Those who have traveled in Buddhist Asia or who frequent the monasteries established in the West know the stupas. These constructions can be of any size and shape. Originally, these are monuments commemorating the passage of the Buddha in this world, sometimes reliquaries sheltering some remains of the Awakened. Today, these buildings inscribe the Buddhist presence in the landscapes. The most important, such as that of Bodnath, in the suburbs of Kathmandu, in Nepal, are major centers of pilgrimage.
As soon as he reaches the end of his journey, the pilgrim begins to go around the stupa. Always in the same direction. That of the hands of a watch. It is important to remember this, to be one with the crowd. We concentrate and we walk, to the left, keeping the building on our right, we walk around it, and the prayer wheels hum, and the offerings circulate, and the lips chant, and the colored fabrics sway, unison of fervor.
A circular journey
In the past, when air pollution had not covered Asia with a yellowish veil, the improbable pilgrim who would have climbed to the top of the Bodnath sanctuary would have seen, in the North, the largest stupa in the world: the Himalayan massif. A unique pilgrimage, which would take a lifetime, just to begin the tour on foot. Going to the left as it should, around the most sacred of stupas. Nepal, North India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, North China and today's Mongolia. In doing so, our pilgrim would have relived, in the calluses gradually thickening the skin of his feet, a journey to the origins of Buddhism. Because it is on this path that monks left, at least twenty-three centuries ago, to bring the message of the Awakened to the world.
In the past, when air pollution had not covered Asia with a yellowish veil, the improbable pilgrim who would have climbed to the top of the Bodnath sanctuary would have seen, in the North, the largest stupa in the world: the Himalayan massif.
Another part of Buddhism went east. It is known today as Theravada, vehicle of the Ancients, and it presents itself as close to the original teachings. The part of Buddhism which undertook to circumnavigate the Himalayas evolved during the journey. The stupas lead you to reflect, they can help you to progress. Monks and merchants who traveled from Nepal and northern India to Pakistan and Iran converted people to Buddhism. Yes, twenty centuries ago, part of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Eastern Iran were partially Buddhist. Islam did not arrive until the XNUMXth century AD. And the people changed their faith only slowly.
Arrived in Turkmenistan, the monks found themselves circulating on an old commercial axis, these land routes of the Silk which once connected Han China to the Empire of Rome. Some, it is attested, went dressed in saffron to beg as far as the shores of the Mediterranean. But they did not establish monasteries there, probably because no king patronized them. And those who continued their tour of the Himalayan stupa towards the East arrived in China at the beginning of our era. And then something happened extraordinary.