Bodhgaya – India

A visit to Bodghaya completed my grand tour of some of the most interesting spiritual desintations in India (Amritsar, Rishikesh, Varanasi/Benares). I didn’t really plan to go to all these places, but as I trimmed down my ambitious plans these were the places that won through.

Bodghaya is where Buddha (the one we all know) attained enlightenment. The tree he reclined under is still there. That, and many other locations around the town are replicated in temples, books and verse the world over.

Mahabodhi at sunset

Mahabodhi at sunset

Small buddha under the branches of the bodhi tree

Small buddha under the branches of the bodhi tree

The reality of actually being there is still difficult for me to comprehend. Knowing the hundreds of millions around the world how have been inspired by this one human’s act of will and insight, it is amazing to be in the place where it all started. This is clearly analogous to the equivalent Sikh (Amritsar), Islamic (Mecca), and Christian sites, but this place appears to be relatively low-key compared to what I know of the others.

As a new friend (from Navdanya) explained, the monks and nuns are not just prostrating aimlessly, they envision themselves as part of the great mandala of life, surrendering to the spirit that created and infuses it all. And, with every prostration, they move one millionth of a step closer to once again becoming that formless, timeless, unimaginable bliss.


And what really struck me is how Siddartha was just another guy. Flesh and bones, mind and matter. As was Gandhi, as is Vandana Shiva, as are anyone I respect, admire and draw inspiration from. And, they make certain choices, commitments, and that makes all the difference to them, and the world. In Buddha’s case, his choices and realisations have resonated down millenia and remained as relevant to every living moment as they ever did.

Mahabodhi buddha (in centre of the large temple/stupa)

Mahabodhi buddha (in centre of the large temple/stupa)

So, it was a great place to meditate, and soak up the atmosphere. The town really is quite small, in a very poor part of India, and with lots of people asking for money or trying to sell you things. My accomodation at the local authorities own hotel ‘Buddha Vihar’ was very cheap, but very sub-standard. Well, the bed was clean but the bathroom was indescribably bad. Think of the toilet scenes in the movie ‘Trainspotting’ and you get close…

Nicer were the restaurants run by Tibetan refugee’s, and the grand assortment of temples from every Buddhist nation. Thailand, Bhutan, Japan, China, Vietnam all had grand temples where their monks chant, pray, sleep and lead meditations. Especially memorable was the Bhutanese temple, filled with young boys chanting, droning, falling asleep, rocking and rolling around on their cushions while the senior monks walked around supervising, blowing horns and throwing rice around periodically.

Bodghaya continued my interesting snapshots from the lives of monks: texting away constantly, driving massive 4WDs like royalty, glued to Chinese soap operas, oe even playing internet role playing games in cafes…All this can seem quite contradictory to the image of a monk’s existence, but must be considered in the context that they basically spend all their waking hours in meditation or learning about spiritual truths, and otherwise have very little respite. Actually, even Buddhism itself is a completely different in a different cultural context such as India or other Asian nations. It really is a religion, more than the less strict forms I have seen or been involved in.

Anyway, much more to be said about Bodghaya, including about the ever-present dilemma of how to respond to begging, but I’m running short of time and room!

A serpent shelters buddhar from the rain, in the Muchalinda lake

A serpent shelters buddhar from the rain, in the Muchalinda lake

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