Before meditation, Swami Veda stood under the Bodhi Tree talking to the pilgrims.
Our group was very fortunate to visit with the Maha Bodhi Society in Sarnath on January 29, the day after we had seen the holy ghats of Banares and participated in a wonderful Ganga Artee.
It was at the World Peace Summit in New York in August 2000 that Swamiji indicated to the venerable Sri Badhanta Sumedha Thero that his group of pilgrims to the Maha Kumbha Mela would be very interested to visit the place where the Buddha preached his first sermon. We were well received in Sarnath and enjoyed every moment of this peaceful setting.
Swamiji had a press conference that morning. About 20 Indian reporters were hosted at the Taj Ganges Hotel. The text of Swamiji's remarks to the press is also given in this site. Swamiji was well received and answered many questions, and later gave packages of his writings to the reporters, while they partook in light refreshment.
We were ready to leave for Sarnath some time after noon. Located about 7 miles north of Varanasi, Sarnath is a tiny hamlet where the Buddha delivered a sermon called Dharma Chakra Pravartana (The Turning of the Wheel) 2,500 years ago.
Swamiji gathered everyone in the foyer of the hotel and spoke about the trip that we were about to make. The Lord Buddha was a wandering teacher during much of his life travelling over the plains of the Ganga, preaching his doctrine and staying at the monastery in Sarnath during the monsoon months. Today, Sarnath is an important center of Buddhist thought and is one of the holiest shrines of Buddhism, visited by devotees from all parts of the world.
When we arrived in Sarnath, Sri Sumedha Thero met us and treated us to a wonderful, wholesome lunch. Both Swamiji and Sri Sumedha Thero spoke briefly to the pilgrims during lunch, and then after a bathroom stop we walked to the museum where there were many ancient and broken statues depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha. The original Ashoka Chakra, which adorns the Indian Flag, is in the Sarnath museum. Swamiji took the opportunity to be our tour guide, explaining some of the objects there and pointing out the deity Tara.
Having stayed a while in the museum, we were unable to visit the Dhamek Stupa, but we saw it from the grounds of the Buddhist Temple. This is a huge structure, believed to be exactly the place where the Buddha preached his second sermon to his first five disciples.
Inside the temple grounds, Swamiji read part of the first sermon which is written in Pali and explained it to the pilgrims. The Buddha focused upon suffering, and said that the cause of suffering was desire. If man wished to be rid of suffering, he must first get rid of desire. Man's salvation lies in freeing himself from desire and achieving nirvana, which is freedom from the cycle of rebirth. We then sat under the Bhodi Tree for meditation, and then went into the temple for Puja.
Swamiji was honorably welcomed into the inner sanctum of the temple and the prayers were chanted by Sri Sumedha Thero and the monks and by Swamiji. Afterward, the monks brought a relic of the Buddha (a small part of his finger) and showed this to pilgrims under a light. We ended this wonderful Puja quite late, and then proceeded to the buses.
That evening we were invited to dinner by Mr Agarwal at his home in Varanasi. In spite of being tired and sleepy in the bus, the pilgrims honored this gracious invitation and we were pleasantly surprised by the variety of excellent soups, curries, sweets and drinks. Mr. Agarwal had also brought a fine array of silks from his business and many pilgrims shopped to their hearts' content.
Swamiji and the pilgrims chose this opportunity to thank Mr. Agarwal and his family for his kindness and hospitality during our days in Varanasi. Mr. Agarwal gave Swamiji a beautiful shawl, and the pilgrims chose representatives to speak of the graciousness of this family.
The Pilgrims now chose this long awaited opportunity to honor Swamiji and to thank him for being instrumental in giving us the best memories in a lifetime. Idriss and his group sang a wonderful song, and many others contributed to letting Swamiji know how loved and appreciated he was.
We ended this divine evening quite late, and were happy to return to the hotel for a good night's rest. The next morning we would have some free time to do last minute shopping, packing and socializing before we left for the airport. We took group pictures outside the hotel and said our goodbyes to Swamiji, the Ashram Staff, and Pandit Harishankar. Indra and Kailash, our tour coordinators, thanked everyone for their cooperation and for being so easy to work with. We told them we were looking forward to the next tour; wherever that might lead us!!
Inside the Buddhist Temple, where a puja was performed.
Dhamek Stupa, marking the place where Buddha preached his second sermon.