Website of the Arya Sanghata Sutra
Vulture's Peak rises over mostly dry land, and its jagged rocks indeed resemble vultures when seen from a distance. rocks that resemble vultures
To reach the spot on this mountain where the Mahayana tradition tells us the Buddha gave the actual discourses, one must walks a fairly long path that lifts one higher and higher above one's surroundings. As one proceeds, one joins the vast community of followers of the Buddha who have visited this spot, either to hear the actual words of their teacher, or to pay homage as a pilgrim to the spot where those fortunate disciples heard those words. Along the way, one passes the path to the peakcaves where Venerable Shariputra and Ananda stayed during their sojourns on the Peak. A shortcut from one of the caves to the teaching site gives a powerful sense of the reality of the place, where one can imagine monks rushing to find a spot once they get word that the Teacher is speaking.
Towards the bottom of the path up, we are following the original road built by King Bimbisara during Buddha's lifetime to facilitate his regular attendance at Lord Buddha's discourses. This gives way to the more modern paved platform on peak itself walkway, as the walk up takes more and more effort. At one point, one passes the spot where King Bimbisara turned back his retinue, saying that it was inappropriate for him to approach the Buddha with the trappings of his royal station. Instead, Bimbisara continued on alone on foot, presumably following the same path taken nowadays. As a modern pilgrim, one continues with what is a fairly taxing climb, catching glimpses of ever broader views of what even today are lush and green mountains.
“Thus I heard at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling in Raja-griha, on Vulture’s Peak, together with a great assembly of 32,000…”
There have been so many occasions we have gathered to recite these words, sometimes at our center, Ganden Shedrub Ling, in Puerto Rico, and at other times in the homes of some of our dharma brothers and sisters around the island. But we had never imagined that one day we would find ourselves right there, in the city of Rajagriha, sitting at Vulture’s Peak, at the same place where Buddha first left us the legacy of the Sanghata Sutra, one of his most important teachings. We had started our journey at 5:00 AM, taking a bus from Root Institute in Bodhgaya, the first stop in a three-week pilgrimage that would take us throughout India to visit some of the most sacred places of Buddhism. The bus ride to Rajagriha took almost three hours. And then there was an extra half hour of climbing the steep hill that would take us to the top of Vulture’s Peak. As one reaches the spot where the Sanghata was recited, the first sensation one experiences once is that of profound silence.
The space at the top is not very big. Traces of what seems to have been a brick wall enclose a simple altar at the center. The altar includes a statue of Buddha Shakyamuni surrounded by offerings of fruit, flower garlands, money, and other objects left there as offerings by Buddhists from all parts of the world. The caretaker vultures peak of the sacred place collects the offerings and makes sure that incense is always burning in front of the altar.
The day we climbed Vulture’s Peak was March 14th, 2006. It wasn’t an ordinary day, but the Day of the Miracles, considered one of the most important Buddhist feasts. That same day, practitioners all over the world would be gathering to recite the Sanghata Sutra in their respective languages. We arrived there with the intention to become the first group to ever to recite the Sanghata Sutra in Spanish at Vulture’s Peak. At the same time, more than forty of our dharma brothers and sisters would be gathering at our center to join us in this long distance recitation. Under the direction of our teacher and spiritual guide for this pilgrimage, Venerable Lhundub Damcho, we started by reciting verses of the sutra in different languages.
Many of us soon found it very difficult to control the overwhelming emotion we were feeling at that moment. Tears of joy started to flow. They were tears from the soul. After all, we were there, together, reciting the sutra, sitting on the same soil the Blessed One had once walked on. The recitation that we started around eight in the morning went on, nonstop, until past noon. Fruit and water was passed around, while Buddhists who traveled from all over the world to visit the Peak on such a special day, walked around us reciting mantras as they circumambulated the sacred space. Their recitations intertwined with ours, creating a tapestry of praise for the Buddha and his teachings. As the morning passed and noon approached, the heat became almost unbearable. Yet, we found ways to protect ourselves so we could complete our goal of reciting the entire teaching. And we made it.
Before we started our descent down the hill, the caretaker told our Indian guide that in the more than twenty years that he had been watching over the Peak, this had been the longest time any group had spent reciting on the Peak.
Although tired, we left that place with an indescribable sense of satisfaction and we rejoice, not before remembering to dedicate our merit to the liberation of all sentient beings. All of us in that group will live forever grateful for having been able to initiate our India 2006 pilgrimage in such an inspiring and unforgettable way.