The Buddha’s “Coming” / a trip to Lumbini

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      In Korea tomorrow, April 8th on the Lunar Calendar, it is Buddha’s “O-shin-nal”, the day Buddha came. It’s hard to say when, exactly, the Buddha did arrive, but there might as well be a day to celebrate! The Buddhist Calendar will enter the year 2553, but this number could be off by as much as 80 years, according to some opinions. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I even learned that Buddha was an historical figure. Like most people I know back home, my most associated image with Buddhism was the Chinese Laughing Buddha; 50% belly/50% smile. As warm and cheerful an image as it is, the further I’m able to progress into Buddhism, the more I’m amazed and intrigued to continue.

      Buddha was born Siddhattha Gotama, in Lumbini, in what is now Nepal. Legend has it that he sprang from his mother’s side, but I think there are few traditions, although there are some, who still believe this. I think the story goes that he then took a few steps, Lotuses blooming in his footsteps, pointed the the ground with one hand, and to the sky with the other, and spoke, “Of all there is above and all there is below, only I am Holy.” It’s been explained to me that it means everything is within yourself, you don’t need to look above or below. It’s a common teaching in Korean Seon (Zen) that your true nature is Buddha nature, every being has inherent Buddha nature already, it’s a matter of “cleaning the dust off the mirror” and rediscovering it. 

      Joe and I watched an excellent documentary a couple years ago, by the BBC called, “The Life of Buddha.” It explains his life from an historical perspective, and has great commentary from the Dalai Lama and some Buddhist scholarly types, but, other than a bad wig and a couple tacky effects, avoids much pretentiousness. An interesting part is where they recount a dream the Buddha’s mother had at the time of the Buddha’s conception. “She was told that a special being, called the Buddha, was about to be born again on the Earth.” She was carried in her bed by the four heavenly guardians, up to the Himalayas. They “anointed her with divine perfumes and decked with heavenly flowers.” A white elephant with six trunks, carrying a Lotus flower, came down from Heaven and entered her womb.

 

      In Korea, when a women becomes pregnant, it’s normal for them to have “a baby dream” where usually an animal, a fish, or a flower comes to them and enters their body. My wife’s dream was that she was surrounded by cats and two cute white kittens leaped into her arms and she embraced then. Just before my wife’s dream, I had dreamt that we were together and a spider dropped down onto my right arm. It turned into a snake, wrapped around me and bit me on the the left fore arm. I’m not saying that has anything to do with the baby, but it did leave me a little uneasy!

      While I was in India, I took the opportunity to visit Lumbini, in Nepal. I took an overnight bus from Kathmandu and was dropped off a bit after sunrise by a long, straight dirt road that followed a large pond.  It had been light for a while, but the heavy mist kept me from knowing when, exactly, the sun actually rose. Through the mist, I could make out a temple. I guessed that would be the sight where he was born, but it was the first of many international temples around the site. I made it to the ticket booth, unloaded my 25kg pack into a locker, paid my dues, and walked across the road to the place of Buddhas birth. The building that marks the spot, is unimpressive and after many of the places in Asia I’ve visited, I was somewhat disappointed. It looked to me like an old, square, red bricked elementry school. The only feature that stood out to me was the stupa on top with the distinct Nepalese Buddha eyes, gazing in four directions.  I wonder now if the architecture of the building was meant to imitate the architecture of the Buddha’s time. None the less, the park surrounding the building was absolute tranquility. Beside the building was the pool his mother bathed in after her labour. The area is covered in the brick foundations of the ruins of ancient structures and the braided trunks and bushy limbs of Bodhi Trees, sitting like Buddhas in meditation throughout the area, and lines and lines of prayer flags, catching the light of the sun as it peered through occasional gaps in the clouds.  

      Behind the building is Ashoka‘s pillar, pointing out the place of Buddha’s birth that became the first modern evidence that the Buddha was an historical being. As I rounded the corner of the brick wall, I was surprised to see a handful of Korean monks and Korean women dressed in Hanbok doing a ceremony but the pond. There was a small group gathered around. I chatted with a couple of them, then they headed out. There’s usually not a whole lot to talk about, but I enjoy the reactions when they see a westerner in an other country speaking Korean. 

     I walked around a little then  made my way inside the brick box. It was dim and a bit stuffy. The interior wasn’t much different from the ruins outside. Towards the corner, the boardwalk jutted out like a bridge. I walked over to see what everyone was looking at.  

Below was a spot marked as “the exact spot where Buddha was born.”  I have no idea how they could know, but it’s possible that the architecture would have had a specific lay out or something so they would know, but it’s also likely they could have just picked a spot! As before with the date, why not? 

      I wandered around the rest of the grounds for a while.  There is a long road that forms a rectangle with temples from several countries along each side. I returned to the main site. There were two monks beneath a couple of the Bodhi trees where the crowd of 

Koreans had been.I decided to follow their example and sit for a moment. For the most part, there wasn’t a whole lot of peace through out my travels in India and Nepal, but remember the peacefulness I felt here. Actually, the only other spot that I remember feeling more at peace during the trip was in Kushinagar, the place where Buddha died and was cremated. I enjoyed my sit for another moment, then made my way back to the Indian border, to the chaos, the struggles, the suffering, all the things that keep us coming back, again and again.

 

 

some more photos of Lumbini

8 responses »

  1. Thank you for this nice post, Joseph – and happy Buddha’s birthday to you!

    I think you’re right that a common teaching in Korean Seon is that the mind is like a mirror that must be dusted and kept clean. This is the view that purity is the key to awakening.

    Zen Master Seung Sahn, however, had a different teaching about this. In his teaching, clarity was the key to awakening, not purity (he never put it in these words). To extend the metaphor, even the dust on the mirror could awaken us, if we were clear about it.

    The idea of purity gets us in lots of trouble, I think – for me, at least, it sets up an agenda of self-improvement. As I understand Seon teaching, the point is self-revelation rather than self-improvement – to see ourselves as we actually are, dust and all.

    I hope someday to travel to dusty Lumbini and the other places associated with Buddha’s life. Maybe enlightenment will strike twice on the same spot!

    • Hello Barry,
      Thanks for some more great commentary!
      The Buddhist spots in India were some of the most memorable places I visited, although there weren’t really any non-memorable places, for better or worse!
      They were less chaotic anyway, which said a lot after a few months of travels. They were well worth the hassles of getting to.

  2. Jospeh!
    been a solid decade my friend, but I’m reading your blog and it’s great. happy Buddah Birthday!

    Funny barry brings up Seung Sahn. one of his books was my introduction to buddhism when i was a teenager, and I have to agree with his sticking point on purity. It’s funny, so many words once translated into english have unforseen cultural baggage. Like even the translation of the word suffering sort of coloured the initial concept, which was a catch all phrase that included mundane things like back aches as well as the more tragic varieties.

    at least that’s that I was told at a dharma talk
    I wonder what else we lose in the traslation

    ayways, best pf luck on your wonderings.

    • Hey Yoni!
      Has it been that long?? wow!
      There’s a really good book I read called “What the Buddha Taught” and he discusses some of the misinterpretations into English.
      He said a more appropriate word for “suffering” would be “dissatisfaction” and the original Pali word actually means something more along the lines of “thirst”.
      Even the word meditation is sort of skewed… The original word implied a mental cultivation, or “culturing the mind”.

      I don’t know Barry personally, but he’s told me that he was a student of Seung Sahn’s. It’s great to have someone like him to leave comments for everyone else to see!

      How are things in Toronto? Are you still in touch with the guys and girls?
      I can hardly remember anyone’s names any more, but I remember how great everyone was!

      It’s great to hear from you!
      thanks for reading!

      Joseph

  3. Hi Joseph and hello to all your readers too!

    And Happy Buddha’s Birthday!

    Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates Dukka as ‘stress’. His translation of the First Noble Truth from the First Sermon goes like this:

    “Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.”

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html

    So you see, the translation isn’t such a huge issue because the Buddha himself gives a kind of definition…. Dukka is birth, aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, despair, association with the unbeloved, etc etc etc

    The definition is right there!

    Anyway, small point, the main point is – Happy Buddha’s Birthday and thank you for another great post and fabulous pictures!

    Kwan Seum Bosal,

    Marcus

    • Hey Marcus,
      I hadn’t heard the use of stress before, but it definitely works!
      I hadn’t responded to you about the parcel… thank you! I’ll let you know as soon as it gets here~
      When does Thailand celebrate Buddha’s day? is it similar to Korea?

      talk to you soon Marcus,
      thank you!

      Joseph

  4. Hi,

    Vesak is happening this Friday, and every temple in Thailand will be celebrating with special ceremonies and the like….

    ….including the Hanmaum Seon Centre here, where I’ll get a taste of Buddha’s Birthday good old Korean style!
    🙂

    All the very best again,

    Marcus

  5. Hi, Joseph! I’m working on a project for PBS, and I’m hoping you’ll agree to participate. There’s a documentary about the Buddha (it’s just called “The Buddha”) airing across the US on April 7th, and I’m helping to gather content for a blog that will be part of the film’s “companion website.” The website will be focusing on the stories and experiences of Buddhists to help viewers learn more about Buddhism and find recommendations for further inquiry.

    I’ve been looking for short articles on a number of subjects relating to the Buddha’s life and teaching, and am hoping you would be interested in having this post on your trip to Lumbini republished on the PBS blog. We’d probably want to edit the first paragraph slightly (where it references the date), but it would be a great fit for the section on the Buddha’s birth and the Lumbini pilgrimage site.

    Sorry to be posting this in a comment–I but I can’t find an email for you, so I thought this was worth a shot. Please feel free to email me and we can talk more about the project.

    Thanks so much!
    Carrie

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