Pilgrims at Bodh Gaya
Pilgrims at Bodh Gaya
David Grubin Productions
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Bodh Gaya is a small town in northeastern India. Throngs of pilgrims have come here from all over the world for more than sixteen centuries. For Buddhists, there are hundreds of holy places, but none more sacred than this one. Bodh Gaya is the sacred point from which the Buddhist faith radiates. Some pilgrims travel great distances, reciting prayers and prostrating themselves every step of the way. It is their Mecca and Jerusalem.

Their holy of holies is not the imposing temple beside them, but a simple fig tree—ficus religiosa—the Bodhi tree. The tree, it is said, is descended from the Buddha's time.

Every pilgrim knows the story of how Siddhartha, after accepting the rice milk from the young girl, put aside the rags he was wearing, bathed himself in a nearby river, and, strengthened, sat down in the shade of the Bodhi tree, and began to meditate. It was springtime. The moon was full. Before the sun would rise, Siddhartha’s long search would be over.

Jane Hirshfield, poet: "He sat down under a bodhi tree in the shelter of the natural world in all of its beauty and fullness, and he said I will not move from this place until I have solved my problem."

Seated Buddha
Seated Buddha
The Bumper Collection
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“Let my skin and sinews and bones dry up, together with all the flesh and blood of my body! I welcome it! But I will not move from this spot until I have attained the supreme and final wisdom."

All at once, Mara, lord of desire, rose to challenge him. With an army of demons he attacked. Siddhartha did not move, and their weapons turned into flowers.

D. Max Moerman, scholar: "Mara is the ruler of this realm of desire, this world that we all live in and what he’s afraid Siddhartha is going to do when he attains enlightenment and becomes the Buddha is conquer that world, that is he’s going to do away with desire. He’s going to wreck the whole game."

Mara did not give up. He sent his three daughters to seduce him. Siddhartha remained still.

Mark Epstein, psychiatrist: "When he faces Mara he faces himself and his own destructive capacity. But he’s not the warrior trying to do battle with those qualities. He has discovered his own capacity for equanimity. He has become like the top of the Great Himalayan Mountains; the weather is passing over him, storms are raging around him, and he sits like the top of the mountain impassive, not in a trance state, you know, totally aware of everything. So he frustrates Mara."


Major funding provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by: the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Shinnyo-en Foundation, the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Bumper Foundation, and viewers like you.