The Buddha suggested that pilgrimage would help his followers develop spiritually. Major sites of Buddhist pilgrimage are often found in northern India in places associated with the Buddha’s life, teaching and enlightenment.
Bodh Gaya, in the Indian state of Bihar in northern India, is one of the most significant sites of pilgrimage to Buddhists. In Pali, the language of the Buddha, ‘bodh’ means ‘enlightenment’. According to Buddhist belief, before he became the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment under a tree, now known as the Bodhi Tree, in the place now known as Bodh Gaya (‘place of enlightenment’).
Today the Mahabodhi Temple, built around 250 years after the Buddha’s death by a Buddhist emperor, stands on the spot. Pilgrims pay their respects to the Buddha, make offerings, chant and meditate at this important place to renew their commitment to the path to enlightenment.
Sarnath Deer Park is north of the holy city of Varanasi in India. At Sarnath Deer Park, the Buddha gave the first of his teachings, which would become the Dhamma, seven weeks after attaining enlightenment (at Bodh Gaya). The name derives from an old Buddhist story that a Bodhisattva, in the shape of a deer, persuaded a king that needed deer to be protected, and the king created a deer sanctuary.
The Buddha travelled to Sarnath because five holy men, his previous companions, were there. The Buddha taught there and his words are recorded in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, translated as ‘The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dhamma’. This book is considered to contain his first teaching after achieving enlightenment.
Retreats are essential in Buddhism. Whether Buddhists are alone or in a group, time taken to focus on the mind and understanding is necessary for spiritual growth.
Retreats take place throughout the year in both isolated and communal settings. Since the Buddha asked wandering monks not to travel during Vassa, which occurs during the rainy season, the Vassa retreat has become a common practice.
Where did the Buddha attain enlightenment?
Bodh Gaya in northern India.