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In Praise of the Guddu

INDIA | Saturday, 20 February 2016 | Views [386]

Guddu was our driver on this pilgrimage, who I earlier criticised for his rally driving and honking instincts. In fairness to him, however, and as reckless and impervious to the life and limbs of other living beings he seemed (he was more concerned with the tidiness of the shelf above the car's dashboard with hindu shrine and varous mobile phones), he is a good driver and got us all safely to our destinations on at least two long drives taking in poor roads and night driving. 

In his way too he was entertaining and pleasant company, teaching me how to tie a turban (of sorts) and forcing me to listen to a stream of Bollywood and local music.

Sitting in the backseat of the car on these journeys was at times a harrowing and sressful experience, certainlly an assault on the aural senses but also a great way to see some of the countryside of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, albeit at high speed. With my water bottle, books and assorted junk by my side I could look out of the window and take in a succession of rural villages, golden fields of cumin, dry earthy plains, some hills and, quite frequently, improvised cricket games. 

The roads too were shared with cycles (no lights of course), motor bikes (helmets?), rickshaws, ox drawn carts, people, cars, dogs, goats, sheep, an elephant and much else besides. To get us through all these at a decent speed took a certain 'no prisoners' style driving that seemed to come easily to Guddu. So hats off to you Guddu, you got us to our destinations in good cheer and without knocking anyone over (this time).

Sitting in the back of the car also allowed me to periodically dip into the Bodhicaryavatara which I always found inspiring, instructive and at times particularly relevant (about the hazards and shortness of life for example  'the body is an object on loan').

Our first really long drive was from Lumbini to Sravasti via Kapilavastu. Kapilavastu was the city of the Siddhartha Gautama from where he went forth but not much remains of it. We stopped fairly briefly to spend some time around the stupa and its surrounding gardens, which reminded me more of a golf course than a sacred site. 

Sravasti was much more interesting, home as it is to the Jetta's Grove/Annathapindika's Park where the Buddha spent around 20 rainy season retreats and gave many of his suttas/discourses. The park is extensive and well maintained and houses several monasteries and many stupas as well as being home to monkeys and birdlife. 

On our first visit there we bumped into a group of Western Buddhist order members and friends from the Inverness Buddhist Sangha who were conducting a puja ritual at the site of the Buddha's former residence. My reaction was typically misanthropic - I didn't want anybody else there let alone other Brits - but this soon changed once I met them and was subject to their warmth and friendliness. On my second visit and having recieved an email from Dayaruci exhorting me to actually enjoy myself and also reflecting once again on the Buddha's quality of kindness, I felt quite ashamed of my irratibility and decided that I must do something about this...

Sravasti also is home to a Angulimala's stupa and to another site given to the Buddha by Sujata and where he also spent several rainy seasons. Angulimala was a notorious and much feared dacoit who constructed a necklace consisting of the fingers of those who he had murdered. He tried to murder the Buddha, found that however much he hurried he could never catch him up and was instead converted to the Dharma. A teaching perhaps that however low one, or anyone else, has sunk it is always possible to begin to live a 'good' life. That's what I reflected on in any case.

Sujata's place we found after a pleasant 15 minute walk in the early evening dusk through what would have been the ancient city of Sravasti, now earth and fields. A Sri Lankan monk has made it his mission to restore it to the state of prominence he at least thinks it deserves and was kind enough to invite us into his shrine and offer us tea. Whilst Manidhamma talked with him at considerable length, however, I was happier outside enjoying the quiet beauty ot the cumin fields and the riotous and playful behaviour of the monkeys. There was something about the monk that, for all his good work, I didn't like (ok so I was going to work on my irritability).


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