Sarnath is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites not only in the inner circle of the Buddhist Circuit, but in the world. It was here that around 2,600 years ago the Buddha, for the first time in human history, shared his spiritual philosophy with others. The Buddha, born a human like any other, achieved enlightenment through years of patient, deliberate searching, bodily denial and meditation. Following his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, he sought to share his spiritual insights to bring peace to other humans. He crossed the Ganges in search of five former companions and found them meditating in the shade of a forest area known today as the deer park in Sarnath. It was there, in the lush and peaceful green of Sarnath, that the Buddha first shared the lessons of his enlightenment by teaching his former companions. They became his first disciples. After the first sermon, the Buddha and his five disciples embarked on a long journey for the “good of the many out of compassion for the world” spreading the philosophy of the Middle Way with humanity.
Kushinagar is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites not only in the inner circle of the Buddhist Circuit, but in the world. It was here that the Buddha spent the last days of his life. In the 45 years before his death, the enlightened Buddha wandered across an area in northern India equivalent to 200,000 square kilometers – from the Himalayan foothills in the north to the southern edge of the Ganges watershed; from Kankjol at the Bangladesh border in the east to Mathura in the west – meeting and sharing his teachings with as many people as possible. When at the age of 80 he reached the forests of Kusinara, today’s
Kushinagar, he understood that his final days were upon him. After consuming his final meal, he told Ananda, one of his principal disciples, to prepare a bed for him between two sal trees with the head facing north. Before entering Mahaparinirvana or “the great passing”, the Buddha sought to ensure his disciples had no concerns or questions about
his teachings, which they did not. With this, the Buddha left his earthly body.
For six days after his passing, the Buddha’s body laid in state as preparations for his funeral were made. On the seventh day, his disciples honored his body with perfumes and garlands and transported it a short distance away for cremation. Around two centuries later, the Emperor Ashoka honored the Buddha’s passing by building a stupa
at the cremation site in Kushinagar. The site, abandoned by Buddhist monks around 1200 CE, was rediscovered by archaeologist Alexander Cunningham and his successors in the late 19th century, together with a six-meter statue of the reclining Buddha that today is housed in a temple dedicated to the Buddha’s passing. The two points, the Mahaparinirvana temple and the cremation site, are today the two main attractions of Kushinagar, an important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists around the world.