“Sleep” brings to my mind the reclined statue of Lord Buddha in Kushinagar, India where he is believed to have attained Nirvana and left his physical body. Kushinagar is an important stop in a Buddhist Pilgrimage. A hearty thanks to A Word in Your Ear for this wonderful topic.
Lord Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana in 487 BC on a bed of leaves under the sal trees just like the way he was born 80 years ago under Sal Trees in Lumbini, Nepal. It is believed that he consumed a meal comprising of meat which caused food poisoning and eventually led to the demise of his physical body. True to his words, he absolved the blacksmith who offered the meal of all blame, prior to leaving his body. Buddhist texts mention that all prior Buddha’s have consumed similar meals and attained nirvana in Kushinagar. Different schools of thought have emerged over the years offering diverse reasons leading to the Buddha’s selection of this location. However, the ultimate truth remains that he blessed this land with his last breath. Over a period of time due to foreign invasions and other historical changes , Kushinagar was long forgotten and neglected. The town shot into prominence in late 19th century, after The Mahaparinirvana Stupa and Temple were discovered by British archaeologists after cutting through dense vegetation.
The white Stupa and Temple are seen in a beautiful meditation garden complex lined with sal trees. The vast and well maintained gardens lined with sal trees make me wonder, if the Buddha sat in deep meditation there, ordaining the last Arahant, reciting the Mahaparinirvana Sutta for Ananda and other monks, before slipping into restful sleep. The best time to walk around is in the evening, when the mellow light of the candles against the fading sunlight renders a mystical aura. Walking between the sal trees, caressed by the soothing wind, it is not quite difficult to imagine the celestial event of the Master’s Mahaparinirvana as he ascended through the 4 realms (Nothingness, Infinite Consciousness, Neither Perception, Non Perception) accompanied by divine beings. It was believed to be a celestial event since the earth shook in gratitude, the stars showered from the other realm and the sky attained a golden glow akin to a thousand flames accompanied by heavenly music that filled the air.
The Mahiparinirvana Temple is an abode of peace. After climbing a few steps, I stepped inside the hall where Lord Buddha lies in eternal sleep. The excavated statue of a 6metre tall Buddha is in the Parinirvana posture, head turned to the right and feet swollen from the long travel from Vaishali. This is a sandstone statue dated to 5th Century AD but has turned golden over the years from the gold foil lovingly offered by devotees. As I sat there, watching him and closing my eyes to feel his presence it almost feels like he will wake up any minute. In those few minutes, I could feel the gentle touch that he is always blessing us with eternal love and compassion.
The 45 feet high Brick Stupa next to the coronation tank is the Makutabandhana Chaitya or Ramabhar Stupa. Lord Buddha’s mortal remains were consigned to flames here by his ardent disciple Mahakasyapa. The relics were then divided into 8 parts and shared with the major monarchies who patronized Buddhism. One part was retained by the Malla Kings who ruled Kushinagar and enshrined in the Mahaparinirvana Stupa. Less than 500 metres away is the Mathakuar shrine where the Buddha delivered his last lecture. The stone statue dated to 5th century AD depicts the Buddha in Bhumisparsha Mudra (all fingers of the right hand touching earth while the left hand lies in the lap). He attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in the same posture.
Kushinagar will soon be an international destination after the statue of the bronze Maitreya Buddha is unveiled, which is expected to be taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Kushinagar can be reached from Delhi, India via Gorakhpur. It is a small place with very few hotels of which Lotus Nikko and Royal Residency are recommended. The best time to visit is between October and March when the weather is just right.
Related Read: Planning a Buddhist Pilgrimage in India