Ven. Gyalten Mindrol completed a three month prostration and migtsema retreat with lam rim meditation from January 2 – April 12, 2010 at Root Institute, Bodhyaya, India. Upon her return to the USA, she reflected on the inspiring service being offered at Root Institute.
SOCIAL SERVICE IN BODHGAYA
By Ven. Gyalten Mindrol
Bodhgaya is a place of contrasts: the profound stillness of the spot where the Buddha attained enlightenment contrasts with the chaotic noise of street vendors and honking vehicles on the main road; the wealthy pilgrims in their hotels with the polio-stricken beggars; the sparkling temples with the piles of garbage.
Root Institute gives the weary pilgrim respite from the chaos of town, while providing a plethora of opportunities to further nourish the mind. The immaculate and gloriously flowering gardens invite one to sit with a book or chat with a companion. Accommodation is comfortable and readily available at every level: from single rooms to dormitories, private retreat houses to apartments. The kitchen staff provide an impressive display of vegetarian fare ranging from Indian, Thai, and Chinese through to European and American offerings for those homesick palettes – all from a kitchen run to exacting Western standards for our delicate digestive systems. Adopted goats and dogs – all very friendly – give the animal lover something to, well, love.
The wonders of the great stupa itself can be reached by rickshaw (10-15 minutes) or on foot (20 minutes). Root itself offers two beautiful gompas – the larger made of glass and containing beautiful statues and thangkas, and the smaller in an intimate practice space in the back garden. A huge prayer wheel filled according to the advice of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, attracts every visitor, while smaller prayer wheels and stupas fill the gardens. A well-stocked library of books from every tradition made this writer’s mind water with anticipation, as did a video room with almost every Buddhist movie known to sentient beings available on DVD.
From October to March, Root Institute runs an impressive series of residential retreats and courses suitable for every level of practitioner. Beginners get an experiential taste of the entire path to enlightenment with ten-day introductory courses. More advanced students receive profound teachings from senior Western students and high Tibetan lamas (Ling Rinpoche, Dagri Rinpoche, and His Holiness the Karmapa all taught in the early part of this year). There are tantric retreats led by great masters and opportunities for guided pilgrimage to the many holy sites of the area. The private retreat facilities are impressive and include ample support from Root Institute staff, as well as a dedicated space (and a monk from Namgyal Monastery) to do fire puja.
Root Institute takes Buddhist practice into the world with mind-blowing social service programs, including a free health care clinic that serves 3,000 patients a month and provides the local population with an inconceivable collection of health initiatives aimed at eradicating polio (almost there) and AIDS (just starting), and slowly changing attitudes about hygiene, diet, birthing practices, etc. Recently, they began a home for AIDS orphans that has already transformed the lives of the three young children who currently live there.
The people who find themselves at Root are unique. Prepare to find yourself surrounded by practitioners of many religions and different traditions of Buddhism, people with good minds and open hearts who are either searching for a path or deeply committed to their practice. They come from all over the world to the place where Buddha completed his final meditation. They do courses and retreats, practice, volunteer in the center and at the clinic, and every one of them leaves transformed by what they have learned and experienced at Root Institute.
When You Go:
Bodhgaya is not as remote as it used to be. There are direct flights to Gaya from Bangkok, Rangoon, and several Indian cities, and the train arrives from even more. Root Institute is a 20-minute taxi ride from Gaya Airport or train station.
Want to be inspired? Be sure to request a tour of the Shakyamuni Buddha Community Health Center while you’re there!
Pay it Forward – Root Institute and its social service initiatives are always in need of volunteer support. Offer a few hours, days, or even weeks. Nothing benefits the mind like benefitting others and there couldn’t be a better opportunity to lend a much needed hand.