centres of Buddhist pilgrimages were the places associated with
the life and Teachings of the great Master. These four places
are Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kusinara. Lumbini, in what
is now Nepal, is the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. The others
are in India: Bodh Gaya was the place, under the pipal or Bo tree,
where the Buddha was enlightened after practising meditation for
several years. Sarnath was the scene of His first teaching and
Kusinara was the place of His death or final Nirvana.
death of the Buddha, the relics of His body were collected from
the funeral pyre and divided into eight parts. These were distributed
to the claimants and stupas, or burial mounds, were erected on
the relics. The practice of pilgrimage in Buddhism probably started
with visits to these places, the purpose of which was to achieve
personal advantage such as rebirth in a good location, as well
as to honour the great master. Thus the custom of pilgrimage has
been widespread among Buddhist for many centuries and is common
to both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions.
But if we
consider the history of pilgrimage in Buddhism, we notice that
in the earliest order and scheme of Buddhist monastic life as
described in the Tripitika, there is no recognition of the duty
or advantage of pilgrimage. According to a commentary to the Vinaya
Sutra known as 'Lung-Treng-Tik' in Tibetan by the First Dalai
Lama (1392-1474), the Buddha is said to have emphasised several
times the importance of pilgrimage.
after my passing away, all sons and daughters who are of good
family and are faithful should as long as they live, go to the
four holy places and remember: Here at Lumbini, the enlightened
one was born; here at Bodh Gaya he attained enlightenment, here
at Sarnath he turned the wheel of Dharma; and there at Kusinara
he entered Parinirvana. Bhikkhus, after my passing away there
will be activities such as circumambulation of these places and
reverence to them. Thus it should be told to them for they, who
have faith in my deeds and awareness of their own, will travel
to higher states. After my passing away, the new Bhikkhus who
come and ask of the doctrine should be told of these four places
and advised that a pilgrimage to them will help purify their previously
accumulated Karmas or actions."
is defined in the Dhammapada as one who has abandoned the world.
In Buddhist literature there is mention of becoming a 'wanderer'
and being free of worldly attachments by becoming a member of
the Buddhist Sangha or order. However, the wandering of a monk
was not completely aimless, it included visits to sacred shrines
for religious merits. It is mentioned in the Mahavagga, "Go
ye Bhikkhus (monks), wander for the gain of the many for the welfare
of the many, out of compassion for the world and for the gain
and the welfare of gods and men". The wandering mode of living
of Buddhist monks without a settled home and the practice of pilgrimage
contributed to the spread of Buddhism.