Bodhi Tree


Feb. 15-We arrived late afternoon in Gaya, a small town east of Sarnath. It is the site of the Bodhi tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment. We are staying at the Root Institute, a Tibetan monastery. We witnessed an old, highly respected Lama "transitioning" a dying goat. It was intense, with chanting, even humor, but with a great sense of compassion. At one point another goat walked over to lie with the dying one. We were offered chairs by the monks to be right at the front of this scene. I am sure any one of those monks would have told us that we are all going to die. In the East they honor death, in the West, we hide from it.

Dinner was simple, and silent. We then went to the town center which was bustling with people selling trinkets, and beggars. We bought tickets to enter the grounds surrounding the stupa, a large white washed temple that is about two thousand years old, and the tree. The tree itself was not as tall as I expected, but had a large trunk with large limbs parallel with the ground. I was told by a monk that someone had done a DNA test on a seed from the tree, and the result proved the tree to be about two thousand years old. I am not sure about any of this.

We circumambulated-a Buddhist term for walking clockwise, and mindfully, around the outer walk several times. This is called "walking kora." The stupa was tall and white-washed. I saw a number of monks doing prostrations, some continuosly and would do so day and night for some extended period.

I wish that I could describe this compound at the Root Institute, bird calls everywhere, squarish buildings, many trees, including banana. The courtyard has two large statues of Buddha, one Maitreya Buddha or the future Buddha, a large prayer wheel. We are awakened by bells, and chanting. The room is sparse, two beds, with very thin, hard mattresses. There are many other spiritual compounds nearby, including a Muslim compound next door. They start prayers at first light. I am told by Rinpoche's father that none of this was here in 1971.

Feb.16-We had an auspicious teaching this morning from a Lama referred to by Rinpoche as Gishela. He is one of the Dalai Lama's translators. Rinpoche says that Gishela does not lie down to sleep, but rather sits in meditation, and no longer has a concept of time. Yet, he was so energetic, so clear minded, so much a flow in such a spontaneous and dramatic way that the teaching seemed alive. He is writing a book on the difference between the brain and the mind. He talked about the Heart Sutra, which is one of the indirect teachings of the Buddha, particularly on form and emptiness. This is not a new concept for me, that form or all things arises out of emptiness. My only concern with it is how it does so without some creative desire to do so. This is where I seem to feel an omnicient being makes sense. Later Gishela took us back to the stupa to see the large statue of Buddha inside. It is not easy to get inside as there are long lines, and security. He said to think of the statue as Buddha himself or itself. One thing I remember him saying was that if you want enlightenment, you first have to set the conditions. "Because this is so, this is so."

I am still struggling with my ego. I feel so out of my element here.

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