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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
41 summer 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Varanasi There was a time when Varanasi was a famous cosmopolitan city, and even today Benares, as Varanasi is now known, is held in high regard for its great centers of learning. Sarnath, also known as Deer Park, is quite close to Varanasi and is important because it’s where the Buddha first began to teach everything he had discovered under the bodhi tree. What the Buddha taught us in Varanasi is that we don’t know what suffering really is. Everything we think will make us happy is either teetering on the edge of suffering or the cause of immediate suffering. It’s relatively easy to recognize the obvious sufferings of this world, but very difficult to per- ceive that the so-called “good time” some people have in sam- sara is really suffering or leads to suffering. Buddha pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, suffering doesn’t land on us from an outside source but is a product of our own emotional responses. He made it clear that however much we suffer and however real that suffering and its causes may feel to us, it is in fact an illusion and does not exist inherently. This truth, Buddha tells us, is something we can fully realize for ourselves, and what’s more, he has shown us how by laying out a path for us to follow. According to the Mahayana, the Buddha not only taught the four noble truths at Sarnath, but countless other teachings too. So, while you’re in Sarnath remember that this is where Buddha first made the path available to people like you and me. And while you’re at Deer Park, by remembering Buddha’s words— for example, the truth of suffering—you will make a connection with the teaching as well as with the place it was taught. Paying homage to the Triple Gem is always a good prac- tice to do at holy sites, and paying homage to the teachings at Sarnath is particularly powerful. To pay homage to the teachings all you have to do is remember them. Of course, you can’t think of all the Buddha’s teachings at once because they are infinite, so just think of one of them, for example, “All compounded phenomena are impermanent,” and con- template its meaning for a while. In the same way that swim- ming in a tiny bay or along the coast counts as swimming in the ocean, thinking about just one teaching the Buddha gave counts as remembering the teachings. If you like you can also read sutras, shastras, and biographies of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, all of which necessarily contain the dharma. Basically, try to remember and appreciate that a path that has the power to transcend samsara and remove all our defile- ments actually exists. Kushinagar Kushinagar is where the Buddha entered parinirvana, and is said to be where he died and his body was cremated. Passing into parinirvana is, of all the Buddha’s teachings, the one that makes the most impact on our minds because it transcends all our concepts about birth, old age, sickness, death, time, increasing, decreasing, sam- sara, and nirvana. Those of us who have not yet woken up to our true nature are still bound by time, space, quantity, and speed, unlike those who have entered parinirvana and cannot be bound by any kind of dualistic phenomena. Ultimately, our purpose in following a spiritual path is to experience the awakened state completely free from igno- rance, never again to fall back into a samsaric frame of mind. Unfortunately, it’s a state that is extremely difficult to express in words, and it’s also impossible intellectually to grasp its stePhenr.lasKy(Bottom)BoJayatilaKa,(top)stePhenr.lasKy The Mahaparinirvana Stupa, Kushinagar The reclining statue of the Buddha in the Mahaparinirvana Temple in Kushinagar ➤ continued page 90