David's Book: Bodh Gaya
[By Dr. David N. Snyder]
The Path begins with Faith, then Knowledge, then Experience, and finally Wisdom. Since the
Path begins with faith, which can include devotion to the Buddha, in appreciation for the
teachings, a good practice to complete some time in your life, is a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya.
This is the place in India where the Buddha attained enlightenment.
This should only be done if you have the time and financial resources to do so. But if you do, it
is a valuable devotional practice, which can include knowledge, experience, and wisdom too.
The Buddha sat in meditation under the Bodhi tree and attained enlightenment in the year 528
B.C. The Maha Bodhi temple marks this spot. The original Bodhi tree was destroyed and the
current one next to the Maha Bodhi temple is a descendant of the original. The original tree was
located at the spot of the main Buddha statue in the Maha Bodhi temple, making the temple truly
the most sacred spot in Buddhism.
The Buddha attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya and also regularly went back there for
seclusion, for more meditation, a sort of retreat place for him. ―Bhikkhus, I wish to go into
seclusion for three months. I should not be approached by anyone. The when those three
months had passed, the Blessed One emerged from seclusion and addressed the bhikkhus thus:
Bhikkhus, I have been dwelling in part of the abode in which I dwelt just after I became fully
enlightened. Samyutta Nikaya 45.12
The Triple Gem and the Maha Bodhi Temple
The Triple Gem in Buddhism is The Buddha, The Dhamma, and The Sangha. All three can be
seen in the most sacred spot of Buddhism; The Maha Bodhi Temple.
The Buddha attained enlightenment at this spot and there is a large Buddha statue in the temple,
as well as other statues of Buddha, Avolikiteshvara, and Maitreya, the future Buddha.
The Buddha attained his wisdom of the Dhamma at this spot via the enlightenment and spoke
with the gods (impermanent divine beings, similar to angels, but still subject to rebirth) after his
enlightenment. Therefore, the Dhamma is represented with the Maha Bodhi temple, in addition
to the historical Buddha.
The Sangha is represented in the Maha Bodhi temple too because at any time monks and nuns
(bhikkhus and bhikkhunis) can be seen in the temple performing devotional duties, meditating,
or giving a Dhamma talk. In addition, over the centuries numerous monastics and lay people
have made the trip from around the world to come to Bodh Gaya for pilgrimage. Many have
even died in their attempts to make it to Bodh Gaya or on their way back home, because of the
numerous obstacles and terrain. When one sits in the Maha Bodhi temple, one is easily in awe of
the perhaps millions of pilgrims who have made the journey or attempted to make
the journey. One is also humbled and inspired by the many arahants (enlightened ones),
including the Buddha who have walked and sat at the exact spots where you sit and walk in the
Maha Bodhi temple and complex.
Buddhist pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya as compared to other pilgrimages
In year 2006 I went on my first Buddhist pilgrimage to India and Nepal and saw all of the
important places, the birth (Lumbini), enlightenment (Bodh Gaya), the first teaching (Sarnath),
and the death-parinibbana (Kushinigar).
Noticeably the most important site in Buddhism is Bodh Gaya where the Buddha attained
enlightenment. The other sites were mostly ruins and did not have too many temples around
them. But in Bodh Gaya there were many temples from many nations, many more tourists, and
the beautiful Maha Bodhi temple complex where the Buddha attained enlightenment. The Maha
Bodhi temple was most likely originally built by King Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C. and rebuilt
after warfare destruction in the 2nd century A.D. and subsequently repaired over the centuries up
to the present time. It is 52 meters high (171 feet). There are also gardens, lakes, and a 24 meter
(80 feet) Buddha statue in Bodh Gaya.
This shows that the holiest place in Buddhism (if there is such a thing) is Bodh Gaya.
Pilgrimages are not too important in Buddhism because one can get enlightenment anywhere, but
for those who wish to do this devotional and respectful practice, the Maha Bodhi complex in
Bodh Gaya is clearly the most important place.
This gets me to reflect on the holy sites of all the different religions:
In Islam, the holiest place is Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed. The religion is centered
around the prophet Mohammed as he is considered the final prophet by many Muslims.
In Judaism, the holiest place is Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem is the capitol of the ancient and
modern nation of Israel. The religion of Judaism is centered on ideas that the Jewish people are
both a faith and a people. Especially in Israel, the people see themselves as both a people and a
In Christianity, a very holy place and pilgrimage site is also Jerusalem, but not for the above
political reasons. Christians venerate Jerusalem as the place of Jesus' crucifixion. The Christian
faith is centered around the death of Christ, believing that Christ rose from the dead in Jerusalem.
The clear contrast in Buddhism is that it is not the place of his birth, not the place of his death,
but rather the place of enlightenment that is so important. Buddhism is a come and see religion
with much effort required of each individual. We all must take the time to do study and practice,
to attain insights. It is a hard work religion and this is why the enlightenment place is venerated
most of all.
This is not to disparage or say that the other religions are bad or in any way lower, but it is just
interesting to see the differences in the religions as to what they define as the most important
Even though one can achieve enlightenment anywhere, there is a recommendation by the Buddha
for pilgrimage for those who can afford it and have the time to do so. From the Mahaparinibbana
sutta, Digha Nikaya:
―Ananda, there are four places the sight of which will arouse strong emotion in those with faith.
Which four? Here the Tathagata (enlightened one) was born, this is the first place. Here the
Tathagata attained Enlightenment, this is the second place. Here the Tathagata set in motion the
Wheel of the Dhamma, this is the third place. Here the Tathagata attained final Nibbana without
remainder, this is the fourth place. The monk or nun, layman or laywoman, who has faith should
visit these places. And anyone who dies while making a pilgrimage to these places with a devout
heart will, at the breaking up of the body, be reborn in heaven.
―When you pray, do not go to the street corners and to public places, go
away by yourself, all alone, and shut the door behind you.
Jesus (from Matthew, chapter 6, New Testament, Bible)
---------to be continued---------