Forest SanghaNewsletter April 1998
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Editorial:
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

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Pilgrims' Way: the Place of the Buddha

Pilgrimage is a part of the tradition of any religion. It is away of travelling to commemorative and sacred places to encouragerecollection; although it is also the case that as much of the learning goeson in the course of the journey as at the destinations. In a way it is asymbol of the spiritual path itself, whose aim in the end is not to goanywhere, 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-chisent us from their pilgrimage in India.
"Calcutta, 18th November ... we are enjoying a very benevolent introductionto Mother India staying these first few days with Bhante Dharmapal Mahatherain his temple...Bhante has been incredibly kind. He sent the temple car tomeet us at the airport...A couple of monks appeared at the entrance of thedeparture lounge where we had been told to wait...and we were ushered intothe car and driven off through the sleeping city. Mei-chi is a littleconcerned that it's all a bit soft - we have a pleasant room with its ownbathroom and food appears at regular intervals. I told her I thought it wouldchange....

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

"People had told us that we would probably get a tour bus up herefrom Bodh-Gaya, but it would probably take 4-5 days. So then we were toldwith great authority "You must take the train from Gaya to Varanasi; and fromthere another train to Gorakhpur and then buses" - but then we were told withequal certainty, "You must take a bus to Patna, that would be quicker thanthe train, and from there there are luxury buses to Lumbini"...so we tried toget a ticket for 7 a.m. but... "no, that bus doesn't run anymore, there is abus at 2.00 p.m." That was a difficult journey: I had a horrible headache andIndian buses are NOISY and really shake you about. But the people were kindand 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"....sowe spent the day in the train to Varanasi.. and then another happy day ontrains and buses and a jeep - did you know that you can get 17 people in/on ajeep?
 
"... watch the judging mind ..."

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

" Lumbini is certainly developing, with lots and lots oftemples...funded by the countries that they represent. I'm afraid that itwon't be such a pleasant place to visit in a few years' time... alreadypeople seem to have caught on to the idea that foreigners meanmoney...everybody, every creature seems to want something from us. I watchthe judging mind, especially where `Holy' people are concerned; like theIndian samanera who told us that he was staying on his own in a temple in thenext village and then asked for a donation... the shaven headed sadhu whocame 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 lovesong...the kids, the beggars, the smartly-dressed man in Calcutta who askedif we had any pens or pocket calculators...so we contemplate need and greedand I notice I am not yet free of these things - I contemplate Luang PorChah's definition of `bhikkhu' - "one who waits" - who lives on what isfreely given, or does without...it is so easy to feel smug when one's needsare freely met. For us for the most part there is physical ease and each daythe belly is filled.

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

Ajahn Candasiri,
Mei-Chi

At the end of 1996 and for the first three months of 1997, Ajahn Samvaroand 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. Itunsettles old notions of self and of what one is doing, oldrelationship-patterns and values. I think that very power is also thefascination for people like myself who come from a Western, urbanisedculture. 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, andsomewhere in the recesses of my heart, it still is.
One of the revelations was that not all poverty - even the brutal povertyof which there is so much in Bihar - is necessarily miserable. I can't helpfeeling that I've seen as many happy people there as in Switzerland. It seemstrite but also true that relative wealth seems to have little to do with howskilfully we live with our minds and hearts and how much happiness and howmuch misery we manage to generate. The messages are constant in India. Itseems that I have seen nowhere such dogged determination to be happy and tosurvive - somehow.
Physically, we ended up in better shape than we expected. We didn't losemuch weight. Of course, we were unwell for a great deal of the time. My feetcracked up; we were both very sick in Bodh-Gaya with colds and flus that hada strength that we were unused to - I especially had a very high fever andwas 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 feltsomething of a grandeur in Buddhist sacral architecture. The Buddhism I grewout of in the West comes out of converted lofts and basements. To actuallysee an intact temple where Buddhists from all corners of the world unite andworship that is based on the first memorial buildings of King Asoka was verypowerful. I had not anticipated it; it was really, really touching to walk inthere.
We had just put in a 40 kilometre walk that day, and I was absolutelyshattered. I had to spend an hour or two in bed, just shivering, shiveringwith exhaustion, before I was even capable of walking from the Burmese Viharaover to the Temple. It was nevertheless, very, very uplifting. I had rarelyexpected such a wealth and texture of devotion; the basic sense of howwonderful that there is a Buddha - which, if you put it in words, is sotrivial - but the wonderment and gratitude that there had been such a teacherand there was a chance to witness that and to sail in the wake of thisbeing's work; to find that enshrined, embodied, remembered and symbolised bythe 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 beforeflying on to Patna where we landed about midnight. We started walking outfrom 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 hada bad experience - he jumped off the roof of the Burmese Vihara and broke hisback. I found him there in the morning, so it seemed to fall to me toorganise help for him and so I called the Belgian Embassy in New Delhi, andgot him flown out after watching over him and looking after him for about 4days and nights. That was quite a challenging venture which united everyonein the Burmese Vihara making us into a solid community of carers.
Shortly after that we moved over to the Japanese Temple on invitationfrom the Japanese monk (who happened to be a Theravadin), and then we joinedin on Christopher Titmuss' retreat - which we greatly enjoyed. One of thegreatest compliments to Christopher I think, are his managers, and thesepeople looked after us very wonderfully when we were sick, and when we werewell. We had a very fine time with them.
After that, we walked on to Gaya, to Varanasi, and Sarnath in about 8days which seemed a bit quick - I wished we had taken a day or two more. Ithink it took the Buddha 11 days. I needed to recover from that; my feet wereall chewed up. There, we were offered train tickets to Deoria and then wewalked from Deoria to Kusinara where we spent some time in a Thai monastery.
There the stomach bugs caught up with us, nevertheless, we had aninspiring time at Kusinara. Nothing much seems to happen there anymore butafter resting up from the sickness for a while, we ended up taking a ridewith a Thai tour-party to Lumbini. That was a little disappointing since weonly had one day there and we were still in poor health so we didn't feellike walking off into the yonder, even though this, with hindsight, seemedone of the better places to do some walking.
Someone invited us to Savatthi, so we trekked by Gorakhpur and spentquite a bit of time there in the old Sinhalese Vihara where there was a SriLankan monk looking after about fourteen Indian novices. I taught themmeditation and Tai Chi exercises and then spent the nights over in theJetavana. 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 thefoot of one of the stupas, and wake up early under the starry sky andcontinue to meditate - and it was beautiful.
On the way back, we stopped over in New Delhi and then landed up inThailand on an Easter morning, wondering where all the cows were that shouldbe on the road...everything seems so strangely organised!"
Ajahn Samvaro,
Venerable Asabho