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Monday, February 23, 2009

Order Convention at Bodh Gaya

The Mahabodhi Temple at duskToday sees the start of the 2009 International Order Convention – which for the first time in the FWBO’s 40 years is not taking place in the UK. It is in fact being held at Bodh Gaya in north-eastern India, site of the Buddha’s Enlightenment 2,500 years ago.

FWBO News hopes to bring you regular updates of events there over the next days, and of the big ‘Dhammakranti’ (meaning ‘Dhamma Revolution’) retreat that will immediately follow on – on which there may be up to 1,000 people.

To set the scene, we begin with a piece from Aranyaka, newly ordained and in India for the first time in over 20 years… He writes -

Glimpses of Buddhist Bodhgaya

Bodhgaya is amazing and mad…. On my first visit to the Mahabodhi temple I was struck by how beautiful the structure is – far more so than I had gleaned from Photos. The next thing that I found very striking is how definitely it is NOT a dusty, crusty relic or museum but a living place full of devotion, aspiration and practice. There is the fantastic array of Dharma on display from all over the globe, in all sorts of strange and wonderful shapes, sizes, colours and forms – some of them particularly intriguing to my eye such as wrapping up the temple in a large length of golden cloth- and the cacophony of discordant pujas assaulting the ears simultaneously from all directions. Everybody is free to give expression to whatever form their devotion takes and does. And everyone is treated equally in this, Tibetan, Indian, Thai, Bhikkhu or Dalai Lama… Equally striking is how happy everyone is to allow everybody else to do their own thing with absolutely no sense of the annual punch-up that can be witnessed in Bethlehem! The worst that seems to happen is people quietly ignoring each other.

So highlights: The madness of the Nyingma Monlam (prayer festival): huge numbers of Nyingmapas doing pujas all over the temple, each with their own sound system, which always goes on until 11 and sometimes even 12 o’clock! I am very struck at how similar the Tibetan monastic system is and its place in the culture to what was around in medieval Europe say at the time of Cluny or Citieux. Huge institutions that are enormously wealthy and politically embroiled, full of large numbers of monks mechanically performing liturgy but which also act as central social institutions for education etc. Definitely not the naively romantic situation I suspect envisaged by many Western followers here.

A few weeks ago they brought out the relics of the Buddha, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana for the annual display of three days. There was to be a big procession around the town with the relics being paraded on elephants (along with monks, soldiers, obligatory dignitaries, carnival floats and several thousand school children). Nissoka and I offered to help and on the ended up in the escort for the elephant with the Buddhas relics in. It was needless to say all somewhat chaotic but I ended up walking alongside this lovely big elephant along with (completely unplanned) a Thai Bhikkhu, a Vietnamese Nun and a Tibetan Monk: Theravadayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana and Navayana! How incredibly appropriate.

It was a fantastic day and really fun - the Vietnamese nun kept putting flowers in my ears and bursting out laughing!. All the while the relics were being showered with flower petals, and the monk n the palanquin would periodically throw some out to be collected by (usually) Tibetan devotees standing by. So I spent two hours being rained on with flower petals from that had been in contact with the Buddha relics. As you may know I am not one for such language but it was a bit like being in a Mahayana Sutra and being showered with Amrita, and by the end I realised that wherever I had been for the last couple of hours it had not been Bodhgaya. Perhaps not quite the Tusita heaven but....

The community who live on our land at Bodh Gaya gave some assistance to an impressive Ambedkarite Buddhist Lady called Sunniti, who we was here to help some friends as they single-handedly reintroduced the Bhikkhuni sangha into the Theravada. Couldn't resist a bit of controversy! It was apparently successful so the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha now exists again – though no doubt no one will recognize them and I have to say I feel it’s all a bit misguided anyway (cf 43 Years Ago, one of my favourite and IMO most underappreciated books by Sangharakshita).

I have been living on the land here with the community (3 young but dedicated Indian Dhammamitras, Siladitya and occasional visitors) and helping out where I can with the preparation for the convention – which has been going very well. An amazing tent has risen out of the land in the last few weeks. The community is small but has suddenly expanded to about 15 in the last couple of days - not including the 25-strong convention team that have just arrived! But this being India we all just fit in!

We have also been holding an open chapter meeting each week for any order members in Bodhgaya. So far this has now included Nissoka, myself, Siladitya, Vajralila, Sudakini, Shantigosh, Rochani and most recently Parami. The fact that we do not necessarily speak the same language has not mattered a jot! What an interesting Sangha Bodhgaya shows us to be…

Till next time



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