Bodh Gaya, Day 2

India 2013

Saturday, Feb 23:

A raspy cough finally came to full bloom in the night. Rather than curse it, I decide to go along with it as a sign to take it easy today. As I said at the end of the last chapter, my morning routine of meditation has gone to pot, so I'll take this cough as an encouragement to do what I wanted to do anyway.

The beautiful meditation room at the Vien Giac only makes it easier. The only person in the room, I plunk myself on a cushion right in front of the three large statues.

Who are these Buddhas? And why 3? My best guess is The Trikaya, or three bodies of buddhahood. There is Dharmakaya, the Truth Body. This body knows no bounds, and has no existence which is separate from anything else. There is the Sambhogakaya, a body that manifests as clear blissful light. Lastly, there is Nirmanakaya, the body that manifests as a physical form. I don't know which is which, but guess the different hand positions (mudras) would give an indication to someone more knowledgeable than myself. (If that Someone is reading this, please feel free to enlighten us using the Comments section at the bottom.)

Besides the quiet, I am also aware of some sweet music, barely audible. At first I think it's coming from outside the room somewhere. A choir at a neighbouring monastery? I let my attention fall directly on the sound, following the gentle melody. I realize it's just the same 8 bars looping over and over. First sung by a group of men, then the women join in. Repeat. Must be a recording, then. Not live. I begin to get involved in the puzzle of trying to figure out the source. Oops. Back to the breath, beginner buddha. I've heard it said that the act of meditation is like sitting by a river bank. Thoughts float by like so many sticks and leaves. At that point, we have a choice: We can a) remain still and observe them as they drift past and disappear, staying with the breath. Or b) give into temptation and lean over the bank for a closer look. Birch branch? Elm leaf? Is that a twig or a water snake? Or if it is extremely interesting flotsam, maybe we jump right in and follow them downstream.

I “decide” to get wet. I unwind creakily from my half lotus, get up and start following the little song, soft as a scent. In the corner behind the altar, I discover a tiny digital player with an even tinier (and tinny) speaker sitting on a cabinet next to a multi-outlet power bar. Pulling out my video cam, I know my meditation has gone downstream to the rapids.

The chant is "Namo Amituofo," or "Namo Amitabha," or some slight dialect variation, and it comes from the Buddhist Pure Land tradition, started by the Japanese monk Shiran in the 12th century. Both are easy enough to look up if you'd like to know more, but briefly, Namo Amituofo is a common mantra and is also is used as a greeting, not unlike the familiar namasté. Here is a lovely paragraph from on shoaling.org.cn describing the meaning of Namo Amituofo:

“Namo” is a transliteration from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language. It means to take refuge. This does not mean that we take refuge with the Dharma Master but rather that we return and rely. To what do we return and upon what do we rely? “Amituofo”, is also a transliteration from Sanskrit, meaning infinite life, infinite wisdom. Thus Namo Amituofo means to turn around and rely upon the infinite awakening.

The phrase has been put to many different tunes. You can check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ts8UYG8b8g and http://youtu.be/IkBufl89210 or Namo Amitabha http://youtu.be/danYOyi59bk, for example.

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Just outside the Vien Giac is the coolest Café in all of India. Well, I bet it has the coolest name, anyway. The sign in the window says "Be Happy Café."

Tolling the death knell to my 10-day Nescafé streak is the Be Happy Café, with its choice of espresso, Americano, latté, and OMG sweets and muffins.

Just like Toronto! Well, Vancouver anyway. Turns out the place is run by B.C. native - Salt Spring Island, to be specific - and her Indian husband.

So glad I got this cough and dedicated today as “Take-er-Easy Bodh Gaya Saturday.” Around 11:00, I am sitting on the "patio" (see above pic) with a thick hunk of decadent carrot cake in front of me, awaiting my latté and watching the village life around me.

I count 11 children under the age of five running around three squatting moms, two of whom have more than one baby in their lap, only one of whom is crying.

A man (Dad?) comes down the dirt street, stops and slowly squats down among them. He has something for them. A plant. Edible. I can't make out what it is.

An old man, disabled, pulls up in a 3-wheel bike. (note in, not on) He sits low in the frame, which is rusted with flecks of yellow paint. There are pedals for his hands up by the handle bars.

A monk strolls past, returning a cell phone to the folds of his purple robes. Then this big horny beast comes rolling through.

My coffee arrives. I've been holding off my first bite of the carrot cake until the coming of this auspicious moment. First sip forces my eyelids closed and my lips to form a little smile. Long pause. Second sip, then an audible sigh, grab the fork and dig in to the soft orangey brown treat. As I'm chewing and ahhh-ing, I look over at the kids picking little buds off the pale green plant the man has brought for them. Two goats have joined the family and are nibbling away at the leftover stalks of the plant. Now, a bull wanders by. Now, two 7 or 8 year old urchin lads come up to my table. They speak no English, but I can tell they are asking me for money. I toy with them, parroting back each syllable. Now they become my little language professors. They say the phrase again slowly so I can get it right. The three of us smile at our little game. I don't dare reach for a sip of my coffee or bite of cake for fear it would be a slap in the face. To them, or to me? Just sitting here in the first place may be slap enough. But it's all good here in India. Guilt rises and falls like any thought. The boys accept defeat and move lightly on with their days. The boys. Blessed little universes.

Later, at the market, I notice the same light green branch for sale that the kids had been snacking on. I ask the vendor what it is. He says "chan" or something like that. Pardon? After about 10 tries, I recognize the word from practically every Indian restaurant menu I've ever seen. Chana. Chana Masala. Chickpea curry. I buy a couple of stalks worth, and walk away munching. Yep. Chickpeas, all right. Bland and a little mushy, even in their raw form. I save a few for sharing later.

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Emma Bryant arrived last night. She's Darrol & Susan's youngest. In her thirties now, she was just a child when the family first came to India in the 1980s. Apparently she has developed a taste for the place, seeing as how she now lives in Goa more than half the year with her partner, Clinton. Emma has come up north to see her brother and dad, and spend the remainder of the trip with the group. That’s the good news. The bad is that my new friend and current roommate, Ben Bryant, is leaving on a jet plane, to quote folkies Peter, Paul & Mary. He has to be back in Virginia to be with his young family and report back to work. Farewell, Ben. Ten days just wasn't enough!

Emma shows her snazzy electro zapper water purifier thingy to the camera. She's the only Westerner I know who drinks tap water here. A testament to her dedication to not scattering plastic bottles all over the place. Also to her courage!

I spend the remainder of Saturday temple hopping. Bodh Gaya has attracted temple builders from practically every country where Buddhism is prominent, and as a result, there is a great variety of architectural styles. The Thai, Bhutanese, Vietnamese, Nepalese, Japanese, Chinese and of course Tibetans, have all constructed here.

There is a Buddhist temple just across a big field from the Vien Giac, and there's a party of some kind going on.

I wander over and hesitantly crash the party. But almost immediately, I am made to feel welcome by a couple of young and curious boys.

A middle-aged man comes up to me. I think he's wanting to make sure his kids are safe, and maybe he is, but he's also wanting to tell me what the event is all about; or maybe he's wanting to convert me.

Here's a bit of the conversation between me and my Sikh evangelist:

If I'm not mistaken, this man sees God as a teacher, and humanity as one family. I personally wish everyone thought and acted that way. The fact that this is a Sikh celebration in a Buddhist facility is a fine and hope-filled model.

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Continuing my temple-hopping, I join up with Matt and Emma, and we do a little touring of this fascinating town. Our first stop is the more modern "Great Buddha Statue" unveiled by TIbet's 14th Dalai Lama and Japanese abbot Rev. Y. Sugisaki in 1989. He's a formidable sight to behold. All 80 feet of him. Good thing he’s not standing up. He’d be downright scary.

Mat snaps this shot of me wearing my gold kurta (again). Hey, I only have 3 shirts. Darrol made us pack light.

The Royal Bhutanese Monastery.

The wise and fierce Padhmasambhava, saviour of Tibetan Buddhism, inside the Bhutanese monastery.

Buddha. Also inside the Bhutanese Monastery.

Wall sculpture.

The Wat Thai Temple.

No time to go into the Thai temple. In need of a break, and then another fine Vietnamese meal at the Vien Giac. That evening, several of us wander back to the Maha Bodhi Temple.

Every eve is Christmas Eve at the path around the Maha Bodhi Temple.

Auspicious full moon this evening shines on the 180-foot spire through the leaves of the Bodhi tree.

A gaggle of monks circumnavigating the path (clockwise, of course), stop to honour the tree...

...and sit to chant and pray.

A side view of the great concrete fence which protects the tree, and the devotees who have come from far and wide.

Back to the room to end "Take-er-Easy Bodh Gaya Saturday", I snap a couple of shots before turning in for a night's sleep which I hope will stop this cold in its tracks.

Headlapmed Lou amidst the laundry

using the fan as a clothes dryer

In the next chapter or two, we say bye-bye-a to Bodh Gaya, mount another adventure with the colourful Indian Railway system en route to a city that conjures up all sorts of bleak, black, poverty stricken images - Kolkata (known for some time by the West as Calcutta). Yet another stereotype to be shattered. Personally, I think stereotype is a misnomer. Thinking in audio terms, we should call it monotype. One track. Narrow. Plain and uninteresting. If you see something with your own TWO eyes, you change it from mono to stereo. Just sayin.’

Happy reading!

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