Buddha’s passing

“Ruins of ancient cities recall flourishing civilizations established more than 2,000 years ago in what is now Sri Lanka. The nearness of India had great influence on Sri Lanka’s development. Both the Sinhalese and Tamils trace their roots to peoples who came over from India, and it was from India that both Buddhism and Hinduism spread to the island.”
(Children’s encyclopedia)
There are, in different countries, several statues depicting the Buddha as he passed into nirvana. The one above is from Sri Lanka. I also visited one in India. I will say a few words about that later.
This one below is from Bangkok.
We are so accustomed to seeing statues of the Buddha seated in meditation or teaching and also at times standing but I have never seen any reclining Buddhas in the West.

There was a page in my Indian journal which I left out and it was about how I spent the Holy Week. I was travelling in the South and had been to visit AroroVille, the place of Sri Aurobino and the Mother. I visited Goa and was surprised at how much influence the Portuguese had left there. There were quite a few Catholic churches including one which housed the body of St Francis Xavier. His body was in a glass casket and one could come quite close to see it. He was a very short man and all dressed in his priestly garments.
I remember being invited to someone’s home for a meal and to my surprise was served a glass of red wine. On the same street there was a bakery that made croissants. I thought this part quite French and I have to do some reading up of my history of India.

I was staying in a Franciscan monastery for the time of the Holy Week and my plan originally was to spend Easter with them. The ceremonies of Holy Week were quite impressive but I did not feel comfortable with some of the customs. I hope they may have changed over the years.
There was quite several processions in the streets re-enacting Jesus’ journey to Calgary.

They had a huge sculpture of Jesus with lots of red paint to show how much blood he was losing and it was really a horrific thing carried through the streets. I remember seeing a little child with her mother standing near the door to their home and watching as this procession went by. I thought that maybe it was a Hindu family and I wondered what they must have thought. Here was the God of the Christians being dragged through the streets and people following in procession and saying the rosary.

That very day I left Goa and travelled on my way to Delhi! I wanted to get away as far as possible. I had an address of a Christian community called “The Brothers of the Resurrection” and to their place I headed. The abbot was a good friend of Fr.Bede Griffiths and I had a good letter of recommendation.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with the reclining Buddha. Well on my route to Delhi, it was quite a traject. I wanted to go by bus and the only fast route I could take was to travel to a place called Ajanta and from there, I was told, I could get a bus.

The Ajanta Caves (Ajiṇṭhā leni; Marathi: अजिंठा लेणी) in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India are 30 rock-cutcave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to the 600 CE. The caves include paintings and sculptures considered to be masterpieces of Buddhist religious art (which depict the Jataka tales)[1] as well asfrescos which are reminiscent of the Sigiriya paintings in Sri Lanka.[2] The caves were built in two phases starting around 2th century BCE, with the second group of caves built around 600 CE.[3]
Since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The caves are located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, near Jalgaon, just outside the village of Ajinṭhā(20°31′56″N 75°44′44″E). Caves are only about 59 kilometers from Jalgaon Railway station (on Delhi – Mumbai, Rail line of the Central railways, India); and 104 kilometers from Aurangabad (from Ellora Caves 100 Kilometers).
(Wilkepdia notes)

As things happen, I arrived in the afternoon and took a quick tour of the caves before boarding the bus to Delhi. If ever you have a chance to visit this place., it is indeed a wonder of the world. How did these monks build such monasteries carved inside the rock. They had no instruments as we have today.
There are paintings also, showing the life of the Buddha from his birth to his passing. As we came to the place of the Buddha’s passing, the guide was explaining and I will always remember as the tour ended there, I thought, at that time many Christians were also doing the “way of the cross’ which led to the crucifixion of Jesus and here I was, contemplating the passing away of the Buddha!
I thought of myself as being a rather original Christian. It was one of those moments when one steps out of oneself and looks at himself and says “what would the brothers say if they saw you now?”
So how could I ever forget the reclining Buddha?

See him here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulveltman/4627085663/


Statue of a reclining Buddha carved on the wall of the ancient Buddhist rock temple (Mahayan Chaitya-Griha Cave Temple) Ajanta Caves near Aurangabad India. 5th-6th Century AD.

We go through many changes in our lives. We know that this very body is continually changing. On another level, the world around us leaves us its impressions and changes us.

In the caves, the monks carved the Buddha from birth as a child, as he grows and eventually goes to the forest and receives enlightenment and then he begins to teach and in the end he lies down and passes away.
As they carved, the hard rock changes through their hands to depict a story in the life of a man. As we sat and looked at the different statues, at times we forgot that we were looking at stone. The artists were able to capture the serenity in the face of the Buddha as he meditated that only someone who experienced meditation could do.
The very face of the Buddha in meditation had something to change our busy mind and take us in. What the hands of the artist did, so too the hands of time carve and shape us as we are transformed into being whatever the artists so desire us to be.
In the video below, see how the famous Catholic monk Thomas Merton expresses so beautifully the change that he experienced in Asia,


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