Post Format

Bodhgaya, Bihar, India

Another power cut. The generator starts up.

The first day in Bodhgaya without illness.

The Lonely Planet said that the Japanese Monastery offers free Zazen meditation sessions every day at 5 o’clock so this afternoon I went along to give it a try. On the way there someone who I think maybe I met earlier while buying water offered to be a guide. He showed me the way to the place and then said he’d meet me tomorrow to show me somewhere else and I didn’t say a definite no, but I’m not going. Too many people offering to be guides. It would be nice to one day walk from one place to another without anyone saying hello. It would be nice to be invisible, but this is virtually impossible when you’re a westerner in India. I could be invisible in Canada (when I wasn’t riding the bike) and I can be invisible in London, but not here.

Inside the temple a western woman was sitting cross-legged. I wandered around and then sat down, looking at the pictures on the walls and ceiling, the buddha statue, lizards crawling over wooden text engravings, birds flying in and out of the place, waiting for the meditation lesson to start, wondering whether maybe it already had started. You never can tell with zen. Not that I’ve tried it before, but I’ve read books. In the books the novices get hit by their masters with big sticks, to teach them whatever. I don’t know. That reality is illusory? That all existence is suffering? That they’re just novices and not masters? I sat with my back against the wall just in case.

A group of about ten Indians came in, ignoring the signs saying “Be careful & silence” and taking photos. The got me to take a picture of them all crouching in front of the buddha.

A gong sounded five times. A guy asked if I was here for the zazen. He told me to go and get a cushion and sit on the carpeted area in front of the buddha. Another guy was already there, kneeling, and a bit later a Japanese looking person joined us. So there was just the three of us. No teacher. I watched what the other two were doing. The western guy was kneeling. I tried that but it was painful. The Japanese guy got into the lotus position. I tried that and was able to do it, and with the cushion it wasn’t too painful. I fixed my gaze on a plant in front of the buddha, tried to breathe steadily. An insect landed on my chest, just below my neck where my shirt was open. I wasn’t going to brush it away and certainly wasn’t going to kill it. Not in here. Not with the buddha looking. No one else was looking though so I thought I might as well, but I didn’t. Tears came into my eyes. Sweat pouring off my face and arms. (Not really pouring, but it felt like it.) I tried to convince myself that the insect was just an illusion, that it wasn’t really biting me, that there was no difference between the insect and me, all is one, but it was fucking irritating. I could see the other two out of the corner of my eye. Neither of them was moving. I’m not going to be the first to move. Not yet at least. I’ll hold on for as long as I can. Tried to think of other things. Think about breathing, look at the birds flying in and out and around. One lands on the pot of the plant I’m staring at and takes a drink from the water that must be in it. A lizard crawls across the floor. From behind me there’s the sound of hands clapping, slowly. Is that it? After ten minutes, that’s all he’s going to do? No lesson. No instructions. I think I held on for about half an hour, and didn’t achieve enlightenment. I know that everything is one and there is no distinction between me and not me but I don’t really believe it. Not in the way you’re meant to. I think you’re meant to feel it, to know it, not just intellectually or even emotionally, but in some other way that can’t be put into words so it’s pointless trying to write about it.

As I brushed away the insect that I’m not sure was there the other two, first the Japanese guy and then the kneeling westerner, broke as well. I was thinking they must be pretty experienced meditators but maybe they weren’t. We all took our cushions back together. No one said anything to anyone.

Walking back a kid tries to sell me buddhist chant CDs, a comic style biography of buddha and a book of flimsy postcards. How much do you want to pay? Nothing, I tell him, but he doesn’t give up. Then I meet someone I met a couple of days ago, a guy who goes by the name of Simple and either runs or just hangs out in the chai shop just over the road from the track leading down to my guest house. He’s invited me to drink a chai with him each time I’ve seen him and each time I’ve said not now, maybe later. No I can’t say no. He sends the kid who’s still trying to sell me stuff off to fill up the jug with water, then offers to take me to some place where the buddha was before he came to Bodhgaya and got enlightened. I sort of say yeah, maybe I’ll go, though I’m sure he’s going to want money. He pays for the chais though.

And then back at the guest house the manager, or at least one of the guys who runs the place, shows me a scrapbook with photos of a school, writing, mostly in Japanese, which he tells me is what people who have donated to the school have written, and then the amounts they donated. I was shown an almost identical book earlier today. Both times I refused to make a donation. I’m not handing over cash to someone who says he’s going to then pass it on to some school for poor children. I don’t like being put in a situation where I have to trust someone. Maybe some of them are genuine, and it’s probably too much to expect them to have official documentation showing the registered charity status or whatever. Anyway. I’m broke. I’m overdrawn in two bank accounts and the bailiffs are after me so I’m not in a position to start financing schools. Though being in debt is still richer than having nothing.


Comments are closed.