Buddhagayā, or BodhGayā as the Indians call it, is the most sacred place to the Buddhists the world over. For it was here that the Master at the age of thirty five attained Supreme Enlightenment (anuttaraṃ sammā sambodhiṃ). It is recorded in the Buddhist texts that the Prince Gotama, at the age of twentynine, renounced wife and child, his father and a crown that held the promises of power and glory, and in the garb of an ascetic retreated into the solitude of the forest in quest of the eternal verities of life. Accompanied by five other ascetics he practised severe asceticism on the bank of the Nerañjarā at Uruvelā near Gaya. Strenuously and zealously struggling for six long years, he came to death’s very door. But selfmortification could not lead him to the desired goal. Abandoning asceticism and extreme fasting, he partook of food. His five companions, disappointed, forsook him. Then, unaided by any teacher, save fixed determination, unflinching energy, and complete faith in his own purity and power, and accompanied by none, the Bodhisatta resolved to make his final quest in complete solitude. Crosslegged he sat under the Bodhi tree at Uruvelā—“a pleasant spot, soothing to the senses and stimulating to the mind” making the final effort with the inflexible resolution: “Though only my skin, sinews and bones remain, and my blood and flesh dry up and wither away, yet never from this seat will I stir, until I have attained full enlightenment SammāSamBodhi.” (Excerpt Bodhi Leaf 8 - The Four Sacred Shrines also included in Collected Bodhi Leaves Volume I)
When Siddārtha reached Uruvelā, he found the land, the woods, the river and the village delightful. He felt that this was an ideal place for meditation. This makes it clear that he loved beauty in nature. In fact, his narration makes it clear that peaceful and pleasant surroundings are helpful on the journey to the highest goal.
Thus have I heard. At one time the Lord was staying at Uruvelā, beside the river Nerañjarā beneath the Goatherds’ Banyan Tree, having just realized full enlightenment. At that time the Lord sat crosslegged for seven days experiencing the bliss of liberation. And when those seven days had elapsed the Lord emerged from that concentration. Then a certain haughty brahmin approached the Lord. Having approached, he exchanged polite greetings with him and stood to one side. Standing there that brahmin said to the Lord: “How, good Gotama, is one a brahmin and what are the things that make one a brahmin?” Then, on realizing its significance, the Lord uttered on that occasion this inspired utterance:
During the six years between his Great Renunciation and Enlightenment, the Bodhisatta first stayed a short while near Rājagaha, where
under the tutelage of Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta. After leaving these teachers, it is believed that Siddhattha spent much of his time in the Mahākala Cave on Pragbodhi Mountain, where he practised extreme austerities such as: clenching his teeth while pressing his tongue against the roof of his mouth as hard as he could; holding his breath; fasting or taking minimal amounts of food (such as one grain of rice or one kola fruit nut per day). Some of his other practices included eating cow or human dung, or only wild foods; wandering naked or wearing refuse rags or tree bark; pulling out his hair; standing or squatting continuously; sleeping on a mattress of spikes; not bathing, letting dust and dirt accumulate until it just flaked off; sleeping outside in all seasons in forests or charnel grounds; and keeping himself so isolated that if he heard or saw people coming, he would run away.
There are three stories behind the Sujātā Stūpa. The first and more popular is that it marks the spot of the home of Sujātā, the girl who fed the Bodhisatta rice pudding before his Awakening. The second, according to the Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang (pronounced Shwandzaang), is associated with the site where the Buddha lived in a past life as the ‘perfumed elephant’ (gandhahasti), with a sweet odour and the strength of ten ordinary elephants. The perfumed elephant’s mother was blind, so everyday he fed and bathed his mother with filial care. One day the king saw the magnificent creature and captured him. The king offered him the finest foods, but the elephant refused to eat. The king asked the elephant why he wasn’t eating, and he replied, “My mother is blind and hasn’t eaten or had anything to drink for days. How can I eat when she suffers?” The king felt pity for the elephant and set him free. The third story, according to some villagers, is that the stūpa marks the site of the Ajapāla Tree where the Buddha spent his fifth week after Awakening....
Behind the temple is the tree shrine believed to mark the spot where Sujātā offered rice pudding to the Bodhisatta. About 100 metres behind the Sujātā Tree Shrine on the bank of the Mohane River is a small shrine with a brightly painted Burmesestyle standing Buddha statue and an aquatic serpent king (nāgarāja), claimed to be where the Bodhisatta’s bowl floated upstream after he put it in the river, solemnly declaring, “If this bowl floats upstream, I will become Enlightened.”
The Buddha did not go far along the main road from the Bodhi Tree before he met a stranger, the ājīvaka (naked ascetic) Upaka, who was struck by the serene personality of the Buddha. Upaka addressing the Buddha said: “Pleasant and fully clear, friend, are your faculties of sense; your complexion is completely pure and bright. With whom have you gone forth? Or who is your teacher? Of whose teaching do you admit? On that, the Blessed One
spoke to Upaka the ājīvaka in verse,