Someone said to me the other day that when you are in pain, emotional pain, nothing that is said to you registers; the gnawing thing soaks up all your attention. Yes. There is too that point when your mind is gouged to the founds and images flare. The puddle of rainwater reflecting the temple and the patterned bits of mirror in the temple wall reflecting the sky. Bodhgaya.
In Benares I was downed by a mysterious one day virus. For that day I was unable to move. Then after a deep calm sleep I got up feeling light, almost bodiless. I decided that before the long trip south I would visit the place of the Bodhi tree under which Buddha was enlightened. It's a short distance from Gaya on the Benares-Calcutta line. Every tourist should travel 3rd class unreserved in India. Once. When everyone that wanted to get into the carriage was in, the last man came in through the window, we set off. The ash streaked holy men with their high piled dung matted hair paid no attention to the notice 'ticketless travel is a social evil'.
It was dark when I got off at Gaya and found a place to put down my mat in the ticket hall. Lying on my back, a rug around me, I was soon asleep.
On waking I was too weak to resist the massage artist who began to knead my leg. It felt good and being paid 5 rupees, a day's wage at 7 in the morning must have surprised him. I took the first cycle rickshaw and struck a price for the four mile trip to Bodhgaya. Out in the country we stopped for tea at a roadside chai stall - a few sheets of galvanised stretched from a tree with some banana leaves on top. The tea dust was brewed with watery milk and strained through a muslin. It was poured from mug to mug to cool it, a yard long stream that was delivered up with froth. The fresh grass was lush on the verges and the fields were flooded for the rice planting.
The hermitage where I was directed to go was 1Rp. per night with use of fan extra. Swami in charge taking me to the large communal room asked me:
- You are coming from Ireland, what is your mission in India?
- I am just a traveller.
- Atchar, please enjoy, put your mat anywhere.
I walked up the road. Scraps of cloth and banners of silk fluttered in the branches of an enormous bodhi tree. The same tree? At its base slabs were set into the ground at intervals tall enough to act as blinds for the individual meditators. One ascetic sat there relaxed, his body braced by its posture.
The stupa to commemorate the Buddha's enlightenment was close by. Outside it two Tibetan monks were doing their 1008 full prostrations. I left them undulating and walked inside to the inner chamber where deep inside the cool silence was a golden statue of the Buddha. Round his feet some mice scampered nibbling on sheaves of wheat.
A flight of stone steps led to the first tier of the stupa which was open to the sun. In an alcove a standing Buddha stretched forth his hand. There were Greek folds in the drapery that lightened and gave mobility to the figure.
I heard the drum before I saw them. It was a funeral procession bearing a body on a litter of saffron cloth bound round two poles which was followed by a drummer lashing with a switch his deep bellied drum and two cavorting sadhus festooned with bones celebrating this oblation to the Divine Mother Kali.
Down at the local chai house and Brahmins restaurant I had the traditional speciality, milk rice, which Buddha is said to have had before he went to meditate. Two Americans were sitting there dressed in orange robes. Their heads were shaven. They had little orange purses. One said:
- That sunset last night was the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen.
The other said:
- Every sunset is the most beautiful sunset.
That night I lay in muck sweat, the fan churning the thick air like a spoon in gruel.
In the morning coming from my shower I met a lean monk of the centre. The mosquitoes were swarming around my ankles - any pause gives them occasion.
- You are coming from which country sir, and what is your profession, what can you do?
- I'm Irish, and I'm afraid that I can do very little, I'm a teacher.
- That is a pity, what we need are doctors and nurses for our mission in the jungle. You are a thinker sir, have you found the peace of mind in India?
- No, I haven't.
This answer seemed to annoy him as if to say 'you can't have taken your medicine or you would be getting well, isn't it!
I suppose he was used to dealing with earnest seekers after wisdom. My mind wasn't at peace, it was quiet through exhaustion from the struggle all these months to explain to myself why she had left me. If mind is a way of seeing the world, construing it, making sense of it; I had no mind. Still everything was there as it arose and then it flowed away and I threw nothing after it. No part of my awareness adhered to it, to obscure its present life.
The face of the Tibetan Lama who took me into the shrine room rises like a bubble of air breaking the surface of a lotus pond. There was a painting of the Buddhas of the 4 Quarters with their attendant deities and their consorts around the seed Buddha at the centre. There were lunar thrones, horse thrones, peacock thrones, elephant thrones, lion thrones, fire enhaloed lotus thrones, a figure bearing a bowl, a skull filled with blood, coral, a book and a sword. To one dressed in yellow with staff and begging bowl he pointed and said:
- He here Shakya Muni Bodhgaya Buddha.
He then brought me to the great bell-like prayer wheel with 1008 words of power written all round it. Each turn you gave the wheel gained you their virtue. It was 7 tons weight yet it turned easily, a marvel of ballbearings and balance pinging like a typewriter at the end of each round.
On my way through the compound of the Tibetan monastery I saw the lone meditator of the day before. He was washing rice in a little pot, swirling the water round and pouring it out with the same easy absorption. It was the cheapest half polished red rice, begged that morning.
Had he the peace of mind, or even skilful irony in stirring times? I was wandering at the edge of the picture amid all the exoticism and the seeking. Perhaps I was beginning to accept the sweet teaching of failure having sat at the feet of unqualified resentment. She, she, she. The reality of any ease was tested by her memory. Empty.
Now my mind had stopped. It was the way of exhaustion: so far into the maze, being blocked, out again and back in by the same route.
I stayed in Bodhgaya for two more days. Once I ate some milk rice and sat under the tree but I didn't notice any difference.