My arrival in India got off to a slow start at New Delhi railway station on January 22, 2010. The Rajdhani Express from New Delhi to Gaya took 30 hours instead of 12 hours. I spent the night on the platform with my shawl as a mattress , a sleeping bag as a duvet and the edge of my small backpack (with laptop etc) as a pillow. There is a certain hardness with the contact with the cement but not a hardship sharing the night with countless other passengers on the station platform. Mind you, chai wallahs go to bed before midnight.
As much as we love the presence of the Dalai Lama, we experience a little relief to see, dare I say, the back of him before we arrive. He and his entourage arrive in Bodh Gaya for four days of puja at the Tree, along with an estimated 40,000 Tibetan monks. The air pollution goes beyond the top of the scale due to traffic especially with so many pilgrims. Incidentally, readers should note that many Tibetans put on the robes for religious festivals. Their tradition supports this approach. The men in red robes then return to their homes, take off the robes, and go back to work or studies. You actually have to ask a Tibetan monk when he is a geelong (fully ordained monk) to know. It is in stark contrast to the Thai tradition. If you are caught wearing the robes of a monk, without full ordination, you will end up serving a prison sentence.
We have extended our Dharma programme to include Tiruvannamalai with Radha from Australia, offering a weeklong, non-residential talks, inquiry and one to ones. Jaya and Ajay continue to offer annually their residential retreats in Tiru. Ben,also from Australia, kindly acted as manager for Radha. Numbers steadily grew as the days went by. In the culture of male gurus in Tiru, the presence of Jaya and Radha have an important voice for women and men connected with the satsang culture.
In 2009. Chad and Karen from the USA, who had managed the Bodh Gaya retreats for three years, had passed the batton onto Dominika from Brighton, England in terms of giving training in the role. After spending several weeks in personal and group retreat in Wat Suanmoke, Chai Ya and a group retreat on Ko Somui island, Dominika arrived in Bodh Gaya at the end of 2009 to start the major task of preparation for our two 10 day retreats. Dominika s inspired monks, nuns, cooks and several Westerners entered into the spirit of service. Radha and Ben arrived shortly before the first retreat with Radha with 40 participants. Ben’s partner kindly offered the yoga class for 20 days. Ben will manage in Tiru in 2011 and Dominika and Ben in Bodh Gaya 2011.
There was drama on the first retreat when Mirabai, Radha’s daughter, contracted malaria from a mosquito bite picked up in Tiruvannamalai. It was an intense attack with her life possibly hanging in the balance at one point. She could not eat nor drink for eight days, with no strength to walk, and required a drip. Her feet were turning purple with spots. The Bodh Gaya doctor kept a close eye on her with the necessary prescriptions. Upon our request, a Dharma friend, Dinesh, a senior army officer at the Gaya Army Headquarters immediately sent the camp doctor to examine Mirabai. He reassured Radha and Mirabai that she was on the road to recovery. By the time of the second retreat with Radha and myself, her strength began to recover and health returned to normal.
There was also another drama at the end of the second retreat. For 30 years, we have been keeping all the valuables of the yogis in a large, padlocked wooden box for safekeeping. At the end of the second retreat, two pouches of two participants were missing from the box. The two keys for the box were kept in a locked room and location only known to the managers. Obviously, we have no idea of the circumstances that enabled a thief to snatch two pouches. Quite a few people arrived late due to train delays and a state wide Bihar strike to protest against a huge hike in rice and sugar prices. Managers had to open and seal the box many times. Did the snatch happen then? Did it happen in the night or when we were in the Dharma hall? We raised $1200 for the two yogis who lost their valuables – the very large percentage of money raised came from the two teachers and two managers. I have bought here in the UK two large cast iron padlocks for 2011 and made strict extra guidelines in terms of valuables. We will report in future years to retreatants there are risks involved in storage and inform them what happened in 2010.
We had 66 participants on the second retreat (75 retreatants in 2009 and 96 in 2008). The Indian government reported a significant drop in visitors. The terror attack in February on the German Bakery, next door to the Osho Ashram in Poona, five hours from Mumbai, sent shock waves around India. The explosion killed 11 people. More than 60 injured with body parts thrown more than 50 metres from the bakery. Many of us have taken coffee and cake in the Germany Bakery in Tiru and Varanasi. These attackers will further deter tourists, pilgrims and seekers from the West.
We were pleased to see a significant increase in the number of USA citizens to around 15. Numbers had dropped 80% in the past few years while this year only two or three Israeli citizens attended instead of the usual 15% or so of the yogis. Perhaps the rapidly expanding network of Dharma programmes in Israel, organised by Tovana, makes it less necessary to make the journey to Bodh Gaya.
Martin from the Le Moulin Dharma centre in France e-mailed to let us know that he and the family appreciated his presence at home in January. Radha said that one teacher could cover the number of participants for the first retreat. I told Radha that I would appreciate it if she would come toTiruvannamalai and Bodh Gaya in 2011 – assuming that Martin will keep January again for time with his family. We will take it on a year-by-year basis. Yvonne has been a constant pillar of support when available.
Our school, the Pragya Vihar School, is now 20 years old. This year, we, the governing committee, made the decision to purchase the land for €17,000 next to the school – very approximately the same size as the land the school and play area stands on. The land on the other side of the school continues to remain flooded. The school’s culture programme is expanding to include theatre, plays as well as dance, traditional and modern. Sr. Shobha, the head teacher, would like some of the children to learn to play musical instruments.
Jaya, Jess from Australia and myself offered the12th annual programme in Sarnath. I reduced the number of teachers from eight to four to bring a greater concentration with four teachers , as well as reduce costs of train fares within India. Number of yogis gradually grew over the days to around 65 participants, plus teachers and managers, Jonathan and Ariane, who ensured the smooth running of the programme. Dave from San Francisco again took care of all the accounts. Bodh Gaya and Sarnath yogis again dug deep into the pockets to cover all the expenses as well as support for the teachers and managers. Tom Riddle took a short film clip for Open Dharma and slide show/audio for my grandchildren. It is on Youtube. I have invited Gemma to teach with us on a Yatra next year, if she has a little space from the parenting role she shares with Jaya.
We still regard it as a privilege to serve the Dharma in the two most sacred places, Bodh Gaya and Sarnath, in the Buddhist tradition. I told our loyal team of cooks in Bodh Gaya that I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to offer the Bodh Gaya retreats for 36 years. I reminded them that I am 66 in April, and will have a rethink, all being well, when I am 70. The next generation of teachers may need to take over Sarnath. That’s far ahead.
By the way, I got the train down from London last weekend after arriving back from India. I had diarrohea for a day. I am fairly sure the body found it hard to adjust to a dull, bland British Railways sandwich.
Today, the sun shines gloriously here in south Devon. Spring starts to fill the senses. I am off to teach in Brighton tomorrow and in Germany next week.