It’s early morning in Bodhgaya, India, the bellybutton of the Buddhist universe. I’m walking down the main street past shopkeepers “good morning madam” sweeping packed dirt with twig brooms, unpacking dusty old duffels filled with bells, buddhas, malas, jewelry, cheap shawls. The fragrance of delectable street food — puris, samosas, fresh veggies, deep frying and masala chai bubbling at improbably tiny stands mixes with the scent of “I am urinal, please use me”. I pass haggard barefoot rickshaw drivers, honking motorbikes, barking dogs, a row of blind beggars in rags getting ready to begin drumming on pots and pans, turn the corner and suddenly – an oasis of peace.
Inside the Mahabodhi “Great Enlightenment” temple grounds I descend a marble staircase to circumnambulate the granddaughter of the ancient Bodhi tree where the prince Siddartha sat and became the Buddha. Tears come as my bare feet touch the stone, joining a river of pilgrims wearing maroon, ochre, saffron, lavender, white, orange, brown – every color robe and garment from around the world — walking mindfully around the tree. How beautiful is the majestic tree of refuge! This is a sacred place — filled with the melodic sounds of chanting in a dozen languages, punctuated wtih the drums and horns of Tibetan ceremony — a refuge from the noise, dust and chaos of the world outside the temple gates.
I sit down next to two young Tibetan nuns, always grateful for a chance to be quiet and meditate. From time to time there are whispers of soft singing as they murmur a refuge prayer, and again, tears come – tears of gratitude and appreciation. We too have the timeless practices of mindfulness and lovingkindness, reliable ways to touch the warm sanity of our true nature, to tame our wild hearts, bring a cool breeze to the heat and dust of our usual human craziness. Amidst the cacophony of conflicting emotions or incessant thoughts, through our practice we can find an inner temple, an oasis of peace, in India, in LA — wherever you find yourself.
Image Credit: T. Goodman