Following the Footsteps of Buddha

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We just got back from an amazing 14 day tour which included many friends, family and Jodo Shinshu temple members from across Canada. The group of 24 people was led by Roy and Itoko Akune who were going to India for the 3rd time.

The first week covered what is referred to as the “Golden Triangle”: Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. We visited popular tourist attractions such as the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, City Palace, Jantar-Mantar Observatory, the Pink City, and Amber Fort. We began the pilgrimage portion of the trip the second week. We flew to Varanasi and proceeded by bus to historical sites where the Buddha spent critical periods of his life. In Sarnath, the Buddha gave his first sermon. In Bodhgaya he spent 6 years in penance in a mountain cave, Dungeshwari, then renounced his austere practice to take a more moderate approach.

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Time for reflection under Mahabodhi Tree (photo by Brenda Ikuta)

We visited the Mahabodhi Temple and the Mahabodhi tree, said to be a descendent of the original Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. We visited Vultures Peak where Buddha preached the Larger Sukhavati Vyuha Sutra and the site of Nalanda University, the oldest Buddhist university. We visited Vaishali where he spent his last rainy season and Kushinagar where he passed away. We crossed into Nepal to visit Lumbini, the sacred garden where he was born. We ended with Sravasti where he spent 24 rain retreats.

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A service at Vultures Peak overlooking the Valley where the Larger Sukhavati Sutra (Jodo Shinshu) was delivered to the 1500 Bikkhus. (photo Brenda Ikuta)

India is definitely a land of dramatic contrasts, overwhelming sights and sounds, unbelievable experiences around every corner, and is steeped in a history that includes a diversity of cultures and religions. Our guides spoke English and were extremely knowledgeable in the history of Buddhism and Indian culture. They organized a variety of experiences for us which included a tour of the National Art Museum, rixe/rickshaw rides through the byways of old Delhi, an elephant ride to the Amber Fort, boat excursions on the Ganges River, visits to government approved traditional craft and textile cooperatives, and an opportunity to enjoy traditional dance and music. We were able to visit amazing temples from a variety of religions (Islam, Hindu, Jain, Baha’i) and Buddhist sects (Thai, Bhutanese, Japanese, Tibetan). The transportation experience in itself was memorable; our drivers were thankfully very adept at maneuvering the incredible traffic and road conditions.

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This cave was just below Vultures Peak where they believe Buddha stayed during some of his rain retreats. (photo Brenda Ikuta)

The group was wonderfully cohesive and we have spent the last few weeks sharing our reflections and post-trip learning as we try to understand our experiences better. Our deepest gratitude to our leaders, Roy and Itoko, who spent countless hours coordinating with the tour company both before and during the trip - such generosity and warmth in looking out for all of us! It was wonderful to have an opportunity to experience situations with a Jodo Shinshu perspective and to have services at many meaningful sites. We have a lot to process in the coming months. Some of us will be available to share more information with Temple members so stay tuned. And please consider joining one of these JSBTC pilgrimages if you are able to in the future…they are well worth it!!

In gassho,

Brenda Ikuta