Kusinara - the sacred site of Maha Parinibbana
Every person born to this earth has to face death. Every one born, he
or she has to die sooner or later. Dhammapada (a creation of the Buddha
- an outcome of his wisdom) states “not in the sky not in the mid ocean
nor in a mountain cave is found that place where abiding, one will not
be overcome by death.” The gist of this sacred expression was
experienced by the Blessed One with delight leading to Nibbana the
ultimate bliss putting an end to the Samsaric journey, never to be born
again. The Buddha’s last words uttered immediately prior to his
Parinibbana were - “subject to change are all component things, strive
on with diligence”.
All things are subject to the law of impermanence, was made very
clear and well proved with his passing away. Maha Parinibbana sutta in
Digha Nikaya (DN 16) describes the final days of the great Master and
his leaving this world.
Makutabandhana, cremation site of the Buddha
Sakyamuni Gautama Buddha after attaining enlightenment and realising
the gift of eternal truth his concern was the welfare and happiness of
all living beings. He was the embodiment of Meththa and Karuna love and
compassion. He showed both by principle and practice.
He could have led a life of comfort. But he was more concerned with
the welfare of the humans. Wandering from place to place on dusty, rough
roads in North India he served the humanity. He said, “I proclaim you
the Dhamma to get rid of worldly suffering” and his doctrine of Dhamma
was made clear to all of them.
His service is beyond expression - too numerous to mention, something
that no earthly being could do except the Blessed One.
After a successful ministry of 45 years, at the ripe age of 80, he
bade goodbye to the universe.
When Sakyamuni Gautama was getting ready for the final journey known
as ‘Aayu Sanskara’ Ven. Ananda Thera who had a close watch of the Buddha
failed for a moment to extend his invitation to live further.
His failure to do the needful, at the correct time gave the
opportunity to Mara, to fulfill his objective of seeing the end of the
Thathagatha. He compiled with the request of Mara with universal love
and compassion towards all beings for the final deliverance from the
miseries of existence.
Buddha knew his end was near and when he set out his last journey
with Ananda Thera from Vesali, he told Ananda, “This will be the last
time that Thathagatha will see Vesali.” They came to Pava where Chunda
offered alms to the Buddha. That being the last meal, with great pain he
continued his journey to Kusinara in the kingdom of Mallas.
Ananda was weeping when Buddha consoled him gratefully recalling his
love and devotion to the Buddha and predicted that Ananda will certainly
be an Arahat. He was anxious that Chunda should not be blamed and
praised him of his good Kamma.
His last words to the disciples surrounding him was (Sabbe Sankara
Anicca) mentioned earlier. With these words he passed his last breath on
the robe laid slab of stone between the twin Sal trees.
The body of Thathagatha was taken to Mukthabandana Chetiya the sacred
shrine of the Malla kings and it was cremated with due honour. The year
was 483 BC. Later the relics were distributed among his followers who
enshrined them in stupas. According to Pali chronicles, Emperor Asoka
had opened the original stupas and redistributed the relics across his
empire, to preserve them for future generations. Indian history reveals
that Emperor Asoka well known for his effort to preserve the sacred
places in his battle against the Moghuls is said to have constructed
stupas and pillars in important sacred places.
Kusinagar is the last place associated with the life of the great
master, who had been taken away from the universe. Buddha himself has
mentioned in Mahaparinibbana Sutta Kusigagar as one of the four sacred
sites of worship not to be missed by a true Buddhist.
Located in the north it had been a beautiful park originally covered
with scenic splendour.
The sacred site at Kusinara stand today to tell us a most sorrowful
and unforgettable incident of the Buddhist era.
The loss of the magnificent master to the entire humanity. The sacred
temple premises with the Buddha image is crowded with pilgrims from far
and wide. No devotee comes out without tears in their eyes.
Thanks to Asoka for tracing the holy spot. Subsequently the State
Government of India took pains to restore the present temple,
surrounding the statue to commemorate the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations
to mark the 2500th year of the Parinibbana.
One can see the reclining Buddha image lying on its right side. This
has been given a new touch, with more space for the pilgrims to worship
the sacred image - the architectural marvel with much ease.
The statue - 6.1 metres in length has been carefully done out of one
block of red sandstone brought from Mathura, during the Gupta period. It
was discovered in a perished condition and the scattered pieces had been
put together successfully.
The present pilgrims are in the habit of venerating the statue
covering it with robes. This has been curtailed due to the heavy weight
which would lead the statue to sink down, according to the Bhikkus in
Hence the robes offered to cover are taken off after a few minutes.
The sacred image is said to possess three poses at different angles, one
smiling the other in pain and the third in the state of Parinibbana.
Buddhist literature in India
An effort to translate the Pali Scriptures into Hindi was launched by
the eminent trio: Mahapandita Rahul Sankrityayana (1893-1963), Bhadant
Anand Kausalyayana (1905-1988) and Ven. Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashypa
(1908-1976) who were ordained and learnt Buddhism in Vidyalankara
Pirivena. A pioneer translator of Pali Scriptures into Hindi was Ven.
Dr. Dharmarakshita (1923-1977). He too had his ordination and studies in
Buddhism in Sri Lanka at the Vidyalankara Pirivena. For a list of these
translations of Pali scriptures to Hindi, please see, jagajjyoti
Centenary Volume of The Bengal Buddhist Association 2009.
In the field of Buddhist literature in Hindi the pioneer was
Mahapandita Rahul Sankrityayana. This intellectual super being wrote
over 150 books on Buddhism in Hindi, still a record. In addition to
Buddhist literature he engaged himself in writing canonical as well as
non-canonical, histories, scientific and philosophical works,
travelogues and biographies and many more subjects. Bhadant Anand
Kausalyaya (1905-1988) and Ven. Dharmarakshita (1923-1977) too put their
pens on paper and produced on Buddhist literature. To their great credit
of scholarship stands dozens of books in Hindi, including Hindi
translations of Pali texts. The important books published in Hindi
during the 100 years (1908-2008) could be seen in Jagajjyoti Centenary
Besides the English and Hindi translations of the Dhammapada it is
now translated into ten other Indian languages, namely, Assanese,
Bengali, Gujarati kannada, Maruthi, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Tamil, Telegu
and Urdu, which are the official languages of various states of the
Indian union. Some of the Pali Texts too have been translated into
Bengali, Gujarati and Maruthi. A list of these translations could be
read in Jagajjyoti Centenary Volume 2009 under different language heads.
Kannada is the official language of Karnataka State with Nangalore as
the capital. Venerable Acharya Buddharakkhita Maha Thera, resident in
Bangalore Buddhist Vihara, through his sustained initiatives, has now
prepared and published through his Buddha Vachana Trust of the Maha
Bodhi Society, Bangalore, for the first time in Buddhist history, all
the books of the pali Tripitaka and Commentaries in Kannada. The Kannada
Tripitaka runs into as many as 136 volumes of about 300 pages each.
This iconic task was celebrated with utmost dedication and adoration
by the Maha Bodhi Society, on the occasion of the Buddha Jayanthi on 19
In order to assess and admire the Indian scholars herculean tasks on
the fields of translation, one has to have an Indian mind. In India
daily millions of huge iron trucks about 10 feet high carriages and with
no roofs, and agricultural products, industrial products, minerals are
transported to other states or for exports and on the sides of these
trucks, are pained by the Indian Tricolour National Flag with the
Dhammachakra in the centre with the logos in Hindi and English on top
and below - India is great - I love India. This writer too with his
north Indian ancestry of Malava, Nadhya Pradesh Vaishya Setyis in Sri
Lanka, Galle called Sinhala Hettis and with his late mother a Post -
Lucknow University, Allhabad, too has the Indian mind to record the
contributions of Indian scholars and the propagation of Buddhism. This
is all the more possible as this writer visits India on study tours
My first encounter with a Buddhist Monk - Part I
In the first week of August 1965, after finishing summer school, I
set out to travel by car from New York to California. I was twenty years
old and in September would be entering my senior year at Brooklyn
College. I wanted to visit a friend who was spending the summer in San
Francisco, and I managed to find a ride with a couple of fellow
students. We started from the Sugar Bowl, a luncheonette near Brooklyn
College, on a bright Monday morning. After a full day on the road we
stopped in Madison, Wisconsin to spend the night at the home of some
friends of the people with whom I was travelling.
This was the first time I had travelled west of the Pocono Mountains
and the experience promised to be an exciting one. After a good night’s
rest, the next morning I decided to take a walk. It was a bright, sunny
day. My steps led me through quiet streets to a large, beautiful lake
bordering the University of Wisconsin.
Turning inland, I soon found myself on the campus. As I was
approaching a mall in the middle of the campus, something astonishing
happened. To the right of my field of vision, the door of a big stone
building suddenly swung open and out stepped a middle-aged man with East
Asian features, wearing a yellow-orange robe. He was immediately
followed by a tall American man who then caught up with him, and the two
walked side by side talking.
At once I realized that I was looking at a Buddhist monk. I had never
seen a Buddhist monk before, and in America at that time the number of
real Buddhist monks probably could have been counted on one hand.
I had just begun to read about Buddhism a few months earlier, and I
knew from my reading of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha that the Buddha and
his ordained disciples wore saffron robes. Thus I could identify the
person I was seeing as a Buddhist monk.
I was struck with wonder and amazement at the sight of this serene,
self-composed man, who radiated a lightness, inner contentment, and
dignity I had never seen in any Westerner.
The American man alongside him, presumably a professor, seemed to
show him a certain respect and deference, which suggested to me that he
was not an ordinary monk but a person of some stature. Just watching him
walk across the mall, I was filled with joy and happiness. I think my
feeling might have been similar to what a young brahmin in ancient India
might have felt if he looked up and for the very first time saw, walking
down a path close by, a monastic disciple of the ascetic Gotama, the man
that people called “The Enlightened One.”
I must have been about sixty yards from the path along which the two
I wanted to approach the monk and ask him who he was and what he was
doing, and many other questions; but I was too shy, afraid that I would
appear foolish. So I just stood there watching him from a distance,
devouring him with my eyes, observing his every movement during the four
or five minutes it took for them to walk across the mall. I was
transfixed; I felt transported to another dimension of being. Something
in my heart stirred with a deep yearning.
I think that if someone had come up behind me and struck me with a
pin I would have felt nothing, so absorbed was I in the figure of this
monk. Then he and the professor reached another building, the professor
opened the door, and the two men vanished inside.
I still felt joy at this chance encounter with a Buddhist monk, but
my joy was now dimmed by a note of sadness. My heart sank at the thought
that this adventure was over and I had lost the opportunity to tap a
living source of the wisdom of the East. Now, I thought, that wonderful
monk will go his way, and I must go my way, and our paths will never
Still, I put this momentary sadness behind me, hurried back to the
house where we had spent the night, and before long we were again on the
road, heading for San Francisco.
The workings of karma are indeed strange and unfathomable! A little
more than a year later, in September 1966, I entered Claremont Graduate
School in California (twenty-five miles east of Los Angeles) to begin a
doctoral program in philosophy. In the spring semester a Buddhist monk
from Vietnam came to study at the same university and moved in just
below me in the graduate residence hall.
He was not ‘serene and self-composed’ like the monk in Wisconsin but
had a ‘happy-go-lucky’ manner about him that initially discouraged me
from striking up an acquaintance with him.
However, once I got to know him, I came to like him and eventually
accepted him as my first Buddhist teacher. By the time the summer of
1967 arrived, we were sharing the same apartment in the graduate
residence hall. I had taken ordination from him as a novice-monk in the
Vietnamese Buddhist order, and later we moved to a small house off the
One day (I think it was in November 1967) he told me that a
distinguished Buddhist monk from Vietnam named Venerable Thich Minh Chau
was in the US and would soon be visiting Los Angeles. Thich Minh Chau,
he said, was the rector of Van Hanh University and an accomplished
Buddhist scholar. He had gotten a doctorate from Nalanda Buddhist
Institute in India and had written an important comparative study of the
Pali Majjhima Nikaya and the Chinese Madhyama Agama. My monk friend was
planning to go to LA to meet Thich Minh Chau and he invited me to
So one bright morning in the late autumn we arrived at the house of
the Vietnamese family with whom the distinguished monk was staying. When
Venerable Thich Minh Chau came out from his guest room, I saw a
middle-aged man draped in a yellow-orange robe, serene and
self-composed, dignified in manner, radiating goodness and sagacity.
Somehow, he looked strangely familiar, and I asked myself: “Where have I
seen him before? I’ve never before seen a monk dressed in a
yellow-orange robe like that.”