We arrived in Bodh Gaya the end of January but it feels like we’ve been here much longer than that! Bodh Gaya is a small, dusty town west of Varanasi in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. Traditionally a farmland, it’s common to see cows, goats, chickens and dogs wandering the streets but it’s become quite a bustling tourist and pilgrimage destination. People from all over the world come to visit and pay homage to Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, who meditated and nearly starved himself to death before realizing what he called the Middle Way, when he became enlightened. It happened 2500 years ago, but somehow the energy of the place makes his presence very much alive today through the many people gathered around the holy site under the famous Bodhi tree making offerings and reciting prayers.
Just outside the Mahabodhi Temple complex, which is where the main temple and Bodhi tree resides, is a busy hustle and bustle of beggars, children, and those who are disabled, sick and aging asking for money as well as many street vendors selling flowers, butter lamps and much more to the visitors. The Buddha’s first teaching in Sarnath called the First Noble Truth where he stated, “There is suffering” is alive in every moment in Bodh Gaya. The harsh conditions have weathered the local folk and it all becomes part of the greater picture as to why the Buddha chose to become enlightened here. Perhaps if he chose an area where people were really healthy, rich or overall doing well then his teachings wouldn’t have such resonance.
Our lives here have been quite simple. We’re staying in a guest house about 1/2 mile from the complex. We eat all of our meals at the Tibetan Om restaurant, which mostly consists of Momos (Tibetan dumplings) and Banana tsampa (wheat porridge). The food is delicious and homemade by a very kind Tibetan family. We visit the Mahabodhi temple each day and practice. And we also have been practicing at Tergar monastery. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be here, it’s profoundly inspiring for our practice and I hope to benefit others more in the future.
Posted by Kate Dutton on February 17, 2019.