Monday, 24 February 2014

Bodgaya

Had a wonderful day visiting the site where Boudha meditated until he was so thin that a passing princess, who wanting a child promised God she would help anyone who needed it if only he blessed her with children, and so he did. On seeing the yet unenlightened Prince Siddartha starving beneath the tree she made a porridge with her breast milk and offered it to him. Siddartha did not want to eat until he had achieved enlightenment, but knowing that he could not refuse as he believed to refuse would go against the Universal order he took it and ate. Once he had finished the energy produced enabled him to get up and walk further. It also gave him the energy his body needed to eventually gain enlightenment a couple of kilometers away under the Bodhi tree, the site of which is now a massive complex containing a beautiful golden Buddha and a shrine wrapped around a Bodhi tree. This story reminds me of something I read during my summer of learning. It basically said the same thing. If you see  a £1 coin lying on the ground you should not feel guilty in picking it up. Likewise if someone offers you something you should not be embarrassed to take it. If you do not take this offer from the Universe it will assume that you are not ready to receive any other gifts it will send your way and will therefore not send any further abundance your way. Remember energy follows thought. Buddha knew this and had to accept the milk of human kindness in order it turned out to achieve enlightenment shortly after.  
There are a lot of monasteries around the Mahabodhi Temple donated by countries all over the world. There are thousands of pilgrims again from all over India and the world. We are definitely in the minority and people just come over to talk to us. Or if they can't speak English they just stare. I get a lot of looks because of the red colour of my hair and my blue eyes. If they can speak English they will comment on them. It's funny as we stick out like sore thumbs and they are amazed that we should be into Buddhism. Inside the complexes it is very peaceful. Outside it's a different matter. There are beggars everywhere, young and old and some terribly disabled. We give money to some but it's impossible to give to all as there are so many. The ricksaw drivers hassle you constantly, rather like the Taxi drivers in Bali. They see you refuse one then come straight over and ask you again. It starts to get rather annoying. I feel we should get T shirts saying 'thank you but we would rather walk'.
There are a lot of stalls, all selling garish souvenirs and mostly all have the same stuff. But there are also stalls selling old Tibetan artifacts. I found a real thighbone Chod trumpet, embossed with turquoise and coral. Just like the one I saw in Goa. It's like the Universe keeps presenting them to me, is it trying to tell me to devote time to Chod practice ? It was beautiful if rather grim. We looked at it but I decided I would stick to the lovely metal one given to me by Chhewang as I will always treasure that. Then we found some really old Mala's- Tibetan prayer beads. We bought one made of Amber and each bead is embossed with Turquoise  and Coral, it's beautiful and as soon as I picked it up I knew it had been loved and cherished. I am so pleased to be the next owner and I will cherish it also for the time it is with me.
So tomorrow we leave here for Delhi then home on Wednesday.  This has been a fantastic journey once again. The Universe has opened its doors for us and we have enjoyed every minute. From being with the Tibetans around the Stupa to the madness that was Varanasi, to the peacefulness of the temples here in Bodgaya. Time seemed to stand still. Now it's catching up with us once again and soon we shall return to our normal lives. But I would like to think that a little of all the places we have visited shall stay with us. 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

summary Varanasi

This is hard. Dispite the difficult start the staff at the hotel came round . Whether  this was due to our original complaint or because the majority of their customers are only here a couple of nights so they don't bother or because of our tips we shall never know. But knowing human nature and getting used to India I unfortunately have to say tipping works wonders. However we have enjoyed our time in Varanasi .  Varanasi is 84 kilometers square and has a population of 4 million plus the millions of pilgrims that come here each year. If you are Hindu you should visit this holy city at least once in your life, so there are hundreds of hostels for each state of India. These hostels are free for Hindu visitors although they are expected to leave a donation. So the population of Vanransi is transient and exceeds the usual 4 million on a daily basis. That's a lot of human life in a very small area, that's forgetting the cows, goats, donkeys monkeys dogs and any other wildlife that could possibly survive in this harsh environment. This is difficult but I have to say I believe they find western visitors a convenient way to make a bit on the side and no more. Each time you leave your hotel beggars and very nice polite young men hassle you. The beggars are obvious and you can choose to give them money or not. The nice polite men and sometimes children are a different matter. After striking up conversation with you they eventually get to the sales pitch of asking you if you would like to visit their shop, just to look. No pressure to buy, just come for a look. If you fob them off by saying we haven't got time today they say how about to tomorrow. You say ok to get them off your back. By this time they know your names. Next time you leave the hotel they appear, they call you by name and ask if you are ready to visit their shop and again you fob them off. It does become a nuisance . It's a game and you all know you are playing it. In the end you have to be truthful and say sorry but we are not coming because we are not interested. It is tiresome but it is the way here. Around every corner there is a sorry scene. Animals are usually in a state. Some humans fair no better. You have to accept you have limits as to who or what you can help. It's hard.  The Indians appear to do very little to help  one another whether man or beast. Mother India it seems expects that every stranger to her shore is ready and willing to part with their cash. This country more that any other we have visited expects something for nothing.  It appears to do very little to help itsself. You look at it and wonder how it has survived this long. Then you have to remember this is one of the fastest growing economies. But every man seems bent on just looking out for himself.
This  may sound harsh but Nepal is really poor, there we are treated as human beings. Here we are merely cash cows. Money talks. Nothing else. Fact. 
Same as the Hindu religion here. In Bali I was accepted into the temples and treated as an equal. I was allowed to pray to Hindu gods with all the local people. I did not feel marginalised. Here we have to undergo security checks. Leave all electronic goods and bags in lockers just to enter the grounds. Under no circumstance would we be allowed to enter the inner sanctums. I find this strange as Hindus state that they are fully tolerant of all other religions. However no other religions are allowed to visit their temples for fear of spiritual pollution. I find this hard and judgemental.
However its not all bad. Varansi as a holy city will not allow Hindus who have not eaten into the temples, so they make sure that all the beggars have something to eat each day. Many temples offer free meals, this is a good thing.  I also felt the energy of human devotion and faith, especially whilst on the Ganges.  The spiritual energy is something India cannot rob you of. Which I guess is why we westerners flock here and have for centuries.
For me the difference in tolerance between Hinduism in Bali, Thailand and India is marked. In Bali and Thailand we were free to join in and felt a big part of the culture. In Varanasi we are aware of a huge gap. Although on a local level we felt welcome to participate in Arti ceremony and ablution in the Ganges, we were definitely excluded from the inner sanctums. Our money is welcome our devotion is not. Although every Hindu we spoke to was quick to tell us there is only one God, I wonder if they feel that God could also be ours.
Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful to have visited this most holy of Hindu cities and we have had a wonderful time. The highlight has to be our bathe this morning with some of the pilgrims. For me that was a very personal spiritual experience . However I cannot help but feel based solely on my personal view Indian Hinduism is a totally secular religion that is marketed for the tourist trade purely to provide money and little much else.
That said we would not have missed this experience for the world. Tomorrow we return to Buddhism as we leave Varanasi for our final two days in Boudhgaya.







Friday, 21 February 2014

Bathing in the Ganges

Yesterday morning we had an nearly start with a sunrise boat ride. We started at 6 am and visited another cremation site and sat in the boat to welcome the sunrise. It was beautiful. There were a few other boats all ful of pilgrims, chanting. One was full of what looked like Nepalese or Tibetans. They were the loudest and were chanting Om mani padme hung, which was a lovely surprise and I took it to be a final blessing from the Stupa.  Then a quick tour around some of the old town and a peek inside one of the oldest Hindu temples. We came back and meditated on our veranda and had lunch at the Aum cafe where we met up with Roger and Shirley from our hotel. The afternoon was spent reading and resting in the sunshine and watching the local events from our verandah high above the street. In the evening there was a local Arti ceremony where we met up with our friends once again and had a nice meal and chat.
This morning we got up early and went down to the Ghats. They were busy with all the locals going in to bathe. Not wanting to get in the way we sat for a few minutes to watch. As it got a little less crowded I saw my moment and told Dennis I would just go in for a paddle. I attracted a lot of attention as I took off my shoes. I could see all the locals looking at me and wondering if I was going to join them. As I got to the bottom step and my feet met the Ganges my inner goddess took over and before I knew it I was sitting in the water beside a very bemused Indian lady. So I splashed the water over my head and prayed to Shiva and Mother Ganges to remove my Karmic debts, it was a very calm moment. The water felt strangely pure and good, not at all like it looks. There were no smells coming off. I sat beside the lady praying and it felt very cleansing. Getting out was a bit tricky as the steps are quite slippery and I was attracting some attention with my wet t shirt impersonation. Then it was Dens turn, he didn't go all the way in but had a paddle and put some on his head. He kept saying that he couldn't believe it when I got all the way in, nor could I, I was as surprised as he was. But then again as you all know I never do things by halves, and this time I truly found myself upto my neck in it!!
I had to walk back to the hotel in my wet clothes, with quite a few stares, probably at the wet t shirt. Had a good hot shower  and we both remarked how soft our skin feels, then
breakfast. I was sitting at the table feeling really peaceful calm and in a wonderful place when Dennis remarked how cleansed and refreshed he felt! Now he's the sceptic, go figure that one

Thursday, 20 February 2014

the ghats

Great sunrise over the Ganges at 7 am this morning.Such a wonderful surprise. Then a lazy morning reading Bonpo teachings, then lunch at a organic cafe we have found called aum cafe. We bought 4 tops between us for £22. Then a wander down along the Ghats where we had a conversation with a nice young man who wanted to practice his English. This evening we had a boat ride down to the cremation ghats which was interesting. Differing from Nepalese cremation the older son had to throw some ' meat' belonging to the cremated person into the Ganges. We were quite close when one decided to do it and we missed the splashing water by inches, um not sure about that one. There were dogs, cows and goats crawling amongst the cremations. The cows and Goats eat the flower offerings. Our guide told us that if the ' meat' was not thrown far enough the doggies finished it off. I have to say they all looked pretty fat!! Like Kathmandu, Varanasi cremations run 24/7 so that's a lot of ' meat'.
We finished up at the Arti ceremony, where every night 7 priests perform the evening ceremony to give thanks to Shiva and the goddess of the Ganges for the proceeding day. It was a lovely thing to witness. Then back to our hotel where a local businessman is holding a party and just along the ghats is a free concert of India music. We have to be ready for 6 am tomorrow morning for another boat ride to welcome dawn, so we are hoping the festivities end soon!! Met  4 other English travellers in the restaurant this evening, who were interesting but slightly pretentious, thus reminding us why we usually avoid getting into conversations. anyhow that's it for today, we are sitting on our private terrace and fireworks are going off all around us so tonight must be a special night. Have to say Nepal smells of incense and so far India smells of stale piss. Probably because everywhere you look the locals are slashing against the wall. I kid you not !!!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Hello India

Well where to begin, we arrived in Varanasi last night and we were shown to our room, which was not what we had asked or paid for. The staff at the hotel were not interested, in fact they were down right surly. We were shown to a very small room which was filled by the bed. We were told we would have a twin bed room overlooking the Ganges. This was not that room. When I said we wanted twin beds, they all shook their heads. Then we were shown a twin room which was bigger, the curtains were drawn so I thought I'd look behind them. All I saw was a wall, about 1 m from the window. No Ganges, just wall. So the inner Goddess came through and told them what we thought. They just looked at us. Then later the manager said we could have a Ganges view room the next day, although it only had one bed. As we are both poor sleepers and I struggle to get comfy these days  as chemo has left me with restless legs we always have twin beds. So the Inner Goddess interrupted again and told them that all we wanted was what we had already paid for. Then they added insult to injury by saying we had to pay £4 per day for internet. The Goddess roared, paid for the internet and then got in touch with our tour operators. To cut a very long story short we now have the room we paid for with twin beds. We have our own private terrace on the roof of the hotel. The. Hotel manager apologised personally and will refund us 2000 rupees for our room last evening, has given us free Wifi and gave us our dinner tonight. I think the Goddess shouting trip advisor may have helped things along a bit. 
Today we went to Sarnath were Buddha gave his first teaching to his first 5 disciples.  Just like Lumbini  Buddhists from all over the world have built monastries in the surrounding area and we had a great time visiting them. There is also a Stupa built on the site of his teaching and we did Kora around it. There were some Sri Lankan pilgrims sitting around the Stupa chanting and it was very peaceful. We sat on a bench in hearing of the chanting and meditated. It was wonderful. Our guide then stopped off at a silk weaving factory where they tried very hard to get us interested in the weaving so that they could rip us off by selling us some. This was not on the itinerary , The Goddess became very bored and so as not to waste their time told them so. So within 15 minutes we were back in the car. Tomorrow we have our first boat ride to a ceremony at sunset, the rest of the day we shall spend hanging out and resting on our private terrace and watching the frenzy of life carrying on below us. Like birds....

Monday, 17 February 2014

Goodbye Boudanath

Such a wonderful last day around the Stupa. We did a little shopping and then met Chhewang for lunch. He had bought me a wonderful Thigh bone horn for Chod practice. In Chod the thigh bone horn used to be just that. A horn made from a human thigh bone. Usually of a child's. It was considered the best bone to have and was intended to make the user aware of the impermanence of life. These bones were readily available because of the high infant mortality and through sky burials. In northern Nepal and Tibet the bodies were dismembered and left on high platforms so that Eagles could devour the flesh. You have to remember that the ground would usually be frozen and there was not enough wood for cremation. Therefore Sky burials created charnel grounds were bones were left after the flesh had been removed.  This made thigh bones easy to acquire . Sky burials are still common place in remote areas, but the use of human bone for making trumpets nowadays is quite rightly frowned upon. In my Chod practice with Tempa Lama we actually used an old human thigh bone trumpet, but Chhewang bought me the next best thing, a metal trumpet that looks just like a thigh bone. I love it and will cherish it always. Thank you Chhewang. 
We did our last Koras tonight and as usual the Stupa had a gift for us. Tonight there was a group of dancers, we think from Taiwan, that were dancing in beautiful costumes in that wonderful slow controlled style of temple dancers. It was great to stand among the Tibetans and Nepalese, many of whom would never have seen anything like this. An old lady next to me kept nudging me, pointing at all the dancers and grinning in disbelief. Such a great end. Then on the way back to our hotel we left a little food and some of Dens clothes with some of the homeless. We didn't have much and there were so many of them sleeping on the roadside. 
Tomorrow afternoon we fly to Varanasi, not sure how good the internet access will be but will do our best to keep in touch. I have to say we are leaving Boudha with a heavy heart, but with so many wonderful memories. Thank you Boudha Stupa.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Syncronisticity

Good evening last night with Chhewang and Rajive, nice dinner and good conversation, so nice to see Rajive again, he was our guide on our first trip. Such a lovely soul. Then today we spent in Thamel which is the tourist district with lots of hippy type shops. However it was quite cold and wet so all we bought was a shirt for Dennis, still we had a good wander. Then back to the hotel for a facial and massage which was good and relaxing. Then back to the Stupa for Kora and dinner. It was quiet I guess due to the cold and wet. However as we were walking around I looked over and saw Chongtul Rinpoche and Tempa Lama. It was unbelievable. Chongtul was my first Bon Teacher and I spent time with him in Glastonbury on a couple of courses. He also arranged our last visit to Menri. Amazingly he remembered me and asked how our visit went. I also thanked him for giving me my Mantra when I was diagnosed with cancer, which of course he also remembered. Tempa also told him that we had spent a couple of days together doing the Chod practice. What is the likelihood of meeting up with Chongtul Rinpoche who is based in New York and has come over to spend Losher in Menri and just happened to be around the Stupa just at the time we walked around and with Tempa Lama?? Both my Bon teachers together and we walked into them. Amazing synchronicity! Who would have thought it was possible. But then this trip has been syncronistic all along, full of suprises. Tomorrow is our last full day here and we plan to spend it around the Stupa and hope the weather improves. We are both really sad at the thought of leaving, but India and Varanasi beckons. The weather there should be much better, so we at least have that to look forward too. But my heart shall be really heavy when we leave this place. I don't think I will ever be bored of coming here. Boudha I love you...