Letter from Bodhgaya
Nurturing baby bodhisattvas to stop the rot
“In short, the impact which India made on me, against my strong resistance, was to make me lose confidence in what we call progress in the West.”
These words were written in 1977 by John Seymour, one of the most intelligent and practical spokesmen of the alternative movement in Great Britain against unthinking gigantism and unbridled consumerism. He was a self-sufficiency guru, who said he came to the above-quoted conclusion after having seen many people at first hand in the India of the late sixties and early seventies, people who would be considered poor in the West, yet whose level of contentment and happiness exceeded that of his middle-class neighbors back home. Seymour was also struck by the abiding resonance of Gandhian ideals, including the idea that what you do and the material objects you use in your life should be part of an over-arching process of getting closer to God or, in his words, nearer to a genuine fulfillment.
I think Seymour would be very sad to see the India of today, where the ancient wisdom culture barely survives, where a sort of aberrant and loud, aggressive religiosity often holds sway. The country that’s proud on the one hand to advertise the image of Gandhi at his spinning wheel, is yet very happy to be a member of the nuclear club and regularly inflicts murderous violence on those who resist unjust land appropriation for mammoth industrial projects. This is, of course, the confused way of the world in general, and I have no ready-made solution to offer except to say that a few symptoms that manifest continuously in the course of my daily work in Bodhgaya do suggest some possible avenues of approach to the pervasive malaise.
For example, I’m seeing on a daily basis in our Maitreya Project School the fear and insecurity of the mindset that thinks only of passing exams so that a job may be easier to come by and, in the process, stifling a lot of the enjoyment and creativity in education that a different way of seeing could bring. I see a Buddhist monk, barely 14-years-old, who is resistant to studying in our nascent Buddhist school because he thinks he’ll get some kind of exam under his belt quicker in our larger established school. This, despite the fact that he needs a lot of remedial tuition, which he will get in the small school because of the high teacher-novice monk ratio – along with more Buddhist training. Nowadays, however, wearing Buddhist robes doesn’t translate into wanting a Buddhist education!
The erosion of traditional Indian values is reflected in the environmental microcosm of this holy place where the land mafia inflicts violence on farmers who resist attempts to grab their land, concrete eats up the once green and pleasant fields, large Airtel phone company hoardings mar the roadsides and, very important, where the levels of trust and integrity have gone down. What to do?
Sitting at sojong, the monks’ fortnightly confession ceremony, certain phrases ring so fresh and true. There is one in particular that I love, from the Pratimoksha Sutra, although what it urges is as yet supremely difficult for me to accomplish:
Before we dismiss this as so much retrogressive romanticism, let me remind the reader that this is just what our kind founder Lord Buddha did. It’s what many have done since then and, one hopes, will continue to do. This is why the kind Guru has been on my case for so many years with gentle demands for a Buddhist School and Monastery where a powerful environment, both inner and outer, with which to counter the prevailing toxicity can be more easily nurtured. Already I can see the rise in self-confidence and ease in one little local novice who has been at Maitreya Project site less than a fortnight. The vision is to have hundreds of students and monks at our Buddhist school and monastery. They can be the vanguard of a gentle revolution, which is what the Mahayana is – an opening to all others as though gifting oneself to them.
With sensitive planning we could hope to soon have at Maitreya Project a viable sylvan crucible in order to produce the baby warrior-bodhisattvas who are so sorely needed in this troubled land, so that the teachings, the sole medicine for suffering and origin of every joy abide for a very long time. Without such islands of sanity the future looks bleak indeed.
Ven. Kabir Saxena (Losang Tenpa) works for the Maitreya Project School in Bodhgaya, India.