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Get to Know the Buddhist Holy Lands: Sarnath and Kushinagar

3. First turning of the Dharma wheel in Sarnath

After attaining enlightenment, Gautam Buddha decided to teach the Dharma to deliver all sentient beings. Thus, he went from Bodhgaya to the Deer Park in Sarnath, where there resided five fellows who had practiced austerities with him. Gautam Buddha explained to them the Four Noble Truths: "the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering." The first one to comprehend the teaching was Ajñāta Kaundinya, who then became the first Bhiksu arhat in the history of Buddhism. In addition, the five fellows also became the first śrāvaka-disciples of Gautam Buddha. Starting from Sarnath, Gautam Buddha traveled through India, had preached the Dharma for 45 years, and delivered over 300 sermons, thus delivering countless disciples. He also instructed Buddhist monks to spread Buddhist teachings everywhere. In this way, the Buddhist flag has since then flown from Sarnath to all over the world. 

4. Great Parinirvana in Kushinagar 

At the age of eighty, in the company of several disciples, Gautam Buddha set forth on his last journey of Dharma spreading from Grdhrakūta (the Vulture Peak) in Rājagaha ("the City of Kings") to the Jetavana Vihara (Jetavana monastery). Together, they crossed the Ganges, arrived at Vaishali (the capital of Vajji Mahajanapada) where the Buddha spent his 45th rains retreat. Towards the end of his retreat, Gautam Buddha announced that he would pass into parinirvana within three months; whereupon, dragging a body that had just recovered from a serious illness, he continued his journey from Vaishali further to the northwest, to Malla. In Malla, the blacksmith Cunda gave Gautama Buddha a meal as an offering, which resulted in Gautama Buddha's severe diarrhea. In the end, Gautama Buddha, who was extremely exhausted, couldn't help but lie down and take a rest when arriving at the Śāla forest outside Kushinagar.

In the moonlight, Gautama Buddha mustered his last ounce of strength to enlighten and console his accompanying disciples with "Decay is inherent in all component things. Work out your salvation with diligence!", before passing into parinirvana peacefully in the grove of Śāla trees near Kushinagar.

Upon arriving in Kushinagar, one first perceives the white Mahaparinirvana Temple. In its main hall is a six-foot long reclining Buddha statue carved out of black rock during the Gupta Dynasty of the fifth century. The statue's whole body was covered with gold foil paper by pilgrims from all over the world and is also placed on a golden-yellow silk kāṣāya, with only his benevolent face and noble feet exposed. The thousand-spoked wheel sign appears on the soles of the Buddha's feet, symbolizing how the Buddha spent his whole life enduring the hardship of traveling across North India by foot to preach the Dharma, in order to benefit all sentient beings. 

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Get to Know the Buddhist Holy Lands: Lumbini and Bodhgaya

Get to Know the Buddhist Holy Lands: Sarnath and Kushinagar

Get to Know the Buddhist Holy Lands: Rajgir and Sravasti

Get to Know the Buddhist Holy Lands: Vaishali and Nalanda

Resource: Issue 368 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 368 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Translation: Dharma Drum Mountain Translation Team   
Editing: YKL, Keith Brown