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Spiritual inward journey far away from home
Finding Buddha in the land of my ancestors
After four months teaching at the school in Teesta Valley, we set off on a journey to explore some of the Indian states. I had been to India several times before but never had the courage to visit Bihar, where my ancestors came from over a 100 years ago.
There are several reasons I did not make this journey.
- When I was growing up in a very multicultural society, although at home we lived a Hindu life, I did not feel any particular attachment to India, having never been there.
- My ancestors left Bihar because it was and still is one of the poorest state in India and if they had not left, my destiny as a woman would have been terrible (well for me it is unimaginable what I would have been)!
- Bihar is renowned for the land of Goondas and bandits. This is where Phoolan Devi the famous Bandit Queen, who tried to right the wrongs committed to the poor and the women, was from.
But in the end somewhere deep inside, we all have the desire to know who we really are and to get there we have to know where we come from as far back as we can go.
My interests in Bihar grew over the last 15 years or so when I started reading about Buddha. Buddha was an Indian Prince from Bihar and he reached enlightenment in Bodhgaya a town found in Bihar.
Under the Bodhi tree
Often when I have been back to Mauritius, my paradise homeland, people ask me if I am Italian or some other nationality, but the minute we got to Bihar, people were asking me if I was Bihari in bhojpuri, which I know a little because my great grand parents and grand parents still spoke bhojpuri in Mauritius!
I suddenly realised that I fitted in this society and even felt at home there. Our travels took us to the Bodhi (peepal in hindi) tree where Buddha found enlightenment. Actually, the spot is meant to be the same spot and the original tree died but this tree was a sappling of a sappling of the original tree. Even if this was not the original tree, when I sat there, I felt that I had finally come home.
The presence of something divine can be felt all around Bodhgaya.
3 day Vipassana
After the Bodhi tree experience we decided to do a 3 day meditation course in one of the ashrams in Bodhgaya. Vipassana is an intense form of meditation because you meditate about every single action you carry out. So when you wake up in the morning you mentally tell yourself that you are waking up. When you have your shower, you mentally tell yourself what you are doing. This clears your mind from all the other hindering thoughts and you stay totally in the present moment. We did walking meditation for hours, but each session was one hour and you walk very slowly as you are so connected to each move.
Then eating was another completely different experience! You have to recite in your head as you are bringing food to your mouth, chewing food, swallowing food and so on. I never realised how many steps are involved in all the things we do everyday. But it was the 3 longest days of my life. I was absolutely exhausted from doing very little. We did have one laughing fit when my husband and I looked up at each other at the same time while eating and it was such a hilarious scene that the hilarity of the situation dawned on us at the same time. This was of course controlled very quickly under the disapproving looks of the monks.
During my last hour of walking meditation before finishing the course, my mind suddenly went off like a wild horse. I had just finished writing my first novel, The Snake Spirit Part 1 The Fire Giver and had no idea about Part 2 and in that one hour I could see clearly everything that happens and how the story ends. My mind had emptied totally of everything that there was great creativity that was released.
I don't know if this happens to everyone, but it also happened to my husband, who designed our home in Mauritius in that hour...although we still have not built that house and I still have not finished Part 2 of my novel...
The Snake Spirit Part 1
Chaya Parmessur's debut novel