Sunday, January 06, 2008

Rajgir and Nalanda

Hi all.

OK, this is a kind of look at my trip at almost the half-way point, a bit of a travelogue.

As I've mentioned in the e-mails I've written, I haven't been feeling so well ever since I got here about two weeks ago.

A pretty stubborn and deep-seated chest infection, seemingly immune to antibiotics, accompanied by periodic moments of fever, fatigue, headaches, etc. Just can't seem to shake it. Have taken to wearing a face mask when I go into town, the thick chocking dust makes my breathing really difficult, deep breaths sometimes painful.
This trip to India has been of a different ilk; unlike the previous ones when I came over and bee-lined to settlement in the Himalayas, this one has involved traveling through and being in some very difficult places - it is much more an "adventure" and boy do I feel it. India is never easy, and that's especially true the way I travel, close to the bone financially, trying to remain light and nimble, I think I may be beginning to feel my age a bit, so many aches and pains, deep fatigue, etc.

I am learning some wonderful dharma, so far being successful in "deepening my practice" as I said I wanted to do before I left. Beginning tonight (Sunday) I'll begin an intensive ten-day Lam Rim meditation retreat, led by an absolute master, an Australian monastic who is just wonderful - knowledgeable and articulate. It will be physically tough: long hours, a cold gompa, mosquitos, at times very emotionally rough subject matter . . . Am hoping my coughing ends by the time the retreat stops, we'll see.

I think the work we'll do over the next ten days is going to "rock" whatever remains "unrocked" in my little world.

But that's why I and others come to India, such an intense place: to pull the rug out, knock things around, shake us awake. And then, with the shake-up complete, and with the help of beneficial dharma realizations, we try to put it all back together in ways in which it's more intuitively natural to live lives that are less self-cherishing, more compassionate and wise, more joyful. The expression "you've got to break some eggs to make an omelet" comes to mind here.

I've done some writings about Bodhgaya, you can read the pieces on my blogsite at if you're so inclined . . . they tend to be a bit long, I could use a good editor. Sorry. There's been some reaction to the latest one I posted, I believe it was on 2 january and was fairly extreme.

The juxtaposition of pilgrims (monks and lay people) from around the world coming to this place where the Buddha achieved his enlightenment, contrasted with the unbelievable Biharian poverty and sentient-being suffering is intense, and it seems whenever I sit down to write it's directly to that local beauty-and-beastlike existence my mind goes. Clearly, things are being processed.

(There is a place I've discovered in town that is, as I perceive it, a direct porthole to a hell-realm. It's a spot unlike any other I've ever been to, or even imagined, I'm not sure I will (or can) write about it, if I don't perhaps one night we'll talk of it.)

On Friday I traveled about 80km north to Rajgir, the site of Mass of Vultures Mountain where the Buddha turned the wheel of dharma as he taught the true nature of reality (i.e., emptiness) and where the dialog between Shariputra, Avalokiteshvara and the Buddha as portrayed in the Heart Sutra took place.

I was with a small group of (eight) friends and we hiked up the mountain along the beggar-lined path until we finally made it to the top, known as the Gridhakuta or Vulture's Peak, the location of many of Buddha's teachings as well as the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, aka the Heart Sutra.

There, under soaring hawks, surrounded by rugged (still they say tiger-infested) ravines filled with ancient caves -- including a small one said to be one of the Buddha's favorite meditation places -- we sat and read the Heart Sutra together.

To sit on that mountain-top in the cool early morning mist, reading the Heart Sutra aloud with a small group of dharma-teers composed of an Italian, an Australian, a Tibetan, a German, a Dutch, a Canadian, an Israeli and an American (me), the eight of us connected together with all the planet's people who have read that seminal Buddhist text during the past 2,000 years - and all those sentient beings whose lives were affected by those who read and acted upon those words -- was deeply moving, a combination of spiritual, joyful, serious, dreamlike, huge, heart-warming and "hard-to-believe it's me". A grand, unforgettable dharma moment.

Afterward we visited some hot spings (too crowded) and then went to the excavated ruins of Nalanda "University" - the first residential international university in the world (sorry, Oxford), that during its flourishing years (between the 5th and 12th centuries) housed more than 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers at any one time. Courses of study included scriptures of Buddhism (both Mahayana and Hinayana schools) Vedas, logic, medicine.

According to the scriptures, the Buddha visited the site of Nalanda many times, it formed an important location for his activities. And for those Chenrezig Projecteers to whom the names of the ancient Buddhist masters are beginning to become familiar, besides Buddha, Shariputra, Nagarjuna, Shantideva, Padmasambhava, Asanga and King Asoka also "slept" here.

To see Nalanda as the springhead from which Buddhism traveled far and wide -- including Tibet, Yalaha and all places between -- is not an overstatement.

Back to Bodhgaya. There's one place in town where the food's said to be safe to eat, it's a dirt-floor tent named Mohamad's and is very crowded with travelers and pretty much the local "meeting spot." The food IS very good, and "India" cheap. Mohamad's chai tea is delicious, but that's not unique, just about any of the vendors along the side of the road make good chai, and at 5 rupees per glass (12 cents) one drinks lots. (The coffee drinkers say it is impossible to find good coffee here.)

The weather has been fantastic, cold nights and mornings, sunny and warm afternoons. I don't believe I've seen a cloud for two weeks (except for those made of dust).

So, that's it for now, my finger stops here. I hope everyone who is reading this is well and happy. Special regards and warmest feelings sent to Karen and Rich, please know you guys are in my heart and mind everywhere I go and in all I do (except for the coughing, of course).

I look forward to returning home to you all and sharing what I've learned. I have some nice photos to share as well. I'm so glad to read how well the CP meetings have been going in my absence. We are all so fortunate.

Strive on with diligence!