The Importance of Pilgrimage
An Interview with His Holiness the Sakya Trizin
“Going to the holy places of the Buddha
is very important. The Buddha Himself
said that ‘after my entering into parinirvana, the
sons and daughters of my followers should visit the four places’. By these four places, the Buddha was referring to Lumbini, the place where He was born, Bodh Gaya where He became enlightened, Sarnath where He first turned the Wheel of Dharma and Kushinagar, where He entered into Parinirvana.
And so, by visiting these places and remembering the infinite qualities of the Buddha, everyone can become purified and gain great merit, even those who have committed heinous crimes. This is why they are called the four great shrines. There are also four minor shrines, Sravasti, Rajgir, Sankassa, and Vaishali.
These are referred to as the four minor places, and one can also gain great merit by visiting them, particularly if one makes material offerings such as butter lamps, flowers, water, incense and food. More importantly, if while visiting these places, one bears in mind how the Buddha loves every sentient being as if they were His only child and one generates loving kindness and compassion along with the enlightenment mind, then with every single moment, one gains immeasurable merit. And therefore it is extremely important to visit
these holy shrines.
I myself visited them for the first time in 1956. We especially came from Tibet at that time, because that year was the celebration of the Buddha’s parinirvana according to the Theravadan tradition and so there were special concessions given to travel to India for
pilgrimage. We visited the four main places and then returned home. Then, in 1959, the troubles started in Tibet and we had to escape, and so we came to India.
In 1960, we visited almost all the holy sites and also went to Nepal for the first time.
Since then, we’ve been living in India, and I’ve
been a number of times to some of the holy sites, especially Lumbini, since we go there almost every year for our annual Mönlam. But in the past years, I haven’t been to any of the holy places apart from Lumbini, and so last year I decided to visit them partly because of all the suffering that is going on in the world, specially the self-immolations in Tibet and natural disasters everywhere, with so many people
dying. Also, I visited Taiwan last year and many
people gave me offerings to pray for the deceased. I thought that the best way to help them was to visit the holy places, and so we went, not only with my family but with a group of monks from the Sakya Centre so that we could perform grand rituals in these holy
Quite a long time ago, I had visited the four
major shrines and had performed the grand Sixteen-Arhat Puja in each of them for the sake of the Buddhadharma as well as for the benefit of all beings.
I had also performed the shorter Sixteen-Arhat puja in the minor shrines. And now, I wanted to do this again.
Although we couldn’t do the same in some of the places, like Sankassa, because they were too difficult of access, we did perform the grand Sixteen Arhat Puja in Sravasti, Vaishali, Varanasi and even a three-day one in Bodh Gaya. We also celebrated a one-day Vajrayogini feast puja in Varanasi, as it was the 10th
day of the lunar month when we were there. We went to Nalanda and also to Vikramshila, which was a very important centre of Higher Buddhist Studies, like Nalanda, and was the seat of many masters like Atisha and those of the Lamdre lineage. The first Tibetan lama to receive the Lamdre was Drogmi Lotsawa Sakya Yeshe, who travelled all the way from Tibet to India to study Buddhist Philosophy, and most of his studies were done at Vikramshila, and so I wanted to
go. It was a difficult journey, but it was worthwhile.
We couldn’t perform the long puja there, but we did perform the short one. It was my first time there, as well as in Kaushambi; otherwise I had been in all the other places, although I hadn’t been to Vaishali in a long, long time – 1956.
And so my main purpose for going on pilgrimage
was to pray for the deceased. For their sake we
performed all these grand pujas and also we did
Mahakala torma offerings in cemeteries. Apart
from this, I recited 100 times the ‘Aspiration of
Samantabhadra’ prayer as part of my own daily
And so our pilgrimage went very well, there
weren’t any problems. Everyone was in good health and enjoyed visiting these holy sites and we all received many blessings. We prayed that the Buddha’s teachings would spread all over the world, and especially that Vajrayana Buddhism would continue to thrive in Tibet, alongside all the other traditions, Mahayana and Hinayana.”.