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Monday, January 05, 2009

Sangha flourishes in Sarnath, its birthplace

Manidhamma, an Indian Order Member writes –

“The FWBO’s Dhammaloka International Buddhist Study Centre in Sarnath, India, has been busy of late. First came ‘Sangha Day’, on the ‘Kartika’ full-moon day of 13th of November. This was celebrated by Buddhists all over Sarnath in a spectacular, devotional and grand 3-day festival.

“The highlight was the display of sacred Buddha relics, for which there was an all-night special puja and recitation of Buddhist texts. The whole village of Sarnath was decorated by thousands of lamps, flowers, incense and Buddhist prayer flags. There were several devotional and cultural programmes taking place in numerous Buddhist monasteries near the Deer Park.

“The most magnificent event was a procession carrying the sacred relics of the Buddha on 4 decorated elephants by chief guests Madam Nancy Lim from Singapore and Madam Ratsyog of France, which paraded through the main roads of Sarnath. They were followed by Venerable Sumedha Thero, the Bhikkhu-in-charge of the Mahabodhi Society Sarnath, monks, nuns, Dharmacharis, Mitras and thousands of Buddhists from many nationalities.

“As part of the celebrations, I and others organised a special puja for Mitras on our land at Sarnath. Dharmachari Bodhisagar led a special puja and I gave a talk about the importance of commitment in spiritual life.

"The event took place in the newly-built shrine room which you can see under construction in the photo opposite. The shrine room was built by Bodhisagar and myself with the help of the local Sangha. The building work is ongoing – so far the total expenditure of construction has reached up to INR 75,000/- (approx UK 1,000 pounds). Still some work is going on and for the remaining work we will require 40,000 rupees (UK 500 pounds) more for finishing. At present I am back in UK but Bodhisagar has written to me to say ‘Please manage this from any source.’

“We have plans to install a Buddha statue on the land and develop washing facilities for visitors and the resident community. So, generous donations and financial contributions are most welcome. You can give online by visiting"

"Yours in the Dhamma,

If you would like more information about Dhammaloka publications and activities, please contact Manidhamma by emailing or by calling Bodhisagar in India on +919411109061.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Plans afoot at Sarnath, India

Vishvapani has recently returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Places of the Buddha, part of his research for writing a full-length biography of the Buddha. He reports -

"Each of the pilgrimage places associated with the life of the Buddha has its own atmosphere. Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha gained enlightenment, is a vibrant focus for practice and devotion for Buddhists from around the world; Vultures Peak, the site of many important discourses, remains a remote and beautiful spot; and Sarnath, where he first shared his teaching, has an atmosphere of quiet concentration. Several ancient stupas mark the spots where his former disciples first saw him approaching; where he gave his first discourse; and where he later taught others who had come from the nearby Hindu holy city of Varanasi.

"Across the road from the main site and set back a little is land belonging to the FWBO/TBMSG. To date, only a small building has been erected on here, but it hasn’t been unused and plans are afoot to create an international study centre. There’s another, separately administered, plot of land in Bodh Gaya".

As well as conducting research for his book, Vishvapani was in Sarnath to support his friend Manidhamma, recently returned to India after six years in UK, and about to begin establishing an international study centre at Sarnath. While there Vishvapani gave a talk on the land on ‘The Unity of Buddhism’, which was attended by around fifty people, mostly local Dalit followers of Dr Ambedkar, tens of thousands of whom became Buddhists in the 1960s. Sadly however, they have seen little follow-up in the following years, despite the presence of many Buddhist teachers in Sarnath. Two years ago Dhammachari Shantighosha moved from Pune (in the TBMSG heartland, many hundreds of miles to the south) to look after the land and work with local Buddhists. The people attending Vishvapani’s talk had gathered as a result of Shantighosha’s work, and over the next three days Vishvapani and Kamalagita led a retreat for ten local dhamma-mitras.

Vishvapani's report continues: "I was very impressed by their appreciation of Shantighosha and by their enthusiasm for the Dhamma. Asit, one of the mitras on the retreat, collects scrap metal, and whenever he visits a locality he gathers people around and he tells them whatever he has just learned about Dr Ambedkar and Buddhism."

Manidhamma will be working with the Dhammaloka Trust, which intends to develop the Sarnath site into an international study centre. Their ambitious plans include a pilgrim’s guest house, a shrine room, library and study centre that will host courses and retreats for people visiting from around the world. He also hopes to develop contacts between Sarnath’s cosmopolitan Buddhist community and the local Ambedkarite Buddhists.

The project has Sangharakshita’s blessing, but it will depend on donations from outside India. If you would like to learn more about the project or help support it - or if you have an interest in Buddhist pilgrimage - you can email Dhammaloka.

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