A Peak into Bodhgaya and Bylakuppe
by Joji Santos, Board Member, PLTLP, February 2019
As a Buddhist lay practitioner, I am drawn to and captivated by the mystical world that is India. India after all, is the birthplace of Buddhism. As a new Board Member of the Panchen Lama Tashi Lhunpo Project, this trip held an even greater meaning for me. Not only did I go to India with a sense of purpose but I have always sensed a deep spiritual connection with this astonishing land of complexity in cultures and religion, races and tongues.
My most recent trip of 12 days to India took me to famous Bodhgaya, Northeast India, State of Bihar and Bylakuppe, the second largest Tibetan settlement outside of Tibet after Dharamshala. I was excited to have been invited to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s end of the year teachings in Bodhgaya, and to spend time with Khen Rinpoche Geshe Kachen Lobzang Tsetan, the former Abbot of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Bylakuppe, to view the new Temple and the new Library at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in exile.
I would like to share some unforgettable moments of this trip.
Bodhgaya: I am constantly amazed at how the monks manage to feed what seems like the entire world after each teaching! This time I witnessed over 40,000 attendees being fed by an army of eager young monks with all sorts of nourishments like hot tea in big jugs and warm freshly-baked monk bread in huge basket containers! The last event, called Long Life Prayer, was exceptionally interesting as I witnessed 5 Oracles dance and gyrate during a ceremony called Long Life Prayer in honor of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In addition to the tea and bread, warm cooked rice and a variety of special treats made only for such an event were offered throughout the ceremony. Not to mention the confetti of colorful rice grains tossed around in ritualistic gestures. We all prayed wholeheartedly that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will live for another 30 years!
Trips are never complete without meeting new people and making new friends. Here is where I met a new friend, Hayley Gorcey, a beautiful young lady and friend of PLTLP. She and I felt so blessed being able to hear the teachings just a few feet away from the throne of HHDL. With her, Khen Rinpoche and another young monk, named Tenzin Lhakpa, personal assistant to Khen Rinpoche, we visited a few important historical sites in Bodhgaya. Drawn like a magnet, we went a few times to the sacred Mahabodhi Temple and where, thanks to the Lama with us, we were able to stay miraculously close to the Buddha shrine, prayed, made offerings, and chanted while walking around the famous Bodhi Tree. Buddha sat underneath this tree for 49 days (7 weeks) sans movement, waiting to reach his full awakening. The Vulture’s Peak was the second site we visited where Buddha first taught The Six Paramitas (Perfections) after reaching enlightenment. We then went in the small cave where Sariputra lived for several years, Buddha’s second disciple also attained enlightenment. Another special site was the Banyan Tree where Buddha historically accepted a bowl of rice-milk (later on referred to as the Golden Bowl) made from a thousand cows from a rich woman named Sujata signifying the breaking of his fast as an ascetic.
Of course, the tour would not have been complete without stopping at the great Nalanda University, home to 17 Buddhist scholars like Nagarjuna, Shantideva, Dharmakirti, Chandrakirti, Asanga and Atisha to name a few most significant ones. My body felt like jelly being at this place knowing this was where the great great scholars taught, meditated, discoursed and debated the Dharma!
We felt privileged to attend a Donors dinner specially given to honor the sponsors of the monastery. Here I met the new Abbot of PLTL Monastery, Zeekgyab Rinpoche, which was truly an honor! I also met the Dalai Lama’s distinguished Tibetan doctor.
The last day in Bodhgaya was indeed for me an historical event. Have you ever experienced shopping with a Tibetan Lama? Here we learn the ultimate lesson in non-attachment to material things. No surprises there! But also, they never get lost, they never second guess themselves, they also do not buy for themselves, only for others.
Bylakuppe: A short visit to Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in exile was an eye-opener to what our beloved Khen Rinpoche has accomplished in the many years as Abbot of the monastery! When I visited in 2011, the site of the monastery seemed to me the mere size of a small village. My recollection shamed me as the present site stands majestically in Bylakuppe, beautifully done, well planned, with the surroundings looking and feeling like a traditional Tibetan monastery. Indeed, the whole campus makes you feel like you are in Tibet! The Prayer Hall Temple is amazing and the library is beautiful. Please see the highlights of these new buildings and the photos on the website. Bylakuppe in Karnataka is very rich in Tibetan heritage with other monasteries established there as well, like Sera Mey, Sera Jey and Namdroling Golden Temple Monastery.
So, there you are! I am breathless just recounting my trip. Sadly, I had to say goodbye after a whirlwind visit, but my heart was full with the precious time I spent with Khen Rinpoche, with making new friends, with my intellectual curiosity met and my spiritual yearnings satisfied.
Until we meet again, India!
My own personal take away? Well, that will have to wait until next time, AND you have to prepare yourself for that!