Arriving in Bodh Gaya

Arriving at Gaya airport, slightly shell-shocked after an early start in Bangkok, I watched Luangpoh Sudhiro and Luang-ah jet-monking* down the tarmac towards the terminal and wondered ‘why are they going so fast?’ This became clear when we saw the long stationary queue at immigration, -I’d forgotten he’s been here before! However, rather than having to join the queue, our guide Santos, who had travelled with us from Bangkok, took out passports and told us to wait. We stood in a group and waited while he had words with the immigration officer and soon we were ushered through to the other side, feeling a bit guilty about queue jumping, but not quite enough to protest and get to the back of the now even longer queue. This was the first of many times when we seemed to waltz in and get the best seats in the house. After going to our hotel and having some lunch, we got on our tour bus and set off for Sujata’s House. This was a stupa where it is thought that she lived and on the hill is a Bodhi tree. I was quite shocked to find myself in India and was feeling apprehensive about getting off the bus. I had been on a family holiday to Delhi many
years before and I remembered being besieged by begging children and hawkers whenever we emerged. Someone started to warn us about not talking to the people there and it being better not to give money to the children and it all started coming back to me. After the calm nature of Thailand, where travelling with monks to holy places is given great respect, it seemed to me then that for the local people we were just an opportunity to sell wares or beg some rupees. It was with mixed feelings that I got off the bus and started walking with the group, up onto the remains of the stupa towards Sujata’s Bodhi tree. We sat under the tree wearing the white pilgrim’s shawls, that we’d been given, for the first time. We did some chanting and the monks chanted the special Abhidhamma verses for Sujata that are traditionally chanted for the dead. It made me happy that this place honoured a beautiful woman who had done something very simple, -a generous offering of milk rice to the Buddha, who was nearly dying of starvation, and that this represented for him the path away from asceticism and onto the middle way. I found the fact that she was allowed to be beautiful particularly pleasing, somehow I had imagined that this wouldn’t have been proper or at least that she would have had to cover it up. But I suppose the Buddha didn’t have to worry about being distracted by beautiful people.

*'Jet-monk’ – a phrase coined by the Bolton group for Luangpoh Sudhiro’s ability to zoom along and up as if he was wearing a jet pack!