Bodhgaya 2 January 16 & 17
Bodhgaya, where Buddha achieved enlightenment. 528 BCE he arrived in a village where there was a Bodhi tree and he sat down in this peaceful place. He spent 7 weeks there after enlightenment was attained, and then set out for Sarnath to share what he’d learned and begin his ministry/teaching. He returned to the village to teach 3 disciples.
Mahabodhi Temple, Bohdgaya. Lights, movement, chanting by many groups at one time. Mostly monks (though I can’t tell monks from nuns); prostration platforms among forests of stupas, the great complex shrine next to the descendant of the tree of Buddha’s enlightenment. The first graft off of the original tree was taken to Sri Lanka by Ashoka’s son and daughter. There it was planted and grafts were taken from it to other places. Thus, the original Bodhi tree was never destroyed.
Is this really where it happened? The fact that a major world religion began here seems almost insignificant compared to the intense flurry of human activity going on here today. Outside of the temple complex is a carnival … flowers, foods, beads, kitchen magnets, plates, all manner of trinkets are being sold. Pilgrims coming in hopes of releasing their suffering, monastics coming to express their devotion, tourists to see something unusual. The chanting is serious, dedicated, grateful. The lights, beauty and intricacies of the structure and setting attest to the complexity of human search for faith and understanding. Beautiful and meriting study, appreciation and wonder.
Like gothic cathedrals, the spires of the great stupa rise--aspirational? Would a woman build a stupa or worship a well? From woman comes wisdom of the earth; from man comes wisdom of the erection. Will women waken the earth wisdom of man? Will the stupa prevail?
There are three levels of walkways around the temple. One at ground level, one in the middle and one above, with lawns. The middle level circumambulates clockwise, mostly bhikkus and bhikkunis in red robes. I could describe it as a parade, except that people are praying, quietly chanting the suttas, or simply living within themselves as they move. It is almost silent. But it moves as a river, insistent, non-stopping, around the stupa. I enter as a fish would join a school; I exit the same way, leaving without stopping any of the momentum of the circular force. Humanity continues around; and I can pick it up again at any place in theflow, smoothly and without stress.
Below is the Bodhi tree, or at least a descendant of it. There are people meditating.
Three dogs--I'll call them Pepper, Snap and Fish-- hang with me for a time as I sit quietly on the steps leading out of the temple. Owning the temple is their job. They patrol, alert, with casual direction and plenty of flea scratching; attached to nothing and no one, but aware of us and of each other. No tail wagging while there’s this much activity. No human touch where there’s fleas.
“Where’s your lama?”
I forgot about the prostrations. What are they about? Submitting, giving, admitting lower position to the stupa. I wonder if the Buddha would approve. He was most adamant about not being considered a god. He was most adamant about each person finding her own way through the dharma. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it. Nothing divine about Buddhism. Nothing god-like about Buddha. Simply he found a truth that worked for him and was willing to share it So the bowing? Respect. Symbolic prostration to one’s own ego, or to the inevitability of the 4 Noble Truths: There is suffering; clinging causes suffering; there is a way to end suffering; there is the 8 fold path.