Each of us has had good intentions to benefit all beings and convey the wisdom of the Buddha. All of us know that the message of the Buddha is fresh and alive today, freely available to all. While people in all lands most often pursue the eight worldly dharmas, here in the great Motherland of the Dharma, India, there have always been those who pursued the path of profound understanding.
Here the Bodhisattvas, Arhats, Siddhas, Yogis, and Panditas kept traditions of awakened insight alive. Here the great dynasties of Ashoka, of the Guptas and the Palas, protected the holy places and supported the lineage of practice and study. In modern times, Mahatma Gandhiji demonstrated to the world the power of ahimsa, of non-violence and peace.
A Brief History of Deer Park, Sarnath
by Tarthang Tulku
Homage to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha!
Sarnath, where the Buddha proclaimed the Four Noble Truths to the Five Disciples and set in motion the Wheel of the Dharma, is recognized world-wide as a place of good will, harmony, and peace. This region’s association with the blessings of enlightened compassion traces to a previous eon when the Bodhisattva who would become the Buddha Shakyamuni dwelled in these open fields as the leader of a herd of deer. One day, the king of this land, intent on the hunt, pursued and then captured a pregnant doe. Seeing the doe’s distress, the Bodhisattva approached the king and, bowing down before him, asked the king to spare her life and take him instead. The Jatakas relate that Sarnath takes its name from this noble act of the Saraganatha, lord of the deer.
The king, impressed and humbled by this selfless gesture offered by a mere animal, proclaimed this land Deer Park. He decreed that it become a sanctuary where hunting was forbidden, allowing deer to roam forever free from harm. Protected from violent deeds and venerated for its peaceful yet spiritually energized fields, the Deer Park became a favored meditation ground for rishis, the hermit-sages of ancient India, and Pratyekabuddhas, self-awakened holy men who, in the absence of a Buddha, had attained a limited realization through their own earnest efforts.
Early in our present eon, devas descended from the heaven realms and announced to the five hundred Pratyekabuddhas dwelling in the Deer Park that in twelve years a Buddha would be born. Knowing their purpose was now fulfilled, the five hundred Pratyekabuddhas rose up together; their bodies vanished in flames, and their ashes fell to earth. Consecrated by this action, this broad field has been known ever after as Rishipatana (Pali, Isipatana), the place where the Rishis fell.