Sarnath is one of the four sacred sites of the Buddhists. It has been mentioned in the Mahaparinirvana Sutta as the site where the Buddha turned the wheel pf the Dhamma. There are many reasons for writing this book. For one, in recent times no author has updated its history, and secondly the widespread demand for a comprehensive Guide Book. There was also an urgent need to present the deplorable state-of-affairs at this holy site. As far as possible, in very simple words, I have tried to explain the history of the site.
In the First Chapter I have described the Buddha's journey from Gaya to Varanasi, the meeting with the five mendicants who has been his partners in exploring the path to enlightenment at Gaya. Their acceptance of the theory of the four Noble Truths, the forming of the first Sangha and spending the first 'rain retreat' here. In the Second Chapter I have also given a 'layman's' explanation for the Four Noble Truths, and why following the path benefits the human race. The Third Chapter outlines the significance of sacred sites and explains how the Government of India has violated the Constitution of the country as well as the Charter of Human Rights. I sincerely hope the Government will review its policy and be more generous towards the Buddhist Pilgrims. The Fourth Chapter describes the contribution of the Buddhist kings to the art and architecture of Sarnath over a period of many centuries.
The Fifth Chapter recalls the devout exploration of the Chinese pilgrims who visited the Holy Land of the Buddha right from the fourth Century CE onwards. The Sixth Chapter, 'Archaeological Records of the Sarnath Site', tells the story of the rediscovery of Sarnath by the British during the nineteenth century. The Seventh Chapter takes the pilgrims on a visit to the ancient sites, describing the ruins in the Archaeological Park. The Eighth Chapter takes the pilgrims on tour to the Museum. As far as possible, I have mentioned most of the Buddhist images preserved there. The Ninth Chapter gives a brief description of the modern Buddhist monasteries at Sarnath. The Tenth and Eleven Chapters take the pilgrim into the world of ancient and modern Varanasi, giving one a glimpse of its past and present. Finally, the Twelfth Chapter describe Kausambi, the venue of the ninth 'rain retreat' of the Buddha. This Chapter definitely requires your attention as it is a site worthy of pilgrimage. Also included is a brief not on the need to create a Buddhist Archaeological Research Institute at Kausambi. I have also included a small introduction to The Buddhist Heritage Project and its commitment to the Preservation of forgotten Buddhist sites.
Sarnath today has been reduced to just another commercial venue, difficult to identify as the 'sacred site' where the Buddha turned 'the wheel of the law', spent the 'first rain retreat' and formed the very first Sangha comprising of 60 monks. One would expect to see pilgrims spending a number of days meditating at the 'ancient site' or chanting there in a week long 'prayer festival'. This cannot happen here. The reasons being that the Archaeological Survey of India does not allow free access for religious rituals and charges an entrance free Rs. 100 to non-Indians. The present trend of pilgrimage is that Buddhist devotees from all over the world come to the site on a fixed itinerary and leave without seeing everything or performing their rituals properly. I have often wondered why such a policy is meted out to the Buddhists only and not to other religions. Anyway, even if you do not see everything, this book hopefully will give you a complete picture of Sarnath. Varanasi and Kausambi, I sincerely hope the pilgrims will find it of value.
In the process of creating the book, I have been assisted by a number of people. To some of them I am indebted for the effort they have taken to work with me; among them is Reena Roy, an archaeologist in her field of endeavour. I am obliged to Joseph Speers and Cecilia, for reading the initial manuscript and suggesting changes, Ujjwal Bhattacharya for diligently typing the initial work, and Alvaro Enterria for designing the book as you see it now. I would also like to mention Ngawang Tsepag of Mahamuni Information and Reference Center, Sunita Maurya, Indira Singh, Alice Davidson, Joe Carter, my website designers Ruchi and Rajesh Dixit of Rangoli Creations and Valentino, Director of Alice Project, Sarnath. To these friends, I would like to say a very big 'Thank you' for all the help you have rendered to me. To my photographer friend Bhanu Bhaskar Keshri, I would like to offer my gratitude for the visual taken at the burning ghat. I am indebted to my friend G.S. Shakya, Managing Director, Bauddha Commune (International), and family at Allahabad for all the support they have rendered to me during my stay in this city. May the merit accrued of this book benefit the noble work being done by this good man.
The Buddhist Heritage Project, with which I have been associated since the year 2000, has helped me in innumerable ways to work on this book. I am also obliged to all the friends who have supported this venture in their own little way. As a Buddhist, concerned about how history is being distorted, I attempt to give you a meaningful book on the sacred site that tells the whole story as truthfully as possible.
This comprehensive and illustrated Guide Book deals with three Buddhist places: Sarnath, Varanasi and Kausambi. Its main focus, however, is Sarnath, the place where the Buddha "turned the wheel of dharma". After explaining the history of Sarnath, the author describes its main archaeological sites, monuments and temples. He than presents a picture of Varanasi and its ancient Buddhist heritage, and lastly makes a case for the rediscovery of Kausambi with its practically forgotten Buddhist heritage. Other information of interest is also included.
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