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Archive for January 31st, 2010

Sarnath, India

Historic Sarnath

After a few days of the Hindu holy city of Varanasi I was ready for the  more (maybe perceived)  subdued nature of Buddhism.  So Jack, a personal chief from rural Texas, overland adventure, and practitioner or many great religions including a very devoted period as a practicing Muslim, an English chap who travels much more then he works, and I hired an auto rickshaw (three wheels, two rear – one front,  vehicle built around a small motor with motorcycle type steering and a semi enclosed seat in back) and headed to my third major pilgrimage site of Sarnath. A car was recommended as the trip was nearly and hour, but going 40kmh at full throttle while marveling at the sights with friends was a blast. We nicked one cow, but the holy animal, our vehicle, and all aboard were intact; we had a good laugh with our driver as to the nature of our collective bad Karma if we had actually killed the animal that gives rise to the incarnations of nearly 33 million gods in Hinduism (this is one reasons cows are holy, they are the birth vehicle for gods).  Jack and I sat in the back and he told me about his plan to drive his custom built rig from Texan to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of Argentina, south America. “You are kidding my right, that is the same trip I have been dreaming about for years but I hoped to do it by motorcycle”. After comparing notes on a lot of other plans – like sailing around the world, we realized we were not alone on this planet with some crazy ass ideas regarding how to live life. Later I reviewed Jack’s web site and discovered he was beyond my dreaming about stage and was actively building this wild self contained vehicle, and making plans to point south and depress the pedal; Good luck Jack, I will see you on this crazy road again.

Historic  Stupa

Upon arrival in Sarnath we were swarmed by children begging, men wanting to serve as our guide, and all types of trinket sells people.  Straight to ticket off, and inside gate – safe.  Ok, outside is certainly not unsafe, it is however draining, often intimidating, and frequently  frustrating.  Sarnath is the sight where the last (there were others before, and there will be others in the future) Buddha (Sidhartha) taught his first teaching after achieving enlightenment in Boda Gaya. The site mostly consist of an excavated archeological site that once housed a great stupa in honor of the enlightened one. Like, Lumbini, and Kushinagar, Sarnath also supports monasteries from many Buddhist countries. Given the time constraints of my companions we kept our visit brief, but spinning the now familiar prayer wheels at the Tibetan monastery while repeating the mantra felt comforting amongst the humanity that is India.

Dogs and pups hanging out

Being largely anti-religious (angrily so, some would argue…correctly) I have been drawn to Buddhism since my 2006 thru – hike of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.  After hiking 2600 miles and debating the nature of god or the lack there of with myself and my companions, I became intrigued with something my friend Nate (Sunny) had said: “You know go-big (my trail name), I have never once heard you say anything inconsistent with my limited knowledge of Buddhism, I think you should check it out when you get home”. I did not give it much more thought after that until I unexpectedly got divorced and found myself once again completely lost and rudderless.  Ultimately, I shook the poor poor pitiful me bullshit and found myself at a Buddhist retreat near Santa Cruz.  The rituals were stupid, the vegetarian food mediocre, the women uninterested in, the room shabby, but the teaching of the straight talking Australian Nun (Robina Courtin) to be spot on with my fundamental beliefs and experiences. As typical, I left the retreat with new found focus, perspective and interest; I bought books, I downloaded teachings….and I did not do a damn bit of reading or listening or any type of follow-up.  Then I end up in Nepal using the Himalayas as the reason for the trip; “Funny, sure are a lot of Buddhist in those mountains, and I sure like their Monasteries?”  Now, without planning, I find myself being drawn to Boda Gaya (the place Buddha, awakened into enlightenment).

For Chryss

So the seed that was planted years ago was apparently starting to ripen. A few weeks back I had also heard that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet was going to be giving a teaching in Boda Gaya, and the timing could actually work for my schedule.  “Humm, how is it that I have been to three of the most sacred sights of Buddhism, I am now eager to see the fourth, and the Dalai Lama is going to be there, wouldn‘t that be something”. Not that checking off sites has ever been all that important to me, or that  I am rarely if ever excited about seeing an unknown famous person – but these sites and this man (his smiling photo is everywhere ) have given this part of my trip some particular meaning and seeing it through is becoming important to me. Estimates suggested that 40-50 thousand people would be in Boda Gaya for the teaching and I was told that without a hotel booking (impossible to get now), I was running a fools gamble regarding finding lodging. So as is common practice now, I  rubbed my bracelet that Sara had given me and said to myself: “We are going, and it will either work our or it will not”.

Sleeping, not dead

The teachings are 12 days from now, and while Varanasi is alive with fascination and  frustration, I am ready to move on. But where to go?  It will be Christmas. A quick look at the map gave me my instant answer; Christmas should be cold so why not head back into the foothills of the Himalaya and go the famous former English hill station of Dargeeling, India.  Besides no-one goes to Dargeeling this time of the year.  I have a plan,

On my last day in Varanasi, Jack and I walked across the pontoon and bamboo bridge to the historic fort and remarkable but frightening weapon museum. We shake our heads in disbelieve as we noticed that the recently placed huge pillars for the new bridge over the Ganges are leaning.  Not leaning a little bit, but Tower of Pisa leaning; and know this was not per the design…that was obvious. As I stood their looking on while still shaking my head, I spontaneously said “Shit, these guys have a lot of nuclear weapons, and this contractor can’t build a bridge over the Ganges, I sure hope the nuke contractor got the off switch wired correctly”.  Instead of walking back we hired two very lucky fisherman to take us back across the river. Lucky because we nor they had change and thus they made more in an hour than they likely make in a week. The boat was river worthy but reeked of Ganges sludge that was all over the boat.  The first mate organized lines,  sorted the fish that should not be consumed by any man or beast given the guaranteed high levels or contaminants, and rinsed the fresh (not) water mussels that would be sold at market.

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