I arrived in Bodh Gaya last Wednesday, via a 21-hour train journey from New Delhi. We were greeted by locals and the moastery staff – they had been waiting for our arrival.
Bodh Gaya is an important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists and even Hindus. It is the home of the Mahabodhi Temple and the Bodhi Tree, the tree under which the Buddha sat under at the moment of his enlightenment. Temples from many traditions of Buddhism surround the Mahabodhi Temple, which makes for an incredibly diverse set of pilgrims, travelling from China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Japan, etc.
There are 80 temples in town. The spirituality if the place us met by honking autorickshaws, the back alleys of the bazaar, street vendors on the steps up to the temple, and the “friendly guides” that capitalize on the generous attitude of the pilgrims and befriend you in hopes earning your trust and money in the some foreseeable future.
I’ve walking into town many times the buy necessities: clothes, medicine, printed documents, etc. but am still overwhelmed with the odors and the dust and the poverty and the pollution every time I leave the monastery grounds.
The Burmese Vihar is situated at the top of the L-shaped town, with the Mahabodhi temple sitting at the center joint. We are about a 9 minute walk to the temple. There we have a dining hall that serves all vegetarian and quite healthy food, with always an option of steamed rice and boiled vegetables for those with struggling with their digestive systems (which happens for many students.) We have a large open area near the Buddha shrine for meditation. The program has created a library for students- since we don’t have access to computers, we will primarily use books for our independent study projects that occurs the last month of the program. We also have a yoga room for yoga classes that happen three times a week. Nearby, we have a practice room for those who want to practice playing musical instruments. Playing music and singing is not allowed on monastery grounds.
We are starting classes; it’s quite difficult to focus with the frequent power outages and the heat, but I am sure we will get used to it. I am taking an anthropology class called “Contemporary Buddhist Culture” and a course called “Meditation Traditions” which includes meditation sits two times a day. We will start meditating at 5:30am and 5pm soon.