26.February, SARNATH where Gautama Buddha held his first sermon after attaining Nivarna
Our last stop of the holiday was at SARNATH where Gautama Buddha held his first sermon after attaining Nivarna. Nothing exists from that time but 300 years later the Emperor Asokas erected a temple complex and a huge stupa. Of this only ruins, the stupa and an inscribed stone column remain. Frescos on the walls of a small much more modern temple depict the life of Buddha from his birth to his enlightenment under the bodhi tree.
It was a stimulating interest packed holiday on which we were kept busy sightseeing with early starts and long journeys. I think it was more strenuous than a walking holiday. The hotels were luxurious, sometimes literally palatial, and the food excellent although it tended to be practically the same array of curry dishes on a buffet for each meal including lunch.
Many thanks go to Rosmarie, the efficient organiser from the NPV, and to our ever helpful local guides Ashok and Shakti.
Gautama Buddha (c. 563 BCE/480 BCE – c. 483 BCE/400 BCE), also known as Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni Buddha or simply the Buddha, was an ascetic and sage, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. He is believed to have lived and taught mostly in the eastern part of ancient India sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.
According to the early Buddhist texts, after realizing that meditative dhyana was the right path to awakening, but that extreme asceticism didn’t work, Gautama discovered what Buddhists know as being, the Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, or the Noble Eightfold Path. In a famous incident, after becoming starved and weakened, he is said to have accepted milk and rice pudding from a village girl named Sujata. Such was his emaciated appearance that she wrongly believed him to be a spirit that had granted her a wish. Following this incident, Gautama was famously seated under a pipal tree—now known as the Bodhi tree—in Bodh Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment, and became known as the Buddha or “Awakened One”.
He then travelled to the Deer Park near Varanasi (Benares) in northern India, where he set in motion what Buddhists call the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to the five companions with whom he had sought enlightenment. Together with him, they formed the first saṅgha: the company of Buddhist monks. He later taught throughout other regions of eastern India such as Magadha and Kosala.