Friday, January 21, 2011


Dhamma Bodhi the International Vipassana Center at Bodhgaya does not look conspicuous from the outside. In fact it is about half a kilometer from the main highway and land in between is empty, devoid of trees and structures or even a pucca road for that matter. The gate is not very prominent and one gets no idea that this is a sprawling ten acre premise which is capable of accommodating 100 spiritual seekers.

January is the peak month for winter in India and Bihar is one of the cold states for us who do not live in the north. Bihar falls in the Ganga basin and is well watered throughout the year. It shares its border with Nepal and Bodhgaya should be around 500 kilometers from the Himalaya Mountains. Agriculture goes on for all 12 months provided the numerous rivers do not flood the land during monsoon. People are generally poor for finance but rich for language, singing, food, intelligence, hard-work and fun. Bihar state or the erstwhile Maghad kingdom is the place where Buddhism and Jainism started and flourished. It has a very rich history of rulers, statesmen and saints.

Getting up at 4 am in the cold and wet morning is an experience by itself. The temperature is around 2 to 3 degree, the fog has already started to settle in and everything around is hazy. There is no heater in the room and the effort to slide out of the blanket is heart breaking. The tap water is ice cold but one has to touch the eye lids with water so as to drive away sleep. However such bravery is only temporary because woolen gloves immediately come on and both hands are locked under the armpits to keep warm. We open the room door to walk from severe cold into much more severe cold. The bright CFL lights outside become a mere shadow of itself in the haze and one has to assume that since there is a light it must be the path as well. The blanket, under which we tried to cocoon our body during the night, now becomes our shawl to cover from head to feet. Somehow we manage to keep pushing our legs to reach the relative warmth of the meditation hall. Each meditator is sitting in a conical shape because the blanket is wrapped around like a pyramid. Some of us managed to sleep even while sitting.

The break at 6.30 am is welcome only because we in fact get to break the fast, to eat something after about 18 hours, otherwise the cold is most unfriendly. There is daylight but the fog is thick and we still don’t see anything beyond 2 meters. All of us somehow stumble towards the dining room and attack the hot food without a bother about whether we like what we eat. Lack of choice makes a man humble. A few brave hearts contemplate a hot water bath during this break but most others who are mentally normal prefer to walk around for exercise and for having nothing better to do. Walking in the cold and foggy condition is an adventure by itself. What is at a distance is not seen but we know where the path will lead to. The trees and bushes create an eerie shadowy world, where we see dark shapes in the clouds.

The next break at 11 am is slightly better because we get to greet the sun but the biting cold persists. The sun looks like it has aged and lost all its strength against the ravages of winter. The progressive day light manages to bring in clarity but there is a cold breeze blowing across the land. I suspect that it the breeze which drives away the fog rather than the sunlight. But now there is magic in the air. There is silence, serenity and beautiful music of nature. There are two distinct sounds that we get to hear. One is that of the breeze brushing against the leaves of trees, a continuous rustle, playing a constant harp. The music become slightly loud at times but retains its soft melody most of the time. Different trees make different notes and when all the trees far and near play together, accompanying a cool sunlight, there can be no other heaven. The other sound is that of the dry leaves moving about on the land. The touch of the cold breeze to the face has its own charm and discomfort. The charm is in the softness in the air and the discomfort is when the cold air comes in contact with the liquid flowing through the nose. Constant rubbing of the kerchief on the nose also hurts.

The break at 5 pm in the evening is nothing to write about. The sun becomes weaker and the cold begins to assert itself. A few minutes of daylight remains at our disposal for us to enjoy and warm ourselves. The evening glow is definitely special but the ominous figure of the bitter night ahead does not raise the spirit. The center is not far away from the city and one gets to hear the highway traffic throughout the 24 hours. Sleep does not come easily in the dampness of the room but the opportunity to lay down and relax from 9 pm to 4 am is gratifying.

10 days of inward viewing, 10 days without a worry, 10 days of solitude and peace, 10 days in the lap of Mother Nature, 10 days of hard work and 10 days of bliss.