On 28th August 2016, a group of forty plus of us joined Acho Rinpoche on a visit to Karimum Island of Indonesia situated about 30km from the southern part of Singapore, in search of a Sakyamuni Buddha’s footprint. There is a Sanskrit inscription believed to be written in the 10th CE bearing the following translated message: “This is a holy footprint of the most revered Sakyamuni Buddha. ~~ A Mahayanist from Bengal.”
We boarded a ferry from Singapore’s Cruise Centre early in the morning. The whole journey took us about one and half hours. After arriving at Karimum Island, we had our breakfast somewhere in town before heading towards the northern part of the island. It took us about 45 minutes to drive from town to our destination, Pasir Panjang. The location is just next to a lovely beach; it is actually a granite quarry. About 100 meters from the main entrance of the quarry, there stood a small pavilion painted in yellow. The Sanskrit inscription was actually done on a boulder enshrined within the pavilion, with the words clearly visible still. We saw a few pictures of Hindu saints placed above the inscription and some used incense sticks. Just a few meters away from the pavilion, lied the Buddha’s footprint. It was a very huge foot print indeed, obviously Buddha was huge in size. Buddha left his footprint on the rock as a form of blessing, hinting the flourishing of Buddhism in this land in future. According to the locals, there are several similar footprints in this area which can be rediscovered gradually. There is a much smaller footprint next to the big one. There is a spring behind the footprints, on top of a rock. According to the locals, the spring never runs dry. Someone even tasted the spring water and found it sweet; so it cannot be just rain water collected overtime nor sea water. Acho Rinpoche led a group prayer at the Pavilion. After which, he blessed the footprints and the spring, liberating the spiritual beings and consecrating this land, wishing that Buddhism may flourish again in future like how it did in the 8th CE.
Actually, between the 8th and 12th CE, Indonesia was a Buddhist country (with Vajrayana being the mainstream Buddhism); it was called “Srivijaya” then, with Palembang being its capital city in the Sumatra Island. Srivijaya was a huge empire in the south east Asia during the said period, with its territory covering the current Sumatra Island, Java Island, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, and the southern parts of Thailand and Cambodia. Srivijaya was located at a very strategic location, at the entrance to the Malacca Strait which is an important sea route for merchants plying between India and China. Srivijaya was in control of the Malacca Strait and built its wealth from collecting taxes from the merchants. During the same period, there was another strong empire emerging in the north eastern part of India - Pala. Pala dominated the current Bihar Province and Bangladesh (called Bengal then). Vajrayana Buddhism also flourished in this kingdom during this time. Pala and Srivijaya established a strong diplomatic tie then which facilitated the exchange of Buddhism teachings between the two countries too.
Buddhism was flouring in the Sumatra Island then. A Sumatran prince was sent to study Buddhism in Pala as the renowned Buddhist institutions such as Nalanda, Vikramshila and the-likes were mainly within the region of Pala then. The prince spent eleven years in Pala studying Buddhism. When he returned to his homeland in Sumatra, he became a renowned Buddhist teacher and propagated the teachings actively, which contributed much to the flourishing of Buddhism in Srivijaya. He was Dharmakirti - the teacher of the renowned Atisha. As Pala and Srivijaya became the strongholds of Buddhism in the region then, both countries had established their own renowned Buddhist Institutions attracting many Buddhist scholars. Atisha from Bengal went to Sumatra to study under Dharmakirti for twelve years. Atisha was in Srivijaya around the time when the Sanskrit inscription was done, which made him the likely candidate who did the inscription found in Karimum Island. According to our tour guide, the history about this Sanskrit inscription and the Buddha’s footprint could be found in the British Museum. We will need a volunteer to study the historical artefact kept in the British Museum to confirm the fact then. When Atisha finally returned to India, he was invited by a Tibetan King to help rebuild the Buddhadharma in the snow-capped Himalayan region, which is yet another beautiful story to be told on its own.