Bodh Gaya – The Buddhist Theme Park

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There are four places which are important and the ultimate pilgrimages for Buddhists. There is his birthplace which is Lumbini in Nepal, his death place at Kushinigar, India, his first sermon at Sarnath, Varanasi (more about this in later blog) and the place where he sat under a tree for a bit, as steady as a tampon, before attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in the lawless state of Bihar. (lawless today that is). The exact spot where he did this is now a shrine to Buddhists and spiritual seekers worldwide wanting to visit the tree where he battled off Mara. It of course is not the original tree but a descendant of it, but the spot is still the spot.

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Scholars have often debated what Mara is. It is commonly known as a demon who came to tempt Buddha back into worldly attachments, copied some 500 years later by Bible writers when their own version of Mara, S*tan, similarly tempted Jesus in the wilderness. The difference in these stories is that the Buddhist one is known and understood to be symbolic. Well the spot at Bodh Gaya is where that all happened though I think Mara was not the worst thing for Mr B, it must have been the mosquitoes because they seem to like it here better than anywhere else in India. One can only assume that the Buddha, when he eventually got up, was rather spotty.

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It’s not an easy place to get to, Bodh Gaya. We had to grab an internal flight to Patna which at first experience reminded me of Philip Pullman’s description of Hell in ‘His Dark Materials’. We stayed overnight at one of Patna’s better hotels – comparable to a bad Travelodge that has been taken over by a biker gang. We were on the top floor but luckily we were still able to hear, as if it was happening in the en-siute bathroom, the Indian rave going on in the function room three floors below. And this was a Wednesday!

Leaving in the morning, we tested our patience at the railway station to try to get a train to Gaya, 5 hours away. We had two hours to wait and became a curiosity to all other travellers because one guy could speak English and wanted to know everything about us.  Our answers were translated to the 600 people circling us at a distance of 6 inches. When the train came in, some kids ran in and jumped on to seats and said they were for us – and a pleasurable journey was had.
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Once at Gaya though, things got a bit scary. We needed to find a tuk tuk to take us the remaining 12 miles to Bodh Gaya itself and it was then that three young lads, doing a credible impression of a pack of hyenas, began stalking Alison, right on her tail. I nodded to my son James that we have a problem and we turned and faced them off. I gave them my best show of teeth and emitted a little growl and they backed off. This was noticed by approximately 10,000 other locals and then I remembered, from all the travel guides, that the state of Bihar should be avoided, if at all possible. I have learned, in my life, three tactics to ward off violence – the most drastic and risky being an actual teeth bearing growl. The other two are to either suddenly become very gay and very camp (people say I’m *too* good at this) or to cock one’s head, point randomly into the sky and begin slobbering. It is my experience that guys don’t generally hit you if you adopt one of these.

However, this incident marred our arrival into Bodh Gaya – which was met by a guy riding alongside our tuk tuk on a motorbike offering accommodation for only £3.50 a room per night. In exhaustion we instructed the tt driver to follow him and so began what would turn out to be the worst sleep or more accurately wake I’ve ever had. Apart from the room being bereft of air conditioning – just a wobbly ceiling fan -our bedrooms were a meeting place, if not the meeting place for mosquitoes, the likes of which I’ve never seen, the new mattresses were bedecked with plastic sheets, so when the power goes out, which is about every hour, the ceiling fan stops, the 90 degree heat mingles with the plastic sheet and the mozzies come out to play, and as there is no power,  you can only hear them, and hear them everywhere – and when the power does eventually come back on you catch yourself in the mirror, soaked with sweat doing a wonderful impersonation of a lunatic with rickets repeating words like ‘for fucks sake’ and ‘bastard’s at an unacceptable volume.

The next morning, bleary eyed, wandering around the town it becomes very obvious that Bodh Gaya is a Buddhist theme park. Each country has it’s own monastery, even China, vying to be the most impressive.

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It was so much like the Epcot Centre only with added cows and stray dogs. The Tibetans are currently constructing one which rivals a football stadium.

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We visited several and marveled at the architecture and artifacts, we visited the Big Buddha statue before going to the Mahabodhi Temple, where the tree is.

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Security was tight as there had been a bomb explode not too long ago but once inside the grounds, it was all very impressive. Shoes off, we headed for the tree. Fenced off, overhanging a courtyard in front of the temple, there it was, or there the spot was, and we sat with many others contemplating the significance of the spot and watching monks trying to out-monk each other with the best meditation posture, and then it happened – a gust of wind! And so began the best entertainment so far.  Each gust dislodged a few leaves, and fortuitously one fell near my feet, but looking up, I witnessed Buddhist mayhem. When the leaves came to the ground the monks didn’t actually fight, but ‘withdrew’, when another had beaten them to a leaf.  It was akin to a rock idol throwing plectrums into a crowd.  One tattooed Burmese monk had a whole bag.
I think they were learning about attachment.

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There was also a meditation garden which you had to pay admission to enter if you didn’t intend to meditate but it was free if you were to meditate or, I guess, pretend to. The irony of this was not lost on me.

That evening on the street we met some lovely teenagers who spoke good English who walked with us for an hour or so and couldn’t grasp that most English people can’t stand cricket. They asked me to buy them a football and I did and they are now facebook friends (Hi guys!)
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But it was time to arrange transport to get to Varanasi – the jewel in India’s crown and on inquiring I was whisked away on the back of a motorbike to a man who knows a man who can – and Varanasi is a whole new story

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all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

and for other Yoga and Buddhist related posts as well as general randomness see
kevollier.com/

I am not a Buddhist – McLeod Ganj

following on from https://kevollier.com/2014/05/10/delhi-to-mcleod-ganj/

‘I am not a Buddhist’ were words I heard myself uttering at the end of our three day stay in the home of the Dalai Lama – the town of Mcleod Ganj not the big man’s house itself of course.

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We dropped our backpacks into the Pink House Hotel, had a hearty breakfast of Mango Lassi, Chocolate and Banana pancakes and a Tulsi Tea and then went off to discover the town. After just 100 yards I was approached by a woman with a baby who told me that she didn’t want money, just food, for her starving child. How could one possibly refuse? –  so I was led back the way I’d come, to a shop. It was at this time I realised that I’d become part of a scam I hadn’t come across before. The shopkeeper was well prepared for me as I assume the woman must do this as many times a day as she can get away with. The choice offered was rice or/and milk and I decided to pay my dumb dues and pick rice – at 400 rupees a bag which I later found was about 350 rupees too much. I guess that she gets a small commission and the shop owner, Mr Robin Bastard, gets the rest. I left muttering inner ffs’s and started back up the road only to met by another woman and a baby. I couldn’t tell if it was the same woman and baby and I entertained the prospect that today might actually be groundhog day. This time I said No. I learn fast.

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Apart from gangs of babies clutched by women, McLeod is brimming with purple robed Buddhist monks and nuns and a hefty mix of dreadlocked Ohm wearers who fill the many groovy cafes and funky restaurants.

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Most of the population are Tibetan non-monk refugees fleeing the on-going Obama and Cameron ignored  atrocities of the Chinese which has been on-going since 1960 when the first refugees came and still do to this day.

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Tibetans outnumber the Indians by at least 5 to 1

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All of the buildings are built in Tibetan style which include the residence of the Dalai, the Tibetan Childrens Village, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute and hundreds more. I wasn’t sure about the Astrological one as I’m a Virgo and it’s a known Virgo trait not to believe in Astrology. There is the Library of Tibetan Works and countless yoga and meditation centres. It was in Mcleod Ganj that I discovered what I assume must be a Tibetan delicacy – French Toast. Everywhere does it and they all compete for taste. This is not Eggy bread, this is French Toast – the names don’t even sound similar.

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What surprised me here was being in a restaurant and monks ordering chicken. I was always under the impression that sentient beings weren’t supposed to be eaten and apparently the Buddha himself died choking on pork which might have been his very last lesson on the pitfalls of eating a fellow sentient. But more than that, from what I understand, a monk dons his robes to renounce the world, but I didn’t encounter one who wasn’t holding a smartphone or an ipad where, rather than renounce the world, you can access all of it, 24/7 which makes becoming a monk bloody easy in my opinion.

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I always wonder what Christ would think, if he came back, and allegedly he’s supposed to, of all the churches built in his name, each one with his murder hanging from every arch and alter and I do wonder what Buddha would think of all the golden statues of him, some small with holes in his head to hold joss sticks, some so big to rival a cathedral.
At least the Buddhists don’t have his everlasting image as a guy trying to cough up some bacon, so he got a better deal than Jesus.
And where does it say that to understand the teachings of the big B one has to shave one’s heads or don robes or prostate?
It doesn’t.
The philosophy and teachings of a tuned in being, once again, have been lost or side stepped into a religion of ritual – yet another case of fingers pointing at the moon.

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The Dalai Lama was in residence when we were there, though I think he was having a lie-in and indeed the temples are certainly very  impressive – as buildings and as symbols of devotion, and all of it with the majestic and mystical snowy peaks of the Himalayas as a back drop. It is a magical town.

Yoga Biking

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As I understand things, all spiritual teachings are taught, essentially, to allow one to strive for one thing, stillness of mind.  Yoga Asanas are there, as just one limb of eight, to prepare the body for meditation so that it can sit as still and as comfortably as possible without having ones legs turn blue so to be able to calm the mind, and along with the other seven limbs, to realise that all is just thought from which arise our attachments and aversions and ultimately the universe we individually live in.

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Television and the media has managed to shepherd us all into a similar pattern of thoughts and thinking and so we all seem to kind of agree on a similar ish universe.   Spiritual teachings however can, at least temporarily, have us experiencing other new and enticing universes, be it a Buddhist one or an Islamic one or Sufi, Hindu, Jesuit, Jain, and so on, until we are ready to drop that too and to simply be.  In the meantime whilst we are travelling on our own long yellow brick road to our inner wizard, terrible wars are being fought, insanely, because different collectives of people are holding on tightly, very tightly, to the universe that they think they live in, a universe based in religion, a religion that they insist is the only true one. The truth is that the world is squabbling and killing over who has the best imaginary friend.

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Meditation, I am told, is simply a way to let go, to not hold on to anything.

The Tibetan word for meditation “Gom” means “to become familiar with one’s Self” which is different, well slightly different to self familiarity that happens around puberty. The later more grown up familiarity is encouraged for training the mind to understand states that are rewarding such as concentration, compassion, correct understanding, patience, humility, perseverance, awareness and mindfulness.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be done sat in lotus imitating Buddha or Ramakrishna.  It is accepted nowadays that posture is not really that important. Buddha could just as well have sat on a chair and got boomshanka’d but, like most yogis of the day,  he was a wandering sadhu and chairs were not lying around in fields and under enlightening trees. Sitting in lotus is another case of us human types imitating. We no longer dress up as Batman or play air guitar – well not in public at least – but if Buddha got through by sitting cross legged then we seem to think that’s the way for us all, but where does this end?

If Christ had been hung from a gallows, rather than crucified on a cross, Christians would today undoubtedly be wearing nooses around their necks, albeit small ones on a pretty chain – but I digress.  So it’s surely not really about posture,  you can do walking meditation, standing meditation, kneeling meditation –  it’s about stillness  – specifically stillness of mind and recently I discovered a forced yoga if you will, about 3 minutes after driving off on a recently required, not been on one for 28 years, motorbike.

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Materially, It’s a great bike, the result, some say, well a lot say to be honest, of a ‘mid life crisis’ though I simply fail to see where there is any crisis happening, I’m having a great time – It does just under 80 to the gallon and it will hit 110 mph (apparently) with road tax at only £37 per year. So, by comparison to cars, it’s very ecological and economical and shockingly, to me, extremely meditative. (oh yeah and a lotta lotta fun)

From moving off you are forced into
1/ letting go of any fear immediately and
2/ having an instant and perpetual lesson in both awareness and mindfulness – and you can’t do any of these if you are not totally focused and full to the brim of concentration.

The roads are clogged nowadays more than ever and the Highways Department consider two-wheel riders approximately not at all. The manhole covers are very rarely level with the road surface, any utility works undertaken are then resurfaced by what can only be the local playgroup. Farmers, bless them, do try to help by adding a layer of mud wherever possible and councils love to decorate them with rumble strips and speed humps.  This is before you encounter any other actual road users , so from the off you are ‘in the zone’ and to understand or at least second guess other drivers you must have a full tankard of both empathy, and to discourage you from giving the finger, compassion.

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one must stay alert at all times

Distraction is limited, unlike being in a cocoon vehicle because it’s very difficult and extremely messy to eat or drink on a bike and you simply cannot hear a word on the mobile phone and texting is particularly trying and turning around to see what the kids are doing would be very illegal. You are simply there. On the bike, there is, no mortgage, no debt, not even a family,  just you and the space around you most commonly referred to as ‘the moment’ though you can never know that you’re in the moment because you’re in it.  I concur with film star and Ducati rider Ryan Reynolds who recently said, “I love the fact that on a motorcycle, riding is the only thing you’re doing”.  Although I’d add saying ‘yippee’ in quite a high voice within the confines of the helmet.
I imagine  surfers have the same feeling of oneness and yippee, except the only obstacles they have to look out for are passing turds. The organisation ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ isn’t in existence for nothing dude.

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And to yoga class – it’s the only way to travel.

And all the time the wheels are moving, you are naggingly, very wide awake aware of the biggest one of all – impermanence but all the time holding an inner smile and something that might be called loveOr maybe delusion

The Human Test

The UK has on its streets, in every town and city, Big Issue sellers. The Big Issue offers people who are homeless the opportunity to earn their own money; a livelihood.  The Big Issue Foundation offers vendors the opportunity of a life. They work tirelessly alongside the vendors to help them deal with the issues that have caused their homelessness or have developed as a result of hitting the streets.

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The way we can experience the feeling of shame (if buying clothes from Primark hasn’t ignited a conscience) is to realise that those people selling that Big Issue, as mentioned in another post, could very, very easily be your mum, dad, brother, sister, son, daughter, grandchild or of course even you – and the way the world is going currently, that is a possibility. Knowing that and then walking past a seller should, if of course you are human ignite that spark of shame and prove you are not an alien. What reasons do people possibly delude themselves with to justify walking past?

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“Never look down on someone unless you are helping them up. As you go about your daily life please do stop and say hello to a vendor, buy a magazine” ~The Big Issue Foundation.  – besides, it’s a bloody good *weekly* read!

Valentine message from the Buddha

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
The Discourse on Loving Kindness.
What should be done by one who’s skilled in wholesomeness
To gain the state of peacefulness is this:
One must be able, upright, straight and not proud,
Easy to speak to, mild and well content,
Easily satisfied and not caught up
In too much bustle, and frugal in one’s ways,
 With senses calmed, intelligent, not bold,
Not being covetous when with other folk,
Abstaining from the ways that wise ones blame,
And this the thought that one should always hold:
“May beings all live happily and safely
And may their hearts rejoice with themselves.
Whatever there may be with breath of life,
Whether they be frail or very strong,
Without exception, be they long or short
Or middle-sized, or be they big or small
Or thick, or visible, or invisible,
Or whether they dwell far or they dwell near,
Those that are here, those seeking to exist–
May beings all rejoice within themselves.
Let no one bring about another’s ruin
And not despise in any way or place,
Let them not wish each other any ill
From provocation or enmity.”
Just as a mother at the risk of life
Loves and protects her child, her only child,
So one should cultivate this boundless love
To all that live in the whole universe
Extending from a consciousness sublime
Upward and downward across the world
Untroubled, free from hate and enmity,
And while one stands and while one walks and sits
Or one lies down still free from drowsiness
One should be intent on this mindfulness–
This is divine abiding here they say.
But when one lives quite free from any view,
And greed for sensual desires expelled,
One surely comes no more to any womb.
The Buddhas’s words
Sutta Nipata

The British Buddhist Holy Isle.

On the 18th April 1992 Buddhist Lama Yeshe Rinpoche bought a whole island off the coast from the Island of Arran which in turn is off the coast of Scotland. It is called Holy Isle and must not be visited, indeed given the widest possible birth, if you can’t cope with peace, beauty, tranquility and serenity.
The island came into Buddhist hands via a devout catholic no less, Mrs Kay Morris, who owned Holy Isle and had been ‘instructed by Mother Mary in a dream’ to pass Holy Isle to Lama Yeshe to be used for peace and meditation. See –  http://www.holyisland.org/

We went there this year as the second part of the annual ‘lads walk’.  We’d spent the first part, a couple of days, walking the wilds of Arran getting sunburned and heat stroke as we’d managed to marry our trip with the hottest weather Scotland has had since Dodo’s were a menace to outdoor chip eaters.

Arrival on Arran


There was only four of us this year and one of us, a freelance writer, was writing an article on our visit for Kindred Spirit magazine. It was the third day of our trip that we caught the small ferry over to this car free paradise. The plus with Holy Isle is that nobody is playing at being Buddhist. There was some disappointment by one of our group as he’d genuinely expected that our boat, on landing, would be met by a line of purple cloaked, bald blokes ringing bells and welcoming us on to their island. I wondered if he also thought they would be saying Aloha and passing garlands of thistles around our necks.
The resident Buddhists are simply average people of all ages who are trying to follow a peaceful existence via the teachings of Buddha. This, in other words, is not a pretentious new age centre.

The main building

The island consists of a main building which houses the dormitories, library, kitchen and dining room. There is no TV room, no amusement arcade or gym because like the world over they’re not really necessary. Behind this there is another building where the courses are held and at the far end of the island, about half a mile away, was a not for visitors retreat centre where twelve women are currently on a three year, three month, three day retreat. They were 18 months in to it at the time of our visit in May 2012.  The disappointed friend drew looks, accompanied by frowning eyebrows, when he inquired if this was voluntary on their part, obviously having decided to himself that we were on some sort of unwelcoming Zen Alcatraz.
In the hillside above the retreat centre there was a couple of eco-lodges for people on a lifetime retreat and once the resident has passed on the lodge also gets passed on to the next person on the waiting list.

The retreat building

The lifetime retreat lodges and the home of Lama Yeshe when he visits.

There is a also a wonderful cafe/shop on the grass beach which caters for visitors and helps fund the island and sells lots of mediation bowls which everyone seemed to try out and I imagine were there as some special meditative training test for the shop assistant.
Above the cafe was a meditation room which I visited at several ungodly hours to spend time, cross legged, cutting off the blood flow to my feet. I didn’t take my reading glasses into these meditations and was put on the spot when given a 2 inch thick set of cards to be able to recite the Chenrezig prayer, which was written in writing so small that I had no choice but to mumble along in a low Buddhisty sounding, throaty tone so as not to be exposed and glared at.

The Holy Isle passenger terminal looking towards Arran


Before meditation one morning as the sun was just up, around 5am as it happens, I decided to practice some yoga outdoors. There was a time when 5am was when I’d think of getting off home from a party and not heading for seclusion to do a yoga practice. I found a lovely spot by the sea edge looking across to Arran. I stripped down to my underpants because 1/ it was already hot and more importantly, 2/ I was alone – and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) and by the time I’d reached my first downward facing dog I realised I was not at all alone. I was joined by an ever expanding cloud of wee midges and these midges were not at all Buddhist and brought on what I can only describe as yoga turrets and a quick desertion of my practice as I ran back to the meditation hall with my new friends in hot, biting pursuit.

In the main building one could help oneself to free teas and coffees 24/7 and the food, three meals a day that are included in your £28 a night stay, was gorgeous vegan fayre. We all occasionally chipped in washing and wiping dishes and very quickly became part of the community  and after only three days it was as if we’d never lived anywhere else.

On Holy Isle, you are not expected to go to meditation or to do anything particularly. You are simply free to be. It is relaxation personified and still quite a secret.

Peaced out. Last night on the island. Arran in the background

On returning to Arran the next day with it’s one bus every two hours, seemed akin to being dropped into Manhattan on Christmas Eve. It took a while for the peace to dissolve back into distraction which suffice to say most of it eventually did – except for a small part that now sits there still – I guess, waiting for me.

There are currently plans to put a power plant on Arran which the Buddhist community fear will spoil the tranquility of Holy Isle causing noise, pollution and smoke.
see – http://tinyurl.com/9a387jd