A Blessed Pilgrimage
by Dr. Yutang Lin | 1990 | 18,562 words
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Part 8 - The Site Of Shakyamunis Austerities
The Bank Of Neranjara River
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 Shakyamuni Buddha visualized on the seat, with the belief that Buddhas essence is un differentiable from Guru Chens. Then I sat under the Bodhi tree and recited my Gurus "Collection of Hymns" until I had completed all that were unfinished from yesterday mornings recitation.
After breakfast we took a bus ride to the countryside, and stopped by the road side so we could walk into the fields. Soon we reached the Neranjara River where Shakyamuni 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 Shakyamuni 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 Lamas 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 Rinpoche 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 Shakyamuni 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.