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India – Spring 2007

Journal 9 - February 22

After a long overnight train ride from Calcutta, we arrived early in the morning in Bodhgaya, town of the Buddha’s enlightenment. After breakfast and a long nap, we headed into the town to explore. We ate at a Tibetan restaurant and ordered “soup” and beef momos. The soup, made from bone broth, was bland, but the momos, beef in a dough pocket, are my favorite food that I’ve tried in India, especially dipped in the spicy chili sauce.

After lunch, we talked to a couple of village children, who clamored for US coins. We then headed to the Maha Bodhi temple, which is positioned on the exact location of Buddha’s enlightenment. The Diamond Throne, positioned under a descendant of the original Bodhi tree, marks the spot where Buddha sat for months. At the temple, Buddhist monks from all around the world have met to discuss the Buddha’s original teachings. Their chanting resonated throughout the temple grounds, which are beautifully filled with trees, showing Buddhists’ appreciation for nature. I am impressed with the monks’ devotion and I can sense their passion even through the language barrier.

At the temple, we met a student monk who invited us to his monastery later that evening. When we arrived that night, we had a five-minute meditation and then the student answered our various questions about Buddhism. We all enjoyed the peaceful interaction with someone of different religious beliefs, especially someone who was so enthusiastic to express his beliefs and help us grasp his foreign religion.

After a restful evening (except for being awakened at midnight by fireworks), we awoke the next morning to visit the 80-foot high Great Buddha Statue and then go to visit a Hindu temple in the countryside. As soon as we exited the bus, we were swarmed by various village children. As we weaved our way through the precarious walkway through the fields, I was grabbed by three “helpers,” a little girl, boy, and another 14-year-old boy who spoke English fluently as well as 6 other languages. The children would not let go of me until we reached the temple, and were waiting for me after we left the temple. After making our way back, the older boy and some of his friends showed me and a few other group members the school where they stay. I enjoyed the interaction with the Indian children and liked learning more about their culture and lives.

The following day, we got up early and drove to a remote mountain, the location where Buddha meditated before attaining enlightenment. We had to take a very rickety-looking chairlift up the mountain to see the Japanese Buddhist temple. The temple was surrounded by monkeys, and we had to laugh as they attempted to eat the oranges we fed them. We then walked to see a shrine and cave, surrounded by many prayer flags in the five Buddhist colors, some bright in the sun, some faded from age.

Later in the day, we visited Nalanda, where the ruins of the 5 th century Buddhist university lie. The ruins were impressive and grandiose, but were ransacked by Muslim crusaders and thousands of Buddhist teachers and students were killed or driven out of the country. I have to wonder what Buddhism in India would be like today if not for the attack, probably much more widespread and influential.

I really enjoyed visiting Bodhgaya. It is a place of a lot of history and I appreciated learning more about the Buddhist religion, which is very foreign to me. Through my time at this village, I have come to appreciate Buddhists’ love of peace and their friendliness with our group, and I have gained a greater understanding of the religion, history, and culture.

- Alana Wenger