Bodh Gaya is the most important Buddhist site I have ever visited and one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists in the world.
It’s where Buddha attained enlightenment.
I spent around 1 week in Bodh Gaya attending seminars that were on at the time with renowned Buddhist monks giving talks on Buddhsim, meditating by the Mahabodhi Temple and inside others, and studied more about Buddhism through books and talks.
I had journeyed down from Sikkim in the north where I was meditating with Tibetan monks in monasteries to learn more about Buddhism in Bodh Gaya.
This post is dedicated to my wifes late father, Ati, who was born in Bodh Gaya:
Buddhism in Bodh Gaya
Mahabodhi Temple (Great Awakening Temple)
And the Temple Complex
The Mahabodhi Temple is where I spent most of my time in the area.
It’s the heart of Bodh Gaya as this is the main pilgrimage site to visit for Buddhists, as this is where buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.
The bodhi tree next to the temple is a direct descendant (around 5th generation) of the bodhi tree Buddha attained enlightenment under.
The temple was apparently initially built by Emperor Ashoka in 300 a.d. but had fallen into disrepair over time and been destroyed in the 11th century.
It was restored in the late 19th century but some aspects still date back to the original 3rd century structure.
Time will always preserve something…
The temple complex in which the Mahabodhi Temple resides has many a place to find some solitude and peace for meditation despite the crowds that sometimes appear.
I found sitting in a grassy area the perfect spot to relax.
Around the complex are other places important to the buddha story there as they represent other key elements where Buddha was before and after enlightenment.
Buddhist boy watches sunset from Mahabodhi Temple.
Monks from different sects of Buddhism meditate on the grassy area nearby the Mahabodhi Temple.
The temple complex edition park opens at sunrise and closes around sunset.
At sunrise or sunset is the best time to visit for the complete serene ambience and also you can hear monks chanting.
The Bodhi Tree
The Bodhi Tree descended from the tree Buddha attained enlightenment under.
Tibetan Buddhism in Bodh Gaya
The main Buddhist group I came in contact with while at Bodh Gaya was Tibetan Buddhist monks.
This was mainly because they were the most prevalent there but also because I had meditated at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the Himalaya in Sikkim (article on that experience, opens in new tab) as I was mostly interested in their version of Buddhism.
Having said that I was also studying some of the other sects buddhist ways, such as Zen.
When learning something it’s always best to understand all ways.
The Tibetan Buddhist monks are easy to tell as they all wear deep red robes.
Tibetan monks meditating.
Esoteric Tibetan buddhist art in the temple.
Tibetan monks carry flower pots to decorate around the Bodhi tree.
Tibetan monks leaving a speech by a highly respected monk.
Tibetan Refuges in India
Many Tibetans (10’s of thousands in recent decades) have come to India as refuges since the Chinese oppression in Tibet that started in the 1950’s when the communist party of China invaded Tibet.
The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetans who lives in McLeod Ganj near Dharamsala in Indias Himachal Pradesh region (also a place to visit for those interested in Buddhism and Tibet), has spoken for decades about the abuses and suppression of freedom for the people in Tibet.
To find out information and help support the Tibetan people you can learn more at Free Tibet.
Infographic from Free Tibet explaining the situation in Tibet (graphic credit: Free Tibet)
This is a good documentary about what the persecution of Tibetans and their culture has been like:
Zen Temple in Bodh Gaya
The difference between the Tibetan Buddhism style and Zen Buddhism from Japan is like night and day.
Whereas Tibetan Buddhism is very colourful Zen Buddhism is minimal and modest.
That could be a part of Japanese culture in general playing in as well (I spent several months travelling in Japan).
Theravada is one of the 2 main traditions of Buddhism and can be extinguished visually through the different styles of the temple and art.
The monks who follow Theravada Buddhism generally wear orange robes and is mainly practiced in south-east Asia (Thailand being very prevalent) and Sri Lanka.
Thai style Theravada Buddhist Temple.
Theravada monk praying at sunset.
This article explains in much more detail the different schools of Buddhism.
Studying Buddhism in Bodh Gaya
Studying Buddhism in Bodh Gaya is the ideal place to learn more about the philosophies and practice of Buddhism.
The environment, ambience, and access to studying materials and knowledge is perfect for the beginner interested in Buddhism and also for those more advanced in the ways of Buddhism.
With all the different schools of buddhism represented you can study whichever one you are more interested in, or learn about them all to help decide which one suits your life better.
The Giant Buddha of Bodh Gaya.
Monks, locals, and foreigners gather in the Mahabodhi Temple Complex to meditate.
A respected monk gives talks on Buddhism in Bodh Gaya.
Monks leave a teaching lesson.
The perfect place for meditation.
Books on Buddhism
Although I’m not a religious person I do enjoy studying different philosophies, which is what I see Buddhism as for a peaceful way of living and looking at life.
A way of thinking that is positive for the world.
While studying Buddhism in Bodh Gaya, apart from attending lectures by renowned Buddhists, I would love sitting in the green areas near the monasteries and reading books on Buddhism.
Reading ‘Old Path White Clouds’ in Bodh Gaya.
Generally I would read about the different philosophies between the different sects of Buddhism, like Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, etc.
Here’s a list of books I recommend for you to read to understand more.
I’ve listed only a few to give an idea of where to start if interested.
My all time favourite is the Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama.
Links (affiliate) to some of the best books about Buddhism you can find to read:
The Art of Happiness – By the Dalai Lama
Zen Mind, Beginners Mind – A book about Zen Buddhism that gives a good look into Zen. Quote from the book: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
The Heart of The Buddha’s Teaching – A great intro to the core teachings of Buddhism that you can incorporate into your everyday life.
Old Path White Clouds – The same author as The Heart of The Buddha’s Teaching which traces the life and teachings of the Buddha over 80 years.
Side Trip to Sarnath Deer Park
(The Birthplace of Buddhism)
Sarnath Deer Park is where Buddha first taught the Dharma (cosmic law and order) to his first followers.
Located around 300km away from Bodh Gaya and 10 km north-east of Varanasi it’s not a close side trip but you could head to Varanasi for 1 night and see it from there before coming back to Bodh Gaya.
Or if going to Varanasi after Bodh Gaya anyway wait until then.
If you’re short on time in Bodh Gaya then give it a miss, but if you’re very much into studying Buddhism and the important sites related to the history then it is an ‘essential’ trip, especially as it’s close enough.
Sarnath is an historical city although many of its important structures were destroyed or damaged over time.
These days some restoration has been done with the Dhamekh Stupa being the most impressive one amongst the archeological Buddhist remains of Sarnath.
The deer park gets it’s name from, you guessed it, all the deers in the park.
A Tibetan monastery and a Sri Lankan Buddhist temple can also be found there.
Also Sarnath is an important place in Jainism.
Although I don’t have any video of my time at Bodh Gaya this is one from the Dalai Lamas Youtube channel on his visit there in January 2020.
Bodh Gaya tourism is very popular but the main thing you will feel is the feeling of the Bodh Gaya pilgrimage vibe from the Buddhists there.
Getting to Bodh Gaya
The absolute best way to get to Bodh Gaya is by train.
The nearest main station is in Gaya not far from Bodh Gaya and this station will connect you with all the main cities in Bihar you may come from.
Kolkata, New Delhi, Varanasi, Patna, all go to the area.
You can check Indian train times here.
Useful links for Bodh Gaya and Indian travel:
You can find places to stay in Bodh Gaya here (Agoda booking site, my favourite for India).
For the best guidebook for India pick up the Lonely Planet India.
Read more about India and Buddhism in my post about travelling in Sikkim in the Himalaya and visiting old Tibetan Buddhist monasteries on a road trip through the area.
I use World Nomads for travel insurance (get a quote with that link).
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