everything is a boundless unity. The basic principles for Buddhist practices are: in the active realm, opening up and in the inactive realm, no attachment. Buddhist practices are based on the above Truth and principles, and will enable us to approach gradually the Full Enlightenment of Buddha.
In the serenity of Buddha's Birthplace the following reflections arose in my mind:
1. Our modern ways of living had been oversaturated with the artifacts of civilization. Our lives have become so tense that it is of necessity for us to return to a simple and peaceful life-style. People who understand this had better start changing their own lives, so that society can smell the fresh air of simplicity and relaxation. Eventually the multitudes will be affected by this.
2. The experiences of a pilgrimage can be infused into our daily life:
When one awakens in the morning, develop a pure Bodhi mind, just as the Birth of Buddha.
When one is learning Dharma, be attentive and respectful, just as listening to a sermon of Buddha.
When one is practicing Dharma, remember the renunciation and austerity of Buddha to encourage one's diligence, and pray for Buddha's blessing so that oneself and all sentient beings may soon achieve Buddhahood.
When one is preaching Dharma, follow Buddha's example of making no distinction between classes of people (Great Compassion) and giving teachings that suit the level of the audience (Great Wisdom).
When one is going to sleep at night, remember that Buddha went into Nirvana to teach us Impermanence, and hence, realize that all one's mental attachments are futile. Willingly let them go and then fall asleep soundly.
On the morning of the 22nd of January, I saw three times in a dream that I used a piece of paper to catch fire to light a cigarette. Today we had completed our pilgrimage to the four major sites of Buddha's life relating respectively to his Birth, Enlightenment, First Turning of the Dharma Wheel (First Sermon), and Parinirvana. Hence, the dream signified a continuation of Buddha's activities. During my sleep I heard a Heavenly voice saying: "If you moved back to Taiwan, you would not create as great an influence as you would by staying in the United States." This was to instruct me to continue my station in the United States for spreading of the Dharma. In the morning I offered one candle at the reclining Buddha stupa by the pond. In the Mahadevi Temple 25 butter lamps were offered with 100 rupees from me and half a bag of coins from Bert. Bert bought a bag of coins for alms giving during our pilgrimage. Now that it was near the end of the trip he asked me to use what was left for offering to Buddha. I did my morning practice in front of the Buddha statue in the temple. Then I sat in meditation under the Bodhi tree by the temple. In my meditation I saw a statue of Amitayus, the Longevity Buddha, that my Guru had passed down to me and was revered on my altar. It was twice its original size, and was surrounded at each of the four corners by a smaller Buddha statue. The size of the Longevity Buddha had doubled, signifying a blessing to lengthen my life.
After meditation I went inside the temple to toll the bell five times to pray for the spreading of the Dharma to be like the propagation of bell, i.e. from near to far. Then I circumambulated the temple three times. At noon we flew in a small airplane back to Kathmandu. During the flight we saw the magnificent snowcap of the Himalayan Mountains protruding high above the clouds. Again, we stayed at Hotel Vajra.
On the morning of the 23rd of January, I went by myself to pilgrimage the Swayambhunath Stupa. In the Drukpa Kagyu Monastery I offered 100 butter lamps. In front of the Newari Buddhist Temple a lay master was performing a ritual service of offering; I offered 10 rupees and put them into the mandala in front of him. I paid my respects to Shahti Acarya also offering 10 rupees, and then fed the monkeys and pigeons with 10-rupees worth of yellow corn. In the Monastery of H.H. Karmapa I offered 100 butter lamps which happened to be all those on the table directly in front of the gigantic statue of His Holiness. I offered the two Lamas in charge of the butter-lamp preparations 10 rupees each. Afterwards, accompanied by a local friend, Mr. Kuo Yu Ma, I went to the Thai Embassy to hand in my passport and airline tickets for the visa application. Because I was using the passport of the Republic of China, I had to wait until the next morning to get my special permit.
Then we took a taxi and arrived at Pharping after a one-hour ride. Our goal was to pilgrimage the Padmasambhava cave and the Vajra Yogini Temple. Half way up the hill there was a large monastery; on the opposite side, in the valley below, we saw an ocean of prayer flags waving in the wind. I walked into the main shrine hall where there were thirteen Lamas, old and young, chanting sutras. I dared not disturb their ritual ceremony, so I simply made three full-length prostrations to the magnificent giant statue of Guru Rin-po-che (Padmasambhava) at the center of the altar. While getting ready to leave I caught sight of butter lamps prepared for pilgrims and wanted to make such an offering.
Fortunately, there was a Caucasian Upasaka (male Buddhist layman) sitting among the assembly, so I told him in English that I would like to offer 100 butter lamps. He forwarded my request to the Lamas and, while they were bringing out the lamps, showed me the Tara Rock in the adjacent shrine hall. Over a period of 20-plus years a relief of Tara, a female transformation of Avalokitesvara, gradually and miraculously emerged from the surface of a rock. The relief was about the size of an adult's palm and its outline clearly showed a Tara. The shrine hall had been built to house this miraculous relief of Tara and statues of the Twenty-One Taras were revered on the altar. I offered five butter lamps with 10 rupees as well as 50 rupees to the elderly nun who was chanting a sutra and had completed years of retreat in the cave up on the hill.
We returned to the main shrine hall and discovered that a table with 100 butter lamps atop had been set up in front of the statue of Guru Rin-po-che. A novice monk and I worked together to light all these lamps. The donation for these lamps was 200 rupees. The Caucasian Upasaka informed me that one might ask the Head Lama for a recitation of the traditional Auspicious Prayer that accompanied the offering of butter lamps. Hence, I added 50 rupees to the Mandala offering in front of Guru Rin-po-che. I also offered a khata with 50 rupees to the Lama in charge, Ralo Rin-po-che; my request was transmitted to him through the Caucasian Upasaka's translation to Tibetan. The Lama instructed me to do three full-length prostrations to Guru Rin-po-che, then they started to chant the prayer; I knelt down facing Guru Rin-po-che to recite my Bodhicitta Vows:
1. May virtuous gurus remain with us and those departed return soon!
2. May perverse views and violence soon become extinct, and Dharma spread without hindrance!
3. May all beings proceed diligently on the path toward Buddhahood and achieve the goal before death!
4. May the Great Compassion flourish in all beings and never regress until they reach perfect Buddhahood!
5. May the Great Wisdom thrive in all beings and never regress until they reach perfect Buddhahood!
As I knelt there, seeing the compassionate face of Guru Rin-po-che, and hearing the music of the ritual chorus sung by Lamas which were accompanied by drums and horns, I seemed to have been miraculously transferred to the Pureland of Guru Rin-po-che. During this pilgrimage I had offered as many butter lamps as I could at various holy sites, thus resulting in Buddha's special blessing of granting me such a wonderful Dharma assembly at the last major offering of butter lamps. As a total stranger here, I could not have arranged such a large Dharma assemblage even if I had tried to. I really appreciate the kindness of Ralo Rin-po-che and the Caucasian Upasaka for inserting the offering and the chanting of prayer into their schedule. Afterwards, we walked up to the small cave on the hill behind the monastery; Guru Rin-po-che was believed to have done his retreat here. I prostrated to the cave, lit five butter lamps on the table and left 10 rupees for the lamps. Then we walked along the trail in search of the Padmasambhava Cave. We came across a Padmasambhava Temple and a Tibetan nun unlocked the door to the shrine hall to let us in; we went in to worship. I made prostrations and offered 30 rupees on the Mandala offering.
As soon as I entered the Padmasambhava Cave, I felt the force of blessing. A stone statue of Guru Rin-po-che was revered herein, and a Tibetan woman was attending the lamp and incense offerings. I prostrated to Guru Rin-po-che, offered five butter lamps, and lit a package of incense. Near the entrance on the stone ceiling was an indentation marked by Guru Rin-po-che's crown.
Holding the package of burning incense, we searched for the Vajra Yogini Temple. It was on the second floor of the building and no photographs were allowed. There were a few young girls joyfully chatting in the court yard downstairs. Upstairs there was a novice monk, about 10 years old, who led us through three circumambulations in the corridor around the shrine room. Then we worshipped outside the door of the shrine room (the door was locked with metal railings). Inside there was a statue of a standing Vajra Yogini. I prostrated and offered six butter lamps with 30 rupees. A girl, about 12 or 13 years old, was there to prepare the butter lamps, and downstairs there was an old nun guarding the stairway. I gave each of these three guardians a 10 rupee offering.
When we went downstairs there was a Tibetan nun passing by, and she asked me to give her the package of burning incense in my hand so she could bring it along on her pilgrimage to the Padmasambhava Cave and I happily complied with her request. After we went down the hill, there was another Padmasambhava Cave near a pond, but the small entrance door was locked, so I prostrated outside the entrance, then went up to the Padmasambhava Temple which was on a small hill nearby. There I offered 20 rupees and lit a package of incense. An old man was following us and begging, I gave him five rupees.
Mr. Ma and I were talking along the way. I mentioned that in the United States many elderly people had to spend their final years in nursing homes with very little caring attention. Mr. Ma told me that in Nepal old folks stayed home and their children and grandchildren took very good care of them. I also mentioned the highlights of my late Guru's Dharma activities, including his 25-year retreat in India. He asked me, "Where?" As soon as I answered, "Kalimpong," he knew who my Guru was. My Guru was retreating in a room on the second floor of L. M. Lodge, at which time Ma's family lived across the street a few steps away. At that time, as a small child, he could not understand why Yogi Chen never came outdoors. Sometimes Yogi Chen would lower down a basket with a rope, and ask the kids to take the money from it and go shopping for him. Quite often Yogi Chen would distribute candy from his window to the kids. This was the candy which had been offered to Buddha; Mr. Ma was among those who used to eat his candy.
This discovery made us feel very close to each other. He immediately promised to be the guide for my future pilgrimage to the L. M. Lodge, the site of Guru Chen's 25-year retreat. Only two days ago I had dreamed of signs for going on that pilgrimage and now I had unexpectedly met my guide for it. Considering the facts that Mr. Ma spoke Mandarin, English, Tibetan, Hindustani and Nepali, and that he came from Kalimpong, he was no doubt the best choice for the guide. Yet incredibly, without any effort on my part to search for such a guide I had naturally encountered him. Who could say that such a wonderful arrangement was not due to Buddha's Grace?
I returned to the hotel in the late afternoon. Although a little bit tired, I still went on the Dharma activity of accompanying Minor and Ann from our group to shop for a Thanka of the Wheel of Life and some handheld Dharma wheels. When we went downtown we discovered that most of the Thankas being sold were counterfeits to attract tourists and they did not meet the Dharmic requirements.
At dinner, fellow pilgrims Rolf and Gerry told me that they had understood a pilgrimage on a deeper level through me and that they respected my Dharmic endeavors. Such kind encouragement cheered up my spirits.
On the morning of the 24th of January, I dreamed that I received a bowl of noodles with slices of onion and meat on top. Noodles signify longevity and slices of onion and meat signify the nectar of Pleasure in Sunyata. I also saw, in a dream, that Professor Pryor died. This signifies that his leading a pilgrimage group brought him many blessings from Buddha, so that his ego would gradually die away and he would be liberated. Clint, from our group took refuge from a Lama during our pilgrimage and, subsequently, formally became a Buddhist. Members of our group quite often made donations to temples, monasteries, monks, nuns, or offered butter lamps or incense. Some among our group, although not Buddhists, still had inspirational dreams and asked me to give interpretations.
At 9 a.m. I took a taxi to the Thai Embassy to obtain my special transit permit. Then I went to the airport to join our group. Mr. Kuo Yu Ma came to see me off. I entrusted him with the 180 rupees that was left with me, and asked him to make butter lamp offerings on the Chinese New Year's Day (this year it was on the 27th of January) at the Boudha Stupa, and wished him great prosperity in the coming Year of the Horse.
At 4 p.m. I arrived in Bangkok. Immediately I phoned China Airlines to confirm my reservation. Alas, I was not on the passenger list scheduled for departure the following day. My reservations were made months in advance. However, during the trip it was difficult to keep reconfirming the seats and consequently I became a victim of the airlines' automatic but arbitrary cancellation system. Fortunately, there were still vacancies, so I was instantly given a seat. At the Airport Hotel the receptionist told me, with a smile, that I was just in time to get the only room left in the hotel. Thus, it was obvious that during the entire trip Buddha's Grace had taken care of even minor details for me.
On the 25th of January, I flew back to Taipei after making a short stop at the Hong Kong airport. My family enjoyed our reunion. It is most fortunate that my parents, both over 70-year-old, are still living, however, they appeared older. Nephews and nieces either grew up or saw me for the first time. My old friends came to see me, and my Buddhist friends who used to write me came to meet me in person. The situation made me feel like I had just come from a 10-year retreat.
On the 29th of January, I went to Chin Shan (Gold Mountain) Cemetery on a pilgrimage to Guru Chen's Sarira Stupa and the adjacent Five Wheel Pagoda. I made three full-length prostrations to each stupa and offered the embroidered Five Wheel Pagoda. I offered a red lace khata to my Guru's stupa. My pilgrimage to Buddha's holy sites and my Guru's stupa was thus auspiciously completed. On the 25th of February, I departed Taipei and flew back to my residence in the United States.
My many thanks to Professor Pryor and his assistant Max for arranging all of the transportation and lodging and taking such good care of all aspects of our pilgrimage so that we could concentrate on our own spiritual pursuits. Needless to say, they had provided a superb insight program that no ordinary travel agency could even dream of. Thanks to my family for their support which enabled me to go on this pilgrimage free from family duties. Thanks to the few Buddhist friends who contributed to the offerings made during the pilgrimage.
Thanks to my fellow pilgrims and my local friends for their kind assistance and friendship which helped everything go smoothly.
I am especially grateful to Guru Chen, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Protector Deities for their blessings because the pilgrimage was truly blessed with so many wonderful inspirational events.
May all sentient beings soon realize the Buddhahood! May non-Buddhists have the opportunity to visit the holy sites of Buddha, thereby, increase their understanding of Buddhism and gain faith to start practicing on the path toward Buddhahood!
May all Buddhists have the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to the holy sites of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, thereby, enhancing their practice and receiving blessings to mature their Compassion and Wisdom!
The Chinese version of this report was completed on April 12, 1990. This article was translated into English and completed on July 8, 1990 at my residence in El Cerrito, California, U.S.A. Revised on November 18, 1995.
1. May virtuous gurus remain with us and those departed return soon!
2. May perverse views and violence soon become extinct and Dharma spread without hindrance!
3. May all beings proceed diligently on the path and achieve Buddhahood before death!
4. May all beings develop Great Compassion and never regress until they reach perfect Buddhahood!
5. May all beings develop Great Wisdom and never regress until they reach perfect Buddhahood!
Thanks to Hung Kwok Sing for formatting this booklet and preparing the camera-ready copy for printing. Thanks to Buddhist friends who helped produce the original version.
For your free copy
Please write to:
Dr. Yutang Lin
705 Midcrest Way
El Cerrito, CA 94530-3310
Buddhist Yogi C. M. Chen's Homepage:
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