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Following several days in Bodh Gaya, where Buddha obtained enlightenment under the tree, we continue our pilgrimage to another holy site of Buddhism: Rajgir.  One of eight great places of the traditional Buddhist pilgrimage, Rajgir is located in a green valley surrounded by rocky hills.  

Here and nearby, especially at Vultures’ Peak, many important teachings and sermons (sutras) were first delivered.  There is a cave here where the first meeting of Buddha’s disciples is said to have taken place to discuss his teaching and sutras.

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Many Japanese flock to Indian sacred sites on Buddhist pilgrimage. Photo: Vanessa Cabezas.

I had studied the Magadha Kingdom in college and was fascinated to visit the area of Rajgir which was its first capital.  Rajgir is the place of the subduing of Nalagiri, the angry elephant.  It was here that Buddha spent several months meditating and preaching at Gridhra-kuta (‘Hill of the Vultures’).

We park at the foot of the peak and have a choice – we can take cable cars up to the Peace Pagoda built by Japanese Buddhists, on top of the Ratnagiri Hills above Vultures’ Peak – or we can walk to the top of a smaller peak where Buddha actually preached.  We go for authenticity and walk up to Vultures’ Peak.

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Monks smoking and blessing peanuts. I saved mine to bring back to New York. Photo: author.

As we walk up the trail we pass an abandoned hospital which our guide tells us Buddha was brought to when his brother, jealous that Buddha was getting all the attention, tried to kill him with a boulder but only smashed his foot.  And I thought only the Luces had drama…

Buddha delivered some of his most famous sermons here as well as converted King Bimbisara to his new faith.  Vultures Peak derives its name from the Buddhist practice, now discontinued, of allowing vultures to devour human bodies.  Throughout India bodies are to this day returned to nature through cremation, as in my own faith tradition: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

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One of two caves where Buddha’s first disciples are said to have lived on Vultures’ Peak. Photo: author.

Rajgir has also developed as a health and winter resort due to its warm water ponds, not unlike the onsenI remember from my college days in northern Japan.  These baths are said to contain medicinal properties to cure skin diseases.

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Pilgrims have festooned Vultures’ Peak with Buddhist flags. Photo: author.

The path we didn’t take, the cable cars up the Ratnagiri Hills, leads to the Peace Pagoda which I find both spiritual and romantic.  Following the Tsunami of 2004, as my organization Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) worked with orphan care outside Galle in Sri Lanka, I saw a similar Peace Pagoda also built by the Japanese.  That is actually the spot where I proposed to my partner six years ago.  There are now 80 Peace Pagodas around the world, spreading the message of non-violence.

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The Peace Pagoda built by Japanese Buddhists, on top of the Ratnagiri Hills in Rajgir.

Within a few days I will travel to the other side of the river, across from Bodh Gaya, and see an unrestored stupa marking the spot where Prince Gautama, before becoming enlightened, underwent prolonged fasting and almost starved himself to death.  Then, in a pivotal moment, he accepted milk porridge from a village girl named Sujata and found The Middle Way.  My foundation may support a children’s project about 100 feet from that very stupa.

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The author following in the steps of Buddha on Vultures’ Peak in Northeast India.

Edited by Ferdi Kayhan.

Pilgrimage to Buddha’s Holy Sites
Main Sites: Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar
Additional Sites: Sravasti, Rajgir, Sankissa, Vaishali, Nalanda, Varanasi
Other Sites: Patna, Gaya, Kosambi, Kapilavastu, Devadaha, Kesariya, Pava

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See Stories by Jim Luce on:

On Pilgrimage: Following the Footsteps of Buddha Across N.W. India: 14 Parts

1. HuffPo: On Pilgrimage: Following the Footsteps of Buddha Across N.E. India
2. Daily Kos: Under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya Where the Prince Became The Buddha
3. Daily Kos: Photo Essay of Bodh Gaya, Where Buddha Became Enlightened
4. Daily Kos: Next Step of Indian Pilgrimage: Mountain Where Buddha Preached
5. HuffPo: Touching the Untouchable in a Rural Indian Village
6. Daily Kos: Rediscovering the World’s First Great University in Buddhist India
7. The Daily Kos: Buddhism for Beginners: Insights from a Non-Buddhist
8. HuffPo: Can I Help Rescue Education and Orphan Care in Bihar, India?
9. The Daily Kos:  A Examination of Buddhism and Social Responsibility
10. Stewardship Report: Most-Photographed Man in the World Prepares to Retire
11. Daily Kos: Varanasi: Holy City of Buddhists – As Well as Hindus, Jainists, Jews
12. Daily Kos: On the Banks of the Ganges: Continuing the Search for My Soul
13. HuffPo: My Pilgrimage Complete: Lessons Learned, Life Continues Like a Wheel
14. Daily Kos: Pilgrimage Postscript: Pneumonia and Possible T.B.

India   |   International Development   |   Philanthropy    |   Social Responsibility   |   Tibet

The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) is the umbrella organization under which The International University Center Haiti (Uni Haiti) and Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) are organized. If supporting young global leadership is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.

Follow Jim Luce on Twitter and Facebook.

Originally posted to Thought Leaders & Global Citizens on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 10:35 AM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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