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Shantideva's Cell

INDIA | Friday, 12 February 2016 | Views [331]

An early rise saw us depart our lodge at Nalanda at a misty 7am, destination Vulture's Peak, the Griddhakuta Hill, where the Buddha delivered a number of tip top (official Buddhist term..) suttas, including the Lotus and Prajnaparimata. This was reached, after a short drive, by a moderately sloping climb, populated by manifold beggars apparently sledging unforthcoming monks and lay people with comments like (to monks), 'hey Guru, how can you be a holy man if you don't give us money' or (to lay people), 'hey Maharaja, Maharajini, give us some money'. This sounds reasonably funny in writing and I, of course, did not understand what they were saying at the time, but the actual experience was not a particularly pleasant one. 

Manidhamma had advised me to keep my head down and keep going but even so the whole experience detracted from visiting one of the great sites in Buddhism. I was still very pleased to have visited it, to have paced the area where the Buddha praciced walking meditiation, and seen, in the company of more pilgrims 'from every nation' (well, Buddhist countries really, - Tibet, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka) and several monkeys, where he taught these famous sutas.

Descending from Vulture's Peak (so named because two rocks at the top resemble this bird's beak) we ate breakfast of puri, roti and chai, returned to the lodge to pick up our bags and drove the short distance to the site of the ancient university of Nalanda, world famous until it's sacking by Muslim invaders in the 12th century (don't quote me), and boasting amongst its students stellar luminaries of Buddhism such as Nagurjuna, Santideva, Padmasambhava, Asanga and Aryadeva. For non Buddhists (and football lovers) they would all be in the Pele, Maradonna, Messi class. Well better!!

Having wandered the extensive excavation site for a few hours, imagined myself in Santideva's cell (remains of), taken lunch by the next door archeological museum and briefly visited the new Nalanda University Campus (bust of Jagdish Kasyap and office of our host of last evening who had given us a copy of his book 'Interface Between Buddhism and English Literature'), we set out for Vaishali, a long drive that took us through Patna and across the river Ganges on the longest bridge in India (named of course after Mohatma Gandhi). The bridge crossing gave me time for some quiet reflection on where I should live on my return to London which was not comfortable. 

We reached Vaishali, home of the beautiful Lichavi people in the Buddha's time around 7pm, having travelled the last few hours in increasing darkness. This did not stop Guddu maintaining his rally driver speed, coupled with a use of the horn that would have made a Calcutta taxi driver envious. I had not said anything as I did not want to interfere with the technique of essentially a very good driver but was relieved, speaking to Manidhamma, that he too had found the driving 'taxing' and that he would speak to Guddu about this.

It remains to be said that we put up at a Thai monastery, basic accomodation once again and my citronella mosquito repellant incense sticks coming in handy, had a fair Indian meal (the usual dahl, rice, rotis and veg dish) after a pleasant 400 metre walk up a field lined and star covered road and a good nights sleep, allowing me to recover somewhat from yet another streaming cold. What is going on?

Tags: monastery come university, pilgrimage, suttas

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