Forest Sangha Newsletter April 1998

Self-naughting; Aj Sumedho
Discernment v's Self-Deception; Upasika Kee Nanayon
Meditation Class; Aj Sucitto
Dhammma Refugee ; Ajahn Viradhammo
Pilgrim's Way: the Place of the Buddha; Ajahn Candasiri

Signs of Change:


Pilgrims' Way: the Place of the Buddha

Pilgrimage is a part of the tradition of any religion. It is a way of travelling to commemorative and sacred places to encourage recollection; although it is also the case that as much of the learning goes on in the course of the journey as at the destinations. In a way it is a symbol of the spiritual path itself, whose aim in the end is not to go anywhere, but to be more fully aware of where we are.
The journey is the goal.


Here are some extracts from letters that Ajahn Candasiri and Mei-chi sent us from their pilgrimage in India.
"Calcutta, 18th November ... we are enjoying a very benevolent introduction to Mother India staying these first few days with Bhante Dharmapal Mahathera in his temple...Bhante has been incredibly kind. He sent the temple car to meet us at the airport...A couple of monks appeared at the entrance of the departure lounge where we had been told to wait...and we were ushered into the car and driven off through the sleeping city. Mei-chi is a little concerned that it's all a bit soft - we have a pleasant room with its own bathroom and food appears at regular intervals. I told her I thought it would change....

"Lumbini, 4th - 7th December... Contrary to reports, we have discovered that there are mosquitoes in India and Nepal, but Mei-chi has a theory that they're timid and won't come in if they see light. So, after a disastrous night in Patna where we both got eaten alive, we have been sleeping with the light on - it seems to work...

"People had told us that we would probably get a tour bus up here from Bodh-Gaya, but it would probably take 4-5 days. So then we were told with great authority "You must take the train from Gaya to Varanasi; and from there another train to Gorakhpur and then buses" - but then we were told with equal certainty, "You must take a bus to Patna, that would be quicker than the train, and from there there are luxury buses to Lumbini" we tried to get a ticket for 7 a.m. but... "no, that bus doesn't run anymore, there is a bus at 2.00 p.m." That was a difficult journey: I had a horrible headache and Indian buses are NOISY and really shake you about. But the people were kind and made a special stop when I threw up. (After arriving at Patna) "Oh, no, you must take the train or bus to Varanasi and from there to Gorakhpur" we spent the day in the train to Varanasi.. and then another happy day on trains and buses and a jeep - did you know that you can get 17 people in/on a jeep?
"... watch the judging mind ..."

"We both like it here very much...I think it's because it feels very feminine. Of course the Buddha is here, but really in contemplating His birth it is His Mother Mayadevi whose presence is most strongly felt. So we have enjoyed that. We asked Bhante (Vimalananda) if it would be all right to meditate at night in the Mayadevi temple...there is that extraordinary sculpture of the birth of the Buddha...that has...for me the quality of the mystery of birth and the coming into manifestation.

" Lumbini is certainly developing, with lots and lots of temples...funded by the countries that they represent. I'm afraid that it won't be such a pleasant place to visit in a few years' time... already people seem to have caught on to the idea that foreigners mean money...everybody, every creature seems to want something from us. I watch the judging mind, especially where `Holy' people are concerned; like the Indian samanera who told us that he was staying on his own in a temple in the next village and then asked for a donation... the shaven headed sadhu who came up to us with his tin and one-stringed instrument and began to sing "Buddham saranam gacchami" at us as if it was some kind of lewd love song...the kids, the beggars, the smartly-dressed man in Calcutta who asked if we had any pens or pocket we contemplate need and greed and I notice I am not yet free of these things - I contemplate Luang Por Chah's definition of `bhikkhu' - "one who waits" - who lives on what is freely given, or does is so easy to feel smug when one's needs are freely met. For us for the most part there is physical ease and each day the belly is filled.

" Tomorrow we leave early for Taulihawa (the `Nepalese' Kapilavatthu) walking with basic necessities in bundles on our backs...We will return here the following day and have a resting day before making our way to `Indian' Kapilavatthu.. then we will set off in Mahapajapati's footsteps for Vaisali!

Ajahn Candasiri,

At the end of 1996 and for the first three months of 1997, Ajahn Samvaro and Venerable Asabho went on tudong around the Holy Places of India. Venerable Asabho (now in Thailand) gives a sketch of their experience.
"India, as a backdrop for one's pilgrim experience is unsettling. It unsettles old notions of self and of what one is doing, old relationship-patterns and values. I think that very power is also the fascination for people like myself who come from a Western, urbanised culture. So part of the attraction is the huge gap between Berne, Switzerland, and Bihar, India. I was not disappointed on that score, at all! It was unsettling - inspiring, moving, heart-opening - but unsettling, and somewhere in the recesses of my heart, it still is.
One of the revelations was that not all poverty - even the brutal poverty of which there is so much in Bihar - is necessarily miserable. I can't help feeling that I've seen as many happy people there as in Switzerland. It seems trite but also true that relative wealth seems to have little to do with how skilfully we live with our minds and hearts and how much happiness and how much misery we manage to generate. The messages are constant in India. It seems that I have seen nowhere such dogged determination to be happy and to survive - somehow.
Physically, we ended up in better shape than we expected. We didn't lose much weight. Of course, we were unwell for a great deal of the time. My feet cracked up; we were both very sick in Bodh-Gaya with colds and flus that had a strength that we were unused to - I especially had a very high fever and was grateful to the people we got to know at the Burmese Vihara, and later, on Christopher Titmuss' retreat.
I was touched by Bodh-Gaya very powerfully. It's the only place I felt something of a grandeur in Buddhist sacral architecture. The Buddhism I grew out of in the West comes out of converted lofts and basements. To actually see an intact temple where Buddhists from all corners of the world unite and worship that is based on the first memorial buildings of King Asoka was very powerful. I had not anticipated it; it was really, really touching to walk in there.
We had just put in a 40 kilometre walk that day, and I was absolutely shattered. I had to spend an hour or two in bed, just shivering, shivering with exhaustion, before I was even capable of walking from the Burmese Vihara over to the Temple. It was nevertheless, very, very uplifting. I had rarely expected such a wealth and texture of devotion; the basic sense of how wonderful that there is a Buddha - which, if you put it in words, is so trivial - but the wonderment and gratitude that there had been such a teacher and there was a chance to witness that and to sail in the wake of this being's work; to find that enshrined, embodied, remembered and symbolised by the stupa alive with bustling Tibetans, Bhutanese, Taiwanese, Koreans, Thais; the whole beehive atmosphere there is in Bodh-Gaya - it was really powerful.
Regarding our route: we flew into Calcutta, and spent two days there before flying on to Patna where we landed about midnight. We started walking out from the airport right away. From then on it was walking down to Nalanda, Rajgir, Gaya, Bodh-Gaya; arrived at Bodh-Gaya about December 31st.
Quite soon I got involved in an incident with a young Belgian man who had a bad experience - he jumped off the roof of the Burmese Vihara and broke his back. I found him there in the morning, so it seemed to fall to me to organise help for him and so I called the Belgian Embassy in New Delhi, and got him flown out after watching over him and looking after him for about 4 days and nights. That was quite a challenging venture which united everyone in the Burmese Vihara making us into a solid community of carers.
Shortly after that we moved over to the Japanese Temple on invitation from the Japanese monk (who happened to be a Theravadin), and then we joined in on Christopher Titmuss' retreat - which we greatly enjoyed. One of the greatest compliments to Christopher I think, are his managers, and these people looked after us very wonderfully when we were sick, and when we were well. We had a very fine time with them.
After that, we walked on to Gaya, to Varanasi, and Sarnath in about 8 days which seemed a bit quick - I wished we had taken a day or two more. I think it took the Buddha 11 days. I needed to recover from that; my feet were all chewed up. There, we were offered train tickets to Deoria and then we walked from Deoria to Kusinara where we spent some time in a Thai monastery.
There the stomach bugs caught up with us, nevertheless, we had an inspiring time at Kusinara. Nothing much seems to happen there anymore but after resting up from the sickness for a while, we ended up taking a ride with a Thai tour-party to Lumbini. That was a little disappointing since we only had one day there and we were still in poor health so we didn't feel like walking off into the yonder, even though this, with hindsight, seemed one of the better places to do some walking.
Someone invited us to Savatthi, so we trekked by Gorakhpur and spent quite a bit of time there in the old Sinhalese Vihara where there was a Sri Lankan monk looking after about fourteen Indian novices. I taught them meditation and Tai Chi exercises and then spent the nights over in the Jetavana. Venerable Samvaro and I would take out what little gear we needed, and meditate there, until we got too sleepy. Then I'd just roll over at the foot of one of the stupas, and wake up early under the starry sky and continue to meditate - and it was beautiful.
On the way back, we stopped over in New Delhi and then landed up in Thailand on an Easter morning, wondering where all the cows were that should be on the road...everything seems so strangely organised!"
Ajahn Samvaro,
Venerable Asabho