Monday, December 21, 2009

Oh boy.

Morning with the Karmapa and après (veggie momos) lunch at the Mahabodhi Stupa . . . wow, this is what I call precious human rebirth!!


The shortest daylight day of the year broke cold and clear, after a 6:45am meditation (led by an ex-Theravadic monk) and some hot tea with chipatis (Indian flat breads), I joined the crowd of happy monks and lay people walking up the road to the Kagyu monastery for the Karmapa’s teaching.

His pre-teaching chanting was magnificent, and as those in the packed temple joined him it was truly beautiful -- am not sure it makes sense that something can be so heart-warming that it sends chills up and down the spine, but this was.

The morning teaching was quite nice, again following Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend -- a talk on respecting our parents, followed by a very precise discussion of generosity and how it relates to those on the Bodhisattva Path, and then a sincere discussion about Root Gurus and their importance to those on the Tantrayana path. It is so precious to sit in a beautiful Tibetan-style temple with people from so many different countries, all being taught the inner workings of these qualities of human behavior that are the best in the world, by this dignified, wise and young ancient lineage holder. And then, with a chant the morning teaching ends and he departs, and with minds freshly touched, we walk out into the warming Indian morning.

Some things don’t change, and one of those is the Tibetan Om restaurant, the best Tibetan place in town. Always crowded, just large tables and benches, find an empty spot, say hi to your new eating neighbors and choose your meal . . . for me it was momos, Tibetan dumplings filled with shredded cabbage and spinach.

From the Om it’s a ten minute walk to the Mahabodhi Stupa, the large iconic temple that serves as the Eiffel Tower of Bodhgaya, it is the image everyone sees. The stupa itself stands where Siddhartha awakened into Buddhahood, inside is a beautiful golden statue of the Buddha, said to be in the very spot, facing in the same direction, as Siddhartha did 2,500 years ago when he awoke. Right here.

Butting up against the temple is the famous Bodhi tree, the grand-offspring of the tree under which Siddhartha became enlightened. A cutting from that tree was taken to (what is today) Sri Lanka, and then a cutting from that tree was brought back and planted in Bodhgaya. That tree, the most famous on the planet, exists here today, it is a ficus tree, with a magnificient broad trunk and wide-ranging branches.

The stupa and the tree sit in the middle of a kind of beautifully unique multi-level park, which from the air is a mandala, filled with hundreds of stupas, statues, gardens, and historic spots. People from all over the world come here to do kora (cirumambulate) around the stupa, meditate on the grounds or under the tree, pray, chant, do prostrations, read sutra, recite mantra, reflect, contemplate, think, appreciate. Simply an incredible place for anyone to be, and for Buddhists, all the more special, because this is it, the spot, where it all began.

This is where I spent my afternoon. It feels like home.

Under the tree, walking, sitting, talking to various people, taking pictures, etc. Fantastically surreal precious time. On occasions I’d be sitting, then open my eyes and see where I was and feel a deep sense of "wow"! -- it's a sense that's hard to describe; the essence of spirit, the stuff of poetry.

(I smile as I look at some of the adjectives I’ve used in the past few paragraphs – incredible, fantastically surreal, special, beautifully unique, etc – and the thing is, none of them really touch it, that open-hearted, magically precious combination of conditions and aggregates that all come together like some kind of nuclear mind fission of bliss. I know, I know, there he goes again, off on a joy-rant, but in my mind this is how it is, really.)

In the guidebook it says “Mahabodhi Stupa” -- but in each and every mind that experiences what exists there is a name that emerges from the deepest recesses, a name consisting of feeling and wonder and beauty, and it goes vastly beyond any words ever spoken or written.


After the last of the Karmapa’s teachings in the morning, I’ll be back at the Stupa in the afternoon, preparing to enter my seven-day Tara retreat, which begins tomorrow evening.

Oh boy.