Lumbini: Looking for Buddha’s Birthplace

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Visiting Osho Jetban in Lumbini, Mahika Mahiya learns the difference between the tourist-trap ‘Disney Buddha’ temple and the real Maya Devi Temple. (Part 2)

Road leading from Osho Jetban to Buddha's birthplace
Road leading from Osho Jetban to Buddha’s birthplace

In Lumbini for only three days, I got caught up on 2500 years of Buddhism where it all began.

On my second day at Osho Jetban International Commune in Lumbinī, I was naturally high on meditation and consumed with finding Buddha’s birthplace. While I would never ever hail a stranger for a motorcycle ride, something made me leap out on the street here. I spontaneously waved down a handsome man on a scooter and asked him to take me to Buddha’s birthplace. Very sweet and full of laughter, he kindly said, “Jump on!”

I wrapped my arms around this total stranger, loving his muscular body, and we tore off down the dirt road, leaving a wake of dust. His friends along the way waved and gawked with big eyes. I loved the roar of the engine and was thrilled to be on my way. I had never felt so alive and trusting – in the words of Osho:

“Direction is something alive, in the moment. It knows nothing of the future, it knows nothing of the past, but it throbs, pulsates here and now. And out of this pulsating moment, the next moment is created. Not by any decision on your part – but just because you live this moment and you live it so totally, and you love this moment so wholly, out of this wholeness the next moment is born. It is going to have a direction. That direction is not given by you, it is not imposed by you; it is spontaneous. That’s what the Bauls call sahaja manush, the spontaneous man.”

I totally ignored my mind asking why I was being such an idiot to grab a total stranger and ride so freely without a helmet. The answer was simple – Buddha calls.

Ten minutes later, the nice biker dropped me at an ornate gate where I was met by friendly staff. They all confirmed that, yes, yes, yes, this was indeed Lord Buddha’s birthplace, where Queen Maha Maya Devi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama in year 563 BCE. They led me into a stuccoed building that had tile floors and murals of Bodhisattvas, Lord Buddha, and a few photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But the overall impression was somewhat plastic, like an airport lounge.

My soul was straining to connect but there was no spiritual vibe whatsoever. “Hey, wait a second!” my psyche screeched, “This is a modern building from the 1960s, certainly not a centuries-old site!” I took refuge anyway, said a few mini-chants and grabbed a cab for my return. Had I come thousands of miles for… this?

Back at Osho Jetban, I looked for my super-wonderful new friends Nagarjuna and Tirtha, amazing students that are so smart they could save the world. They asked about my little adventure and lightly scolded me for riding with a stranger, who it turns out was a friend of a friend of a friend, so he was okay after all. I told them I had been to Buddha’s birthplace, but something was not quite right.

During the sweetest interrogation, they laughed like crazy. They didn’t want to call me a dumb tourist or tell me I had dirty karma, but I had been dropped at a tourist trap they call ‘Disney Buddha’. It was not the real Maya Devi temple, the birthplace of Buddha. Truly foiled, I loved seeing them laugh so hard they were falling over.

Map Northern India

Nagarjuna took me under his wing and promised to take me to the real birthplace the next morning. Online, I studied up, found the correct address, and learned: Every year, over a million seekers visit Lumbini in the Rupandehi District of Province No. 5 in Nepal. Lumbini’s Maya Devi Temple is one of four major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists and seekers. The other three are Bodh Gaya – where Buddha became Enlightened, Sarnath – where Buddha first taught the Dharma and the first sangha began, and Kushinagar – where Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana.

Nagarjuna
Maya Devi temple and pond
Inscription on Ashoka pillar in Lumbini
Buddha depicted by raindrops at Maya Devi Temple
Nativity Sculpture 4th century CE

Next morning, I was ready. The second motorcycle ride to Buddha’s birthplace was relaxed and comforting. I had my arms around a real friend, a magical guide, and we were going to the real birthplace of the real Lord Buddha. Walking through the ruins, we gingerly approached the sacred place of the ancient Maya Devi Temple, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring other remnants of stupas and monasteries. Most fascinating, outside the temple, a sandstone pillar erected in 249 BC was inscribed with a record of Gautama Buddha’s birth in 623 BC, thanks to King Ashoka from India.

Prayer Flags
Maya Devi excavations
The Marker stone, Buddha's birth place
PIlgrims at Maya Devi Temple

Inside the temple, it looked like archaeological digs were underway. On wooden scaffolding, we walked high above the precise place where it is said the Buddha was born. I found my soul very present – stretching, reaching, grasping to really hear and see the invisible birthing of baby Buddha happening below.

The whole day of exploring the very sacred place of Lumbini was profound, thanks to Nagarjuna, a living buddha in action. When I thanked him for a very special day, he surprised me with his signature high radiance, saying, “I am doing this for Humanity.”

Quote by Osho from The Beloved, Vol 1, Ch 6, Q 1

Read first part: Sacred Memory at Osho Jetban in Lumbini

Mahika Mahiya

Mahika Mahiya is a travel writer; her latest book, Soul Time in Nepal – Contemplations on Osho, Buddha and Arun will be published soon.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, photos from internet
Photos of Pilgrims thanks to National Geographic
Photos of Prayerflags and Nativity Sculpture at Maya Devi Temple thanks to IndiTales.com

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