Bodh Gaya, India: Home to the Buddha, Thousands of Monks—and Mosquitoes…

Bodh Gaya, in the state of Bihar (from the Sanskrit vihara, or temple), in India, is top dead center for the history of Buddhism, famous as the place where the Buddha got ‘woke,’ or found enlightenment, whichever translation you prefer, same thing, really. And if Patna did little to show the glory of its previous existence as Pataliputra, then Bodh Gaya goes a long way to make up for that disappointment, not that there are none of the noise, air pollution, and grime that plague so many other Indian towns and cities—there are—but there’s none of that inside the Mahabodhi temple complex itself.

No, there are just Buddhists from all over the world gathering to share some of the well-being that they have acquired through the practice of Buddhism, even if the several traditions may have diverged widely from the original inspiration which was the Buddha’s almost alone, after years of meditation and ascetic practices, which would send most of us to our shrinks, if not our graves. But even though the town itself has none of the centrality of place or purpose that the central temple complex has, it does have an overall good feeling and effect that derives from the affiliation.

For not only are there scads of monks and lay followers present in the temple itself, but there are ex-pat monasteries and temples from all the Buddhist countries of the world, scattered throughout the town itself, including one or two that may come as a surprise to you, such as Bangladesh. You didn’t know that BD was a Buddhist country? Now you know. And some countries have very prominent presences, including such countries as diverse as Thailand and Tibet. Or are they from Bhutan? I didn’t ask, and the two look and practice in very similar ways.

China itself has no presence here, though Taiwan does, so I may be overestimating the presence of Tibet, since they are technically part of China, haha. So, report my sarcasm to the CPC! Or CCP, or some latter-day soviet socialist republic with its socialism long gone, only the totalitarianism living on as an evil reminder of what can go wrong when humans put their heads together and try really hard to control other humans. But the strange thing is that Japan has almost no presence in the temple complex itself, though it has a significant presence in the town. So, Taiwan is the main Mahayana presence, unless you want to count the Tibet/Bhutan Vajrayana school as part of that larger umbrella.

The main problem with the town itself, aside from the usual strained relationship between India and the Internet, haha, are of the fierce flying fornicating variety, aka mosquitoes. WiFi is still rare in the hotels themselves, yeah yeah, and I don’t get j*ck-sh*t for data roaming from my US-based T-Mobile SIM card. That was par for the course five years ago, but not now, since it works almost everywhere. And that’s India’s relationship to the modern world in a nutshell. Power sockets often don’t work, either, and even water is not guaranteed, certainly not hot water. I persevere. But I’ve never had a mosquito problem like Bodh Gaya.

After moving into town after a week in the boondocks, the first night I literally was eaten alive by swarms of the little rascals, for whom I’m sworn to ahimsa, non-violence, as a Buddhist. Can I plead self-defense? I hid under the covers fully clothed with the fan turned on high, and still managed to get bit so bad that I suspected I’d have to prove to someone that it’s not Covid. Even after I moved elsewhere in town, the mosquitoes never totally went away, though I guess I somehow learned to love them, haha. And the street food is dirt cheap, but gets boring after a while, as does the general downscale nature of the whole affair, receiving ladles of goop over flatbreads and/or rice, not always even really knowing what it is that I’m eating.

I just want to eat something with a name! So, finally I go to a stall with a sign on the wall, and was immediately attracted to thali, the blue-plate special, which is what I’d been eating all along! Now it has a name! And roti and chapati are pretty much the same thing. But chow mein was the big surprise, taking over the country by storm, it seems, and none the worse for it, the quality uniformly pretty good, and with the advantage of freshness that the goops often lack (Gwyneth notwithstanding). So, what’s the problem, then? No problem, not really, not unless you consider noise, air pollution, and ubiquitous mud a problem.

The Brahmin caste influence is everywhere, also, and I don’t consider that a positive thing. Because not only do the Brahmins consider themselves superior to all other castes, but they consider themselves superior to me, too. But I have other things to contend with right now, namely Covid testing, as a requirement for my upcoming flight to Nepal. Now, Indians seem to love waiting in line, in total disorder, seeking out crowds, while I avoid them, so any deviation from the typical crowd would be cause for celebration. And the Covid test and form which must be performed and submitted within three days of the flight which is leaving the country is no exception to the rule. It’s not clear whether that means three calendar days or seventy-two hours, either.

So, as the date draws close, the tension builds. But if you’ve got magical local friends like my Shailesh and Bablu, then the process should go smoothly enough, they who managed to get a doctor to do a nasal swab on me in my room! No line! No crowd! I even laughed at them for getting a big-a$$ official stamp on the page itself. But that may have saved me, seriously. The nice airport check-in lady doesn’t seem to be too happy to accept out-of-state docs. But she does. And it’s almost as bad as the scene at LAX on the first day. But the outcome is better, and soon I’m in like Flynn, on the plane to KTM, with a 90-day visa upcoming that should last me for the entire winter. Still the question nags: why do people come to the noisiest country in the world to find inner peace? I suppose some questions have no answers…

p.s. There are a lot of charities in Bodh Gaya, because of its Buddhist affiliations, I assume, and the Buddhist monks themselves are in need of support, what with the almost total lack of Buddhist tourists who are normally there to support them. If you’re interested in becoming involved in any of this charitable giving, please leave a comment to let me know, and I’ll try to connect you. Thanks…