In Search of the Buddha

A Pilgrimage through the Sacred Buddhist Sites of India and Nepal

November 5 - 23, 2020

Program Overview

Please join the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS) and Sacred Path on this once-in-a-lifetime journey through northern India and Nepal: In Search of the Buddha. Co-led by Dharma teacher Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia and Buddhist scholar Justin Kelley, this trip visits locations central to both the life of the historical Buddha and modern-day Buddhist communities, illuminating the rich history and contemporary dynamism of this region.
On our journey together, we will form a community based on a kind and mindful orientation towards ourselves and others. Our expert guides and teachers will help create this container and support you as you explore these inspirational sacred sites. As with all of our programs, this itinerary is imbued with a philosophy of ecological and social sustainability, making it supportive for everyone involved.

Program Itinerary

During our journey together, we will visit some of the most sacred sites of the historical Buddha, including: Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar. Each location represents a key component of the Buddha's life. Below are a few highlights to give you a better feel for where we will travel.

Lumbini

Sitting just north of the India-Nepal border, Lumbini is where the inspirational story of the Buddha's life began. Celebrated on the full moon of the fourth lunar month, it is said that the Buddha's mother--known as Mayadevi--gave birth to the Buddha under the shade of a Sala tree. Today, the UNESCO world heritage protected zone houses the temple commemorating the Buddha's birth, as well as over two dozen monasteries and/or shrines built by representatives of Buddhist countries around the world. This space offers a lovely opportunity to reflect on the powerful life of the historical Buddha.

Bodhgaya

Perhaps the most important site in all of Buddhist history, Bodhgaya commemorates the Buddha's enlightenment. Sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, Siddhartha Gautama saw clearly into the nature of reality, discovering the truths of suffering and dependent origination. Referred to in some traditions as the Indestructible Seat (Varjasana), the power of this space is palpable. Today, the Mahabodhi temple sits adjacent to the tree, allowing devotees from around the world to practice together. On this pilgrimage, we will sit together, reflect on the Buddha's powerful transformation, and discuss how it is pertinent to our lives today.

Sarnath

The location where the Buddha officially first turned the wheel of Dharma, Deer Park in Sarnath remains vibrant and inspirational. Wondering how the truths he discovered in Bodhgaya would be received by prospective students, the Buddha walked roughly two hundred and fifty kilometers eastward and reunited with his previous ascetic brethren. Upon meeting, the Buddha articulated the foundation of his teachings, recapped in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. This teaching on the four noble truths set in motion one of the most powerful religious movements in world history. While in Sarnath, we will contemplate the four noble truths and walk through this inspirational place alongside pilgrims from around the world.

Kushinagar

Kushinagar, as it is referred to today, is where the Buddha entered into parinibbana. Traveling north from Vaishali, the Buddha took what would be his final meal in Pava, roughly twenty kilometers to the southeast of Kushinagar. From here, he walked to his final resting place, disregarding his students' claims that Kushinagar was not worthy of the Noble One's paranibanna. Instead, he advised his students to gather. In his final moments, the Buddha advocated for his students to strive diligently towards liberation, remaining ardent and aware in each moment. He also spoke of the power of pilgrimage to the four sites mentioned here. While together, we will investigate this message and begin to unpack the ways it is pertinent to our lives today.

Leadership Team

Each member of our team brings deep expertise and profound life experience that will shape not only what you see but how you see it. From Gloria Taraniya’s wisdom of the Dhamma gained through nearly thirty years of teaching experience, to Justin’s wealth of experience garnered through his decade-long stay in south Asia, academic study of Buddhism, and deep commitment to the practice, and to Deepak’s unparalleled familiarity with this region, the leadership team on this program is as good as you will find. 

Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia

Dhamma Teacher

Gloria Taraniya began teaching the Dharma in 1990. Her primary training is within the Thai Forest Tradition, specifically with the disciples of Ajahn Chah. Prior to teaching, Gloria Taraniya spent the better part of two years in silent contemplation at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, where she later served as resident teacher for three-and-a-half years. Over the years she lived nearly four years in monasteries in the Ajahn Chah lineage (in the UK, USA and Thailand), supporting resident nuns and monks. She also trained as a lay Buddhist minister within this lineage at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in California and is a founding board member of Temple Forest Monastery in New Hampshire.

Gloria Taraniya served as a Core Faculty member at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies where she does most of her teaching. She was integral in the development of two signature programs of the Study Center: the Integrated Study and Practice Program and Entering the Path. This later program was the Center’s first foray into online learning. Gloria Taraniya co-authored Older and Wiser: Classical Buddhist Teachings on Aging, Sickness, and Death and has written numerous articles for Insight Journal, Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.

Deepak Anand

Expert Guide

Deepak Anand is native to the north-Indian state of Bihar and is a leading expert in classical Buddhist history and geography. He has coordinated numerous educational programs throughout the region, teaming up with organizations such as UNESCO, local and federal governments, and more. He also directs multiple organizations in the Rajgir/Nalanda area aimed at historic preservation of Buddhist heritage cites, as well as the betterment of living conditions for local populations.

Justin Kelley

Buddhist Scholar

Justin Kelley grew up on a farm in rural Massachusetts. In 2005, after graduating from Tufts University and working a short stint in land conservation, he picked up and left for India — the fantastic land of yoga and meditation. He had high expectations before leaving, imagining levitating yogis in remote caves, but these were quickly replaced with something more profound: a way of life in which everyday activities were imbued with spirit; a world in which people embraced their religious and/or spiritual faith. This led Justin to spend the next ten years living in India, Nepal, and southeast Asia, immersing himself in the cultures and studying Tibetan language, Buddhist philosophy, and various meditative practices. In 2015, he returned to the US and entered a doctoral program in Rice University’s Department of Religion with Dr. Anne C. Klein, professor of Religious Studies. Academia surprised him by providing applicable insights into the historical and philosophical developments within religion, which help him navigate his personal beliefs. His research interests include meditative and philosophical systems in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, phenomenology, and contemplative studies.

Throughout the years, he has taught courses on Buddhism and meditation in universities, high schools, dharma centers, and more, as well as designed pilgrimages for organizations such as Tricycle Foundation, Tergar International, and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. These journeys incorporates his three loves—indigenous Buddhist cultures, education, and personal transformation.

Program Details

Intention and Approach

Intention:

As with all Sacred Path programs, this program embraces the native environment and cultural surroundings participants will encounter in a way that enhances the experience of everyone involved. Furthermore, participants will engage in experiential learning processes that bring them closer into contact with themselves and their surroundings.

Approach:

In the spirit of both the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and Sacred Path’s integrated-learning models, this program incorporates a variety of teaching, contemplative, and relational methods aimed at drawing out the maximum benefit for the participants involved. They include:

  • Teaching: Both members of the program leadership, as well as local experts will provide information about the places and people we encounter.
  • Contemplation/meditation: Each location will include periods of both guided and silent meditation, as well as various types of movement aimed at uniting one’s mind and body in the most healthy and productive way possible.
  • Relational methods: In order to create a safe container for participants to engage in, teachers and guides will facilitate active-learning exercises, such as writing/journaling, small group work, interviews, and more. Often the stimuli of these locations can be overwhelming and the intention with these exercises is to provide spaces that help participants’ digest their experience.

Detailed itinerary

New Delhi

We begin (and end) our adventure in New Delhi where we will immerse ourselves in Indian culture. This period will include an afternoon orientation and get-to-know-each-other activities. New Delhi is filled with both historical monuments dedicated to India’s vibrant past, as well as contemporary expressions of Indian culture. It is the perfect place to get our feet wet.

Varanasi

Next, we head to the ancient Indian city of Varanasi, widely considered the most sacred Hindu site in India. During our time here, we will stroll along the Ganges River, witnessing millennia-old rituals that honor deities and family members that have passed away. This brief period is intended to set the scene for the religious and cultural milieu within which the Buddha’s teachings emerged.

Sarnath

On the outskirts of Varanasi is the sleepy village of Sarnath, where the Buddha taught his first sermon. Nestled within a handful of colorful temples are the remains of stupas constructed throughout history celebrating the Buddha and his disciples. This is where our pilgrimage begins to deepen, engaging more deeply with Buddhist sources and communities. In particular, we will spend time contemplating and meditating on the meaning of the first sermon offered by the Buddha: The Four Noble Truths.

Bodhgaya

From Varanasi, we head East to the state of Bihar, which houses the largest assembly of Buddhist sacred sites in the region. We begin our time here where the tradition began: Bodhgaya. This is the home of the Vajrasana—the indestructible seat where the Buddha reached awakening. This location is deeply inspirational, and, in turn, we will spend a number of days exploring the temple grounds, surrounding monasteries, and vibrant local villages.

After sitting in ruins for hundreds of years, the then British government of India began repairs on the temple in the late nineteenth-century. This cause was furthered during the twentieth century, and is continued today, by the Mahabodhi society, a group founded by Sri Lankan religious leader Anagarika Dharmapala. The Mahabodhi Society focuses on revitalizing Buddhist sacred sites in India.

Today, the temple is restored and governed cooperatively by the central Indian government and the Mahabodhi Society. As part of the preservation project, leaders from Buddhist countries around the world have built temples accordant to their respective traditions. These are just a few of the topics we will discuss while visiting this profound location.

While here, we will also visit other places of importance, such as: the Sujata Stupa, commemorating the young woman that gifted the Buddha rice pudding on the eve of his enlightenment; the Pragbodhi caves where the Buddha practiced austerities; and the Barabar hills, home to numerous retreat caves of masters throughout the centuries.

Rajgir

Prior to his awakening, the Buddha was invited by King Bimbasara of the Magadha kingdom to stay and advise him on religious matters. The Buddha, of course, refused as he had his sights set on something far greater: awakening. He did, however, promise to return to Magadha after he accomplished his goal. And, shortly after his famed night under the Bodhi tree, he did just this. Upon reuniting with King Bimbasara, the Buddha taught numerous sermons of significance, including the Heart Sutra at Vulture’s Peak in Rajgir (pictured above). During our time here, we will begin our close-reading of the Mahaparanibbana Sutta, which begins on Rajgir and outlines the death process of the Buddha. Each of these stories and texts come alive in new ways for the reader who has felt the wind on Vulture’s Peak. 

Nalanda

Widely considered the grandest, oldest, and most diverse university setting in the pre-modern world, Nalanda encapsulates the dynamism of Buddhist India like no other location. During our time here, we will stroll around the monastery remains, imagining the countless masters who are said to have resided and taught here. They include: Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, Shantideva, and more. We will also take time to reflect, contemplate, meditate, and discuss the content of their teachings, infusing them with our experience.

Vaishali

From Nalanda, we head north to Vaishali, following a path that the Buddha walked countless times, including his final adventure that led to his passing away. As we reflect on this final pilgrimage of the historical Buddha, we too will transition from the more populated regions to predominantly agricultural areas found in northern Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This will give us more time to immerse ourselves in Buddha’s teachings and allow us to digest this impactful material.

Vaishali is an essential location in the development of Buddhism as a religion as it is the place where the Buddha accepted women into the monastic order. This decision established Buddhism as an ecumenical tradition amidst the predominantly patriarchal culture of his era. We will consider this topic, specifically in light of various contemporary Buddhist traditions that are attempting to reinvigorate this core inclusive element.

Kushinagar

From Vaishali, we continue north, traveling through the village of Pava where the Buddha took his final meal from the village goldsmith, Cunda. Here, the Buddha knowingly accepted contaminated food in order to allow Cunda to create positive merit, but he insisted, however, that no one else but him be offered this food. We will spend time reflecting on this decision and reading about how his disciples received this news.

From here, we will continue traveling in the footsteps of the Buddha to Kushinagar, the place where the Buddha summoned his disciples, gave his final teaching, and passed away. During his final sermon, the Buddha urged his disciples to remain vigilant in the practice and strive earnestly. Currently, the town of Kushinagar is sleepy and relatively rural, allowing great opportunities to reflect on these profound instructions.

Lumbini and Kapilavastu

In many Buddhist traditions, it is said that when the Buddha was born he declared his arrival, proclaiming his aspiration to liberate beings from suffering. It is also said that after cultivating a sincere wish to understand reality directly, he left his native home, vowing only to return once his awakening was complete. When we visit this location, we will spend time reflecting on the profundity of this wish and contemplate the countless pilgrims who have followed in this tradition.

Today, Lumbini is home to one of the largest UNESCO world heritage sites in southern Asia. It houses monasteries and/or temples from nearly every indigenous Buddhist country. This location presents evidence of the plurality of Buddhism(s) that exist today. In turn, we will spend a couple of days wandering around the grounds, strolling between temples and sipping tea under sala trees, perhaps in the very place where the Buddha was born!

Sravasti

Our final destination is Sravasti, home to the famous Jetavana monastic grounds where the Buddha gave countless sermons and spent over thirty rains retreats. Today, Sravasti is a quiet village and houses only a couple of small restaurants and shops. While here, we will embrace the pace and settle in for a few days of more intensive reflection. Emulating the Buddha and his disciples, we will spend time calming our minds and opening our hearts, receiving teachings and engaging in reflective activities about the program.

Program Fee

  • The program fee is $5,150, of which $1,000 is a tax-deductible donation to BCBS
    • Single supplements require an additional payment of $950 (due with final payment)*
  • The program fee includes:
    • Accommodation throughout the program (from November 5 – 23, 2020)
    • Meals (beginning with dinner on November 5 and ending with lunch on November 23)
    • Transportation within India/Nepal
    • Visa fee for Nepal
    • All site fees
    • All wages for local guides
    • An honorarium for dharma Teacher Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia
  • The program fee does not include:
    • International airfare
    • Visa for India
    • Travel insurance (recommended)
    • Miscellaneous items, including, but not limited to: souvenirs, snacks, alcoholic beverages, etc.

*Single rooms are subject to availability

Payment schedule

Payments are to be made based on the following schedule:

  • Deposit: $1,000, due at registration
  • Payment #2: $2,000 due by May 9, 2020 (180 days prior to the program)
  • Payment #3: Remaining payment of $2,150 due by August 7, 2020 (90 days prior to the program)

Cancellation Policy

In the case of cancellation, payment will be refunded based on the following information:

  • Cancellations made by May 9, 2020 (180 days prior to the program) will receive a full refund of any payment made to date, minus 50% of the deposit.
  • Cancellations made between May 10 – July 8, 2020 (between 179 – 120 days prior to the program) will receive a full refund of any payment made to date, minus the deposit.
  • Cancellations made between July 9 – September 6 (119 – 60 days prior to the program) will be subject to a penalty of 50% of the total course fee.
  • Cancellations made on or after September 7 (59 prior to the program) will not receive any refund.

Arrivals and Departures

The program will begin and end in New Delhi, allowing for easy arrivals and departures.

If you are interested in arriving early or extending your trip, there are plenty of add-ons that you can easily include. Once registered, please send us a note that you would like to discuss options and we will help you craft the ideal itinerary.

Please plan on arriving in Delhi no later than 4pm on November 5 and departing Delhi no earlier than 4pm on November 23.

Travel Insurance

Sacred Path highly recommends purchasing travel insurance that includes emergency medical coverage as well as evacuation and repatriation services.

The following companies can help you find coverage that best suits your particular needs:

FAQs

Do I need a visa?

  • All visitors to India (minus the immediately surrounding countries) are required to procure a visa. We will send information about this once registered.

What will we eat? Is the water safe?

  • Throughout the program, you will be provided nutritious and hygienic vegetarian meals.
  • Filtered and/or bottled water will be provided throughout the program.

Do I need vaccines? Will there be medical facilities available should I get sick?

  • Sacred Path strongly recommends visiting a travel medical provider prior to the program. We cannot make medical recommendations of any kind.
  • If you should have a medical emergency during the program, Sacred Path staff will provide access to the best medical treatment available and assist participants should they desire to return home early.

Where will we stay?

  • Hotels and/or guest houses throughout the program will be high quality, safe places to rest. Sacred Path prides itself in the strong relationships it has with local businesses.

How many people will be on the program?

  • As with all of our programs, we limit the teacher/guide to participant ratio to 8-1. This is in service of creating an intimate and supportive container to explore this inspirational place.

Can I keep in touch with my family and friends during the program? How can they get in touch with me in the case of an emergency?

  • Sacred Path will provide contact information for participants to distribute to their loved ones to use in the case of emergencies.
  • Most of the accommodations we stay in have wireless internet services that allow you to connect via mobile device.

How much money will I need?

  • All food, lodging, and transportation (within the prescribed itinerary) is covered. In turn, you will not need much extra money. There will be ATMs available throughout the program to withdraw local currency. Credit cards are accepted at larger shops and hotels. We recommend contacting your bank to inform them of your travel plans so that your cards are not frozen.

Can I choose my roommate?

  • Yes, we will do our best to match you with the person of your choosing. Please specify this in your registration questionnaire.

How can I offset my/our carbon footprint?

  • A portion of the proceeds generated will be donated to The Arbor Day Foundation to offset the group footprint. If you are interested in doing so for your personal footprint, take a look at their presentation of how to contribute and make a difference!