Cold war at the birthplace of the Buddha

There's a direct train from Jammu to the Nepali border at Gorakhpur, but its booked out for the next 6 weeks. So I take the night train to New Delhi. The train from Delhi to Gorakhpur is also booked out but I'll be able to get on board using the tourist quota booked through the foreigner's booking counter in Delhi. Delhi is the first place in India I'll revisit after my trips here 18, and 20 years ago.

Our train to Gorakhpur 1200 x 1600

I spend 2 days in New Delhi and bump into people I've met months ago all around India. Traveler's centres are always like this. I get the night train to the Gorakhpur. Normally I take sleeper class on overnight trains. Theoretically you're only allowed in the carriage if you have a reservation. A family might have multiple children per bunk but in principle there's 8 bunks and 8 people per compartment. This principle seems to have gone out the window.

Bus to Nepali border 1600 x 1200

I counted 35 people in our compartment. And of course Indians going on holiday need a lot of luggage. The luggage is piled in every available space. That includes the floor; going to the toilet I had to climb from seat to seat. There's a Japanese American girl Emiko in the same compartment, and she asks later what were the Indians thinking? To me its obvious: yipeee we're going on holiday and its going to be cooler, wow isn't the train full! This is fun.

Eventually we get to Gorakhpur, and find the bus to the Nepali border. The overcrowding isn't much better on this bus so we're not at our best to face not one but two immigration departments. Surprisingly its relatively easy, the Indians even tell us they'll issue us a new visa on the spot if we return to this border post.

World's largest prayer wheel? 1200 x 1600

Something I find rather hard to believe as Indians are notoriously bureaucratic when it comes to visas. Which I confirm when I try to get a visa to return to India from the embassy in Kathmandu. They send a telex to the Indian embassy in your home country presumably asking about your criminal record, which the embassy routinely ignores so the Kathmandu embassy only gives you a 3 month visa. It takes 3 telexes and 3 weeks to get a 6 month visa for me.

But I could have obtained a one year visa from the consulate in Munich in just one day. Next time I'm asking for a 5 year visa! Still the Indians aren't as bad as some countries who will only issue a visa from the embassy in your home country, or country of residence. I'm going to have a lot of fun with the Pakistani, and Iranian embassies in New Delhi!

Morning meditation beside Ashoka's pillar 1600 x 1200

Two local buses later and even more shattered nerves we arrive at Lumbini the birthplace of the Buddha. Lumbini is one of the most low lying areas of Nepal, and this is the hottest time of the year, just before the monsoon. The first evening there's huge storm and power cut which means no fans. I'm rather annoyed that some temple down the road is blasting out some Hindu chanting, and mention this to the hotel manager. Oh you know those Indians he says; always making noise.

They even have car batteries so they can make noise during a power cut. Poor manager doesn't know what hit him complaining to me about Indians and noise. Anyway what's a Hindu temple doing blasting out Hindu chanting here of all places? You don't see Buddhists meditating in the Vatican, crucifixion reenactments in Mecca, or Sikhs chanting at the wailing wall!

Birthplace of the Buddha is not technically correct of course. Gautama Siddhartha universally referred to as the Buddha was one of many Buddhas. A Buddha is a person (women can and should be Buddhas too) who has achieved enlightenment, and thus escapes the cycle of death and reincarnation to be released to oblivion. That's a Buddhist's highest aspiration: not to be reborn!

Scared pool, Maya Devi temple, Ashoka's pillar in background 1600 x 1200

The most famous living Buddhist: the Dalai Lama is an even higher rank than a Buddha. He's a Bodhisattva, someone who achieved Buddhahood, but voluntarily reincarnates to help others follow his path. I wonder if the Dalai Lama is even allowed to visit Lumbini? The Nepalese are very careful not to annoy the Chinese, understandable when sandwiched between India and Tibet(China). Being nice to the Dalai Lama is an excellent way of pissing off the Chinese.

The epicenter is the Mayadevi temple. According to legend the Buddha's mother: Queen Mayadevi was on her way to her parents to give birth in 563 BC, and her entourage was passing through Lumbini. She bathed in what is now the sacred pool, walked 25 steps, grabbed a tree for support and out popped the Buddha. Unusually for a new born baby he walked 7 steps and immediately began spouting wisdom.

Seriously old 2200 year old ruins here 1600 x 1200

The tree she grabbed onto is long gone, but there's a stone carving depicting the scene except that its been so often rubbed by ancient tourists that it just looked like a worn slab of stone to me. This stone is supposed to be at the exact spot where Mayadevi gave birth. It's protected by a glass panel, and you're kept up on a walkway so you can't even touch the glass. It's here you'll find serenely meditating monks at quite times, and big queues at busy times.

It's at its best early in the morning when the day is cooler, and groups are doing some organised chanting and meditation just outside at Ashoka's pillar. I've never been in such an intensely spiritual place as Lumbini. In fact there's nothing particularly special about Lumbini except its so full of devout Buddhists who are so delighted to be there but still serene, that all the happiness and spirituality just oozes all around you. For some reason the Buddhist tourists were fascinated by me, and my photos is probably now being admired in Japan, Taiwan, China and maybe even in the Shaolin monastery. I got photographed into a lot of groups.

Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa (German Tara foundation) 1200 x 1600

There's a cold war raging in Lumbini. In particular a pitched battle between the 2 great Buddhist superpowers: China & Germany. Ja, ja Germany in Lumbini at least is a Buddhist superpower. However when the South Korean's are finished I reckon they'll give the Chinese and Germans a run for their money.

Zhong Hua Chinese Buddhist Monastery 1041 x 513

You would expect the Japanese to be serious contenders in this war, but they somehow seem to remain above the fray. Likewise the Thais seem to remain aloof. Burma now called Myanmar has not one but two stakes in the war.

Neither of their devices would cause the German and Chinese superpowers to lose much sleep, but I still find it sickening that that country (ruled by a military junta), which cannot feed its own people properly, and has lots of slave labour, can find the resources to partake in this war.

So what is the Lumbini cold war about?

Unfinished Korean Monastery 1600 x 1200

Who can build the biggest, most kick-ass, most ornate temple to honour the Buddha of course. Lumbini was rediscovered in the 1896. Ashoka the great Buddhist Indian emperor made a pilgrimage here in 249 BC, and as great emperors tend to do, he left a momento of his visit: A stone pillar saying Ashoka was here, and some facts about the place.

Inside the German temple 1600 x 1200

For millennia Lumbini was forgotten about until some archeologists started excavating the ruins there, and found Ashoka's pillar. Upon translating the text they got rather excited, and Ashoka's pillar is taken as conclusive evidence, in fact the only real evidence that this is the correct spot. Lucky Ashoka went to the trouble of using really hard stone for his pillar.

Another view of the Chinese Monastery 1600 x 771

The pillar has been re erected and given pride of place just outside the the functional but uninspiring temple built to protect the birthplace, and ruins of other temples dating back to the 3rd century BC.

Nice clean lines in the new Thai temple 1600 x 1200

I'm sure Ashoka would be tickled to know the significance of his stone postcard. The Lumbini authorities wisely asked for assistance from the Japanese Buddhist association, who made the rather inspired decision to keep the birthplace area undeveloped, and layout a Buddha park starting 500m away where all the buddhist nations could indulge in their cold war.

Burmese Monastery 1600 x 1200

According to the Buddhist theology, a seer predicted he would be a great teacher, or great king. His father king Suddhodana anxious to guarantee king sheltered the boy Buddha from all negative knowledge. However at age 29 the Buddha left the palace and for the first time saw an old man, a sick man, a hermit, and a corpse. All this was a bit of a shock to him and he became a holy man meditating on the nature of existence.

Erotic devotional art? Exercise in supressing desire? 1600 x 1200

Simple French stupa, dwarved by the German behind it. 1600 x 1200

On reflection king Suddhodana was pretty daft. If you keep your child so sheltered its almost a given he's going to be stunned into something dramatic when he sees these things for the first time as an adult. A self causing prediction.

Buddhism in a nutshell

You're not happy because you don't have everything you want. You can never have everything you want, so you try to desire nothing. In desiring nothing you have everything you want, and you're happy. There's also something about suppressing the ego and realising the impermanence of everything.

On this basis building seriously kick-ass temples does seem rather un-buddhist, and maybe the French are the true winners with their rather drab and simple stupa.

2011-09-11 23:09:39 Danyon

I can't beivlee you're not playing with me--that was so helpful.
2012-09-25 08:54:15 Elisa

This book is issued in the deep cooticvinn that the systematic cultivation of Right Mindfulness, as taught by the Buddha in his Discourse on Satipatthana, still provides the most simple and direct, the most thorough and effective method for training and developing the mind for its daily tasks and problems as well as for its highest aim: mind's own unshakable deliverance from Greed, Hatred and Delusion. So opens this humble mastepiece of a book written with great depth, extraordinary knowledge, profound humanity, and in a style that is simple and direct. If the reader is looking for The definitive book on how to correctly practice meditation in all its subtle detail, be he Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Sufi-Muslim, Taoist, or even Buddhist, this is that book. Period.The heart of the book takes place in the six opening chapters wherein the great German scholar monk, Nyanaponika Thera, opens petal by petal the immense scope of the Buddha's Way of Mindfulness for those seeking instruction on how to obtain insight and wisdom in this lifetime. Each chapter builds up to the next, explaining and further elucidating the subtle insights which make up the Buddha's far-reaching and incomparable teachings.For the experienced meditator who has never practiced Vipassana meditation, this book will open your eyes to the vast landscape of emptiness which you have been seeking all these years. For the uninitiated seeker taking his first steps in the art of meditation, it will be a valued primer in the art of true mental training. Practicing real mindfulness in one's everyday activities is not an easy endeavor. It takes constant application and sustained effort on the part of the practitioner in order to obtain the real benefits of the practice. This is the reality of mindfulness practice which one would do best to realize and heed if he is truly seeking the peace of mind that this method of training will provide.The chapter on Mindfulness and Clear Comprehension will supply the experienced practitioner with a treasure trove of
2014-12-13 19:18:06 Tike

It's always a relief when someone with obvious exptseire answers. Thanks!

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