Shravasti—teachings in the Jetavana Grove - Part-03

    • Shravasti, Shravasti, Uttar Pradesh, India

Shravasti—teachings in the Jetavana Grove - Part-02

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Fa Hien found decay evident but was welcomed by resident monks, who were astonished to see a brother from the land of Han. Two centuries later Hsuan Chwang found the place deserted, but soon after his visit another revival occurred, as evidenced by the traces and images from the eighth and ninth centuries that remain. As in other places, the monastic tradition persisted here well into the twelfth century, when the muslim invasions became overpowering. Records show that Vidhyadhara, a minister to King Madanapala of Kanouj, built a vihara in 1119. An inscribed copper plate dated at 1130 found amongst the ruins states that the former king's son Govindacauda made a gift of six villages to Buddhabhattoraka and the monks of Jetavana.

The Jetavana Grove was a short distance south of the prosperous city of Shravasti, the capital of Koshala, which stood on the banks of the Achiravati River. Here Prasenajit had his palace, and close to it built a monastery. Nearby was the vihara of Mahaprajapati, who was Shakyamuni's stepmother and the first woman admitted to the Order. A short distance away is a large, ruined stupa marking the place where Angulimala the murderer attained arhantship and where his body was later cremated. Outside the city was a forest where once lived a community of 500 blind men, all of whom regained their sight when the Buddha came and preached to them.

Apart from these associations, Shravasti is best remembered as the place where Shakyamuni defeated the holders of other doctrines. Some accounts say this was accomplished by debate, others by miracles; perhaps there were both. The leaders of India's six main philosophical schools had challenged the Buddha to a contest of miraculous powers many times as he wandered through the surrounding kingdoms. Finally, in his fifty-seventh year he accepted at Shravasti. King Prasenajit built a hall especially for the event; in it seven thrones were erected. On the first day of spring, the six other teachers took their seats and Shakyamuni came to his, flying through the air. He sent forth fire and water from his body and the hall was destroyed, then reformed as a transparent palace. Planting his tooth-pick in the ground, he caused a great tree to spring up, fragrant and fully laden with flowers and ripe fruit. He multiplied his body infinitely, filling all space with buddhas expounding the Dharma. These and many other miracles he performed and in eight days utterly defeated his opponents, whose followers adopted the buddhist doctrines. For a further seven days he continued to show miracles and give teachings to the great assembly. Both Chinese pilgrims describe a tall temple containing a statue of Buddha, which stood outside Jetavana Grove in commemoration of these events. Nearby is the place where Devadatta, failing in his attempt to scratch the Buddha with poisoned nails, finally went down to hell.

Further south were various places associated with King Vaidraba, successor to Prasenajit, who destroyed Kapilavastu and killed many of the Shakyas within the Buddha's lifetime.

The ruins of Shravasti were rediscovered in 1863 by General Cunningham near the village of Sahet Market. The city ruins lie virtually untouched and are still enclosed by ramparts. The remains of the monasteries and stupas of Jetavana have been well excavated and the many images and other findings are contained in the Lucknow Museum. A new park has been created around these ruins with flowers and trees shading the lawns. In this case restoration has regained some of the qualities that made the place attractive of old; peace and tranquility pervade it. Three new buddhist temples have been built alongside the park, one of which was founded by two Burmese ladies and another by a Ceylonese monk. Both offer accommodation to pilgrims. A fine Tibetan stupa has recently been completed in the courtyard of this latter building.The third temple has a sad story. It was built many years ago through the efforts of a solitary Chinese monk, who, unfortunately, died before its completion. Now the Chinese temple and a seven-storied pagoda with a number of out-buildings are empty and locked, pending a legal decision of possession and responsibility. Apart from the intrinsic value of these constructions, it would be a fitting tribute to Fa Hien and Hsuan Chwang if they were to be restored and opened.

Continue to Part-04

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