Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Bodhi Tree, Bodhgaya, India

the great great great ... grandchild of the original Bodhi tree where Budha attained enlightenment

A fair walk out of town followed by a left turn through rice paddies and fields of yellow mustard flowers takes you to Root Institute, a Buddhist retreat just outside the town where the Buddha sat under the famous Bodhi tree meditating and achieved enlightenment. In the garden of Root Institute a huge red and gold Tibetan prayer wheel spins; every full revolution a knob strikes a bell that clangs a sweet ripple of sound in a slowly ebbing rhythm.  Red, white, blue, green and yellow Tibetan prayer flags flap flap flap in the breeze that blows across the institute from the surrounding fields.  A golden Seated Buddha rests next to the mammoth prayer wheel.  Tall trees surround the center and the cottages laid out in its periphery, their leaves rustling in the wind. Dahlias, marigolds, roses, cosmos fill the grounds with color and fragrance.

Pigeons coo.  Crows caw.  Fluffy fat gray birds twitter and chirp.

There is a rule of "Silence," so every rustle of leaf, trill of bird, and clang of the prayer wheel bell can be heard distinctly.

As I was registering,  a Buddhist nun came scurrying into the office and demanded we all drop everything and follow her into the garden to celebrate the Tibetan New Year.  Everyone is summoned: maroon-draped monks, guests, ground-keepers, cooks, cleaners.  We form a semi-circle around the Buddha in the garden.  One chubby monk presents a bowl filled with what looks like wheat flour.  We each scoop up a bit in our fingers.  He chants "Suuuu..." We raise our flour-filled hands to the sky and lower them.  He chants "Suuu..." again and we repeat the action.  On the third "Suuu..." we throw the flour up into the air so that we all are covered in a fine dusting of white.  Everyone claps and cheers.  The receptionist and myself return to the office where I complete the filling out of the three forms that are requisite at all Indian places of accommodation.  Then I take my pack up to the dorm where I'll share a room that looks over rice paddies on one side and the Center on the other with five other women from around the world who are here to study Buddhist mediation.          

In the evening I go to town.  I enter the temple grounds.  Since it's the Tibetan New Year hundreds of maroon and saffron draped monks crowd the holy place.  We all circumnavigate the temple and Bodhi tree on a path lined with small Tibetan prayer wheels, spinning each wheel as we parade along.  One young monk prostrates himself every few feet.  Another wears red gloves on his hands to protect them as he scrapes his palms in an arc on the ground.  One young woman wears knee pads to protect her knees as she exuberantly hurls herself to the ground every few strides.

I circumnavigate the temple and the holy tree. Stopping here and there; observing some monks sitting cross-legged and meditating in specially designed mosquito-net tents just the perfect size and shape for cross-legged sitting meditation without the nuisance of those pesky, trance disturbing pests.  I spin prayer wheels.  I sit and meditate.  I walk around and around on the path.  Everywhere colored lights are strung.  The Tibetans call the New Year the Festival of Lights.  Monks stride around the temple like prayerful marathon walkers, bounding along with hands pressed together at chest level uttering incantations.  Other Buddhists chant and carry lighted candles.  Tourists take photos.  And on the lawn three Tibetans sit shaking green tambourines and droning Buddhist chants.

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