The Jetavana Monastery - Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple
The Jetavana Monastery
By Rev. Master Seikai
Shakyamuni is said to have spent 19 rains retreats in the Jetavana Monastery in northern
India. A very wealthy layman in the Buddha’s time, Anathapindika, wished to donate the site of
the monastery to the Buddha as a place to construct a monastery. The land was owned by a
local prince, Jetakumara, who at first refused to sell the plot, even, he said, if it were to be
covered entirely with gold pieces. Anathapindika agreed to that price, and the deal was ultimately
struck. Jeta, the story goes, then claimed that because the trees had not been covered with gold,
they still belonged to him, and so the monastery became known as Jetavana, or Jeta’s Grove.
Anathapindika, meanwhile, set about to construct a place of residence for the Buddha,
sparing no expense. Jeta was moved to get involved in the project, and had an enormous gate
constructed with the money he received from Anathapindika. Several other prominent people in
the area of Savatthi also joined in the construction effort, and the Jetavana Monastery soon came
into being. In the Buddha’s time it was the center of quite a bit of activity, and several rival
religious sects also constructed temple buildings and shrines in the Savatthi (or Sravasti) area.
I had the good fortune of visiting the Jetavana Monastery during the India Pilgrimage I
joined last fall. It was actually the second of the holy sites connected with the life of the Buddha
which we visited, following the Deer Park in Varanasi; Savatthi is within a day’s drive north of
Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh. When our bus arrived at the entrance—the palatial gate
built by Jeta no longer stands—we removed our shoes and formed a procession through the
immaculately kept grounds. After a short distance we arrived at the Anandabodhi Tree, which is
a sapling of the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya.
We spent over an hour at the area shown in the picture, beside the colossal Bodhi Tree.
We made offerings of lotus flowers and chanted; as usual everyone but me chanted in
Vietnamese, and then I chanted solo in English. Something quite powerful happened to me at
that point. It seemed almost as if the Buddha himself were present, and had come to embrace
me and to encourage me to look upon my life as a monk and my training with joy in my heart. I
felt an all-embracing wave of acceptance and loving kindness wash into me. For someone with a
long history of being fairly hard on myself, this was one of those moments which reinvigorate
one’s faith in oneself and one’s sense of purpose in life.
After chanting we all sat facing the Bodhi Tree while our tour leader, Venerable Hai,
spoke to us. There was also a group of perhaps a dozen Theravada Buddhist monks there who
were also chanting, but then stopped to listen to our group. For whatever reason, Ven. Hai asked
a few of the monks—there were seven of us—to get up and speak, including me. I said that to
the best of my knowledge, my master, Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett, never set foot in India, and
neither had any other monk of our monastic order while in robes. So on behalf of Rev. Master
Jiyu and the rest of the monks, I offered merit and gratitude to the Buddha; I also said that I felt it
was very important for Buddhism to have women play prominent roles as teachers and leaders.
Then when I sat down I broke down and cried for quite a while.
I imagine all this must have affected some of the other people around me. In Vietnamese
culture, it would be improper for a woman to deliberately touch a man, especially a monk, but
men can touch each other, and so a few of the others in our group silently came over and
wrapped their arms around me. As we were leaving, an Asian monk who had been sitting with
his group got my attention and offered me a handful of Bodhi Tree leaves, which are very much
prized by pilgrims who visit these places.
There are substantial ruins on the grounds of the Jetavana Monastery, some dating to
the time of the Buddha, including a house which is believed to be the one he lived in. The
Buddha spent a substantial portion of his life as a monk and teacher in the Jetavana Monastery,
and in his time, Sravasti was a large, thriving city; the ancient city walls still exist. One can
imagine that very large numbers of people came to hear him teach there, as is often cited in the
sutras which were given by the Buddha in the monastery. There are also several stupas in the
area, including Anathapindika’s stupa and the Angulimala Stupa, which we visited. Angulimala
was a notorious murderer who was converted by the Buddha, a very powerful story from the
Across the road from the monastery entrance there is a Tibetan Buddhist temple, in
which there is kept a relic of the Buddha—a small piece of bone. After we left the monastery we
walked to the temple and were all individually shown the relic. Certainly for me, the immediacy
and presence of the life of Shakyamuni was quite evident that day, which I’m certain will stay with
me for the rest of my life.