Letter from Bodhgaya
A dialogue about mindstreams
Your correspondent has been on the move again, and so this letter is not strictly speaking from Bodhgaya, though the events herein all have bearing on future activities in the Holy Place of Awakening that I always return to, unwitting moth that I am, drawn to the magnetic flame of unquenchable Vajrasana, the field of action bestowed out of great compassionate skillful means by the Guru, thus revealing the love and understanding we keep on burying under piles of garbage, due to the attrition of beginningless bewilderment.
Excuse this opening flourish: It is honestly not meant to try the patience of readers already pummeled by the trials and tribulations of daily living. Let us examine the facts. I took the train to Pune, (the Brits called it Poona), not, I hasten to say, in order to indulge myself in the frolics of the Osho ashram, or to entice unreasonable movement out of 50-year-old limbs in the famous center for Iyengar yoga, but to meet up with a remarkable Englishman called Lokamitra (“friend of the people” in Sanskrit), who has been working with the Buddhists of Maharashtra state in central India for almost three decades. He started off as a monk, one of the very few in the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order and, although he later married a local lady, continued the work of teaching and inspiring the often poor, Dharma-thirsting people of the villages and shanty towns of Pune, Nagpur, and Mumbai, many of whose parents had adopted Buddhism in 1956 with Dr. Ambedkar.
The reason your hack found himself 1400 kilometers from home was to attempt to contribute, however microscopically, to the continuity of a fruitful dialogue that had started in earnest last October in Nagpur, when the Ambedkar Buddhists took the initiative in reaching out to other Buddhists in India and abroad, and where His Holiness the Dalai Lama encouraged them to study both Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist texts, and thus rediscover and maintain the rich Nalanda tradition in its entirety in the land of its birth.
I wanted to understand more of their background and views, why they held certain positions different from my own. As an example, for the underprivileged masses that belonged to the so-called untouchable caste, the mere act of conversion to Buddhism was seen and felt as a new birth. No real preparation or follow-up was deemed necessary to make that act valid. This was a great surprise to me for whom the mere act of taking refuge could never be enough on its own, and which definitely needed the ripening period of exposure to and reflecting on the teachings as a prerequisite, nurtured by continuous study and practice.
So, at a quiet retreat center nestled in the beautiful surroundings of the western ghat hills near Pune, I was the sole representative of our Je Tsongkhapa lineage which so emphasizes the union of study and practice, the felicitous blend of listening, reflecting, and meditating that has made that lineage’s best practitioners what they are.
Or, take the issues of altars and offerings, as well as more contentious ones such as karma and rebirth.
There is much, perhaps, that they can learn from us so long as we tread softly into an arena that for them contains the reverberations of much past pain and misunderstanding. And we, I think, can learn from their combination of awareness and metta-bhavana practices, both essential for balanced spiritual growth. I found that they had the same resistances to community practices that some of our centers have exhibited, and the same chronic problem that I have which is addressed by the Arya Sanghata Sutra when it proclaims:
Even having seen all those bitter sufferings, they are not moved to exert themselves. How will they understand? Bhaishajyasena, they must be taught again and again.