My serious journey into spirituality started around a decade ago when I attended a 10 day silent Buddhist Vipassana meditation retreat at the Dhamma Aloka centre, in Woori Yallock near Melbourne. As well as a valuable meditation technique, it taught me a lot about detachment and impermanence — the transitory nature of everything in life, including emotions.
Therefore, when Bihar Tourism recently offered me the opportunity to visit Bodh Gaya, the place where the Buddha became enlightened, I was delighted to go.
Bodh Gaya, it turns out, is quite out in the middle of nowhere although only 100 kilometers from Patna, the capital of Bihar, and around 12 kilometers from insanely unruly Gaya. The fact that it takes around three and a half hours to drive there from Patna indicates how congested the roads are.
Gaya is a Hindu pilgrimage town, while Bodh Gaya is a Buddhist one — and the contrast is obvious. Apart from the colourful monasteries and restaurant tents selling momos and other cuisine from across the border, Bodh Gaya is much less crowded and more gentle. And then, there is the glorious Maha Bodhi Temple, with its expansive manicured grounds. As soon as I got a glimpse of it, I couldn’t wait to go inside and soak up its atmosphere.
Strangely enough, although I appreciate Hinduism, I never really feel completely comfortable entering Hindu temples. Perhaps it’s because many of them are off limits to people who aren’t born Hindu, or there are so many ancient rituals that I don’t know how to follow.
Yet, I felt totally at ease wandering around the inner courtyard of the Maha Bodhi temple, between the rows of votive stupas where numerous monks were doing prostrations on special boards on the grass. I took up a spot on one of the boards and meditated for a while.
Some people complain that the sensory bombardment of incense, chanting, and prostrating monks (and added to that, the overhead banyan tree was alive with the enthusiastic sunset chirping of birds) distracts them from meditating. However, to me it seemed perfect and is what all contributed to the temple’s tangible elevated energy. To me, it wasn’t the just fact that the Buddha was enlightened under a bodhi tree there that gave the temple special energy. It was the ongoing spiritual activities that really raised its vibrations.
It transported me far away from the lines of tour buses, the blaring street vendors with their religious paraphernalia, and loudly chattering Indian tourists — many of whom seemed more interested in me than they were in the temple complex. Inside the complex, they headed directly to see the statue of Lord Buddha inside the temple, but were indifferent to exploring and appreciating the peaceful temple grounds.
I left the temple complex feeling both very relaxed and uplifted. But what about enlightened? I decided that Bodh Gaya would be the perfect place to start a book that one of my blog readers had sent me a copy of. It was relevantly titled Nirvana, Absolute Freedom.
It’s a book that encourages contemplation, as it’s designed not to provide new information but rather to point the reader into rediscovering what they already know. (Do take a look. It’s well written and thought provoking, with lots of relevant quotes an even instructions on meditation).
One passage of the book reads…”An enlightened person is a person who is awake, ‘creating’ life in the moment. All others are sleepwalking in a dream of past and future”.
In that case, I had indeed been enlightened at the temple, as my mind remained in the present. I seemed to take some of it with me as it was very easy to slip into a calm focused state when I went to do my morning meditation on the terrace after arriving back home in Mumbai. Unexpectedly, I was also unusually full of life and positive, like I’d been infused with the temple’s divine energy.
Have you been to the Maha Bodhi temple? I’d love to hear about your experience there.
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