Searching for Enlightenment

Trip Start Aug 03, 2008
Trip End Aug 18, 2009

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Flag of India  , Bihar,
Sunday, October 12, 2008

It turns out that we tried to take a train on a holiday weekend which must have been like trying to get a train on memorial day which of course we found out after we were on the train. We had seen these cars the first time we got on the train and realized we never wanted to be in one. They are the general cars with wooden benches doesn't sound that bad yet except it's double decker wooden benches where you try to squeeze your way in almost like a crowded subway during rush hour but that is 24 seven. People stand and sit anywhere they can and we tried to get on with all of our luggage, Bill forging the way ahead of me. The floor was covered in trash as people kept throwing down the stuff they ate. Bill had a conversation with a well dressed Indian, who was only taking this car instead of a reserved seat because he didn't reserve one ahead of time for a holiday weekend. He response to the dirty train is, "Labor is cheap." How about just picking up after yourself?

So I spent most of the 5 hour train ride on the edge on a crowded bench with half of my ass hanging off using my legs for balance. I had my knees in the aisle way which was right by the train door where people would exit and enter the train. Not to mention the chi, banana, and food guys who would balance a platter on their head and push me out of the way or the chi guys who would pour their steaming hot pot right in front of me yelling in my ears, "Chi, chi." I was doing well until about the 4 hour mark since it could have only taken that long but the fact that we had to stop at every water fountain and pee stop (not bathroom just pissing along the road), we arrived in 5 in half hours of being pushed and shoved. The part that got me at the end of the road, was that I got tired of sitting so I tried to stand but a lady got tired of her son sleeping on her lap as he was disturbing her sleep so she just laid him along the dirty aisle way floor leaving me no where to really place me feet as I stood since my sit was taken the second I got up. Boy was I glad to get to the station!

After such a horrid train ride, and it being about 11:30 pm with still a good 30 mins tuk tuk drive, I opted for staying at one of the high end hotels. We arrived and immediately they got us food and a decent place to stay. We left the next morning only because for the price, the hotel wasn't really worth it. We got a room pretty similar for half the price the next day and that hotel also made it easy to get our laundry done by that night which we needed desperately. So by 12 we were situated in the new hotel, and I was breathing signs of relief because early I wasn't sure how we were going to get our laundry done. It's amazing how the basic stuff can really stress you out on a trip. At home, no problem getting the laundry done or getting a bite to eat.

We then went for some food, Bill had already eaten some breakfast as it was part of our room, but I couldn't stomach anything at that point. So we ended up having Thai food for lunch, it's surprisingly hard to get Indian food in India. It seems that most Indians only want to make Asian food esp chow mien which can be very spicy since it's easier to make than their own food. On most menus, they'll only make half the things they list. Well, it's mostly at the hotel restaurants but at times those are the only ones available. If you want nan here, which is basically Indian bread, it's easier to find it from a street vendor than a fancy hotel. This trends continues along our journey, so more on that later.

Our first stop was the Mahabodhi temple, which is the temple created by the tree where Buddha received his enlightenment. The tree was "murdered" by Emperor Ashoka's wife. The Emperor Ashoka was the one to create the temple. Luckily, a part of the tree was taken to Sri Lanka by Ashoka's daughter, and flourished there, and then a piece was returned to Bodhagaya which is the tree we saw. I think my tongue is tied from that explanation... Inside the temple complex, many Buddhist monks chanted away as they sat in front of the tree and around the temple other monks and lay people did prostrations, a repeated gesture that starts from standing and ends with a slide across the ground, in reverence towards the temple.

Bill and I spent some time in the lawn area soaking up the peacefulness and discussing religion and how all these different ones work. We had also been listening on audiobooks to HOLY COW, which discusses one woman's journey through India as she learns what all these different religions have to offer. Unfortunately, the actually meditation garden which looked extremely peaceful was gated off. Nonetheless, we soaked in the quietness we could find in India.

We spent both evening attending meditation class at the Japanese Temple. It was called Zazen meditation. We weren't really sure what to expect, but when we arrived, we saw round red pillows nicely laid out along the floor as if class was set-up. We found a set and waited. Eventually, the whole place filled up the first night, and the gong went off. We sat silent in meditation for awhile, but eventually a bell went off and it was a signal most people took to quietly stretch. Then you plump up your seat as you rise to your feet and bow once to the back of the temple and once to the front. Then with some instruction from the monk we learned that you make your left hand into a fist and cover it with your right leaving them right below your chest.

Then the walking phase begins, you breath in and then out and take a slight step. Then goes on for awhile until the bell go off again and then we follow each other out of the temple and lightly walk along the edge of the temple outside. As we are all doing this, there are many observers especially Indians watching and taking pictures of what we are doing. Once the walking is completed, we go into quiet meditation again. When the bell goes off again, we have a sheet by our pillow and are lead in a chanting bit, the first night was for breathing and the second was for the heart. Lastly, we do three prostrations to the alter and the monk gives us words of wisdom about meditation and then we are on our merry way.

We spent our second day we visited Dungeshwar cave, the cave where Buddha had deprived himself trying to find enlightenment but eventually realized that way was not going to bring enlightenment. So inside the cave is a statue of a emaciated Buddha which his ribs popping out. It was a long journey to get to the cave, and so when we returned, we had the tuk tuk driver drop us off at the Karma Temple just outside of town. We later figured out it wasn't the Karma temple listed in the book, but what looked like a new temple being created. We then started to walk towards Temple Street but weren't sure how far we were outside of town since this temple wasn't on our map and took a rig shaw driver back to town. We hadn't been that far.

But we went down Temple Street where there was a Japanese, Thai, Bhutanese, Tibetan, and Nepali temple to see. However, most temples just had a small area that you were allowed to see as the gardens we also blocked off. We were thinking it might be to keep people from making these gardens a place to sleep. And last we saw the Big Buddha surrounded by his 10 disciples. It was surely an eventful day.

We also had our first good Indian meal at the Swagat restaurant which a teenage monk helped us find saying it would bring him good karma. And so it was now time to get up early for our morning train that our hotel booked and claimed that we had reserved seats...

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