Interreligious nothing under a tree

Bodh Gaya Travel Blog

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young monks blowing really big horns at morning prayers in the Karma temple

The next morning I was certainly not well, but feeling better at least. The hotel was too expensive to stay long and quite gloomy at that, so I decided to check out the temples around, since some of them had options to stay (this is where the guide book comes in). I tried for the Bhutanese temple at first, but the temple proved as inaccessible as the country because I was met by a guard who spat a stern ‘full’ at me and that was that. The Tibetan temple was in the next street and there I ran into a really friendly monk, who took me to the caretaker, who got me a bare but clean and really friendly room. The temple area was lovely! Very quiet except for a few of the young monks playing around at times, but that was fun to watch. The prayer area was beautifully painted and in a little building behind it was a huge prayer wheel. I felt instantly at home, which in itself seemed to cure the rest of my stomach problems. The next three days I woke up every morning to the sound of monks chanting and the vibrating sound of those really long Tibetan horns playing, with drums in the background.

The Boddhi tree
This meant an early rise every day, but one of the best I’ve ever had.


So, after settling in, it was time to head to the main site of Bodhgaya, the boddhitree and surrounding complex. The Boddhi tree is the three under which the Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment. Pilgrims, monks and tourist from all over the world come to look, worship and meditate. It was truly an amazing place. Hundreds and hundreds of people flood through the place everyday and still it was so peaceful and tranquil as if there was nobody around. Yet there were groups everywhere chanting and having prayer sessions, monks making prostrations and day trippers taking pictures.

the stupa

All the major Buddhist countries have built a temple in the town, each in there specific architecture ( I mentioned the Bhutanese and the Tibetan, but there was also a Thai, Japanese, Burmese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Cambodian, Indonesian and another Tibetan temple). All those temples have their own residential monks, and then there are more monks and nuns from all over the world that just com down for a visit. It was really nice to see all those different nationalities of monks and nuns and try to spot who’s who by the robes. The Theravada Buddhists are all in shades of saffron ranging from really darkish ochre (mostly from the Cambodian and Burmese) to glow-in-the-dark-neon orange (mostly the Thai)  and everything in between (the rest), with the women dressed in white. There were the maroon clad Tibetan, Bhutanese and Nepalese, the black robed Japanese (Zen), the grey wearing Korean, and the Chinese dressed in coffee.

tibetan monks doing prostrations on their wooden boards
Then all the various Gori (white people) practitioners dressed in what they seemed fit. And everyone was just so plain friendly.

Each was doing its own kind of practice as well. Some groups held prayer sessions, many people meditated and many (mostly the Tibetan monks though) were doing prostrations on specially designed wooden boards. It is quite a common practice in Tibet, where people sometimes travel thousands of kilometers on a pilgrimage while constantly prostrating. Here the idea was that they would circle the stupa and boddhi tree, but there was simply no room for everyone to do that. So they had there wooden boards and did it on the spot in the park. It was truly an amazing sight. Most of the three days I was there I sat at a particular spot in the park and just watched all this go on, read my book and just thoroughly enjoyed myself.

monk meditating, near my favourite spot


Tour groups of worshipers from all over the world came and went, and most brought large amounts of donations for the monks, like boxes full of juice packets or cases of fruit. These were then distributed by the monks to everyone sitting around, including non-monks like me. Once this enormous group of Koreans came who distributed hundred dollar bills, causing quite some giggles amongst the monks. It was a bit weird. Sadly the Korean tourists were passing the bills out themselves and did only include the monks (darn, darn, darn!!!).

On one of my roaming through the park I was overlooking the scenes from a sort of fly-over when I suddenly hear a loud ‘ Nihou’ in my left ear.

monk that gave me beads to cure my cough
I looked aside and there stood a very old Tibetan monk, wit tufts of white hair protruding from his ears who was pointing at me while broadly smiling. Grinning he said Nihou again, and I smiled back and said hello, which seemed to please him even more. Positively beaming he called something to a fellow monk and then giggling went on his way of walking three rounds round the stupa. There were many sorts of strange but exceptionally nice interactions with all sorts of people. The best part of it all, or so I felt, was that right next to the complex stood a really big mosk. There where many times when I would sit between Buddhist monks, reading my book with the Muslim call to prayer in my ears. Whoever said that religious co-existence was difficult?…the only one who seemed to be bothered by the sound of the Muezzin was the temple dog, who started to howl every time the good man called his faithful in. Truly, who needs an i-pod when you can have all that!

After three days of sitting in the park and basically doing nothing but watching and reading, my stomach problem had all cleared up, and ever since a monk gave my three beads when he heard me cough (yeah on top of the whole stomach thing the Delhi cold was still there and had progressed to a nasty cough), motioning that those would surely cure me (I still wear them) my cough had disappeared as well. I did not feel so calm and well rested in, well, years and the thought of leaving Bodhgaya almost brought me to tears. I could have stayed surely, but there is more to see in India and I will just basically look for a good excuse to come back (can be a really lousy excuse too). It felt (paradoxically I know) like time to move on and so I went and booked a trip to Benares. But more on that the next time …






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young monks blowing really big hor…
young monks blowing really big ho…
The Boddhi tree
The Boddhi tree
the stupa
the stupa
tibetan monks doing prostrations o…
tibetan monks doing prostrations …
monk meditating, near my favourite…
monk meditating, near my favourit…
monk that gave me beads to cure my…
monk that gave me beads to cure m…
Bodh Gaya
photo by: Stevie_Wes