For a small and dusty village, Bodhgaya presents an entire universe of beauty, tenderness, compassion, filth, violence and misery. And unlike at home, where we like to keep our filth, violence, and misery behind closed doors, it's on display here in a way that can be shocking.
Behind the dirt-floor, mud-walled, tarp-covered restaurant that makes delicious cinnamon rolls, I noticed a new bamboo and tarp structure, maybe 10 feet square. It was recently built by the blind man who lives there with his wife (who happens to be frickin' beautiful), his two kids, and apparently, his wife's other husband, who, when I saw him, had the most outrageous case of bedhead I have EVER seen. World class - but not the point. This morning I heard yelling and turned around to see the father grabbing his young son's leg, as the son was hanging upside down and trying to get away, as his wife was beating on her husband, and as some interested neighbors were similarly yelling and generally jostling everyone else around. It turns out that the son had taken the bicycle rickshaw that they were borrowing to transport the mud to fortify their little house, and ridden it into town. The father was furious, knowing that if the rickshaw had been damaged, they had no way to pay to get it fixed. Before too long, pretty much the whole neighborhood was out to watch or add their opinion at great volume. Everyone was traumatized to one degree or another, but just imagine what it must be like to be blind, squatting on government land, trying to feed your family and living so close to the edge like that? I can't really conceive of it. But it seems like a good idea to try.
There is stunning poverty here, and I'm not just talking about kids in dirty clothes. Old people so feeble they shake, lepers with missing digits or a caved-in nose, and young children with polio who crawl around on the pavement like worms in an effective attempt to look pathetic. I don't give money to kids, not even the ones with polio, but I've befriended this one who I shake hands with everytime I see him. He's got a huge, beautiful smile, and in that moment as we're holding hands, it seems like enough.
The 10-day silent meditation retreat starts in a couple of days. I'll write again when that's out, and post some more photos.
The attached photo is of a group of monks inside the Mahbodhi Temple, the site of the Buddha's enlightenment, 2,500 years ago.
I hope you are well...