Sarnath is 10 km northeast of Varanasi. Buddha achieved his enlightenment from Bodhgaya then later came to Sarnath to preach his message. Sarnath once disappeared from the map because of muslim invasion after Buddhism decline. British archaelogists rediscovered it around 1600s.
Though I stayed in Varanasi, I traveled to Sarnath daily to attend the holy teachings of His Holiness The Dalai Lama. I met Andi from UK with Jinpa, a monk from Dharamsala and Angelika from Germany. We shared a rickshaw daily to deliver and fetch us back.
Approaching near the entrance, I saw the two kilometers long line queuing in. There were three lines, the monks, male and female. Cameras, phones, cigarettes, alcohol were not allowed. Therefore I have to photos to share with you. Along the long lines came a parallel line of beggars and pendicants. There were many kids and I saw a young girl who looked like 12 or 14 nursing an infant and 3 other little kids around her. I could not comprehend and absorb this. It is very difficult to understand. Some of these people also looked like they were self mutilated just so they can beg in the streets. I heard the Boghgaya was the same way. There were also vendors of all sorts, from katags to thangkas, fruits, sweaters and silk fabrics.
By the way, one time while I was in Mysore, there was one day when I saw many kids with their tin cup and were begging from everybody. It was an unusual day as I was swarmed with panhandlers. I curiously asked the locals and I was told that Buddha taught them to beg one day to teach them humility. I am sure there is more to the thought than just the humility side. But for me, begging is not humility. It is rather humiliating if you can not move yourself above and beyond making the right choices of sacrifice, working hard and getting educated.
His theme for his teachings is about “Kamalashila’s The Middling Stages of Meditation (gomrim barpa) and Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (chodjug). The teachings began at 9:00 until 11:30 am then reconvened at 1300 until 1500 hours. He said it is very important to practice religious tolerance for a peaceful world and that all religious faiths preach the same goals. At the beginning of each session, the monks distributed loaves of bread and tea with milk. The Dalai Lama is a very powerful human being who can move the earth. He spoke in his native tongue but there were translators for many languages. You have to bring (or buy) your ipod, tune into a FM station for your appropriate language, English, French, Japanese, Spanish, Russian and so on. I was only able to attend four days of the week long teachings. I also bought a couple of his books, Universal Responsibility and the Good Heart and Awakening the Mind, Lightening the Heart and did my karma yoga with Tashi Lunpo Monastery. I met a very nice cute girl and her parents from Bhutan. They invited me to go and I would have gone but I was told that it costs $250 to visit their country for a maximum of seven days. So I decided to continue with my travel plans to Rishikesh. I also got to meet other monks and Lobsang from Berkeley.
On second to the last day, after the teachings, we proceeded to the town of Sarnath and had lunch under the banyan tree by the Chaukhandi Stupa. We were enjoying a vegetarian lunch with fresh fruits when we noticed the entourage and His Holiness went into the stupa, then around the yards. I got to see him within a foot distance in one of the sermons and again on this visit to the stupa.
On the last day, he spoke about social responsibilities and taking care of mother earth. He asked that people should be mindful and really soak in all that was taught the past few days. That faith is not enough. It should be studied. This is the same message I have heard from the Pope of the Catholic religion.
You can probably imagine that there were not enough chairs to seat all these people. We all sat on the ground. Imagine what it’s like to be on padmasana for four days. My meridians are so open that my legs do not hurt anymore. I was also able to get three katags to keep and wrap around my Buddha for my home.
Rishikesh, Here I come.