#ThePilgrimageWithVK #FromBirthToDeath #PrinceSiddharta
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
The first time I came across Buddha was during my pre-school activity visiting a Taoist temple in Bacolod City. The golden statue where some people bow to. For me, it was a religious rite. Never have I imagined that after 21 years, I’d be given a chance to know him. The man who lived, understood and shared a life that encompasses lifetimes.
According to the Vipassana Meditation retreat I attended, there are four important places to visit to complete the The Buddhist Pilgrimage. Lumbini, Nepal as his birthplace. Kushinagar,India his deathplace. Sarnath, India where he first taught Dhamma. Bohdgaya,India where he attained nirvana. Yes, most pf these sites are located in India, a perfect place to be in a spiritual adventure!
Coming from a week of holidaying in Pokhara (pls see previous post), Lumbini can be reached through either a local or tourist bus ranging from 1000-1200 Nepal rupees. From Kathmandu, ticket ranges from 650-1200 rupees with travel time 8-10 hours. We came from Kathmandu to pick up our passports from the Indian Embassy. The journey was interesting and total test of faith. Half way through the bus ride, we discovered that our laptop was missing! For the first time, we lost something in Nepal. The bus driver was kind enough to close the bus and brought everyone to the police station for the investigation. It turned out that there was another passenger who lost his brand new HP netbook! Everyone tried to look for the missing gadgets and one woman told the policemen that there was someone who went inside the bus while we were having lunch. He was not a passenger of our bus but she didn’t mind. Sh@t happens once in awhile.
Lumbini is a small town so everything can be reached through foot or bicycle. Since the bus dropped us near the entrance of the main site, we just walked a few meters to the backpackers area. It was off season, there were enough rooms that can cater to the different budget of travelers. The temples can also accommodate backpackers with a reasonable fee. We decided to stay in a good hostel for $6 a night for 2-3 persons.
Accommodation: Temples inside the main site costs $4-5 per person with 2 meals. Guesthouses $4-8 double fan room
Food: $1.5 per meal
Bike Rental: $1 whole day
Entry fee to the birth site: $2 for two days.
It was meant to be a couple of days stay but ended up leaving a day before our Nepali visa expired. A meditative stopover before heading to India that became a very interesting encounter with some unlikely personas. The French and Yemeni couples we always met at the same restaurant. The French woman Maya who was very vocal about her dislike with Vipassana that ended us almost sleeping outside our hostels. And the hippie Stefan, who shared a spiritual journey from his out of body experience.
Days of cycling, watching the sunset and the unending “I am leaving you,” drama. It was a birthplace of both spiritual and personal meditation that started my experience with love. The wheel of unconditional love, just as how Prince Siddhartha once taught.
Buddha’s death place and the nearby site from the Indian-Nepal border. Crossing the border in Sunauli, we took a local three hour bus ride to Gorakphur and paid 100 Indian Rupees each. From Gorakphur, we took another bus to Kushinagar and paid 50 rupees (each) for an hour ride. The area was surrounded by different temples and limited hostels. We tried to stay in a cheap hostel but it was fully booked. Thank God! We ended up in Burmese temple with some pilgrims and monks. The temple accepts pilgrims coming from different areas of the world. They didn’t impose fee but it is highly recommended to give dana (donation) for the maintenance of the temple. It was actually just beside the “holy cremation site” of Siddhartha’s body. The room they provided was basic. We had our own bathroom. With so much kindness, they also provided us with food along with the pilgrims from Myanmar. This was our first exposure to India. And it was okay for a couple of nights and days of trying to understand and misunderstanding each other.Yeah, somehow I had a thought of leaving again. Haiiiiii, it was not my fear of India that stopped me. Not even conscience. It was something else that I couldn’t fathom.
Here I met some Thai pilgrims and a Vietnamese monk who were also completing the pilgrimage. They stayed in the Thai temple. We meditated for a few minutes and shared our experience. I have learned that the Thai woman is connected to the Suan Mokkh Meditation Retreat Center who knew the Abbot of my first meditation experience in Koh Samui. Small world.She was with two monks (one Thai and one Vietnamese) and a girl friend. We had so much fun talking that I ended up forgetting I was with someone. Who actually befriended a bus driver that agreed to take us to Bohdgaya for free the following day as long as we can manage to wake up early. Too bad, we woke up few minutes before he left us. So we were meant to take a plunge to the real India!
Sarnath (Varanasi), India
Okay, if this was not part of the pilgrimage, I would skip this place. Oh myyyyy gosh. This is the REAL INDIA. Anyhow, somehow I have managed to survive the 8 hour ass flying bus ride from Kushinagar to Gorakhpur to Varanasi loosing only my patience and comforter (blanket). So here came incredible India outsmarting us. We asked a bus personnel if there was a train to Varanasi from Gorakphur. And HE SAID NO TRAIN TODAY! So we believed him and went to the bus station to take a ride to our destination. Only to find out from some fellow passengers that there were 2 trains to Varanasi. Cheaper and shorter, just around 150 rupees for 6hour ride as compared to the 180 rupee trip we took. From the central bus and train station, we took another local bus that brought us 2km away from Sarnath. Then a tuktuk to the site.
At this point we knew that we can stay in one of the temples near the holy ground. There were alot to choose from. We first went to the Burmese temple but it was closed. Then Mahabodhi Society temple with minimum charge of 300 rupee for a basic but not so clean room. And then finally, the Tibetan temple! wohooooo! Clean, spacious room and we were surrounded with monks for 300 rupees per night. Plus a nearby meditation hall. We settled in and walked around. There I knew about the Dalai Lama’s schedule. Whew! And a surprise from mother nature, a tremble from underneath the core of the earth. I thought I was just hungry, but no, it was too strong that I froze in my bed blankly waiting for mercy. As I looked outside, the monks with calm smiles on their faces assured me, it was going to be okay. We felt the same earthquake that hit Nepal.
Just like the rest of India, despite being a holy Buddhist site where Buddha first taught Dhamma after attaining enlightenment, the place was surrounded by poverty. Beggars everywhere. Children asking for money or food. Parents bringing babies to beg. It was such a pain to watch. At some point, I didn’t like to walk around anymore. Not until I met, a fellow Filipino! Wohoooo! We were at one of those temples when I saw someone whom I can tell was ASEAN by ethnicity. I told VK (who was talking to an old man) that I think I found another ASEAN and I was guessing either Indonesian or Malaysian. But the moment we spoke to each other, I knew he was a Filipino. A researcher by profession, B became my tour guide and my temporary company. Yeah another argument came up about hiring that old man as a tour guide. Thank you universe for sending me B! An afternoon of well deserved break from VK that started a friendship beyond India. We decided to hangout until he left to see the ceremony in the Ganga River. It was my first time to speak my thoughts about our trip in India. About how we manage things. Being a team.
Prince Siddhartha attained nirvana while meditating under the Bodhi tree with the moon as his witness. I was hoping for the same. And hope was all I did.
Coming from Varanasi, we took a train to Gaya station for about 90 rupees with no sure seats for a four hour journey. I thought it wasn’t too bad. First train ride. The sight of crowded and filthy train station lured my imagination. Well, it was not far from reality. Only that, there was someone who helped us buy our ticket and find our train. Even gave us sleeper seats that we can use for our entire ride. I had my first stranger touch experience. I almost erupted with disgust and rage, but I calmed down fearing that I would be thrown out of the train if I said or reacted to what transpired. I came by but with caution and the thought of KARMA.
Upon arrival in Gaya station, the touts were just argggghhhh craziest. Every person just informed us that there was no bus or shared tuktuk going to Bohdgaya. I knew this was another scam that we need to pass through. And we failed. Too much discussion of being a team. Ended up paying 180 rupees for 25km journey. And another scam came right after we got out of the tuktuk. We were suppose to pay entry fee of the tuktuk which would make our total bill of 200 rupees. Atleast this time, he said NO. And yet another scam. Two guys approached us telling us that Thai temples can’t accommodate us because we are not Thais. No way. So we got inside the first Thai temple we saw located at the back of Mahabodhi Temple beside the Bangladesh temple. The people were accommodating but unfortunately, the temple was fully booked because of the influx of Thai pilgrims coming for the Full moon celebration. So we were planning to check out other temples like the Bangladesh, Tibetan, Japanese, Bhutanese and Burmese but somehow those two Indian guys convinced him to check out their “cheap hostel with wifi.” I was not in the mood to do so. I was protesting. I knew it was a scam. Gosh India, please stop. In the middle of our walk, I stopped. And they stopped. He yelled at me, “let’s just see this.” And I said, I’m leaving you. Our next exchanges ended up with me loosing. Which also meant us staying in the guesthouse for 400 rupee fan room with toilet and no decent wifi. For a week. Days followed with my protest. I even packed my bag and planned to run away. There were some days that I spent by myself. Or him going somewhere alone. Until another scam came in. Argh! With the same guys. They offered us a tour, they said it was free. Until yeah the real deal came in. Overpriced weed and Buddha tour which included three sites visited by Buddha during His wandering in Gaya. It was too much already, I had to say NO. But again he insisted and offered to pay 70% because they were his friends. And I was not part of the team. BS.
The only good thing that happened was the main temple made up for all the shitty scams. There was a sense of belonging. Security. A voice telling me that everything was going to be okay. It was such a relief. Maybe it was still worth another chance. To be there. Accept things as they were, objectively.
After a week of silent protest, finally, we have decided to move to a temple. And yes things were starting to fall just right.We met people who helped us in our journey to understanding our experience in meditation. A deeper grasp of how it can free us from suffering. It was at this time I had my chance to walk around the temple by myself. Saw places alone. Meditated alone. And this was made possible by the Thai temple Wat Pa Bhuddha Gaya (for a small dana, the room came with a free breakfast rite with the monks and volunteers). How I missed my own company.
Yes, the pilgrimage was almost complete. We also celebrated and meditated during the Buddha day. We had the chance to share the experience with our new found friends and my teacher. We were ready to move to our next destination when something happened. He wanted to stay longer. And I don’t. I won’t. He was telling me he liked the place and blah blah so I said, okay. My next destination was the holy town of Rishikesh. Maybe it was time for us to part. It was not going to work. He found his place, I was still completing my adventure. He was not interested in getting train tickets and I was so eager to move. Even had the guts to tell me to get it on my own since it was my plan. It was Indian holiday and train tickets were sold out. But I needed to get one. I made a plan. I’ll get him one ticket with a different travel date and escape. I was so ready to do it. I was telling the travel agent about this. But I was just too weak to do this scam. I just can’t. The fear was eating me and told the agent book me two slots to Rishikesh.
These four equally important places in Buddha’s life, showed me how I deal with my own existence. Running away. I was always trying to avoid complications, arguments and issues. Either I leave or allowed people to leave me. And I didn’t even care. EGO. Buddha and the universe was teaching me to face my very existence and the root of my suffering. MYSELF.MY EGO.And somehow, in all its weirdness, I woke up embracing the idea, that I could not run away from Love anymore.
Note: I am no Buddhist nor an expert in Buddhism. This is based on my experience and personal understanding. Please do not use this as reference.