One of the most important holy sites for Buddhists is Bodh Gaya, the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment in Bihar, India. Thousands of devotees from all over the world come here daily to experience and understand the spiritual insight Prince Siddhartha Gautama Buddha attained under the Bodhi Tree.
I’m currently here soaking up sacred vibes as I perform my pilgrimage at the Unesco-declared world heritage site in Bodh Gaya.
Serenity governs the grounds of the Mahabodhi Temple, and this is apparent soon after a visitor enters the area and undergoes security checks with metal detector scanners.
All are welcome at the temple, which opens from 5am to 9pm daily, and mobile phones are prohibited. Cameras are allowed for a fee.
Despite the rush and honking outside the holy site there seems to be quietness in the air when one is in the huge complex.
You’ll find stupas, a lake, footprints of the Buddha, a meditation park, library and seven vital spots where Buddha spent in contemplation after attaining enlightenment.
“This is the original spot under the tree where Buddha sat and meditated without moving for 49 days before he reached enlightenment,” said monk Milan Doroje, who acted as my guide.
He asked me to join other devotees seated under the tree and experience bliss because the tree is associated with the path to wisdom.
Doroje urged me to surrender myself before the Bodhi Tree, also called the Peepal Tree, which is the fifth succession of the original tree.
I joined monks and followers who were armed with prayer books, beads and prayer wheels and chanted continuously in various languages.
I had goosebumps. It was 14°C at 6.30am when I sat on the marble floor close to the tree in the lotus position.
The spot where Buddha sat on a red sandstone under the tree is fenced up now but worshippers can peep through the fence to get a glimpse of the site which is covered with fresh rose petals daily.
I closed my eyes and sat for some time before experiencing complete calmness, my body feeling lighter and contented.
Many sat under the tree with the hope that the dried leaves would drop on them, seen as a sign of blessing.
I later purchased Buddha’s favourite flower, the lotus, and offered it at the gold plated shrine of Buddha in the pyramid shaped tower of the Mahabodhi Temple built by King Ashoka in 380 AD.
The senior monk placed the flowers on the dais and gave me a white shawl as a form of blessing.
Next I followed Buddha’s footprints to the six other spots where he meditated within the complex and I spent more time at the serene Mucalinda Lake which vibrated with peaceful energies.
Throughout the tour I was moved by the devotion displayed by Buddha’s followers, both men and women, who were performing acts of prostration for hours as a form of physical offering and to be connected to the inner self.
Another prominent attraction was the Ashokan Pillar, where visitors threw coins to reach the top of the column for their wishes to come true.
Several other followers chose comfortable spots on the ground facing the temple and meditated for long hours with a desire to achieve Buddha’s goal of awakening.
Many come to Bodh Gaya with expectations but return with the satisfaction of having stepped foot on one of the holiest landmarks in the world.
I have a strong admiration and respect for Buddha’s teaching of the middle path between sensual indulgence and self-discipline after I was initiated into Buddhism by the 14th Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, in October 2007.
This is my second stop in my tour of Buddha’s trail; the first being his birth place in Lumbini, Nepal, in March, 2015. And I hope to go to two more sites soon – Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon, and Kuishinagar, where he died.
T. Selva is the author of the book Vasthu Sastra Guide. You can follow him on Facebook and write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column appears on the last Friday of every month.