Arrival in India

Huge white banners with Sharuk Khan and other Indian movie stars flap in the wind as we exit Patan airport around 15:00 on 26 December. To our relief, someone from Middle Path welcomes us and shows us to the car that will take us to Bodghaya. But not before our driver has joined the crowd trying to get a glimpse of the movie star we have unknowingly travelled with. Surrounded by armed policemen, he disappears in one of the many white Ambassador cars waiting for him and other VIPs, and they soon leave in a long procession amidst the cheers of the crowd. Our driver quickly comes back and follows them.
It’s Hoa’s first time in Asia since he emigrated to Belgium as a child and the gets his first shock: driving (or rather being driven) in India! He startles, freezes with fright and stifles little shrieks during the first 10 minutes of our trip, but then does as I have from the start: entrust his life to the Buddhas and of course, to our driver, relax completely and enjoy the ride, as when one gets fastened in a roller coaster in amusement parks. Anyway, what else can one do? But these drivers are truly amazing. Fully relaxed and concentrated, horning tirelessly (Horn Please!), they squeeze at (relative) full speed between huge painted Tata trucks, tractors, rickshaws, busses, cars, goats, dogs, cows and passers-by. I love it. I just pray that nobody gets hurt and feel happy. Happy to be in India, to see its many contrasts, its beautiful people and its fertile countryside unfold. Happy to bounce and shake on roads full of stones and potholes, to the sound of loud Indian music. Yes, there is appalling poverty. Yes, there is dirt and rubbish and plastic bags everywhere. Yes, the air is thick with dust and fog and gasoline/cow-dung/plastic fire fumes, but I guess I must be completely biased: whereas I would choke and cough in half as much pollution in the Brussels streets, here exhilaration makes me feel just fine. And I somehow managed during the whole trip to escape the cough and respiratory problems many of my fellow pilgrims had to suffer from.
Night falls early. We are still far away from Bodhgaya. I start feeling a little nervous. I have been advised to try and get safely to our hotel before dark because Bihar can prove a dangerous place after sundown, with gangs of dacoits roaming the countryside on the lookout for wealthy tourist ready to be robbed… Or worse… (switch on the appropriate background music for the suspense scene). When our driver stops by the roadside along a hardly lit shack that looks more like a poor farm than a roadside café, I can’t help remembering these ominous warnings. But what if we get robbed? I decide to relax and accept whatever comes my way. Be it robbery, or even death. Come what may. Wouldn’t the ‘sacred land’ be a nice place to die? I feel so fortunate to be here, to be able to take part in the Monlam and the pilgrimage. I have left all worries and responsibilities behind, these are true holidays!
We get out of the car, sit on rickety chairs under a thatched roof with field mice scurrying between the straws, ignore the water taken at a leaking pipe and handed to us in metal jugs that have been on the table before our arrival, ask for some tea and eat the nicest pakora I would get during my whole stay. Nobody has tried to steal our big suitcases in the unlocked car some 100m away. Rested and fed, we proceed to Bodhgaya at the same speed on the pitch-dark roads, unforeseen obstacles popping up out of nowhere in the headlights every few seconds.
We arrive around 8.30 at the Vishal hotel, check in and are led to our room: clean, with adjoining bathroom and toilet, but no cupboards and … no window!
We meet our neighbour, Fulmaya, who has actually been on the same plane from Delhi to Patna but has travelled in another car with our contact from Middle Path (what’s his name? I forgot!). She advises us to register for the Monlam that very night at the Mahayana hotel, which functions as the coordination and information centre of the Monlam.

Bodhgaya – the Kagyu Monlam

Morning temperatures are fresh. Especially when you sit motionless for hours. No need for warm underwear, but my polar jacket, a coat and a blanket are not too much. I have an early (free) breakfast at the Mahayana hotel and head towards the big stupa. No traffic yet. I locate the bank. And spot the internet shops. The little stands along the main road are still closed. Some children wrapped in shawls warm their hands over burning plastic bags and rubbish. Others run after the few Westerners trying to sell them bunches of freshly picked lotus flowers. Some people boil tea over cow-dung fires.
A cluster of destitute women wrapped in blankets and shawls sit on the pavement close to the lane leading to the Mahabodhi compound. On the lane itself, children beg or sell mouth/nose masks. Disabled youngsters with deformed limbs crawl on the floor like monstrous spiders. Men try to sell bodhi leaves, bodhi seed malas, incense, flowers or bags of 1 rupee coins. Tibetans sell momos from big aluminium steamers. Behind the wall and the fence, one can see the stupa, the trees and the thousands of monks and nuns seated in neat patches of red, orange and yellow. The huge stupa and its mandala-shaped surrounding ground are impressive. I join the crowd of monks, Chinese, Tibetan and Western pilgrims who circum-ambulate the stupa or try to find a place to sit. If you go down the stairs in front of the entrance, you are reminded to take off your shoes by a stern policeman, but if you circle around and go down via another entrance, you can keep them on and those whom you are certain to see with their shoes on are… the Tibetan monks. On the first morning, I take a close look at the stupa and all its beautiful sculptures, its temples, the statue of the Buddha and the bodhi seat. I pay homage to the ‘talking’ Tara and then sit high up on the wall of the outer lane to get an overall view and find out who’s where and what happens. I manage to get one of the big prayer books that the Chinese disciples have prepared. It’s very well done, with three columns: one with the Tibetan script, one with the Chinese phonetics and one with the Chinese translation of the Tibetan text. I can follow the Tibetan script, but as one regularly has to jump from one section to another, the next morning, I sit amidst the Chinese (I’m told they are mainly from Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia) who are informed of what page they should go to by FM transmission. They are very well organized and I notice that they are devoted and very generous sponsors. How wonderful to be here today and to have the opportunity to participate to the Monlam. I think of the many great beings who have been here over the course of the centuries – not to mention the Buddha himself, of course – and of all the many ordinary beings who have come here with deep devotion and faith to pray and meditate like we are doing today! Isn’t it amazing?
The sun rises and slowly dissipates the cold. It’s break time. Monks walk among the seated assembly with huge kettles of very hot Indian tea (boiled milk with sugar and some tea) that they pour in the cups of those who hand them one, and deal little dry buns wrapped in plastic (my environmental consciousness stirs, although volunteers diligently collect the waste.) By ten, it’s getting hot and I start peeling off some layers of clothes and wishing I had sat in the shade. The low roar of trumpets announces the arrival of H.H. Karmapa. I can’t see him from where I sit as stone stupas block the view.
We all switch on our FM radios to listen to the translations of his teachings on the life of Milarepa. As of the second (or third?) day, we will have the pleasure to get Ringu Tulku Rinpoché’s voice through our ear plugs. As he translates, the sound of his voice fills me with joy. I get the feeling that although he may not translate all of the Karmapa’s words, Rinpoche really conveys the very essence of his teaching in a very inspiring way. The sections of Milarepa’s biography read in Tibetan by H.H. are read simultaneously in English by Ari. Sometimes the sound of teachings mixes with the clangs of the beggars banging their bowls against the stud walls surrounding the park for alms. Dedication prayers conclude the morning sessions and around 11:30, a red tidal wave breaks out of the compound and into the main street. I try to stay in the heart of the flowing stream to avoid peddlers and beggars. Cars, busses, bicycles and rickshaws are blocked and can only move with and within the compact crowd. All the shops and stands along the road are open now, selling cotton, woollen and silken shawls, tin kitchenware, malas, statues, incense, CDs, monks’ bags, shirts and skirts, etc. I go back to the hotel to change for something lighter, drop by the bank and get out with my bag swollen by the huge bundles of dirty 10 rupee notes I receive in exchange for the three clean 1000 notes I got at the airport in Delhi. No free Mahayana lunch today, I want to try the little local restaurants. Thali sounds nice. And it is. After a short siesta, I go back to the stupa for the afternoon prayers and teachings. I haven’t met anybody from our pilgrims’ group yet. Which is no surprise, as I wouldn’t know them even if they stood in front of me. Except for one or two persons in the group, I’ve never had the pleasure to meet any of those listed in Margaret’s emails. I buy a cotton shawl to protect me from the sun the next day. After the afternoon session, I send a couple of emails to reassure husband, son and parents that I’ve arrived here safely and all is well.
Late afternoon. I walk to Tergar monastery with Hoa, to attend His Holiness’s teachings to his foreign students, Westerners and Chinese. It’s quite far, in the middle of fields and swamps. As the night falls, mosquitoes start buzzing around my ears. I wrap my newly-bought shawl around my head and shoulders. We have to show our Monlam passes to get through the front door. Men and women have then to queue in separate lines and are searched thoroughly before being allowed to enter the huge temple. Which is already crammed with people. I spot friends from Samye Dzong Brussels sitting a few rows ahead. The wall behind the altar is light blue with many little clouds. Am I wrong or this isn’t quite traditional design? It makes me think of baby bedroom wallpaper.
H.H. Karmapa arrives and starts teaching in a simple, warm and open way, accompanied by a chorus of coughs. It’s the first time I see Karmapa, well, I mean not on photos or DVDs. I’m impressed. And delighted to look at him and see him smile, and make joking hand gestures. These gestures sometimes remind me of H.H. Dalai Lama. He has similar strong charisma. Karmapa doesn’t enter complex theoretical or philosophical aspects of the Dharma, but goes straight to the very core of the matter: the development of compassion, keeping the dharma into our heart and putting it diligently into practice. And he himself talks from the heart, from his own experience, illustrating his point with childhood memories. The strength of his presence is compelling. But my mind is strangely out of focus and I have difficulties to concentrate. Of course, I don’t understand Tibetan, but somehow, listening to the translation I get a strange feeling that his Tibetan translator’s words are sometimes a bit – how could I say – inaccurate or difficult to make sense of. My own diluted projections combined with tiredness, no doubt. Karmapa mentions that the timing of the next teachings may be changed to allow people to take their dinner before coming to Tergar and wishes us all a good night. We squeeze out of the door and walk our way back into the chilly night. Quite hungry, we enter the first road side restaurant that we see. It’s on the first floor, shabby, with plastic tables and chairs, dirty greenish walls with funny posters. Two Chinese nuns, horrified at the sight of meat floating amidst their noodles, return their soups and ask for vegetarian chow men. An English lady desperately tries to get some chilli out of a bottle clogged by dry blackened clots of sauce. Our noodles are not bad and the banana pancakes are delicious. We eat quickly and hurry back to the hotel.
The next day begins in a similar way, but after the morning tea, I start feeling butterflies flapping their wings in my belly. After a minimal rice-only lunch at the Mahayana, I take my first rickshaw to hurry back to the hotel with an emergency feeling. Imodium proves ineffective and I spend the next couple of hours emptying myself of every food and liquid my bowels and stomach contain. I feel very weak and cold even under two blankets. Hoa arrives and I ask him to get me a bottle of mineral water, some salt and sugar for re-hydration. I then reassure him that I’ll be OK and send him away to the teachings. He’s always so kind and caring with everybody, but what would be the use of his staying with me? Some time later, the hotel manager kindly comes to inquire about my state and whether I need a doctor. No thanks, I’m OK. If it’s not over by tomorrow morning, it will be time to get medical assistance, but right now I feel, well, not fine, sure, but I can cope. He then brings me some glucose, mixes a few spoonful of the powder in a big glass of water, and doesn’t leave before I’ve drunk the last drop, telling me that he cares for me like a son for his mother. Sweet, isn’t it? I thank him for all his trouble and kindness. In the evening, he has a special meal of rice porridge and boiled vegetables prepared especially for me, and the next morning, I feel just fine. I’ve learned the lesson. As of now, I listen to reason and avoid roadside restaurants. Meals might be less tasty and varied at the Mahayana hotel, but they are probably safer for our weak Western digestive systems.
And I discover another interesting aspect of the spot: it’s a meeting place where I can at last meet my future fellow-pilgrims and sometimes even enjoy the presence of Rinpoché who joins us briefly. It’s also the right place to get the latest information about the next changes in the programme – for instance, that tonight’s teaching in Tergar has been cancelled. It seems that Karmapa has caught a cold and is not feeling well.
Better don’t make plans once you’re here. Or make plans but don’t expect them to turn out as foreseen. Everything changes all the time. Teachings are replaced by initiations, one initiation by another, what had to happen at the Mahabodhi temple takes place in Tergar and vice versa, the teaching foreseen at 6 p.m. starts at 7 p.m., the interviews announced at 3 p.m. start three hours later or do not take place at all, the people you had to meet somewhere do not turn up -but it doesn’t matter because you bump into them somewhere else. If you don’t stick to your programme and are flexible enough, it’s all fine. Well, aren’t we on holidays anyway? I feel like a dust particle taken into a strange and beautiful dance. It’s all unpredictable and it may seem chaotic, but somehow everything fits into place and comes out perfectly right in the end. No need to push and force things. It’s a bit like Indian traffic: relatively few accidents compared to what might be expected according to our rigid western norms. Or like crossing the street: as long as you keep on moving and don’t stop paralyzed by panic, you get safely to the other side. Trust. And taking things lightly.
I learn that Maria and Bernhard have arrived. We’re staying in the same hotel and I go to their room to say hello, inquire about their travel and chat a little bit.
On Saturday, Rinpoche ‘convenes a meeting of the pilgrims’ in the garden of the Mahabodhi stupa. It’s mouth to ear information, but somehow the tam-tam functions well as we are almost all present at the right time. It’s nice to be together. Bruno is designated as organizer of a day trip to Rajgir and Nalanda and Rinpoché announces the possibility of a meeting with H.H. Karmapa today, around 3 p.m. at Tergar. That’s great! I hurry to buy blessing cords and go back to the hotel to cut them, change to wear the chuba I took especially with me in case such an occasion would happen and stuff a large katag in my bag. To make sure we get there on time, Hoa and I take a rickshaw to the ‘new Kagyu monastery’. There are many different groups already waiting on the lawn. We join ours and Shenphen shows me how to make a correct knot in a blessing cord. Whoops, I had it all wrong. Never mind, it seems I’ll have the time to do it again properly. Time passes. The sun starts to set and it gets colder. Queues form at last at the bottom of the stairs and around 17h30, they start to move slowly on and upward. Rinpoché signals that we can join the file and we slowly shuffle up. Due to the security check at the bottom of the stairs, our group loses its homogeneity and I find myself among some other people. On the first floor, a few meters from the door, I hear the guard calling for ‘Ringu Tulku Rinpoché’s group’. I hurry up, overtaking the people in front of me, and squeeze in the room just before the door closes. I’m pushed forward, showed where to put my katag, I quickly take out the things I wish to be blessed by His Holiness, a hand touches my hand and the mala, pictures, cords and Milarepa image I hold, I look up – shock : it’s Karmapa. And it’s over. I’m given a blessed cord and shoved forward to the back of the room. It all went so quickly and without any warning of how it would happen that I didn’t really register what was going on. Maybe a good lesson about how distracted and out of touch with reality I am. Maybe a teaching on the need of vigilance and awareness – and my usual lack of it. Fortunately, we have a few minutes during which we can look at Karmapa: Rinpoche has a picture taken with his family around Karmapa, and then with our group. I hope we’ll get a copy of that photo some day. This was short. Yes, I wished it could have lasted a little longer, although I had guessed that H.H. wouldn’t have time to give us more than a quick blessing in view of the large number of people queuing, but it was OK, I come down with a happy feeling of contentment and gratefulness.
On Sunday, I spend the afternoon with Fulmaya and Maureen visiting some of the many temples that have sprung like mushrooms all over Bodhgaya. We are not the only ones: today’s a holiday and whole families, women wearing their most beautiful saris and jewellery, stroll leisurely around and have their pictures taken on the staircases or in front of the temples. I realize that it’s actually New Year’s Eve. I’ve been losing the sense of the passing of time and feel cut off from the rest of the world, with no radio, no TV, no newspapers. Even the bright warm sunshine denies the fact that we’re in December.
Shechen is close to the Mahayana hotel, with a free little clinic at the entrance, a big stupa and a relatively small temple with a beautiful statue of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The Bhutanese temple, almost in front of my hotel, is my favourite: small, of exquisite proportion, it hosts two beautiful, radiant, huge statues of Guru Rinpoché on the left and Chenrezig on the right. Next door you’ll find the Japanese temple, in beautiful traditional Japanese style with lots of dark wood and no bright colours, built on a large estate. In front of the temple, an enormous bronze bell can be struck by a large wooden pillar (must be the loud bass gong sound that wakes me up at 5 in the morning). As we come out of the temple, we are invited to follow a little man who leads us through a Japanese style garden to a building at the back. We are informed that three masters have just arrived from Japan and are shown seats around a large table where a dozen of persons already sit in silence. It turns out to be a tea ceremony. Three elderly Japanese ladies (the masters from Kyoto), one in strange silken dress, present us with sweets and cups of what looks more like green foamy soup than tea. They explain us how to take the cup and turn it sideways, just a little, before drinking. Tea and sweets are delicious. Aligato gozaimasu, thank you, bye, bye! Next comes the Kagyu temple, very big. There is a puja going on. To our surprise, we recognize the young Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoché, leaning on his text and presiding the ceremony. We sit on the floor for a while to listen to the chanting.
The little street is full of stands selling malas, photos and all kinds of Buddhist knick-knacks. I buy a set of postcards to a kid who tries of course to rip me off. Bad quality paper but they are the only ones available. And I get them at a correct price after pretending to walk away.
A little further rises the monumental giant stone Buddha, surrounded by standing arhats. Very impressive, really. Finally we visit the Thai temple with its curved roof, shining with gold, where we meet the group of pilgrims from Norway. Three little white dogs live in the garden of the Thai temple. Wearing coats, they watch passers-by from the high wall surrounding the garden. This very morning, at the Mahabodhi stupa, I had been distracted from the reading of prayers by an awful smell. Looking around, I saw it was coming from a mangy dog that made me think of Asanga’s story: not a hair left on his meagre back and limbs, he had decided to lie close to us, licking his putrid sores and wounds, impervious to the clapping of people trying to chase him away. There were many others like him in the streets. The contrast couldn’t have been greater with these three little plushy puppies wrapped in colourful coats.
In the evening, we get a very moving teaching from H.H. Karmapa. His voice is still a little muffled and hoarse from a sore throat, but his words are powerful and inspiring. The audience is clearly overjoyed to hear him promise to come to the West in a near future, and assert the strong connection that links us to him before he wishes us all a happy New Year. As we exit the temple, fireworks prepared by the Chinese disciples illuminate the sky. The main street are very quiet and there’s no festive atmosphere. Hoa, Fulmaya and I decide to go and have a last tea and dessert at the chic Tathagata hotel. There we join the ‘Belgian table’, where Carlo, Antonia, Stéphane, Dominique and Shenphen are having their New Year’s Eve dinner. I send a couple of emails in the internet shop next door and we go back early to the hotel.
Monday 1st is spent quietly in prayers and practice. I briefly go out for a walk, but the streets are crowded and the atmosphere is a little tense and not very pleasant. I’m told that New Year is an occasion for people to drink a lot and that may be why some people behave in a more aggressive way. In the evening, people from Samye Ling prepare bags of food to distribute to the poor the next day. Very good initiative, but why not put this stuff into paper bags? Aren’t there enough plastic bags littering streets, fields, ponds and brooks everywhere? Cows, goats and pigs are eating these bags, and I’ve been told that they suffer painful death because of it. Watch the smiles on people’s faces when you buy something but tell them, ‘no, no plastic, thanks’. They are well aware of their plastic problem.
The next day is our trip to Rajgir and Nalanda.
The flat countryside is still very green with paddy fields and vegetable patches in neat little squares bordered by raised earthen paths. Here and there clusters of palm trees, bamboos and eucalyptus. Yellow patches of rape shimmer in the sun light. Haystacks are piled in huge hut-like heaps. Flat round cakes of cow dung dry in the sun. (More buffaloes than cows though, so must be buffalo dung). Our bus crosses villages. Mostly men and children in the streets, not many women. They brush their teeth, read newspapers, drink tea and give the impression to have all the time in the world and nothing special to do today. One village seems to be specialized in sweets of all kinds. Some small villages are made of huts with mud walls and thatched roofs, but most houses are two-storey brick buildings that look dusty and unfinished with iron wires sprouting out at the upper corners. Tin can sheds by the roadside sell vegetables, sweets, pakoras, or offer a haircut to the passers by. Boulders of huge, round, worn and old looking rocks rise out in the middle of the fields. We arrive in Rajgir. I walk up the steep path that leads to the vulture peak alone. The mist in the wooden valley below is starting to dissipate in the morning sun. The landscape is peaceful and beautiful. I think of the Buddha’s second turning of the Wheel of Dharma, of the Heart Sutra and recite the mantra while imagining the assembly of bodhisattvas gathered on the platform above. I’m delighted to discover a group of gibbons at the turn of the path. They jump down their trees and come near me in the hope to get some peanuts (there’s a man selling them). I like these graceful monkeys. There’s a small shrine at the vulture peak. I’m asked to take out my shoes, handed a flower garland and incense and pressed to make a donation. 1000 and 500 rupee notes have ostentatiously been placed on top of the offering bowl to invite generous donations. Here, as it would prove the case throughout our ensuing pilgrimage, the constant harassment of beggars and peddlers makes it hard to connect with the sacredness of places and to keep one’s mind in a meditative state. I prefer to get quickly away from the shrine and find a more serene atmosphere in the adjacent wooden hill. The sun is getting hot and the slope is steep to the Japanese temple and stupa at the top. There I have the pleasure to meet Uncle-la and other members of Rinpoché’s family, who have organized their visit here separately. To go back to the bus, I take the cable car down the hill. The view is splendid and I enjoy swinging down suspended in mid-air. I exchange ‘Happy New Year’s with the people coming up.
The toilets at the entrance of the park are dark and dirty, and I cut my finger quite deeply when pulling open the rusted iron locket. I hope my tetanus vaccine is still active and feel a little worried because I know such small problems can turn nasty in countries like India. I’ve taken an impressive first-aid kit with me but, of course, it’s in my suitcase in the hotel. Fortunately, it bleeds a lot which, I hope, will wash dirt and possible microbes away. A member of our group gives me some mineral water and antibiotic soap to wash the cut and I wrap a paper handkerchief around it. Later, a kind lady gives me some more antibiotic gel and a piece of tape (and within a few days, it heals without causing the least discomfort).
We then visited Venuvana Park, the bamboo grove. It’s a very nice place, quiet and fresh, with of course lots of bamboos and a square pound very similar to the one in Bodhgaya, full of the same big cat fishes that ruffle the surface of the pound waggling their fins and the black whiskers around their mouths. A member of our group manages to slip and fall in the water. He gets quite… wet, but fortunately doesn’t hurt himself and can take his passport and camera out of his pocket before they get wet.
After lunch, we drive to the ruins of Nalanda. I had read about it, I knew it had been a huge university, still I am impressed and awed by the size of the site when I see it. I imagine how it must have been when it was buzzing with people, teachings, debates and activities, when many storey buildings sprung out of the brick foundations that remain. Impermanence.
I go back to the bus, surrounded by the unavoidable beggars. ‘Hello didi, hello, hello mama…’

My last day in Bodhgaya. The last day of the Monlam. After the morning prayers and teachings, I go to the post office to send my New Year’s greetings. I move through the usual crowd of beggars, cross the dirty street and enter a grey, dusty building. Behind the wire-fenced counter, ten or so employees chat together with self-important expressions or painstakingly take notes in big dog-eared registers. I wait for a few minutes. Cough. Cough a little louder. Still nobody taking notice of my presence. OK, if I have to… ‘Excuse me sir, can anybody help me?’ One of the men finally condescends to come to the counter and ask me what I want. He re-counts twice the cards that I want to send, asks me 120 rupees, hands my money to a colleague and turns to a another one to instruct him to give me the required number of stamps. The said colleague takes a few minutes to locate the book containing the stamps and finding the right page, then takes five minutes to slowly count and re-count the stamps, three more minute to detach them from the sheet and hand them to me. How is it possible to do things so slowly? I promise never ever to complain again when queuing in a Belgian post office. Of course, the stamps are not self-adhesive – and the dirty little pot on the table is empty. Five more minutes elapse before I get it filled with a dirty greenish paste, probably rice glue. I then spend the next 15 minutes with the stamps sticking to my fingers, to the table, and with difficulty to the cards, glue spilling from under them… I finally hand the cards to the employee, hoping they won’t stick together and wondering whether they will ever get out of India… They will. Or at least some of them. My parents and my husband never got theirs but my sister in Canada and a friend in Brussels thanked me after having received it. Maybe others did as well.
The Karmapa’s last teaching is very moving and inspiring.
I take a rickshaw to get quickly back to the hotel. We twice narrowly escape colliding with a bike and a motor rickshaw coming at full speed in the opposite direction. The night is very dark, there’s no light and the bicycles only become visible at a few meters’ distance in the other vehicles’ headlights. I would learn later that there had been two accidents. A fatal one: a rickshaw man had died on that same road. His body had been found in the morning lying in a pool of blood. And another rickshaw had fallen in the berm with its two Westerner customers, but with only minor injuries and no serious consequences for anybody.
Back in the hotel, I pack my suitcase, take an early dinner and go quickly to sleep.
Rinpoché thought it would be auspicious to receive the initiation given by H.H. Karmapa before leaving on pilgrimage and our departure, foreseen in the early morning, is postponed until the early afternoon. I go to the Mahabodhi garden, but the place is strangely empty and I guess the initiation is taking place at Tergar Monastery. My mistake allows me at least to take a proper leave from the stupa and circum-ambulate it a last time. When I arrive in Tergar, the temple is already full of people, so I sit outside in the garden among many Chinese and Tibetans. Rinpoche’s family sits a few rows ahead. We are informed that we will receive the initiation of the thousand-armed Chenrezig. The PA system doesn’t function in the beginning but somewhere in the middle of the initiation, it starts transmitting Karmapa’s voice. He explains that he gives us this initiation as the inheritance of his family and how he wishes that loving kindness and compassion become a living force in our daily lives.

At 14:30, our two busses leave for Varanassi.


2 Responses to “Corinne’s report”

  1. 1 Fulmaya Harris February 19, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Enjoyed reading this.

  2. 2 Maggy Jones May 22, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    Hi, Corinne! I have been in retreat so this is a late comment! I really enjoyed reading your very vivid account of your pilgrimage but please may I say one word for the Samye Ling people? They feel as you do about the plastic, plastic, plastic, but they could not find any paper bags!!! They wanted bags so the people could carry the food away, and not have to eat it at the spot, also because there was 10 rupees hidden at the bottom – hidden from the ‘beggar barons’. It was not an organised thing, just a heart reaction to the contrast of the magnificence of the Monlams, their own very good fortune to be able to attend, and the poverty and misery of the inhabitants!

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