Lumbini: The Land Dear to Buddhas

Features Issue 89 Jul, 2010
Text by Amendra Pokharel / Photo: Ganyin Rai/LDT

Marijuana, mountains or moskha? Ask tourists visiting Nepal and most will admit that one or the other or all of the three as their definite quest in the country. One phrase, therefore, can sum-up the reason behind the visit of most, if not all, of the tourists coming to Nepal—to feel high. All three: marijuana, mountains and moksha (nirvana in English), guarantee a peculiar ‘high feel’ in their own way.

Despite a ban on its use here, it is never too difficult, even for a first time visitor, to find marijuana. Mountains, likewise, are doled out in the form of tour packages to anybody who is faintly recognizable as a tourist. You will also find people trying to sell nirvana with dhyana (meditation) or yoga as the stepping stone, to be practiced at their spiritual centers where all one can get is a few hours of relaxation. Those seeking marijuana and mountains, therefore, go home elated more often than not. But the chances of the serious seekers of moksha returning satisfied are nil. For moksha is not available in packages! By the same token, the high feel those in the pursuit of moksha experience is unrivalled. But one has to strive for it.

If you go by the teachings of the Buddha, there is no better field to strive in than inside one’s own body. So if it is one’s own body where one has to seek nirvana, then why visit Nepal or, for that matter, any other place of pilgrimage?

Inspiration! Breaking the vicious cycle of birth and death is a very long and tedious process as it involves numerous stages where, more than anything else, you need inspiration. The Enlightened One, of course, knew it centuries ago when he was preaching Dharma and helping his disciples practice the arduous path to nirvana. So while the hour of his mahaparinirvana (leaving of the body by the enlightened ones) approached, the Buddha said to his disciples:

After my death, O monks, people will come to circumambulate and venerate my caiytas saying: here the Venerable One has been born; here the Venerable One has attained enlightenment; here the Venerable One has turned the threefold, twelve-spoked lawful wheel; here the Venerable One has gone to the realm of complete nirvana.

Siddhartha’s Footsteps
The way of Bodhisattvas (the Seekers)

The Buddha was born a Sakya prince in Kapilavastu, a small village 18 miles northwest of Lumbini. Since, as a prince, Siddartha spent 29 years of his life in the ancient village of Kapilavastu, or modern day’s Tilaurakot, all the incidents that eventually impelled him to find solutions to the eternal problems that caused suffering in all living beings took place here.

The luxury and comforts his father Suddhodhana, the king of the Sakya kingdom, showered on the prince to keep him tethered to material pursuits, convinced Siddartha, instead, of its futility very early in life. It was also here that he felt the first pangs of compassion, fundamental to all his post-enlightenment teachings. Once he refused to hand an injured crane over to his cousin, Devadatta, whose arrow had wounded the bird. Instead, he argued successfully at the royal court that life belongs to the one who protects and not to the one who tries to kill. On seeing illness, old age and death on various occasions, Siddhartha refrained from princely pleasures as he realized that his body, though capable of enjoying, is also susceptible to the sufferings that he saw. It was here that he entered into the state of trance for the first time sitting under an apple rose (Jambu) tree, the shadow of which refused to move in accordance to the sun to provide shade to the soon-to-be Buddha. And it was here on seeing a serene face of a hermit that he became certain that the best way to search the end of suffering was as a wandering mendicant or a monk.

Since the tranquil air and hushed surroundings of Lumbini still conveys the tenacity of Siddhartha’s contemplation, the land is a great inspiration to anyone seeking enlightenment. The place also holds special significance not only to the followers of Buddhism, but to everyone who wishes to attain enlightenment or at least hopes to get initiated on to the path. But Siddhartha was not the only Buddha to have descended or walked on the soil of Lumbini.

Following the Footsteps of the Enlightened Ones
When the Buddha was about to pass away, he said

I am not the first Buddha to come upon earth, nor shall I be the last. Previously there were many Buddhas who appeared in this world.”

Krakuchchhanda & Kanakamuni:

The other Buddhas Born in Lumbini
The seven Buddhas, all of the same lineage to which Siddhartha belonged, are Vipassi, Sikhi, Vessabhu, Krakuchchhanda (also Kakusandha or Kosunda), Kanakamuni (also Konagamana), Kassapa and Siddhartha.

The last four belong to bhadrakalpa (where bhadra means fortunate and kalpa is an immeasurable time span or eon), which is the on-going kalpa. Buddha Krakuchchhanda was the first Buddha of the Fortunate eon. Lord Gautama Buddha, as per Mahapadanasutta, said that Lord Krakuchchhanda Buddha lived for 40,000 years, and helped 40,000 monks attain enlightenment, while Lord Kanakamuni lived for 30,000 years and helped 30,000 monks attain enlightenment.

Historically, all the Buddhas of the past have been born and spread the Dharma across the Nepalese Tarai and north Indian plains. While the Ashoka pillar has proved that Siddhartha was born in Lumbini, scholars believe that among the last four, except for Kassapa who was born in Varanasi (Benaras), the other two, Krakuchchhanda Buddha and Kanakamuni Buddha, were also born in Lumbini.

Speaking of the lineage of the Buddhas, Lord Gautama Buddha, in Mahapadanasutta, says:

“… The Lord Buddha Kakusandha’s father was the Brahmin Aggidatta, his mother was the Brahmin lady Visakha. The king at that time was called Khema; his capital was Khemavati. The Lord Buddha Konagamana’s father was the Brahmin Yannadatta, his mother was Brahmin lady Uttara. The king at that time was Sobha; his capital was Sobhavati. The Lord Buddha Kassapa’s father was Brahmin Brahmadatta, his mother was the Brahmin lady Dhanavati. The king at that time was Kiki; his capital was Varanasi. And now monks, my father was King Suddhodana, my mother was Queen Maya, and the royal capital was Kapilavatthu [Kapilavastu].”

In 1898, P.C. ‘Babu’ Mukherjee, deputed by the British government to find the location of Kapilavastu, confirmed the town of Aroarakot in Lumbini as Shobavati, the birth place of Kanakamuni Buddha, and that Gotihawa was Khemvati, the native place of Krakuchchhanda Buddha. He also claimed Tilaurakot to be the exact site of Kapilvastu.

Both Krakuchchhanda and Kanakamuni are said to have visited Kathmandu valley with their disciples to pay homage to Lord Swayambhu. During his visit to Swayambhu, Buddha Krakuchchhanda was served with great devotion and faith by one Jyotipala Bodhisattva, who was to be born later as Siddhartha, the Buddha familiar to our generation.

Mogallana and Sariputta
Aggasavakas, the Chief Disciples
The two standing monk figures carved at the entrance to the shrines of most monasteries are the Buddha’s chief disciples, Mogallana (or Maudaglyayana) and Sariputta (or Shariputra). Sometimes they are also seen inside the shrine, and in most Buddhist art depictions. Sariputta is seen standing on the right of Buddha and Mogallana on the left. Mogallana gained enlightenment within seven days of following the Buddha and possessed exceptional supernatural powers, whereas it took Sariputta another week to become enlightened. Supernatural powers were quite common among Buddha’s disciples. Buddha discouraged all of his disciples, except Mogallana, to use those powers. Mogallana, in one of his past lives, saw a paccheka (individual) Buddha who, not being very eloquent, used his super natural powers to explain the Dharma. Mogallana was impressed and vowed that he too would achieve supernatural powers to propagate the Dharma.

As his chief disciples (aggasavaka in the Pali language) who accompanied the Lord Buddha everywhere, Mogallana and Sariputta came to Lumbini when the Buddha visited Kapilavastu to meet his parents and kinfolk for the first time after attaining enlightenment. This visit is recorded in Buddhist tales. On the seventh day of the visit, Sariputta ordained Rahula, the son of the Lord Buddha. The stories describe Sariputta as Rahula’s preceptor and Mogallana as his teacher.

Mogallana, based on the stories on the life of the Buddha, can be said to have visited Kapilavastu at least one more time. When the armies of Viruddhaka surrounded the warriors of the Sakya clan, Mogallana attempted to save them using his magical power. The Buddha tried to dissuade Mogallana saying it was of no use, but he went ahead. Mogallana flew into the city of Kapilavastu and used his supernatural powers to
transform 500 Sakyas to fit into his alms bowl, and flew out of the city to a safe spot. However, when he opened the bowl to recover the men, he found it full of blood. Mogallana realized that supernatural powers cannot overcome Karma. Buddha explained to him that this was due to the past bad Karma of the people in Kapilavastu.

In 1951, King Tribhuwan, accompanied by Bhikshu Amritananda participated in the procession to receive the relics of Sariputta and Maudgalyayana from Sri Lanka.

Enlightened Ones among the Sakya Kinfolks
Ananda was the Lord’s cousin, Rahula his son, and Upali was the barber of the Shakya princes. All of them where born in Kapilavastu and, therefore, it can be safely assumed that like Lord Buddha, they too visited the city frequently after attaining enlightenment. They were ordained into the order of monks during the Buddha’s first visit to Kapilavastu after enlightenment.


Lord Buddha, in order to teach humility to the Shakya princes, ordained Upali before others of the royal lineages. Upali observed the precepts of the sangha (community) strictly and was frequently asked by the Buddha to settle disputes among the monks. The Buddha’s clarifications to Upali’s queries on the precepts and monastic way of life gave rise to many sutras. Vinaya Sutta, that lays out sangha discipline and moral code, was compiled with Upali’s help at the first Buddhist council.   


When the Buddha was returning after visiting his wife Yasodhara, she sent Rahula, their son, after the Lord. She had tutored Rahula that his father was destined to reign as a chakravarti raja (‘ruler of the world’), but he forsook it in order to become a monk. She urged Rahula to ask for his inheritance and seek the Lord’s blessing to become the chakravarti raja. When Rahula asked the Buddha for his inheritance the Lord, saying all material things he may receive in inheritance were subject to decay, offered Rahula the inheritance of Dharma. He then turned Rahula over to Sariputta and asked him to ordain him. Rahula was just seven and was ordained as a samana (a novice monk). King Suddhodana was saddened by the development, as he had hoped that Rahula would take over the throne after him. The king then appealed to the Buddha to make it a sangha rule in future not to ordain children without their parents’ consent, to which Lord Buddha agreed. Rahula died before his mother, who in turn died before the Buddha.

Ananda was the son of Amitodana, the brother of the Buddha’s father, Suddhodana, and hence the Lord’s cousin. He was ordained along with his brother Anuruddha and his cousin Devadatta. Ananda is credited with helping to establish the order of nuns and to record Buddha’s teachings at the first council. Ananda, it is said, could remember anything he had once heard up to fifteen thousand stanzas of sixty thousand lines. Ananda was the Buddha’s personal attendant for more than 25 years, but he did not attain enlightenment until after the Buddha’s parinirvana. The Buddha is reputed to have said that “Should Ananda die without attaining enlightenment, in his next birth, by his virtue of piety on this, would seven times win the rule over the devas (gods) and seven times be the king of Jambudipa (most of Asia). Ananda, though, in this very life will attain Nibbana [Nirvana].”

Due to his closeness to the Buddha, the bhikshus (monks) urged Ananda to ask Buddha that after his final nirvana: Who shall be their teacher? Where should monks focus their minds on? How would the evil people be subdued? And, how can they instill faith in the followers on the compiled sutras?

Buddha replied: “Ananda, you and everyone should regard the precepts as your teacher; focus your minds on the four places of mind dwelling; when you meet evil people, respect and do not react to their provocations; when you compile the sutras, put the first phrase as ‘Thus I have heard’. As long as you follow the Dharma, the Buddha will be with you.”

After the Buddha’s death the sangha severely criticized Ananda for failing to ask the Buddha to live longer. Three months before the death of Buddha, on three occasions, the Lord had indicated to Ananda that he could postpone his parinirvana, if requested. Since it would be unbecoming for the Buddha to himself desire to prolong his life, he said to Ananda: “Ananda, whosoever has fully developed the Iddhipada—Four Paths of Accomplishment, he could, if he so desires, remain in the same birth for a kappa (kalpa) and a little more.” Buddha, of course, had already mastered Iddhipada and, therefore, was openly hinting at himself. But during the last days of the Buddha, Ananda was weighed down with grief and not always mindful; hence, he could not comprehend the Buddha’s hints and failed to entreat the Buddha to postpone his parinirvana. Had Ananda figured out the meaning of the Buddha’s indication, scholars say, the kalpa (eon) we are in would have been different!

Following the Footsteps of the Inspired Ones
The Prominent Pilgrims
King Asoka’s Visit

In 249 BC, on the 20th year of his coronation, the Mauryan emperor Asoka visited Lumbini accompanied by his royal preceptor Upagupta. Asoka was filled with remorse for being the cause of the death and devastation of millions of lives during the Kalinga war. In order to atone for his misdeeds, Asoka urged Upagupta to guide him to all the places where Lord Gautama Buddha had sojourned. The first place they visited was Lumbini.

He erected a stambha (pillar) and had his visit engraved on it as a typical Mauryan inscription. One line within the inscription—“Hida Buddha jate Sakyamuni” (Here the Buddha of Sakya clan was born)—proved once and for all the Buddha, indeed, was born in Lumbini.

The full inscription on the Asokan pillar reads:
Devanapiyena piyadsina lajina visativasabhisitena atana agaca mahiyite hida buddha jate sakyamuni ti silavigadabhi ca kalapita silathabhe ca usapapite hida bhagavam jate ti lumminigame ubalike kate athabhagiye ca

“King Priyadarsan, who is dear to the gods, came here in twentieth year following his coronation and paid reverence. Thinking here the Buddha, the muni of Sakya clan, was born I caused a bathing pond of stone to be made and a pillar of stone to be erected. Thinking here the Lord was born, I exempted the village of Lumbini from taxes and had it receive the eight rights.”

Chinese Pilgrims
Three earliest Chinese pilgrims to visit Lumbini are Tseng Tsai in 4th century AD, Fa-Hien in 5th century and Hiuen-Tsang in 7th century. Their travel accounts written in Chinese are translated to English in a book entitled The Places Where Siddartha Trod: Lumbini and Kapilavastu by Max Deeg (2003).

When Tseng Tsai visited Kapilavastu, the descendents of king Suddodhana still lived in the city. His travel account says, “The city and its pond are deserted and dirty, there being only empty space. There are some upasakas (devotees), about twenty households of the Sakya family; they are the descendents of king Suddodhana.” Tseng Tsai saw the ashoka tree under which the Buddha was born. “King Asoka made out of lapis lazuli a statue of the queen in the act of grasping the tree and giving birth to the prince. The branches of the tree are old and they still shelter the statue,” says his travel account of the famous tree and the statue of the nativity. When Siddhartha was born two nagas (serpent deities) spewed warm and cold water to bath him. In his account Tseng Tsai says, “They produced two pools. Even nowadays the one is cold and the other is warm.”

A Chinese monk, Fa-hien, visited Kapilavastu in 5th century AD. His travel account says that in Kapilavastu he saw stupas at several places to commemorate events in the life of Buddha, and “In the whole city there is neither king nor population, and there are many mounds and much destruction. Only a few monks and ten families live here.” In Lumbini, he saw the tree under which the Buddha was born and the water pool (the holy pond, Puskarni) where Mayadevi bathed before giving birth to Buddha. “On the spot where his (the Buddha’s) body was washed a well was built, and from the pond in which Mayadevi bathed the monks still drink today,” says Fa-hien.

In 7th century, another Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen-Tsang, visited Lumbini. The travel account he wrote mentions the bathing pool, the Asoka pillar with horse capital, the tree under which Buddha was born, a spring of hot and cold water and many stupas built to mark the events that occurred during the nativity period of Lord Buddha. He also saw the Telar (oily) river flowing towards the east of the tree under which Lord Buddha was born.

The Visits of Nepalese Kings
The names of Jitari Malla (287-89 AD) and Ripu Malla (1312 AD) were also engraved (later) on the Asoka pillars at the Lumbini garden and Nigalihawa. The one inscribed during Ripu Malla’s visit reads “Om mani padme hum, shree Ripumallaschiran jayatu, 1234”. The first part of the inscription is a Mahayana Buddhist prayer and the later part translates into ‘Ripu Malla, be victorious for long time,1234’. The year 1234 in the Sakya era corresponds to 1312 AD.

King Mahendra visited Lumbini on February 19, 1956. He was the first king of Nepal to visit Lumbini with an intention of paying homage to Lord Buddha. He floated the idea of the Lumbini Master Plan to Mr U Thant, Secretary General of United Nations, during U Thant’s visit to Nepal and Lumbini in 1967. Mahendra’s enthusiasm convinced U Thant that the project was well worth carrying out. The Secretary General then helped form a UN committee to develop Lumbini. Gradually many countries began showing interest to join in to support the development activity and within a few years work to complete a plan was on.

Esa Maggo Visuddhiya
This is the Path of Purification
It is believed that during the 45 years he preached, Lord Buddha helped some 1,250 of his disciples attain enlightenment. This was a remarkable feat to have been achieved in such a short period of time considering what Buddha said about enlightenment:

Rare is birth as a human being, hard is the life of mortals; hard is the hearing of the sublime truth, rare is the appearance of the Buddhas (the enlightened ones).

This verse, compiled in Dharmapada (the path of Dharma), goes well with the saying that among several millions only one million are worthy; among one million worthy only ten thousand strive; among the ten thousand who strive only one thousand follow the right path; and among the one thousand on the right path only one attains enlightenment.

One of the very first verses Buddha spoke immediately after attaining enlightenment is:

Sabbe sankhara anichchati, Yada pannaya passati
Atha nibbindati dukkhe, Esa maggo visuddhiya

All conditioned things are impermanent. When this is perceived with wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with what cannot be satisfied. This is the ‘path of purification’.

The Buddha, therefore, spent considerable time searching for the worthies and never missing those who he was certain would attain enlightenment if they were initiated to the path.

It is said of the Buddha’s routine that in the third watch of the night (2am-6am), he surveyed with his divine eye to see if there were beings who would benefit from his visit that day. This way by the time of his parinirvana, the Buddha had ordained thousands; and millions more were ordained by his disciples. Buddha knew very well that not all ordained by him or by his disciples were going to attain nirvana. His intention was to inspire and initiate as many people as possible towards the path of enlightenment. That is also the reason why he accepted lay disciples.

The order of the monks that he established, therefore, was to provide the serious ones among his disciples a space where they could practice the path to enlightenment and not to set up a religion.

Many people believe that Buddhism is not a religion. The monks were required only to observe some rules and meditate. There were no rituals or prayers involved; at least not when the Buddha was alive. Buddha also admonished his disciples not to address him as ‘Lord’ or ‘God’, preferring instead to be called as teacher or tathagata, someone who sees things in their essence.

The article is partly written and partly compiled referring to various sources from the internet, books and subject matter experts. The readers are advised not to consider this article as an authoritative writing on Buddhism. The writer appreciates the help of Bidur Dangol of Vajra Books for his help during the course of research.