I love Bodh Gaya. We have been running our annual Bodh Gaya retreat there since 1975. Martin (Aylward) along with a co-teacher, such as Yvonne or Leela, teach the first 10 day retreat and Radha and I teach the second 10 day retreat. We hope beloved Jaya will be back with us in January 2009. Martin describes the Bodh Gaya retreat as the “best gig of the year.” Cool.
Including managers and teachers, Martin and Yvonne had around 60 on their retreat and we had about 100. Chad, our manager, sent out our new Bodh Gaya-Sarnath flyer to people registering, plus our new website www.bodhgayaretreats.org and this boosted the numbers. We keep faith on running the retreats totally on dana (donations), plus a few mantras and prayers, to cover all the costs. Some yogis in Bodh Gaya and Sarnath dig deep into their pockets.
We not only offer the retreat but also take an active interest in the welfare of Bodh Gaya, itself. We have our wonderful school for 560 children, host the annual NGO meeting, invite NGOs to speak to the retreatants at the end of the retreat and listen intently to the needs of the local people.
There is a government plan to move all of the shopkeepers and stallholders out of Bodh Gaya over the next few years. I spoke to the retreatants from over 20 countries. We all agreed that we wish to give support to Bodh Gaya and the local people. I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister and others on behalf of the internationals visiting Bodh Gaya. I appealed to the government to drop the plan to evict the shopkeepers.
Part of the letter read:
Over the years, we have appreciated greatly the presence of all the shopkeepers and stallholders in Bodh Gaya:
The barbers, chai stalls, arts and craft shops, small hotels, restaurants, domestic appliance stores, fruit and vegetable vendors, internet cafes, telephone booths, travel agencies, medical stores and pharmacists, tailors and many other shops and businesses that cater to all our needs, are practical conveniences and create part of the life and colour of Bodh Gaya.
However, we wish to make five strong recommendations for the ‘Master plan’ To include committees for shopkeepers and stallholders in a democratic decision making process.
1. To stop all motorized transport within 1 kilometer of Bodh Gaya. Traffic causes much air pollution and noise pollution particularly.
2. Cycle rickshaws and horse carriages would convey pilgrims.
3. It would be a tranquil and peaceful way to enter Bodh Gaya.
4. To drain all the flooded areas within half a kilometer of the Maha Bodhi stupa to create beautiful gardens, vegetable plots and rice paddies.
5. To implement proper street cleaning and waste collection. Purchasing appropriate waste disposal vehicle(s) to clean away all the many waste products, plastic and garbage for the sanitation and health of the town.
6. Not to displace the local shopkeepers and small stalls right out of Bodh Gaya. To do so would mean financial ruin for them and very inconvenient for pilgrims.