What a novel concept, typing with both hands on a laptop rather than tapping out one letter at a time on my iPhone. Thank you to those that made it through all the unedited ramblings of my journey. I made it home safely and am now dealing with jet lag in the comfort of my bed, with my dog by my side. Before I get back to all the busyness that home brings, here is my last post (for now at least).
I hadn’t originally planned to come to Bodhgaya, I was supposed to go to Rishikesh instead. But after my time at Kopan monastery, I felt like I should at least visit the spot where Buddha became enlightened under the Bodhi tree. A friend at Kopan Monastery told me about the Root Institute (a meditation center), so that’s where I planned to stay for my final 6 nights in India. I actually had no idea that it was connected to Kopan, having been opened by Lama Yeshe back in 1984. What a lovely surprise to discover this and to also see a few familiar faces from Kopan when I arrived, including one of my Kopan roomies. It’s like I had come full circle and it felt like home. Three of us went for dinner the first night and visited the Maha Bodhi temple complex which houses the famous Bodhi tree where Prince Siddhartha sat and meditated until he found enlightenment (became a Buddha). Although not the original tree, this tree is said to have been grown from a branch of the original 2,500-year-old tree. Right behind the tree is a massive stupa/temple to mark the spot where Buddha became enlightened, which was fully restored in the 1880s. You cannot take your phone into the complex, so I will borrow some photos from the Internet. At night the temple is lit up and most of the visitors are devotees from all over the world coming to circumambulate, prostrate, meditate, and/or pray. The energy permeates the air, your body, and your mind.
The day after I arrived at the Root Institute many of the participants started the Green Tara retreat, which meant that everyone was in silence. This was completely fine with me and I welcomed the time to process my trip. I thought about my Buddhist practice, going over what I thought I had done well and where I could have dealt with things differently – all without judgement. I was happy to get back into a routine and join the morning meditation sessions and eat yummy buffet-style food, with salad! It was on that second day that I was so excited to finally have “safe” salad but quickly decided that I am no longer going to pretend to like cucumbers. There are conversations you have in your head while silent – in mine, I literally broke up with cucumber. It was also that salad, I believe, that made me sick. Seriously, I gave away what I thought was all my meds, thinking there was no way that I would get sick in my final 6 days at a meditation center. I had eaten at some very questionable places in India and in a month had not gotten sick, so I thought I was in the clear. Whatever it was, it knocked me out. I got up and meditated at 6:45am and then crawled back into bed until noon. Stayed up a few hours reading and then went back to bed. I couldn’t eat anything, which wasn’t the worst thing after all the over-indulgence. Thankfully I found a strip of three azithromycin tabs that I missed when giving everything else away. After 3 days of antibiotics, I was feeling normal again. Part of me also thinks that my adrenal glands are completely shot. Imagine walking along and a driver sneaks up behind you and then lays on their horn. Then imagine that happening about 50x per day. That’s what it’s like in India. they seem to think that I am going to randomly toss my body into the intersection so they’d better let me know they are there just on case. Thanks for that.
I visited the temple three more times just to circumambulate and meditate. I visited once during the day and confirmed that evenings were the better time to visit. Less tourists but thousands more mosquitos, so repellent is a must. The meditation park sounded nice but it’s actually under construction and was filled with men supposedly working, more like napping. During my meditation I felt like I was being stared at so I opened an eye and sure enough there is a huge group of Chinese tourists watching me. Better to just pick a spot amongst the crowd around the stupa. On my final evening there, a monk from Thailand handed me a leaf from the Bodhi tree saying that it was a gift. I thought, “oh how lovely” put my hands in prayer and said thank you. He then put out his hand and asked for his gift, I laughed thinking that he really didn’t understand the meaning of “gift” and handed him 10 rupees.
I also visited the 80 foot Buddha statue, which is just basically a place to take selfies from what I saw. There are many other Buddhist temples in Bodhgaya, built by/for Buddhists in many different countries. I did not visit many of them as I was done being a tourist and I preferred the quiet of the meditation center. I spent most of my time reading, including a book about a Buddhist nun from the UK who spent 12 years meditating in a Himalayan cave. I also watched a movie with the nuns and monks staying at Root about the Dalai Lama’s time in India. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, but it was very good. Other than the illness, my time at the Root Institute was nice and an important segue in preparing me for my trip home.
The temple complex was beautiful and peaceful as was the Root Institute, everywhere in between was dirty, loud, and extremely poor. It was the first place in my travels where I felt worse for the people than I did for the dogs. There are literally people everywhere with bowls out and hands outstretched for food or money. It was also the first place where I felt I needed to give what I could as the people were not aggressive about it and in obvious need. I am truly blessed to live a comfortable life in Canada and be able to afford to travel. Sometimes you need to be reminded of that. I’m still processing everything and am very happy to be home. I am not sure if I’ll visit India again but if I do, I still want to make it to Rishikesh one day.