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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 1 0 38 dew of bodhichitta, so that everything we do associated with our pilgrimage is dedicated not only to pacifying our own delusion and suffering, but to bringing all sentient beings to enlightenment—the highest aspiration possible—then all the seemingly mundane activities involved, from packing and buy- ing tickets to circumambulating a stupa, become the activities of one who follows a perfect Mahayana path. People often wonder whether it’s selfish to think about the amount of merit accumulated through good actions. While it’s important to be aware of the risk of being selfish when it comes to accumulation, as a Mahayana practitioner and an aspiring bodhisattva, if you dedicate all the merit you create toward the ultimate happiness and enlightenment of all sentient beings, your actions will be anything but selfish. Lumbini Many holy sites are to be found in underdeveloped areas, so be warned, the living conditions won’t compare with those provided on a luxury break in the French Alps. As you arrive at Lumbini in present day Nepal, remember that this was both where Siddhartha was born and where he found himself cornered by the reality of the terrible sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death. In some ways it’s not his physical birth that’s of primary importance for a Buddhist pilgrim, it’s that in Lumbini, genuine renunciation was born in Sid- dhartha’s mind. As a result, he quit his old life completely, leaving his palace, all his wealth and his entire family behind him, including his wife and baby son, which some people considered to be outrageous and cowardly. Those who seek the truth, though, can appreciate the true extent of his bravery; and that bravery, that fearlessness, that audac- ity, was born in Lumbini. If your long journey to Nepal has been motivated by spiritual aspirations, taking a few photos and showing an anthropological interest in the holy relics and images won’t be at all satisfying. Instead, make the most of this opportunity to diminish your defilements and bolster your store of merit and wisdom. There isn’t a specific practice that should always and only be done in Lumbini, but as a follower of the Buddha, what’s best is to emulate him as much as possible. Aspire to learn merit, and occasionally you’ll want to do both at the same time. On a pilgrimage you should do both as often as pos- sible and in as many different ways as you can. There’s also a long tradition of making pilgrimages for loved ones and those with whom you have a strong connection, good or bad; it’s a very popular practice in traditional Buddhist societies, especially for those who have died, because by dedicating all the hardships you endure throughout your journey, and all the sacrifices you make in terms of your time, energy, possessions, and money, you can purify their negative actions. How to Accumulate Merit at Holy Sites Buddhist practitioners always tend to make the same mis- takes: they don’t do the small things that accumulate merit, like making daily water offerings, because they imagine them to be trivial and worthless. Yet neither do they make the big gestures, like offering financial support to a Buddhist univer- sity for a year, or lighting 100,000 butter lamps every month, or building a temple, because they don’t have the time or the resources. So they end up doing nothing at all. For beginners, accumulating merit requires effort. For example, a pilgrim from California might consider bringing fresh flowers from their garden to offer at the holy sites in India. It’s not that Californian flowers themselves will accu- mulate more merit than local Indian flowers, but the effort involved in protecting the flowers throughout the journey from California to India, as well as the money spent in the pro- cess, will. At the same time, buying flowers from a little girl at a holy site motivated by the wish to help the child by offering her flowers to the Buddha, will also increase the merit generated by the offer- ing. Or the motivation might be that whoever it is who sells you the offering flowers will, as a result, make a con- nection with the Triple Gem. This kind of motivation is a profound way to accumulate merit because you are using your own merit as a bridge to connect other people with the Buddha, dharma, and sangha. Pilgrimage is such a powerful method for accumulating merit that even making the preparations, like saving the money to pay for it and booking time off work, will earn a great deal. If we can also sprinkle our motivation with the B.sriKanthstePhenr.lasKy Candle offerings at Dhamekh Stupa in Sarnath, near Varansi