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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
buddhadharma| 63 |summer 2007 bying to change this. In Kushinagar, for example, when the Survey started building a wall around the cremation stupa so they could charge admission, a group of local Buddhist monks launched a lawsuit. A stay order on the construction prevents the Sur- vey from charging admission until the suit is settled. Meanwhile, Bhatia is gathering signatures for a petition asking the president of India to intervene and open the sites for religious use without fees. Although Bodhgaya is administered by a spe- cial committee, serious problems abound there as well. For years there have persisted allegations of theft of funds and antiquities from the temple. And Buddhists on the management committee have long complained that their recommendations for improvements are routinely voted down by the Hindu majority. The problems facing the Maha- bodhi Temple are so severe, says Bhatia, that the temple is in danger of collapsing. “All sacred Buddhist architecture has three levels, commemorating the three jewels, the Bud- dha, the dharma, and the sangha,” says Bhatia. But when the British restored the temple, they did not know this. They simply propped up the roof of the third storey with wooden beams and sealed it. “That was 125 years ago,” says Bhatia. “What do you imagine has happened to those wooden beams by now? Termites, rotting, many things. The management committee is simply ignoring the problem.” Buddhist Heritage and others are lob- bying for the restoration of this third floor. After our talk, I did the math. It’s been 115 years since Dharmapala was seized by the vision of fully restoring these sacred sites to the Buddhist world. That vision remains unfulfilled, and yet what has been accomplished is remarkable. Bud- dhists from all over the world can once again come to this land and follow in the Buddha’s footsteps; they can experience blessings sowed more than 2,500 years ago. As countless pilgrims can testify, the experience can truly be life-altering. For myself and my fellow pilgrims, the level of hardship and effort was no doubt mild com- pared to the pilgrims of the past, and so the merit is perhaps more circumscribed. Yet to recite the Heart Sutra at Bodhgaya or sit shamatha in Deer Park, to see the stupas and monuments and feel their power directly, to envision the Buddha’s life through the places of its enactment, and to expe- rience the ancient land that was his home – all of this has an undeniable effect on one’s practice and on one’s connection to the path. It is said that the power of aspiration prayers, when recited at sacred sites, is magnified a thousandfold. Did we come back better people? That may be for others to say, but certainly such was our aspiration and our prayer. (Left) Monks outside the Nirvana Temple in Kushinagar. (Below) Pilgrims at Dhamekha Stupa, Deer Park.