The day before yesterday (sorry, but the internet in Vaishali was so bad that I could only post on FB) on the way to Vaishali we passed the largest stupa in the world. It was in ruins, but its magnificence could still be seen.
The place was already seen in ruins when a Chinese monk visited the place around 500 AD. But it still is extremely impressive and fortunately for us it was almost tourist free. The place was guarded by three men, two in uniform, that made sure we weren’t bothered and the showed us the place for the best look at the remaining sculptures.
No fooling around with these guys. They made sure nobody dared to climb the stupa. And they showed us a spot where we could do our prayers in the shade. Its quite hot here, although winter is close. We settled under some trees on a slope of the stupa. The guards warned us in time for some poisonous carterpillars and thus saved our day.
Here I could read the sutra on the Kalamas to our group. It was at this spot that the Kalamas lived at the side of a forest. In those days many ascetics and brahmins stopped the night before passing through the forest. They tended to explain their views and claim that their views were the only right ones. That all the other views expounded before were rubbish. This confused the Kalamas and when the Buddha camped there they asked him to solve their confusion. The Buddha stated that they were perfectly capabele of distinguishing what was good and nobel and that they should adopt what sounded good and nobel to them. And refute what sounded unwholesome and evil to them. This made the Kalamas so happy that they all became followers of the Buddha.
That night we arrived in Vaishali, the last town the Buddha stopped before going to Kushinagar to die. Many temples are here commemorating this event and a very old stupa that had originally housed one eighth of the remains of the Buddha after his cremation.
There ia a real Asoka pillar with th original lion on top (but probably it is a replica). We did our prayers there and the story was told of the acceptance of women into the sangha on this spot. Already the wet nurse of Gotama, the lady Prajnapati (she married the father Sudhodana of Gotama after his mother Maya died), had requested to be allowed to shave her head and be admitted to the sangha of Bikkhus. The Buddha had refused for the social conditions in India was not ripe for this. He was probably afraid that the lay population would turn against the sangha if he did allow it. But at a certain point Prajnapati, together with 50 other women, shaved their hair off and put on the ochre robe. The walked barefoot from Kushinagar to Vaishali. A horrible trip, requesting alms along the way. This was to show the Buddha that the women were strong enough for the hardships of a bikkhu’s life. There they stood, with bleeding feet, in front of the Buddha. Clearly not taking no for an answer. It was Ananda that convinced the Buddha to accept them. And so this was the first situation in the world that women were left to themselves to form a sangha. Many came to it for it was the only possibility for a woman to be herself in that patriarchal society.
Above we see our pelgrims (women) reading the plaque telling about the nunnery that had existed here and the remains can still be seen. The swastika was a very old symbol of the sun as it moved through the sky, the Nazis came two and a half thousand years later. There are many beautiful stories from these first nuns in the Therigatha.
There was also the story of the monkeys worshipping the Buddha. The king of the monkeys swooped down from a tree and grabbed the Buddha’s begging bowl. He went up in the tree and filled the bowl with honey (very precious in those days) and came down and offered it to the Buddha. This is considered one of the main miracles in the life of the Buddha. There is also an enormous tank for water built behind the Stupa. The story goes that it was dug by the monkeys so the Buddha could bathe in it.
In the morning our pelgrims use good excercise to be ready for another gruelling day in the bus. They do either Tai Qi or Qi Kung.
And then we went further to Rajgir. The place where the Buddha gave many lectures at the Vulture Peak mountain. It is the spot where many Prajna Paramita sutras were expounded, including the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Cutter of Doubts.