A Blessed Pilgrimage
by Dr. Yutang Lin | 1990 | 18,562 words
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Part 14 - The Site Of Buddhas Parinirvana
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 over crowdedness 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 Buddhas Parinirvana; hence, it was an omen of continuing Buddhas 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 Buddhas 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 Buddhas 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 cartwheels, 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 Shakyamuni Buddha. Jorge, from our group, voluntarily joined me in circumambulating, so I gave him the Mantra and the Mudra of Shakyamuni 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 Chens, 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 such ness would wide open the Pure Land 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 Gurus calligraphy. In my Gurus 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 Gurus 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 Shakyamuni 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 Pryors 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 tonights 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 Buddhas 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 mans 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 Buddhas 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.