Sraddhalu Ranade at a beach sunset

Bodh Gaya, the Heart of Buddhist Pilgrimage

Host Phil Cousineau travels to Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha first achieved enlightenment. Other pilgrims reflect on the importance of this site to them.


PHIL: Coming out of a faith based Abrahamic tradition, I’ve always been intrigued by Buddhism, a religion not based on a God, but on the achievement of a human being.

PHIL: Pilgrims here in Bodh Gaya, circumambulate the Mahabodi Temple. It’s a bit like the winding of a watch. It’s the preparation for deep spiritual experience. I’ve come all this way to actually experience something and I’m open to it, open to understand what draws people here.

PHIL: I’m reminded of the Buddha’s achievement of overcoming fear and desire to achieve utter stillness. The Bodhi moment, the condition for awakening to the pure insight or what we’ve called “enlightenment”.

PHIL: I’m telling myself, what I tell people on the tours I lead, “Slow down, give yourself time for the pilgrim moment. Leave yourself open for an actual experience of a sacred place”.

PHIL: I feel deeply inspired. Something extraordinary happened right here 2500 years ago, which helped shape the world. After sitting right here for seven weeks, Siddhartha woke up and encouraged the rest of us to also wake up.

PHIL: You practice vipassana meditation which means you can meditate at home. You can meditate anywhere, but you choose to come here to Bodh Gaya. Why here?

YOUNG MAN: I come here and I feel this place and the vibrations here help me progress with my meditation. If you know Vipassana, there are many levels. If you concentrate, then you have to make your mind more equanimous. This place helps me. People are chanting here, or meditating here, then it makes the vibrations here more pure. And it also helps other people who come here, as a beginner, to meditate.

PHIL: Devika is a devoted pilgrim from Sri Lanka who is staying at her hotel. She comes with her aging mother. Like many pilgrims, this mother and daughter hope to get more fully in touch with themselves through the power and the beauty of this sacred place.

DEVIKA: Twenty years ago my mother did her last pilgrimage. She was waiting to get to Bodh Gaya, and worship at the place of enlightenment of the lord Buddha before her demise. A pilgrimage of this sort helps you a lot. And I’m very confident about the [power of] this place. I love Bodh Gaya, because I saw people from north to south to east to west coming to the Bodh Gaya temple, all mindfully walking past, with respect for the other persons walking to the temple... very mindfully, because they want to keep the guidance that the Lord Buddha said for us to tread. Our minds were just one with the qualities of the Buddha.

BRITISH MAN: What happens to me here, is that I have a more direct connection with the Buddha. And by that I mean not just the historical character, but the sort of sense of the Buddha. The spirit or the heart of the Buddha. Something happened here. And in a way, my life really is now a process of trying to understand what that was. And when I sit here at the Vajrasana, in the very place where this happened. I can’t explain it to you rationally, but I can tell you that I have a closer more heartfelt sense of what that thing was. That we give names to like Nirvana is beyond words and beyond concepts. In my experience, there’s nowhere like here in any spiritual context. This is a unique place.

DEVIKA: Just getting your mind purified, so your “sacred” is not only the outer sacred place, but you’re securing your mind in this very moment from attachment, aversion and illusion. And your mind itself becomes so sacred at that time.

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