Did Buddha purposely plan his enlightenment in the poorest state in India? Bihar has the highest crime rate in India, lowest literacy and the women’s rights are non-existent. Along side this is the birthplace of Buddhism, a religion based on tolerance, middle path and non-violence. Contradictions are India and Bodhgaya is no exception.
My two-night stay in Bodhgaya turned into 10 days. Not my decision to extend my stay but the universe works in mysterious ways and there is no point in fighting. I was severely ill and was not capable of traveling, my plans of spending 10 days in Assam and Sikkim were cancelled. I initially spent the first few nights at Root Institute a Tibetan semi-monastery, then I moved myself to Tara Guesthouse which is ran by a Bihari family and Domonique from Corsica. This Guesthouse is a full on family atmosphere and language is no barrier, you can play with the children, help with cooking meals or just sit around to chat with the family. I have never seen so many happy people under one roof, the energy is perfect for fully enjoying Bodhgaya.. (http://www.taraguesthouse.co.in/) We decided that I have no family in Gujarat but I have a family to call my own in Bihar.
You have the usual haggling with shopkeepers and tuk-tuk drivers in Bodhgaya, even the monks and nuns have to haggle – it’s part of the culture. Buddhists around the world come here for their pilgrimage, not to mention the heads of the different Buddhist linage. All Buddhist nations have their own temple and monastery here and then there’s the temple of all temples – Maha Bodhi Temple. The Maha Bodhi is the location where Sihrdatta obtained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. The tree was destroyed by King Ashoka’s wife but a branch was planted in Annuradhapura, Sri Lanka.
I was invited to a private event to listen to His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa speak, which I’m glad I attended. (http://kagyuoffice.org/) I had to Google who the Karmapa was and his role in Buddhism. Turns out he’s as important as the Dalai Lama. He was a young monk in his early 30s, he mostly spoke in Tibetan but did not resist to correct the translator in English if the translator didn’t quite get the message correct.
Not far from the Maha Bodhi is the Dungeshwari cave, where Siddhartha tried the Jain route and starved himself. There is also a temple where Siddhartha decided that the Jain starvation route was too extreme and came out of the cave where he was presented with a bowl of rice pudding by a woman named Sujata. I like that Buddhism doesn’t have mythological aspect, it’s straight to the point – here are some general rules society should follow, do some self-reflection/meditation and try to be a good person. Buddha himself did not want to be idolized or worshiped, he was specific about following the path and not a person.
What is it about human nature that makes us want to worship an idol, higher being, etc? Do we not think we have our destiny in our own hands? Will praying change the outcome of our actions? Can we not trust ourselves to ensure our safety, happiness and well-being?
Do I recommend Bodhgaya? Yes! Go for a spiritual calmness, the teachings of dhamma (how to be a better person) and a couple great Tibetan eateries. The Tibetan families come down between October – March to set up shop for the pilgrims, it was a nice break from the constant Indian food.