Home > Buddhism, India, Meditation, Monks, Nepal, Travel > Did The Buddha Use a Chairlift?

Did The Buddha Use a Chairlift?

Visiting the ruins of the ancient Nalanda University, once the most important centre for Buddhist and Hindu studies in the world, was a highlight of the Buddhist circuit. Along with monks and nuns from around the world, dressed in their different robes of bright orange, light grey, deep red and mustard yellow, we entered the serene gardens of Nalanda. The University prospered from approximately the 5th to the 12th century when India came under siege of the Afghans. Over 10,000 monks resided here studying theology, metaphysics, philosophy, medicine and astronomy, and alumni include Nagarjuna, one of the most important Indian scholars of Buddhist analysis. It was a fascinating place to wonder around and imagine the great scholarly world of the past. Although the less amazing sight of three Indian women hoisting up their saris and pissing on the ruins soon forced us to wonder away, but not before Carl had pointed out the clearly sign posted toilet facilities only a few feet away.

We then sought to walk through a small village comprised of a single dirt track and a few make shift wooden houses roofed with plastic, to a Memorial Hall built for the Chinese traveller Xuan Zang who studied and taught at Nalanda. Women, goats and cows stared at us walking through the small enclave, (foreigners usually made this journey by tuk tuk as we were told by the tuk tuk drivers), and children ran up to us only to wave vigorously then run away giggling. A few children followed us repeating the phrase ‘Sawadee-ka’, which is Hello in Thai. Obviously some Thai monks had also made the journey on foot. We laughed and the children, now more confident, trailed us on our journey now showing us their knack for the English language… ‘Hello, money’ they repeated.

From the village the 2km track took us through beautiful rice paddies lined with forestry into the grounds of the Memorial Hall. The Chinese had built the grounds, which contain a museum and exhibit of Xuan Zangs teachings and travel documents, and a peace pagoda in his honour. A big beautiful hall within a peaceful concrete garden made us forget the general aggression of Bihar, and we shared the tranquillity with Buddhists from around the world who wondered the area with us.

The peace was swiftly broken away when Carl’s inner child discovered a bell and a big bell dinger which was open for use. A childish grin swept over his face and a cackle seemed to arise from his stomach as he ran hands out towards the object of his desire. A small group of Chinese had got there first and were ringing the bell for good luck. Carl waited patiently his feet fidgeting with excitement. Finally his turn came and he got to ring the bell a good ten times before a queue formed and he was forced to leave his spot. After prising Carl away from the bell and restoring him to the mental state of mature 26 year old male, we left for the walk back, again recruiting village children and a few nervous dogs as we walked.

The next day we visited Ratnagiri hill at the top of which sit’s the Vishwashanti Stupa, erected by the Japanese and featuring the four stages of the Buddhas life; birth, enlightenment, preaching and death. Half way up the Ratnagiri hill is Vultures Peak, the spot where the Buddha is said to have first preached the Heart Sutra to disciples. We arrived at the bottom of the hill to find that the process of climbing up had been replaced by a death defying, one person chair life reminiscent of the kind of equipment typical of Barry Island in the 90’s. As I was thrust into a wobbly chair by a well-meaning Indian man, Carl consequently missed the following chair as his laughter prevented him from safely boarding. Finally he was on and we wobbled up over the mountain holding on tightly to the “security” bar, passing a group of rather pale looking young Thai monks on their way down who were doing like-wise and Indian tourists who took snaps of us from their moving seats.

At the top was a bright white peace pagoda, reminiscent of the one we had visited in Pokhara, Nepal, built by the Chinese. It’s clean white exterior and agreeable curvature commanded a sense of silence from the surrounding buildings and visiting people. From the top we looked out over the green hills trying to spot the Jain temples, of which there are said to be over 100 scattered among the mountains of Rajgir. It was a beautiful sight and a tranquil spot to watch the world, or should I say the Buddhist pilgrims, go by.

After a while at the top we decided that rather than re-risking our lives on the chairlift, we would walk down taking a detour to the caves where the Buddha is said to have meditated and to Vultures Peak where the Buddha is said to have first preached the Heart Sutra. As we approached the first cave we noticed a group of Thai lay people lead by two monks performing a ceremony. We waited until they were finished before taking up our places in the cave, to sit and pay our respects. To our surprise the leading Thai monk spoke excellent English. We got chatting with him and found out that he lived in Bodhgaya in the Thai monastery. He asked if we’d come along and help him start up some English conversation classes for the Thai monks which we said we’d love to do. However, it was not to be as we were to be in Bodhgaya at different times and not for long enough. He thanked us for our interest and invited us to sit with the group at Vultures Peak. Here he told us with great enthusiasm about the history of Vultures Peak and it’s importance in bringing to light the teachings of the Buddha.

Vultures peak was, as expected, full of incense, prayer flags and candles, a place where pilgrims prayed for the happiness of all sentient beings. We joined the Thais in their goodwill wishes and said our goodbyes, taking the Thai monks e-mail address should we ever return to Bodhgaya.

On our climb down we encountered many beggars, some of whom we felt were taking advantage of the Buddhist nature of goodwill. One particular example was a group of women who sat on a bench chatting. When they saw us approaching they all stood up and sat on the floor groaning. In contrast to this, young women and men from surrounding villages passed us on the path up, carrying big slabs of concrete on their heads to rebuild part of the path further up. I felt a profound feeling of respect for these people who probably got paid pittance. I wished that both groups be liberated from their suffering and felt extremely grateful for the circumstances my life had dealt me (apart from being ginger).

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