Saturday, May 18, 2013

January 12

Leaving Vishali.   Leaving the conference by bus to Rajgir.  Leaving this little village of 3 monasteries (Vietnamese, Sri Lankan and Cambodian).  Leaving the pigs, goats, dogs and kids roaming the street looking for a living.  The animals rooting in the piles of trash; the kids walking along with us women who are shuttling back and forth between residency and conference at the monastery.  The men on motor scooters who back and forth to the crossroads beyond the monastery; the old men who drive cattle wagons; the women who walk herding of pigs or goats.

It has been very cold.  Delhi was the coldest it’s been in 45 years during the time we spent here in the eastern part of India.  Patna was cold too.  Bracing cold. Sitting in a tent inside of an open monastery we huddled together in the mornings, I was wearing everything I brought with me … two layers of cotton, a thin layer of silk, and a light jacket.  Towards the end of the conference, men would come around graciously serving tiny cups of masala tea or hot water to warm us.  The tent was given a silken door flap to keep away the wind.  But there were many hours of sitting in an environment where one’s breath could be meditated upon as well as seen.

The electricity went off periodically but was magically restored within minutes.  The microphones were also capricious.  Women started getting sick and coughing was commonly heard.   Each mealtime was special because we got to move … either to the warm soup of the Vietnamese kitchen or to the spicy sauces of the Indian kitchen.  Other than the ubiquitous and obvious statement of  “It’s really cold, isn’t it?” no one complained.  Conference organizers just kind of ignored the state of being and moved on with the program.

I loved chanting every evening.  I would climb to the 3rd floor of the Vietnamese monastery, take off my shoes and walk in freezing stockinged feet into the chapel where different groups of nuns would lead chants.  It was surprising how sonorous women’s voice could be … in Pali, in Vietnamese, in Chinese, in Tibetan … and how the harmonies and rhythms of words I didn’t understand could be so soothing.

January 12

Leaving Viashali by bus.  Forty women who had been together seven days listening to the talks, exaltations, chanting and complaints of 500 Buddhist women.

Lichee groves, poverty, sand that grows bananas and mangoes.  Exotic buildings in ruin or extreme disrepair.  Round stick huts with grass roofs.  Chickens peck at muddy trash; eggs in cartons behinds.  They smile in the squalor, close to the base of life.

Sheaves of local wheat.

Traffic jam throught Patna at 10 mph.  Friendly people wave at our bus, lots of activity through the marketplaces and construction sites.  All maner of vehicles, half repainted buildings, large orange sun on the hazy western horizon.  Eyes meet from one vehicle to another; mind and humanity shared.

January 13

Last night in Rajgir, this morning to the magnificent ruins of Nalanda University, which flourished in 600a.d.  The remains have been restored with brick, but original stone work can be seen, as well as carving, and the architecture and grandeur of the place is intact.  Seven monasteries are semi-reserved with dormitories for monks and a central debate area where students hammered out the meaning of  the dharma, I suppose, as all philosophies and religions still do in some sort of forum.  I don’t have enough knowledge of Buddhism to know who and what was actually debated, but I can see that the library and rooms for theological study were immense. And important.  We were told that the prestige of the university eventually fell because of laziness and/or corruption, and the books were burned and buildings were eventually sacked by the Moslems.  The ruins were never rebuilt for use, as Buddhism lost importance in India.  I was struck by the thought  that this site is so like others I’ve seen .. Tikal,  Copan, even Angkor Wat … these great buildings of stone, spread over vast areas and stretching to the sky.  Intricate stories were told within their walls, of gods and men making their way in the world.

India has been everything people have told me.  Much of everything … now that we’re away from Vaishali I see people who are working and producing.  Markets look prosperous and the food and vegetables look fresh and abundant.  The number of vehicles has increased, as well a the variety.  Bicycles, trucks, tongas (small gas powered golf carts used as taxis), bicycle trucks, horse drawn buggy, and pedestrians share the roadways with goats, cows, chickens. It’s a huge cacophony (I’ll think of that word a lot) of textures and colors and emotions.

Vishal -- Stupa & Vultures Peak

A bus ride, a stop, and then on to a busy, large tourist attraction; aerial chair lift to the top of a lushly vegetated mountain.  A large white stupa at the top marks a place where Buddha taught.  We walked on up by foot to Vulture’s Peak where he stayed with Ananda and another disciple and gave the Heart Sutra.  Pathway is a gamet of hawkers of mala beads, post cards, books; at the top thousands of prayer flags, bits of golden offereings on the rocks, and guardian monkeys which may be reborn as humans since they are so near the Buddha’s steps and words.  They are not as offensive as the beggers and hawkers who I close my heart to as I walk down.

From flat farm field of Vaishali to the mountains outside of Rajgir.

It’s all been exotic: the trees, trimmed naturally, and the palms towering above them; the old men wearing shawls over their heads, walking barfoot with staff; the fires on the sides of roads, in villages where there is little or no electricity, a single light bult somewhere in the maze of dirt streets; children waving as we bump by ramshackle homes. 

Mist, land, trees, fire, I'm taken by this land, and its miles of poverty.

On this rutted road between Rajgit and Bodhgaya our large, white, 40 passenger tourist bus seems taken out of time.  We roll through the darkness not knowing what’s around us.  It seems vaguely sinister, dangerous, but we keep going.  How can that be?  Wouldn’t anyone in their right mind stop and find out where we are?  Wouldn’t we find a better way?  The driver does stop at a junction and presumably asks directions.  And we turn left onto another rutted road.

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