under the bodhi tree
six hours by car down the grand trunk road (this, perhaps less smooth than some highways) left us stiff and sore and grateful for freedom as we arrived at the Burmese pilgrim's house in bodh gaya. leaving our things in the small dormitory (stringing nets against the swarming hordes of mosquitoes sharing our residence there) we set out. a short walk brought us to the stupa, standing at the site of the buddha's enlightenment under the bodhi tree.
the deer park at sarnath where the Buddha gave his first teaching felt like an important historical site when we visited, replete with statues and monuments, carefully kept gardens spread over the once-wild deer park. but an element of the air at bodh gaya made enlightenment somehow a conceivable thing there, a very definite power pervasive in the atmosphere. said power, the reason Gautama chose this spot for his meditations? a thing imposed there by his spiritual efforts so many years ago? or is it a culmination of the energies of so many offerings, so many devotions, so many prayers? philip larkin called a church a serious house on serious earth. if there is any place proper to grow wise in, it is such a place as this.
paths for circumnambulation stood on different levels, growing smaller and closer as they descended towards the temple in the center. all around monks in robes of different colors made prostrations; an old tibetan woman prayed down a string of beads; laymen wandered, cameras in hand. small square pillows were strewn everywhere within the temple gates--in the gardens, between statues, on the ground-- and everywhere people sat meditating, warm, colorful cross-legged forms interspersed with the stone ones. the bodhi tree itself was the third generation from the original, and a crowd of sri lankan pilgrims (all in white) worshiped at a small shrine at its base.
the next morning i went early again to the stupa. there was a water tank on its north side, strung all around with prayer flags; i sat on the steps leading down to it, sun still low over the water. two monks came down next to me with newspaper plates of warm rice cereal, and began throwing small clumps into the pool-- the water was home to hundreds and hundreds of gigantic catfish, their thick, heavy bodies twisting over and around each other as they swam for the food. the monks offered thier plates to me and then we fed the animals together (right hand only, for offerings)-- scraping the hot, sticky mash from our fingers, throwing it as far out from the bank as we could.
recipe for apple cramble
from the kitchen of the om restaurant, bodh gaya, india
preparation time: 2-3 hours
1/2 small apple (any kind)
1 jar strawberry jam-like substance
white flour (lots)
send one boy to purchase missing ingredients from neighboring vendors. chop apple finely and mix with jam substance; thinly coat the bottom of nine small metal dishes. fill the remainder of each dish with flour (this should be approximately two inches deep) and bake until the surface browns-- really, as long as you like. serve lukewarm with the cheapest vanilla ice cream available. garnish with a paper napkin.