pilgrims in Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of The Buddha

The four main holy sites of Buddhism refer to places associated with the most important events in the life of The Buddha: 1) Lumbini (southern Nepal), the place where The Buddha was born as Siddharta Gautma; 2) Bodh Gaya (160 miles from Varanasi, India) is where tradition says Buddha attainted spiritual enlightenment; 3) Sarnath (14 kilometers from Varanasi), where, in 500 B.C. after experiencing enlightenment, Lord Buddha gave his first sermon to five skeptical followersl and 4) Kushinagar, where tradition says The Buddha, lying on a bed under two trees, died between 486-483 B.C. [Source: buddhist-tourism.com, Wikipedia]

Sights at Lumbini include Sanctum-Sanctorum of the Birthplace, Maya Devi Temple, Puskarni, The Ashokan Pillar, The Buddhist Temple, The China Temple, and the Japan Peace Stupa.

Bodhgaya is in Bihar, India. Sights there include Mahabodhi Temple, Mahabodhi Tree, The Chinese Temple Monastery, The Japanese Monastery,The Tibetan Monastery, Thai Monastery, Buddhist Monastery of Bhutan, Ratnagar and Animeshlochan Chaitya.

Sarnath is in Uttar Pradesh, India. The main sights there are Dhamekh Stupa, Sarnath Museum, Choukhandi Stupa, Ashoka Pillar and Mulagandha Kuti Vihar.

Kushinagar is in Uttar Pradesh, India, : Mahaparinirvana Temple, Nirvana Stupa, Meditation Park, Mathakuar Shrine, Ramabhar Stupa, Japanese Temple, Kushinagar Museum, Japanese Garden, Myanmar Buddha Vihar, Wat Thai Temple, The Wat Thai, The Lin Sun Chinese Temple, Birla Temple, International Buddha Trust.

The other four main Buddhist pilgrimage areas are associated with miraculous events in The Buddha’s life. 1) Sravasti (west of Lumbini, in India near the Neapl border) is the Place of the Twin Miracle, where The Buddha emitted flames and water from his body, and a place where Buddha spent the largest amount of time, being a major city in ancient India. The gave some famous sermons in Jetavana Grove. 2) Rajgir (near Bodh Gaya) is the Place of the second turning of the Wheel of Dharma, where The Buddha subdued Nalagiri, the angry elephant. Rajgir was also a major city in ancient India. 3) Sankassa (near Delhi) is the Place where The Buddha descended to earth from Tushita heaven and spending three months with his mother. 4) Vaishali (between Rajgir and Kushinagar) is the place where The Buddha received an offering of honey from a monkey. Vaishali was the capital of the Vajjian Republic of ancient India. The site of ancient Nalanda, the great monastic university, is also visited by pilgrims.

Other Sites associated with The Buddha and his approximate time include Amaravathi, Chandavaram, Devadaha, Gaya, Kapilavastu, Kesaria, Kosambi, Pataliputra, Pava and Varanasi. Later Sites include Ajanta Cavesm Barabar Caves, Bharhut, Ellora Caves, Lalitgiri, Mathura, Pandavleni Caves, Piprahwa Ratnagiri and Sanchi Udayagiri Vikramashila.

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index


location of the main Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India and Nepal

Buddhist pilgrims make pilgrimages to important religious sites such as Buddha's birthplace, major temples and caves, sacred mountains, and stupas with important Buddhist relics inside them. Buddhist pilgrims often carry lotus blossoms, and show reverence by bowing and holding their hands together in a praying position.

According to the BBC: “Four main centres of pilgrimage sprung up within the first couple of hundred years after Buddha's death which marked key locations in the Buddha's life. Since then other centres have emerged in virtually every area where Buddhism has been established, each with its own practices and customs. The purpose of pilgrimage is to foster a spiritual discipline, to fulfil a vow or simply to travel. It is an important Buddhist practice. Pilgrimage also helps to express feelings of devotion and creates a relationship with the historical figures associated with the pilgrimage site.” [Source: BBC |::|]

In article on Western tourists visiting India, Beatrice Le Bohec of AFP wrote: “Dharamshala, the home in exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, is a pitstop for many tourists seeking more than the beaches and ancient palaces which are the staple fare for most holidaymakers in India. Audiences with him can be arranged through his private office and his public teachings held at the main temple in the hill town draw large crowds of devoted monks and star-struck visitors. The other place of pilgrimage for Buddhists is Bodh Gaya in the northern state of Bihar in India where Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment.” [Source: Beatrice Le Bohec, Agence France-Presse, March 25, 2011 /+]

See Tibetan Buddhism

Lumbini, the Birthplace of The Buddha

Lumbini (in southern Nepal near the Indian border) is where tradition says The Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama, was born in 623 B.C. He was a prince in Shakya clan, a people who still reside in this part of Nepal today along what are mostly Hindus and Muslims. There are no records from the seventh century B.C. that prove unequivocally that Buddha was born here but according to Buddhist lore, his parents lived 30 kilometers away in Kapilavastu. One day his mother, Queen Mahamaya, stopped here to rest while on her way to her parents home in another kingdom and suddenly gave birth to Siddhartha underneath a sal tree. Across the border in Bihar, India, in Bodh Gaya and Sarnath, is where Siddhartha achieved enlightenment and became the Buddha and delivered his first sermon.

The original sal tree disappeared long ago. In the early centuries after The Buddha’s death, temples were erected to mark the site where the tree is believed to have stood. But as Buddhism was replaced by Hinduism in India interest in Lumbini withered. The site was rediscovered in 1895 by the brother of the king of Nepal.


Early in the 20th century the ruins of the temples were covered with an ugly cement platform. The sereneness of the site has been further disrupted by archeologists searching for remnants of the original sal tree, the first temple and the "flawless stone" placed here by the Indian Emperor Ashoka in 249 B.C. In 1996, archeologist claimed they had discovered the "flawless stone" but to find it they tore down a temple dedicated to Buddha's mother and damaged a sacred sal tree like the one Buddha was born under. Thus far they haven't damaged a huge bo tree grown because of its association with Buddha's enlightenment.

Not surprising Lumbini is a popular destination with Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world. The main attraction is the sacred garden, which features a temple depicting the birth of the Buddha, Ashoka's pillar (placed by the Indian emperor on the place where Buddha was born), and a pond where it is said Buddha's mother took a dip before she gave birth. Around the site are remnants of monasteries and chaityas (Buddhist shrines or prayer halls with a stupa at one end) built over the centuries.

Three square miles of land around Lumbini is currently being developed into a major Buddhist center. A new library and museum were opened up in 1994. A dozen monasteries paid for by various Buddhist sects have been completed in recent decades or are under construction. Two old temples — one built by Tibetan Buddhists and another built by Theravada Buddhists from Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka — had to be moved to make way for the new buildings.

Lumbini is twelve miles away from Bhairahawa, a town that can be reached from Kathmandu by air. Thousands of monks and other worshipers have come to Lumbini to participate in the World Buddhist Conference.

Buddha tradition says Guatama lived in Kapilavastu until he was 29. Historians and archeologists have long wondered about the exact location of Kapilavastu and argued over whether it was in India or Nepal. In the early 2000s, archeologists found evidence that it was situated near the modern Nepalese town of Tilaurakot. The evidence includs a fortress wall and many building, which make it the only large urban area in Budhha's time. In 1972 a coin was found that said: "Here is the monastery of the monk of Kapilavastur.”

Lumbini, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

excavated buildings in Lumbini

According to UNESCO: “Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, was born in 623 B.C. in the famous gardens of Lumbini, which soon became a place of pilgrimage. Among the pilgrims was the Indian emperor Ashoka, who erected one of his commemorative pillars there. The site is now being developed as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, where the archaeological remains associated with the birth of the Lord Buddha form a central feature. [Source: UNESCO]

“The Lord Buddha was born in 623 BC in the sacred area of Lumbini located in the Terai plains of southern Nepal, testified by the inscription on the pillar erected by the Mauryan Emperor Asoka in 249 BC. Lumbini is one of the holiest places of one of the world's great religions, and its remains contain important evidence about the nature of Buddhist pilgrimage centres from as early as the 3rd century BC.

“The complex of structures within the archaeological conservation area includes the Shakya Tank; the remains within the Maya Devi Temple consisting of brick structures in a cross-wall system dating from the 3rd century BC to the present century and the sandstone Ashoka pillar with its Pali inscription in Brahmi script. Additionally there are the excavated remains of Buddhist viharas (monasteries) of the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD and the remains of Buddhist stupas (memorial shrines) from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD. The site is now being developed as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, where the archaeological remains associated with the birth of the Lord Buddha form a central feature.”

The site was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because: 1) “As the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, testified by the inscription on the Asoka pillar, the sacred area in Lumbini is one of the most holy and significant places for one of the world’s great religions”; and 2) “The archaeological remains of the Buddhist viharas (monasteries) and stupas (memorial shrines) from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD, provide important evidence about the nature of Buddhist pilgrimage centres from a very early period.” “The integrity of Lumbini has been achieved by means of preserving the archaeological remains within the property boundary that give the property its Outstanding Universal Value. The significant attributes and elements of the property have been preserved. The buffer zone gives the property a further layer of protection. Further excavations of potential archaeological sites and appropriate protection of the archaeological remains are a high priority for the integrity of the property. The property boundary however does not include the entire archaeological site and various parts are found in the buffer zone. The entire property including the buffer zone is owned by the Government of Nepal and is being managed by the Lumbini Development Trust and therefore there is little threat of development or neglect. However the effects of industrial development in the region have been identified as a threat to the integrity of the property.

the spot where Buddha was born

“The authenticity of the archaeological remains within the boundaries has been confirmed through a series of excavations since the discovery of the Asoka pillar in 1896. The remains of viharas, stupas and numerous layers of brick structures from the 3rd century BC to the present century at the site of the Maya Devi Temple are proof of Lumbini having been a centre of pilgrimage from early times. The archaeological remains require active conservation and monitoring to ensure that the impact of natural degradation, influence of humidity and the impact of the visitors are kept under control. The property continues to express its Outstanding Universal Value through its archaeological remains. The delicate balance must be maintained between conserving the archaeological vestiges of the property while providing for the pilgrims. Protection and management requirements.

“The property site is protected by the Ancient Monument Preservation Act 1956. The site management is carried out by the Lumbini Development Trust, an autonomous and non-profit making organization. The entire property is owned by the Government of Nepal. The property falls within the centre of the Master Plan area, the planning of which was initiated together with the United Nations and carried out by Prof. Kenzo Tange between 1972 and 1978. The long-term challenges for the protection and management of the property are to control the impact of visitors, and natural impacts including humidity and the industrial development in the region. A Management Plan is in the process of being developed to ensure the long-term safeguarding of the archaeological vestiges of the property while allowing for the property to continue being visited by pilgrims and tourists from around the world.”

Bodh Gaya, Where The Buddha Attained Enlightenment

Bodh Gaya (160 miles from Varanasi) is where tradition says Buddha attainted spiritual enlightenment. Commemorating the spot where this important event took place is the vast Mahabodhi temple complex which has been called the "Jerusalem of the Buddhist world." Here Siddhartha Gautama meditated beneath the sacred Bodhi Tree while being tempted by the demon Mara in an episode similar to Jesus's encounter with the devil on the Mount of Temptation. After casting off the demon the prince achieved enlightenment (nirvana) was transformed into Buddha—the enlightened one. Saffron- and burgundy-robed monks with shaved heads and tourists with nunlike gowns and white mats can often be seen lighting red candles with gilded foil that amplify the light at the base of the temple and the enclosure. [Source: Harvey Arden, National Geographic, May 1990]

Mahabodi Temple in Bodh Gaya

According to UNESCO: Bodh Gaya “has direct associations with the life of the Lord Buddha (566-486 BC) as the place where in 531 BC he attained the supreme and perfect insight while seated under the Bodhi Tree. It provides exceptional records for the events associated with his life and for subsequent worship, particularly since Emperor Asoka made a pilgrimage to this spot around 260 BC and built the first temple at the site of the Bodhi Tree. The Mahabodhi Temple Complex is located in the very heart of the city of Bodh Gaya. The site consists of the main temple and six sacred places within an enclosed area, and a seventh one, the Lotus Pond, just outside the enclosure to the south.” [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

When Buddhism grew and prospered after Buddha’s death, great temples and monasteries were built on Bodh Gaya. These were destroyed or fell into ruins when Buddhism died out in India in the Middle Ages and the region was racked by invaders. In the 19th century the holy Buddhist sites were rediscovered by pilgrims from Sri Lanka and Burma and temples and monasteries were rebuilt and pilgrims began returning in large numbers.

A Tibetan monastery is known for its massive "Dharma Chakra" or "wheel of law." Magadha University is an international university and a center for studies in history, culture and philosophy. Almost every country with a sizable Buddhist population has built a temple or monastery in the city. At night robed monks on bicycles pick up groceries at the shops and the sound of bells and gongs emanate from the temples and monasteries. The influx of pilgrims and tourists has brought some affluence to an otherwise very poor area. The roads in and around the town are in fairly good condition. The schools are well-maintained.

Bodh Gaya lies 115 kilometers south of the state capital of Bihar, Patna and 16 kilometers from the district headquarters at Gaya, in northern India on the eastern side of the country. Getting to Bodh Gaya is not easy. Bihar is the poorest and one of the most troubled parts of India. Pilgrims have to endure bad roads and lawlessness. Because of the activities of bandits and Maoist guerillas all travel has to be completed before nightfall. Many visitors fly to Patna and hire an SUV for $45 for the bumpy three-hour road trip or take the train to Gaya, half an hour away. In Bodh Gaya there are few luxury hotels. The Lotus Nikko is one the nicest, with a double going for as little as $90. Some monasteries offer rooms to visitors.

Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya

bodhi tree in Bodhgaya

The Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya (west of Mahabodhi Temple) is a ficus tree (Ficus religiosa) said to be a descendant of the original tree that The Buddha sat under while achieving enlightenment. It is surrounded by a marble enclosure. In recent years the tree has had trouble. It was attacked by mealy bugs thought to have been nourished on the remnant of candles and incense lit around the tree. A heavy dose of chemical pesticide used combat the bugs drove away the squirrels and birds.

According to UNESCO: “Next to the Bodhi Tree there is a platform attached to the main temple made of polished sandstone known as Vajrasana (the Diamond Throne), originally installed by Emperor Asoka to mark the spot where Buddha sat and meditated. A sandstone balustrade once encircled this site under the Bodhi Tree, but only a few of the original pillars of the balustrade are still in situ; they contain carvings of sculpted human faces, animals, and decorative details. Further up the central path towards the main temple to the south is a small shrine with a standing Buddha in the back and with the footprints (Padas) of the Buddha carved on black stone, dating from the 3rd century BC when Emperor Asoka declared Buddhism to be the official religion of the state and installed thousands of such footprint stones all over his kingdom. Further on the path towards the main temple is a building housing several statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Opposite is a memorial to a Hindu Mahant who had lived on this site during the 15th and 16th centuries. To the south of the pathway is a cluster of votive stupas built by kings, princes, noblemen and lay people.” [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

Anuj Chopra wrote in U.S. News and World Report: “ The Bodhi Tree's branches stretch out from its solid trunk, their distinctive heart-shaped leaves casting protective shade over those who sit beneath. It was under just such a tree, here along the banks of the Phalgu River in northern India, that a young prince named Siddhartha Gautama sat in meditation some 2,500 years ago and is believed to have attained nirvana.” [Source: Anuj Chopra, U.S. News and World Report Nov. 16, 2007 =/=]

Sarnath, Where Buddha Gave His First Sermon

Sarnath (14 kilometers from Varanasi) is where, in 500 B.C. after experiencing enlightenment, Lord Buddha gave his first sermon to five skeptical followers. In later sermons he revealed the eight-fold path for inner peace and nirvana. Sarnath is the second most important Buddhist site in the world after Bodh Gaya.

The site of the first Buddhist sermon is marked by the Dhamek Stupa, a 34-meter-tall domed shrine that looks like giant hump. Built during the Mauryan period and added to over the centuries, it is covered by elaborate engravings. At the site there is also a deer park, gardens, and the ruins of a monastery that once housed 1,500 monks. Near a statue of Buddha preaching to his first five disciples, people gather to listen to a monk reading Buddha’s first sermon.

Dhamekh Stupa in Sarnath

The museum in Sarnath contains the Ashoka Pillar with its four guardian lions. The pillar once was 66-feet-tall. According to some people it was erected by Buddha himself. Other say it was brought from southern India by the famous emperor Ashoka, who converted himself and later all of India to Buddhism after killing thousands in a bloody battle.

Pilgrims from Thailand, Japan, Tibet, Europe and all over the world arrive by the busload. They chant in hushed tones and touch the fragment pillars through a low metal fence and visit the half dozen new temples and monasteries built by different Buddhist schools and sects, from Tibet, Southeast Asia and other places.

According to UNESCO: “There are several monuments at Sarnath which are divided into two groups. Under Group 'A' Chaukhandi Stupa and under Group 'B all other .monuments at the sites i.e. Stupas, monasteries, temples, etc. Chaukhandi Stupa is a lofty brick structure crowned with an octagonal tower. The octagonal tower is a Mughal monument built by Goverdhan, the son of Raja Todarmal in A.D. 1588 to commemorate the visit of Humayun to this place. The second group which contains remains of several stupas, monasteries and Ashokan column are built in brick and stone and datable from the 3rd century B.C. to 12th century A.D., forms the major and important segment of the site. The Ashokan column Dharamrajika stupa, Dhameka stupa, the remains of the temple and a series of monasteries and votive stupas are the most important remains of the site.”

Kushinagar, Where The Buddha Died

Kushinagar is where tradition says The Buddha, lying on a bed under two trees, died between 486-483 B.C. When he died, his body was cremated, as was customary in India. Traditional accounts relate that he died at the age of eighty after ingesting a tainted piece of either mushroom or pork. His remains were distributed among groups of his followers. These holy relics were enshrined in large hemispherical burial mounds, a number of which became important pilgrimage sites. In Kushinagar there is a gilded statue that commemorates the spot where Buddha is said to have died. A brick monument has been built in a field to mark the spot where he was cremated.

Parinirvana Temple in Kushinagara

Buddhanet.net reports: “In his eightieth year the Buddha and a group of monks arrived in this small place. Ananda described it as 'a wattle and daub town'. Exhausted and sick the Buddha was unable to go on and he laid down to rest between two sal trees. His final hours and the events that filled it are movingly described in the last part of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. which you will find in the Long Discourses. The Nirvana Temple and stupa later built over the site of the parinivana as well as the ruins of several monasteries are set in attractive and well maintained gardens. The tall slender trees on the right of the path as you enter are sal trees. A little further down the road is the ruins of the stupa marking the place where the Buddha's body was cremated. A new museum had recently been built in Kusinara but it has a very modest collection of exhibits.

Kushinagara is listed by UNESCO as one of the Silk Road Sites in India According to UNESCO: “The Monuments of Kushinagara are situated in three distinct groups: 1) The main site, comprising the Main Stupa and Nirvana temple with the other surrounding monuments, 2) the Shrine called Matha-Kuar to its south-west and 3) the Cremation Stupa (Rambhar). The Main Site comprising the Main Stupa which is a huge mass of brick work inclusive of its pinnacles may once have reached the height of nearly 45.72m. The plinth on which the Stupa and the temple were erected was 2.74 mtr. higher than the ground level. Above it stood the cylindrical neck of the Stupa to a height of 5.49m fringed along its top with the remnants of a row of decorative and miniature pilasters. The Nirvana Temple stands on the same plinth as the stupa behind it. A reclining Nirvana Statue lies inside the temple. The statue measures 6.1m in length and is executed out of one block of sandstone. This statue had originally been installed in the fifth century A.D. [Source: UNESCO]

Sanchi: Home of the World’s Oldest Stupa

Sanchi (30 miles from Bhopal) is a pilgrimage site that attracts worshipers from all over the world who come to see Buddhist art and architecture that dates back to the third century B.C. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989 and regarded as one of the most remarkable archaeological complexes in India, it contains monasteries and the world’s oldest stupa.

According to UNESCO: “On a hill overlooking the plain and about 40 km from Bhopal, the site of Sanchi comprises a group of Buddhist monuments (monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries) all in different states of conservation most of which date back to the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. It is the oldest Buddhist sanctuary in existence and was a major Buddhist centre in India until the 12th century A.D. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

Sanchi stupa

“Sanchi is the oldest extant Buddhist sanctuary. Although Buddha never visited the site during any of his former lives or during his earthly existence, the religious nature of this shrine is obvious. The chamber of relics of Stupa 1 contained the remains of Shariputra, a disciple of Shakyamuni who died six months before his master; he is especially venerated by the occupants of the 'small vehicle' or Hinayana. Having remained a principal centre of Buddhism in medieval India following the spread of Hinduism, Sanchi bears unique witness as a major Buddhist sanctuary to the period from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD.”

The ruins of about 50 monuments have been uncovered, “It would appear that the site was settled in the 3rd century BC at the time that the Emperor Asoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, who had defeated the Macedonian invaders and founded the Maurya dynasty, was converted to Buddhism (c. 250 BC). Asoka, whose queen was from the neighbouring town of Vidisha, founded, or at least embellished, a Buddhist sanctuary located at Sanchi. He also had a stone column more than 12 m high erected with his edicts carved on it.

“To the south of Asoka's column and predating it is an early brick stupa about 20 m in diameter and crowned with stone aedicula; a wooden railing encircles it. Now known as Stupa 1, this monument was enlarged under the Sunga and the Andhra dynasties (2nd and 1st centuries BC) and is the principal monument at Sanchi. It consists of a gigantic mound of sandstone surrounded by sumptuous porticoes with stone railings; its hemispherical dome measures 36.6 m in diameter and is 16.46 m high. It is particularly famous for the extraordinarily rich decorative work on the four monumental gateways (torana) that provide access. Positioned almost exactly in line with the four cardinal points, these gateways transpose into stone the structure of the wooden gateways: two pillars and three architraves reproduce the assembly of two posts joined by three rails.

Buddhist Temple for People Who Want to Pay to Get Rich

Dhammakaya Wat, in Pathum Thani, is Thailand’s largest temple. It attract hundreds of thousands of adherents from both in Thailand and abroad, many of them who seek out the temple with the goal of getting rich. Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “It is a temple for a changing Thailand: clean, unadorned, high-tech and unashamed of praying for wealth. “Sit here and get rich,” read small medallions embedded in the floor under each white plastic chair in a vast, open-sided meditation center. In his sermons, the temple’s charismatic 72-year-old leader, Phra Dhammachayo, often exhorts his adherents, “Be rich, be rich, be rich!” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, December 20, 2016 \^/]

“With its endorsement of worldly comforts and its no-nonsense approach to ritual, the temple, known as Wat Dhammakaya.... has attracted the allegiance of growing numbers of followers in a movement whose popularity has unsettled the government and the Buddhist hierarchy. Cash machines are placed conveniently near a meditation hall with screens that declare, “Shortcut to making merit,” the important virtue of doing good deeds. As a merit-making bonus, credit card points earned by the transaction can go directly to the temple. “Buddha never taught us to live in hardship,” said the temple spokesman, Phra Pasura Dantamano. He added: “Buddha teaches moderation, but there are different levels of society. If I were a businessman or a farmer I would define moderation in a different way.” \^/

“This perspective is a departure from traditional Thai Buddhism, in which there is less acceptance of wealth, said Suwanna Satha-Anand, a professor of philosophy at Chulalongkorn University. “They crafted a possibility of a new form of Buddhism which is friendly to capitalism or wealth,” she said. “This is the voice of the urban middle or upper class who are looking for a more modern image of what a Buddhist can be.” \^/

“Well-designed websites promise a form of meditation that is “simple, easy and effective.” The temple itself manifests cleanliness and efficiency alongside tech-savvy sophistication. Its huge boxy buildings are aggressively plain, finished with unpainted gray concrete. It has no spire, few bells and little incense. But it does not lack grandeur. Its centerpiece is a huge, flat dome more than 2,000 feet in diameter that even the temple concedes looks like a flying saucer. It radiates wealth. The dome’s surface consists of 300,000 small Buddha statues made of silicon gold, each as tall as an open hand and engraved with the name of a donor — suggested donation 10,000 baht, or about $300. \^/

Dhammakaya Wat at night

“On special occasions, the vast plaza around the dome is the scene of spectacular gatherings — tens of thousands of monks in orange and worshipers in white — that rival an Olympics opening ceremony. The monks circle the dome as if the little statues had come to life, and they sit in perfect, ordered rows that seem to stretch to the horizon. At night, they march with glowing lights, and thousands of lighter-than-air lanterns float into the sky. In keeping with the stark design of the temple, even these extravagant displays are marked by almost militaristic order and precision.” \^/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia, Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org , “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); “ National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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