Pilgrimage is a special journey to an important place and in a Buddhists case usually a place of worship. It often a once in a lifetime trip for the purpose of aiding the journey to enlightenment. For a Buddhist there are four main places that they might go on a pilgrimage, the Lumbini grove, Bodh Gaya, the deer park at Sarnath and Kushinara. The Lumbini Grove is an obvious place to go on Pilgrimage as it is the birthplace of the Siddartha Gotama. This is marked by an inscription on a pillar which reads “Here the Buddha was born”.
The journey to the Lumbini grove is half an hour from the nearest train station, followed by hours on cycle, rickshaw or on foot. There are a few monks, two temples and a pool at this remote site. Bodh Gaya is the place of Siddartha Gotama’s enlightenment, it is the most sacred place of pilgrimage in the Buddhist world. Clearly many Buddhists believe that this is a place of great “spiritual power” which becomes more intense each time pilgrims visit, as this is the place where Siddartha became Buddha.
Many people believe that this is the site of enlightenment for all great Buddhists; however, in my opinion this is incorrect as there are hundreds of great Buddhists in the world, in fact I feel that any Buddhist that has pure faith is great Buddhist, and surely not every Buddhist in the world has been on pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya. At this site pilgrims walk around the bodhi tree in a clockwise direction, this is a practise which is called circumambulation. The tree is decorated with flowers and prayer flags.
Situated next to the bodhi tree is the Mahabodhi, or great enlightenment temple, it houses an image of the Buddha at the moment of his enlightenment, to which offerings of light, incense and flowers are given by the pilgrims. The Deer Park at Sarnath is not a hugely important site of pilgrimage but it is still visited because it is the place where the Buddha preached his very first sermon, and all that is at Sarnath is a statue of the Buddha preaching. Again offerings of flowers, light and incense are given.
The flowers are given to represent the three marks of existence Anicca the belief that everything changes and grows, Anatta the Buddhist belief that there is no self or soul and Dukkha everything suffers, decays and dies. Finally Kushinara, this is a site of great importance as it is where the Buddha died. There is a temple of remembrance of the Buddha’s final Nirvana. Also at Kushinara there are modern Tibetan, Burmese and Chinese monasteries and also the ruins of many ancient stupas. When the Buddha died he was cremated and his ashes were divided into eight parts which were taken to special sites and had stupas built over them.
There are other places than India that Buddhists who are unable to travel that far for whatever reason could go, there are also other things available such as cuttings from the bodhi tree. One of these cuttings is at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka; it is hung with pieces of cloth, offerings, and is approached with bare feet and head, as with the one at Bodh Gaya. Burma has a hair relic which is housed by the great stupa in Rangoon called the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. Buddhists who visit the pagoda place a gold leaf on the beautiful roof to honour the memory of the Buddha.
There is also another famous relic which is in a minute stupa in the temple named the “tooth relic temple” in Kandy, Sri Lanka. This is honoured at the annual festival with a parade of ceremonial elephants. Not all of these treasured relics are of the Buddha; some could be from an old scripture or of a great Buddhist teacher. But this doesn’t matter because the most important thing is that the artefacts are a reminder of the Dharma, and these reminders help the pilgrim to grow closer to their eventual goal of Nirvana. Why might a Buddhist go On pilgrimage?
There are many reasons for Buddhist to go on Pilgrimage for example the opportunity to practise right mindfulness this is when a Buddhist can become more aware of those around them and of their own feelings, it teaches them not to live in a dream world but to see things as they really are. They might also go to share their thoughts and the teachings of the Buddha with other Buddhists and with the Buddhist monks, this could help them to understand from different points of view of other Buddhists as well as their own and increase their knowledge.
They might also learn in more depth about the four noble truths and the three marks of existence from other Buddhists and monks, not only that but they might actually see evidence of them. For example at Kushinara they would see examples of Dukkha because they would see that even the Buddha died. Pilgrimage should be a life changing and significant event which should have a great impact on their life as they are going to places where their “idol” has been and where significant changes were made to his life.
They should feel privileged that they are where the Buddha was this should help to bring them closer to the Buddha and walk in his footsteps perhaps even to bring them closer to the way that the Buddha thought and felt whilst he was in these places , in turn giving them good Karma and helping them to understand his teachings more clearly than before. Some Buddhists may go on pilgrimage in order to rekindle lost faith or just simply to strengthen faith further. What effect might a pilgrimage have On a Buddhist’s life? There are several motives of a Buddhist to go on a pilgrimage, these motives are very important.
First of all they might go to gain good karma for a better rebirth. They might also go to practise right mindfulness and meditation which might persuade them to become a Buddhist monk as they may think that they cannot practise right mindfulness without getting rid of the temptations to have hatred for somebody or something, to be able to be greedy and to get rid of any ignorance. By becoming a Monk there is nothing to hate or be ignorant towards and certainly no need for greed, as a Buddhist monk gives up all possessions in order to experience complete joy and peace.
There is also another reason to go on a pilgrimage that could have a great impact on life afterwards. This is the search for practical help with sickness or personal problems, if while on pilgrimage these can be sorted out through much meditation and talking to other Buddhists or monks then you will be much happier in life and won’t have so many obstructions to reaching nirvana. Going on pilgrimage can also produce good karma; however, this will only happen if you are doing it for unselfish reasons.
For example if you go on pilgrimage purely to gain good karma it will not happen. If you do gain good karma whilst on pilgrimage it will aid in the journey to enlightenment. Also if you as a Buddhist had previously done something that has made you get negative karma then after pilgrimage you can begin again with good karma, but again only if you went on pilgrimage without the sole intention of gaining good karma. “There are more important things for a Buddhist to do than go on pilgrimage”. Do you agree? Give reasons to support your answer
And shoe that you have thought about Different points of view. Really this is down to the priorities of the Buddhist that intends to go on pilgrimage, however in my opinion in everyday life alone there are many obstructions and reasons why a Buddhist should not or could not go on pilgrimage such as insufficient money to fund the journey, you could have a family or a husband or wife that is not a Buddhist that may not want to go on a pilgrimage and you would not want to go without them as it would be a selfish act and you would gain bad karma.
Zen Buddhists believe that they are already enlightened, so they would not need to go on a pilgrimage. I also think that it is a selfish act as it is expensive and Buddhists believe that there is no self or soul so there is no point in being selfish. However, the money that could be spent on a pilgrimage could be donated to charity which would benefit a Buddhist greatly as they would gain good karma from such a selfless act.
In my opinion a true Buddhist would not need to go on pilgrimage as they would feel that their faith was already strong enough, in the same way as a true Christian wouldn’t have to go to church, if their faith was strong they wouldn’t feel the need to constantly rekindle it. I feel that people go on pilgrimage not because they need to but because they want to. On the other hand from a Buddhists point of view if they really feel that it is a necessity to go on pilgrimage then they will go.
A Buddhist may feel that they need to go in order to “pay their respects” to Buddha in the same way as we do if a member of our family or a close friend of ours has died. They may also feel that by going on pilgrimage they could relive the life of the Buddha and this may be very important for a Buddhist. In conclusion, from a Buddhists point of view it is probably very necessary to go on pilgrimage, they might not want to go for any other reason than to get closer to the Buddha or just to try to become a better Buddhist or even a better person overall.