Monday, January 23, 2012

Kushinagar, Parinirvana Temple & the Ramabhar Stupa

January 23rd, 2008

After months of traveling, sleeping in some seedy places, it was revitalizing to spend the night in a temple.

I woke up early, not too bright but fresh, and headed out to greet the morning. Linh-Son Temple is a beautiful Vietnamese temple and has a few interesting mini-replicas of other famous temples and also a peaceful looking Kwan-Yin statue. Yesterday's mist thickened into today's fog, but it added to the atmosphere and seemed to suit this step of my pilgrimage. Kushinagar is the place where the Buddha gave his final teaching, then passed into Parinibbana, complete nirvana, and was cremated.

And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
This was the last word of the Tathagata.

Buddha visited Kushinagar a few times during his life and had many followers and admirers in the city. Many of the ruins excavated by the British during the 19th Century, date back to not long after Buddha's death. I walked down the road, passed the fog shrouded Myanmar stupa, towards the Parinirvana, not even visible through the luminescent vapour until I was almost in front of it. The temple had a very interesting shape, almost like a loaf of Buddha-bread, with an ancient stupa cake behind it. The remains of the original temple and stupa were also discovered by the British under a massive, 12 meter mound of brick, perhaps hidden to save it from total destruction, at some point.

Inside the temple is the 1500 year old Parinirvana Buddha, depicted just before passing beyond. The amount of feeling I felt from the statue was incredible. Not only its serenity and peaceful features but also the energy it emanated was heart-touching. It's the most emotion I've felt from a statue in my life. A couple of Tibetan monks were sitting by the Buddha, while a tenant cleaned up. I lit little, thin white candles that I'd bought at the gate for all the members of my family, including one larger one for my grandfather who, like the Buddha before me, is in the last stage of his current existence. After a few minutes, they went outside to circle the stupa and I had some time alone with the sleeping Buddha. Once the crowds of people began pouring in, I figured it was time to leave. 

Outside is a maze of ruined monasteries and stupas, much like the Maya Devi Temple, and the Deer Park in Sarnath. I tried to imagine what this place must have been like 1500 years ago, but I really have no idea. From here, I walked back to the road and headed down the road, around the corner, and up towards Makutabandhana, the Ramabhar Stupa, where Buddha was cremated. 

Along the road, I was stopped by the sight of an open air urinal, like those I'd seen in Delhi, except this time there was no one using them so I didn't mind taking a photo. I also had a really good dal-baht breakfast at a little shack across the road. As I ate, I notice a 6"-something tall American Bhikkhuni in Tibetan robes walk by. She was really hard to miss! The road was mostly lined with international monasteries  except for large crops of sugar cane and rapeseed. Even from such a sort distance, the Parinirvana Temple was almost completely faded in the thick mist but it looked beautiful across the cane field. 

You might ask how they know that this is where Buddha was cremated, but one look at this stupa, and there's little to doubt! The stupa is a 15 meter tall mound of brick, nearly 100 meters in circumference. I circled a few times with the monks, and lit the remaining candles I had then, with the remaining matched, lit the row of candles that had gone out in the breeze. 

I then walked back to the Parinirvana Temple, and pay a last visit to the lovely Parinirvana Buddha. His beautiful red blanket had been changed to a techno-colored glittery-fibered gold blanket while I'd been gone, which diminished its aesthetic, but his face still overwhelmed me. I had a similar feeling leaving the temple as I'd had with many of the people I'd met along the way and had to say good bye but I had a long way to go to get to Bodhgaya. This is really the most peaceful, charming place I've been on my trip. I would love to stay here a longer time if I ever make it back.

Outside, I met the Bhikkhuni I'd noticed walking and chatted with her a bit. I'm used to Bhikkhunis being at least a couple, if not a few, inched shorter than me (the vast majority of them being Asian women) but this woman towered over me. She spoke with a big powerful voice to, she definitely seemed like a powerful human being! 

I picked up my bag from the Linh-Son Temple, then walked back to the road I'd been dropped off on the night before, and sat and waited for the bud to come.

It took quite a while, but once it pulled up it was already so full that there were people hanging out the door. It wasn't exactly one of my goals during the trip to travel that way, but I had to get back to Gorakhpur ASAP to get to the train station. A young man threw my pack on top of the bus, and I hung on to the rail framing the door while the bud pulled out, balancing on the tips of my toes. The only parts of my body inside the bus were my fingers and toes, all squeezing for dear life! I thought about the irony of dying on my way out of the Buddha's death place and how much I really wanted to make it to Bodh Gaya tomorrow! I think about 15 minutes went by and I began doubting I could last another 75 minutes when I felt a couple people grab ahold of my arms and my toes lifted form the step. The bus was so full, not once did my feet touch the ground as I was passed through the crowd to an empty spot in the aisle. I'd been warned about the dangers of traveling in this area and the Muslims who murder pilgrims, but I think these Muslims just saved my life! 

Eventually the bus thinned out and the one still aboard all made it back to Gorakhpur in one piece. At the train station, I met one of the Korean guys I'd traveled to Pokhara with. The two Korean girls had gone another way and he didn't look as though he was enjoying being alone. I had lunch with him and he mentioned who freaked out he was by the size of the rats in his room the night before. 

At the ticket booth, for what ever reason, they told me I couldn't buy a first class seat, and sold me a second one. Even first class isn't much to brag about, but for someone backpacking around India, it's absolutely for safety that it's important. Playing the waiting game on the platform, you never knew for how long, I met a man who actually lives in Bodhgaya and has a shop outside the Mahabodhi Temple. He asked me what car I was in, and I told him I was only able to get a 2nd class ticket. He told me it would be better for me in the 1st class and to just follow him. When the train finally pulled in to the station, the first class section was nearly empty. It wasn't long before the ticket officer came checking, and I paid a bit of a fine, but it was worth it. He looked at my bag and inspected the chain I was using to secure it, then warned me it wasn't thick enough! He told me to be careful, the told the man I was with to keep an eye on me and left. It's hard to believe this is on the way to where Buddha became enlightened, but it is!


  1. Beautiful photos evey posts. I love the peaceful Buddha's face. Thank you.