Return to the Centre of the World
According to the sayings of some people, the real Vajrāsana is a spot
three months' journey west of Gayā.
—Jigme Lingpa, 1789
The ancient site of the Vajrāsana at Bodh Gayā, accepted by Buddhists as the precise spot of the Buddha's enlightenment and the place that the inhabitants of Tibet regarded as the very centre of the world, was to remain, by all available accounts, completely lost to Tibetan worshippers for centuries. Following the final decline and even material destruction of Buddhist culture throughout the Middle Ganges and other regions of India during the thirteenth century, some four hundred and fifty years went by before pilgrims from the high plateau ventured back to the area which had once been ancient Magadha. Throughout this period of interruption, Tibetans long avoided the Middle Ganges region, only gradually becoming motivated to return to it and search for the Vajrāsana once again.
It was not until the mid-eighteenth century that we find a Tibetan pilgrim, an obscure yogin by the name of Garshapa Sonam Rabgye, actually returning to Bodh Gayā on a unique journey of religious exploration. In this chapter I will examine Sonam Rabgye's journey back to the heart of his ancient Buddhist holy land, along with the developments leading up to it, its eventual impact in Tibet, and its significance for our own thinking about the history of Asian Buddhist interaction with Bodh Gayā. Sonam Rabgye's visit to Bodh Gayā and nearby sites only occurred after a distinct renewal of cultural interest in India had gradually gained momentum once