Malaysian devotees revisit India and Nepal in search of enlightenment

The whole group at Vulture Peak, a place where Buddha was said to have delivered many important sermons.

The unprecedented pandemic caused the whole world to put many things on pause. Borders were shut and daily life changed drastically as many precious lives were lost and the livelihoods of millions of people were impacted. Lockdowns, “work-from-home” and masks were the new buzz-words in our vocabularies.

We have since learnt to live with Covid-19. Economic activities gradually resumed and most international borders have re-opened. When we received news that the 2022 Ti-Ratana Buddhist Pilgrimage Tour will be led by the Chief High Priest of Malaysia, Datuk K. Sri Dharmaratana, our group of 35 seized the opportunity to join the tour.

We were very excited to visit the four sites and other significant places associated with the life of Buddha in India and Nepal.

On departure day, we scanned our passports at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s immigration self-service kiosks, something many of us had never done before. We travelled in early December of last year, first stopping at New Delhi before commencing to Sravasti. There, we had the opportunity to offer dana or alms to the local monks and nuns at the Nava Jetavana Maha Vihara temple.

After that, we travelled to Nepal and stopped at the Maya Devi Temple Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama. The chief executive officer of the Nepal Tourism Board, Dr Dhananjay Regmi, upon finding out that K. Sri Dharmaratana was travelling with our group, flew to Lumbini to meet us to discuss tourism opportunities between Nepal and Malaysia.

Our next destination was Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh, a place where Buddhists believed Shakyamuni Buddha attained Parinirvana (enlightenment) after his death. Many of us were emotional at the Mahaparinirvana Temple there.

We then circumambulated thrice at the Ramabhar Stupa, which was the cremation site of Buddha.

The writer (right) and the chief high priest at Vulture Peak. — Photos: CHEE YEN LEEThe writer (right) and the chief high priest at Vulture Peak. — Photos: CHEE YEN LEE

Since my last trip to India several years ago, I could see that there are now more developments in the rural areas. Countless petrol stations have sprouted, enabling us to use their toilet facilities while on the road.

At Vaishali, we viewed the famous “Lion Pillar”, which was carved out of a single piece of red sandstone and stands at 18.3m. This pillar was erected by Emperor Ashoka to commemorate the site of Buddha’s last sermon.

We also trudged through the ruins of Nalanda University and hiked up Vulture Peak, where Buddha delivered numerous important sermons.

After seven days of criss-crossing through the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, we finally arrived at Bodh Gaya, the Land of the Enlightenment. A sense of pure happiness overcame us the first time we stepped into the Mahabodhi temple. It was like a homecoming and seeing thousands of pilgrims from various countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Every day we went to Mahabodhi Temple; the high priest led the chanting of prayers. He had made the necessary arrangements with the Maha Bodhi Society of India to allow us to offer alms to 31 monks and nuns who were in Bodh Gaya at the time to participate in the annual Tipitaka Prayers.

We left Bodh Gaya after spending four nights there, and then proceeded to Varanasi. The Dhamekh Stupa where Buddha preached his first discourse to his five disciples were among the places visited.

A boat ride on the Ganges River was also arranged for us, and we witnessed the incredible Aarti prayer conducted every night at the Shiva temple.

Throughout the journey, we visited numerous medieval and modern shrines, monasteries and temples. The spirit of Ti-Ratana of caring and sharing was widely practised among our fellow brothers and sisters. Daily, the high priest reminded us to be good Buddhists and do meritorious deeds no manner how small it may be.

As Buddhism practices vary in every country and culture, we were truly blessed to have him take us on this sacred pilgrimage to learn about the different cultures and traditions.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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