Nov 102017
 

November 2017

Today was a repeat of yesterday.  We started quietly, in the heavy fog, chanting under the tree.  We broke for lunch and returned to find the holy day we experienced yesterday was taking place again today.

I am just going to share photos of the event, they say more than words.

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*dsc_5056This time the band stopped when the police asked, as you can see by their body posture they were not very happy.
dsc_5138After the ceremony we walked through the fields to visit another part of the Sankasya grounds.  These grounds have been buried and forgotten for thousands of years, and archeologists have still not spent much time digging and working, so farms have sprouted up over most of the other buildings from Buddha’s time.
dsc_5137Sankasya is where Buddha spent most of his rainy day retreats which is why the area is so important to the Buddhist culture and on the pilgrimage trail.  Buddhists still go on a retreat during the rainy season as walking and spreading the word of Dharma is pretty hard to do in the mud. The length of the rainy season depends on the length of the summer monsoon season in each country.
dsc_5126The story is also told that Queen Maya, The Buddha’s mother died seven days after the Buddha’s birth and was reborn in the heavenly realms. Since she had no opportunity to hear his teaching in this life, the Buddha manifested in the Heaven of the 33 Gods to preach the Dharma and ensure her progress on the path to enlightenment.

After teaching his mother for three months the Buddha descended from the Heaven of the 33 Gods on a celestial ladder down to Sankasya.  He was accompanied by Brahma on a golden ladder to his right and Indra and his host of devas on a crystal ladder to his left. The ladders sank into the earth leaving only 7 rungs above earth.

Chinese travelers from the 5th and 7th century recorded that ladders covered in jewels were still in place during their travels.  However, since Ashoka found nothing, it is most likely these ladders were placed by believers during these times and replaced as needed.
dsc_5116This is one of the spots where archeologists know something exists but have yet to uncover, as you can see it has become a Hindi shrine.
dsc_5114Throughout India you will find dung gathered and pressed into patties for fuel, this woman was just bringing hers to the kitchen when I ran into her and her son.
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Despite the young men of the bands, the women of the area were content to sit and listen to the chanting, it was truly a wonderful blend of cultures.

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This in Nandamala.  He was from the Mandalay region of Burma.  He is the only boy and has three sisters.  His dad died when he was very young and his mother sold vegetables to make a living.  He became a novice monk at 9 years old.  His uncle started a monastery to do missionary work, and Nandamala is following in his footsteps.  He is studying Pali and hopes to get a degree and then further his studies in English, he wants to be a teacher one day.

Nov 092017
 

November 2017

So the road between Delhi and Sankasya consists of a 6-hour bus ride.

Ice cream on the road!

Ice cream on the road!

dsc_4587Bus rides through India are a patchwork quilt of an agricultural landscape dotted with villages of wonder.

But this time the bus trip was occupied by learning the lives of some of the monks.

Remember, English is not their first language, and in some cases they are proficient, and in others, they are trying their best. The weak link is honestly my tin ear, but I hope, over the next month or so to bring each and everyone to you as best as I can.

Their personalities are starting to emerge, as well as their senses of humor and joie de vivre. It is a real thrill and honor to begin to get to know each of them.

Thaw Bi TaTHAW BI TA

Thaw Bi Ta is 34 years old. His parents are rice farmers and his monastery is the second largest in Burma with 1200 monks, but I am sorry, I do not know the name, that is where my ear is the fault of my lack of knowledge.

Thaw Bi Ta teaches Pali, and like most of the monks with us, he is furthering his studies in Bodh Gaya, in Thaw Bi Ta’s case, at the Magano University.

He did his undergraduate work in Buddhist Studies in a school in Sri Lanka, he is in Bodh Gaya to learn English.

The walk to the stupa in Sankasya to open the Tapitika Ceremony

The walk to the stupa in Sankasya to open the Tipitaka Ceremony

Day one was filled with chanting at the Sankasya Stupa. It is said that Buddha went up to the heavens to teach his mother the Dharma, as she died prior to his enlightenment. When he came down, he did so in Sankasya. There is so much more to the story, but if you want to learn that I will leave you to do so on your own.

Sankasya Ashoka PillarThe archeology geek in me was exceptionally excited to see the remains of the Ashoka Pillar.

Sankasya Shoka Pillar

The stupa is now just a very large mound of dirt, surrounded by a small park. The park itself sits well out in the countryside, making this pilgrimage site well off the beaten path, and rarely visited judging by what I saw.

Chanting in the shadow of the Sankasya Stupa

Chanting in the shadow of the Sankasya Stupa

We are joined by monks from throughout India, including one that came all the way from Jaipur. These monks are considerably older, and many are illiterate, so they sit quietly and can’t really participate, but it is nice to see them all sitting and attempting to gain an understanding of what is going on. Remember the chanting is done in Pali, so it means nothing to you if you don’t know Pali. All people can follow along as we hand out books in the script of your language, and as you can see by the photo, they aren’t words you understand, but there is a delightful rhythm to the entire scene.

The Roman version of the Sutras

The Roman version of the Sutras

If you study your Buddhism you will know what the sutras say as they have been interpreted but they are chanted in Buddha’s language, which was Pali.

The Sankasya ceremony opened with a prayer at the top of the stupa

The Sankasya ceremony opened with a prayer at the top of the stupa

Descending down to begin the chanting

Descending down to begin the chanting

Bells at the top of the stupa

Bells at the top of the stupa

Nov 092017
 

November 2017
Day two in Sankasya started out with a lovely morning of chanting. We always break for lunch and in Sankasya lunch has been at a Burmese monastery.

Woks, big pots and moveable burners make for dinner for 500 on the road

Woks, big pots, and moveable burners make for dinner for 500 on the road

Nadia, on the left, stays up late in the evening to make sure the meals are perfect

Nadia, on the right, stays up late in the evening to make sure the meals are perfect

We are traveling with a crew of Indians from Bodh Gaya, and that includes a cooking crew. However, to earn meta it is good to cook for monks and offer them food. This is where Nadia comes in. She has an amazing ability to put together a meal with a few ingredients one spoon and a giant wok, so we have been eating exceptionally well, and with a Thai bent rather than an Indian one.

Rice is the main staple, this is just one pot

Rice is the main staple, this is just one pot for just one meal

The afternoon of day two was such a magical India moment that even in my photos and my descriptions I am afraid it is one of those “you had to be there”.

There were many variations told of what the celebration was about, but the one that came to the forward most often was the young boy hair cutting ceremony. I was told that after the full moon young boys are shaven for religious purposes. I spent a lot of time trying to bring you more information, all for naught. There are many, many hair cutting rituals in the various religions of India so it could have been any number of them, or it is simply local to this village in Utter Pradesh.

The crowd gathers around the monks

The crowd gathers around the monks

It started very small, we returned from lunch and there was a man playing a horn and another on a tin drum with 5 or so women in sari’s moving and shaking.

It is always so nice when people don't run away from the camera

It is always so nice when people don’t run away from the camera

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*dsc_4980The monks slowly gathered in their respective places and began to chant. Now, chanting isn’t very loud. There is always a lead monk, and he has a microphone, but the chanting itself is only as loud as the number of monks.

Slowly that little group of people began to grow. There weren’t that many and it was delightful to see all these women in colorful saris with children in tow.

However, the group spontaneously simply became enormous, and the cacophony of voices from tens of dozen women and twice as many children began to truly take on epic proportions. However, it was fun, the gaiety contrasting with the solemnity made for true magic.

Chaotic would be an understated word for the next phase. A truck, loaded with amplifiers, stacked 5 high started playing Indian rock music. At that point, all I could do was roar with laughter. Of course, I was appalled at the rudeness, but when Tenzing, one of our English speaking crew asked them to quiet down, their response was, we celebrate our religion our way and you celebrate yours your way, and frankly, they had a point.

Notice the amplifiers on the back

Notice the amplifiers on the back

With that, all you could do was appreciate the spontaneity and go with the flow. This is what makes India so magical.

A little side project that is going on, sponsored by Nyingma Institute is Peace Bells. There is one in Sankasya and members of the community Steve and Stephanie have been in Sankasya all week to gold leaf it.

Steven leafing

Steve gold  leafing

Steve grew up in California with an art background and became a member of the Nyingma family when he was 32. Stefanie is from Germany and came to the US as part of a different Buddhist group. They met at a joint event and later Steve found himself learning gold leafing from Stefanie. They married and now live in Germany. This was a week of volunteer work for them, and it was so much fun for me to have one morning to photograph them working and get to know them.

One of their workers, they could not say enough good things about his talents

One of their workers, they could not say enough good things about his talents

Stefanie

Stefanie

At the end of the ceremonies in Sankasya the monks gathered to bless the bell and then we all had the opportunity to ring it.  The sound goes straight to your soul.  I am not that kind of mushy person, but I admit I cried when I heard it.

Blessing the Bell

Blessing the Bell

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This is Tenzing, he is very special to me, and a all around great guy. He is a devout Buddhist, speaks English and is always there to help.

This is Stanzin, he is very special to me, and an all-around great guy. He is a devout Buddhist, speaks English and is always there to help.

I have always said how India is a place where art and beauty are foremost in daily life and this project shows just that.

Meet Yay Wa Ta:

YAY WA TA on the right with Thaw Bi Ta on the left - they are always together

Yay Wa Ta on the right with Thaw Bi Ta on the left – they are always together

The monk on the right is Yay Wa Ta.  He and Thaw Bi Ta, whom you met in the last post, are always together, and their smiles always brighten my day.  They are both from Burma.

Yay Wa Ta has 4 brothers and one sister.  His father passed away when he was 12.  He has 2 degrees, one of which is in Pali.  He hopes to teach English one day, he speaks broken English at this point, but, no doubt, will accomplish his goal, especially with Thaw Bi Ta as a friend, because Thaw Bi Ta’s English is excellent.

 

A friendly face on my morning walk

A friendly face on my morning walk