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Bamboo In The Wind                                 Articles - Journey To Bodh-Gaya

Journey To Bodh-GayaMap of India

Bodh-Gaya is located in the state of Bihar, the northeast section of India. Today, a pilgrim can fly into Patna, a city just north of Bodh-Gaya, two times a week. However, due to my plans for a weekend side trip, the only travel option was the train. ¹ 

Based on the solid recommendation by co-workers, I took the Rajstani Express from New Dehli to Gaya, a 12.5 hour train ride in the comfort of a sleeping berth. The compartment was shared with a family from Gaya. Luckily, their twelve year old son could speak English. He often translated our brief exchanges for his father. I was incredibly grateful for his presence as he interpreted train events (bedding delivery, meals, snacks, tipping and station arrival) for me.

While I didn't sleep a wink during the night, my mind rested in the rocking car and I felt cradled by the universe in the rhythmic motion of the train. There were few stops along the way. Darkness fell too soon to satisfy my curiosity about the landscape we were passing through. With the lights out I was left with my thoughts about why this pilgrimage?

Over the past years I had read sutras found in the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha that documented the places the Buddha traveled. The special distinction for Bodh-Gaya is the place where Gotama was enlightened. The notion of enlightenment started me on my own spiritual quest in the early '70s. Now, the place was calling to me as I recited the Meal Chant phases...'born in Lumbini, taught at Varanasi, enlightened at Bodh-Gaya'. And having the good fortune to travel to India on business, now for the second time, afforded me an opportunity I needed to act upon.

A few months back I read a Bodhi Leave pamphlet published by the Buddhist Publication Society on Pilgrimage. Not recalling any details, I surmised that right intention, right view, right mindfulness would be the way to prepare for such an undertaking. And so I began to meditate on Buddha's temptations by Mara on the eve of his enlightenment. I soon found myself confronting lustful thoughts, and visions of power. Not recalling the third temptation I let go of these thoughts and moved onto following the breath. It worked to clear my mind and lessen the tension in my body. I really was tired and wanted to sleep.

At 4:00am, father woke his family by turning on the light and expressing hurried gestures to get moving. We were all getting off at the same train stop Gaya. I was told we had 2 minutes to get off the train once we stopped at the station. My adrenaline was up as I stood in between the cars with my bag, behind the family. Yelling at the 4yr. old started once the train stopped. He wouldn't get off the train.. then finally with the aide of his older brother, he hopped off the train. When it was my turn, I threw my bag onto to the platform and jumped off, landing on my feet. I up righted my bag, pulled the handle and started to scan the platform for my driver who would take me to the hotel. I noticed there were armed men strategically placed on the platform. One approached me asking if I needed help. "No", I replied, "someone is meeting me." Frighten, I asked another passenger if he knew the way off the platform and he said to join him. Unfortunately, he headed in the wrong direction. Getting our bearings, he turns back when a man approaches with a handwritten sign reading, "Val Szymanski". Wow, was I grateful! "|The train was a half hour late|' he stated .

He took my bag handle and headed up the ramp and down into the station. In no time at all we breezed through a sea of people and I was seated in a white Land Rover for a 30 minute drive to Bodh-Gaya.

Arriving at the Hotel Lotus Nikko at 5:00am woke up the night porter.

Hotel Lotus Nikko


A brief registration and off to the room. Vases filled with beautiful roses greeted me in the modest room. Tropicana Jackson & Perkins roses were on the bathroom vanity. Half way around the world - a rose garden with the finest quality plants is cared for by hotel outside the lobby and shared with guests.

After a short rest and light breakfast, I arranged for a local to take me to the shrine. I wasn't clear about directions nor matters of safety.


The sun was out, the temperature was warm. At 2:30pm the tour guide and I walked down the road, pass the vendors to the shrine entrance. We removed and checked our shoes. Just 45 yards down the road was the stairway down to the shrine. A survey of the holy grounds revealed the main shrine surrounded by stupas, and side chapels. Tibetan monks were doing full prostrations (108) while other pilgrims were headed into the main shrine and circumambulating the building.


Gold Buddha

The main shrine has a huge gold Buddha in the second room at the end of a narrow corridor. Finding a small space, I make 9 prostrations, then make offerings to all beings. Incense fills the closed space.


Welcomed fresh air and sunshine as I circumambulate the shine to see the Bodhi tree, and the actual place of Gotama's enlightenment. The large banyan tree is impressive. Leaves dot the ground and I pick up 3. I find a comfortable place along the fence and meditate. Nuns are chanting in their native language, followed by the Tibetan chanting. The block stone soon reminds me of its characteristics. I finish circumambulating the shrine.

There was a respectful silence on the grounds. Very pleasant and meditative.

Bodhi Tree

Exploring the grounds in more detail I was attracted to the numerous stupas along the walkways. At first I passed some that I had seen on my way into the main shrine, then retraced my steps to photograph a particular stupa that called out to me.

Blue Stupa

The blue coloring was not apparent to my eye when I photographed this stupa. It was only in the printing of the film the mystery was revealed. There was something special about that stupa it's radiating lapis lazulli, the color of the healing Buddha.


Next stop up the stairs was the lagoon were Gotama was protected from the heavy rains by the serpent king. I wandered back into the main shrine area feeling soothed by the air and peacefulness. I walked slowly, slowing the minutes...then when it seemed right, up the stairs and out of the main area. I saw a single Zen Buddhist with a Rinsai style Rakasu having his picture taken at the top of the stairs and felt a deep companionship without a spoken word.

Curio shopping and a rickshaw ride to each denomination's temple to make offerings filled the remainder of the afternoon. I returned to the hotel for a rest.




By 7:00pm I headed back to the shrine to experience the shrine in silence. Candle lit stupas and walkways illuminated the way for walking pilgrims and monks doing prostrations. I listened to more chanting under the Bodhi Tree, entered the main shrine again, prostrating myself before Buddha.

I didn't want to leave the site so I walked down narrow pathways through the stupas. Finally, the late evening hour reminded me to return to the hotel....

After packing for the journey to Bangalore, I went to bed. Unfamiliar sounds frightened me and I knew Mara was back. No sleep, only rest. I decided to eat fruit as I had skipped dinner. By 1:00am I got up and took a shower, fearing my driver wouldn't arrive, I went down to the lobby by 2:30am. Some of the night crew woke up and shared the vigil wait for the driver. A gecko above the doorway had taken refuge behind the Buddha painting and came out to sit with us.

Promptly, at 3:00am the driver arrived and drove me to the train station. My anxiety increased as we walked to the platform. No women in site, and the train was running 30 minutes late. My driver wasn't too confident about catching the right train.

Soon over the speaker the announcement came that the train was about to arrive, but on a different platform than we expected. When the train arrived we quickly ran to the appropriate car but could not enter. The doors were locked! Then we tried a second door at the other end, and it too was locked. Where was that dharma door? The train conductor signaled me to head down to a different car. Once on the train, the conductor viewed my ticket and said I was on the wrong train! Yikes! I quickly got off the train and encouraged my driver to speak with the platform porters, which he did. This gave me some relief that I may get on the right train which showed up in 10 minutes.

With my driver's help I boarded the train and got situated in my berth. Blankets were delivered but no sleep came. By 5:30am lights were turned on and breakfast was served. Later, I received a visit from the conductor who talked about overpopulation as a root cause of India's problems. He invited me to visit his home on another visit to experience the beautiful sites in his state.

On the way to Harrah station, uneaten food was dropped off on the platform when the train stopped. It was obvious families depended on the generosity of the train personnel and their acute awareness of the value of the remaining food. This system seemed to work. I was grateful since my own appetite was light, recalling the meal chant phase, "emptiness of the 3 wheels: giver, receiver and gift".

Once in the Calcutta train station, I easily got assistance with my luggage and found my driver in no time at all. It was Sunday morning and the streets of Calcutta still were filled with people, some bathing in the public water facilities on the sidewalk, others bustling to and fro in the congested traffic. Though, the driver indicated the traffic was less than weekdays. A short visit to a Jain Temple before arriving at the airport reminded me of the incredible number of temples in India. This one was white with all cut glass in mosaic patterns. I caught a portion of a food blessing ceremony before continuing with my journey to the airport.

Tension seemed to drain from my body as I waited for the flight to Bangalore. I was in familiar territory and knew the rules.

Several weeks after I returned home I reflected on my journey and read in The Last Days of the Buddha, The Maha Parinbbana Sutta,²

"There are four places, Ananda, that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence. What are the four?

Here the Tathagata was born! This, Ananda is a place that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.

Here the Tathagata became full enlightened in supreme Enlightenment! This, Ananda, is a place that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.

Here the Tathagata set rolling the unexcelled Wheel of the Dhamma! This, Ananda, is a place that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.

Here the Tathagata passed away into the state of Nibbana in which no element of clinging remains. Ananda, is a place that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.

These, Ananda, are the four places that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence. And truly there will come to these places, Ananda, pious bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen, reflecting: 'Here the Tathagata was born! Here the Tathagata became fully enlightened in unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment! Here the Tathagata set rolling the unexcelled Wheel of the Dhamma! Here the Tathagata passed away into the state of Nibbana in which no element of clinging remains!

And whoever, Ananda, should die on such a pilgrimage with his heart established in faith, at the breaking up of the body, after death, he will be reborn in a realm of heavenly happiness."

The Buddha's Words.

¹ Trip taken March 1-3, 2003
² Last Days of the Buddha published by The Buddhist Publication Society, Sri Lanka