Bodhgaya – Dharamshala

Bihar State/East India & Himachal Pradesh State/North India

January – March 2018

This essay is about my experiences at two different Buddhist centers. First is the ‘Root Institude’ in Bodhgaya that is in Bihar state in east India. Second is ‘Tushita’ in Dharamshala that is in Himachal Pradesh state in north India. I also mentioned about the quality of these two destinations that are not only significant in Buddhist tradition but also very special regarding their magnificent landscapes.

The reason that brought me to Bodhgaya was to attend ‘Peaceful Living Peaceful Dying’ retreat at Root Institude. This would be my very first course in Buddhist tradition. I was a seeker who was totally ready to learn and willing to grasp whatever is beneficial and eye opening. With this enthusiasm I stayed at the institude for two weeks that introduced me into the philosophy and practice of Buddha’s way. Gifting yourself the opportunity to do a retreat is a very special experience that supports your discovery into the depth of your true being.

Root Institude (above) is a Buddhist center in Tibetan tradition that offers a peaceful place to stay, study Buddhism, learn and practice meditation in individual or group retreats. There are introductory courses which are the best to start with and also there are intermediate courses that are ideal for those who are looking to challenge themselves beyond foundational Buddhist philosophy.
As I was starting ‘Peaceful Living Peaceful Dying’ retreat I had the main motivation to learn and have some insights about my two investigations. One of them was to discover how to love without attachment, and the other one was to have some clarity on how I could be in peace with death, how I could accept this phenomena without fear. I had some hard experiences in my past in which I witnessed the death of my beloved ones and gone into grief after these losses. So the fact of death was there in my awareness that needed acceptance, clarity and freedom.
So the course started with a quite intense schedule with teachings, meditation sessions, group discussions, readings, contemplations and Q&A sessions. We went deep into the fundamental teachings of Buddhism like; death, birth, impermenance, equanimity, karma, attachment, love, compassion and so on.
The moments of meditation are the time to observe and realize. Teachings are so important for sure but real realization is taking place in our direct experience. I had an important guidance on meditation at the 10 day Vipassana course couple of weeks ago in Kathmandu. I was taking benefits from that but the guidance went much more deeper here. We experienced guided analytical meditations on different subjects that were so impressive.

The institude was so peaceful, providing me a calm environment to go further in my contemplations. This is needed when you are dealing with quite intense subjects. The teaching on equanimity was inviting me to be in the same distance to everything and this enabled me to perceive my attachments more consciously. Regarding death I observed the pain in me that was again an indication of attachment to my body and identity. I observed the fear and found out that it could be let go of. Because it is just a production of the mind and it is impermenant.
The law of impermenance hit me intensely. My teacher once told me to go out, walk in the peaceful gardens and enjoy the beauty of flowers, their colours, their smell. Then he added; “Remember, one day they will all die.” A real slap in the face! After these insightful days the fact of death had taken its place in my awareness more wisely each day. Two years already passed after these times and now I see that I don’t have a single day that I don’t remember death. My understanding evolved to peace and acceptance. To understand life and to live it peacefully, it is fundamental to realize what death corresponds to. Then I understood why Buddhists put a great emphasis on death.
What are the things you would like to do or change in your life before you die? This is a good question. It really touched my heart to see some elders in our group who were working on purifying their resentments and developing forgiveness.

I am in deep respect to the great teaching of Compassion in Buddhism. The invitations are there for us to see the inner voice that keeps on saying me, me, me. Here prayers or intentions are for the well-being of all beings. These are simple but so meaningful orientations that turn the spotlight to the other direction and help to dissolve the ego. How meaningful it is to wish for food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, home for the homeless, clothing for the naked, wealth for poor, hope for hopeless, joy and happiness for the ones who suffer, love and compassion for everyone. How meaningful it is to remember and feel gratitude for many beings who are working for us, helping us, the farmers, doctors, plumbers, bus drivers and many people more.

This is my dear teacher Venerable Namgyel. He is incredibly funny, warm hearted, compassionate and supportive. We met here in Bodghaya. Because of the love and respect I feel for him, I followed him and attended more of his teachings in Dharamshala. We are still in contact and I am so much in gratitude for having him as a teacher in my life.

Root Institiude is located in Bodhgaya which is the most holy place for Buddhists just like Mecca is to Muslims. It is a very important place of pilgrimage as it is the place where 2600 years ago Sidhhartha Gautama is said to have attained enlightenment and became Buddha (the awakened one).
There are many Buddhist temples and monasteries (Thailand, China, Japan, Tibet, Nepal, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Myanmar…) in Bodhgaya. These buildings reflect the architectural style, exterior and interior decoration of their respective countries.
The most important significant religious icon of the town is the spectacular Mahabodhi Temple. (above) We can say it is the spiritual heart of Bodhgaya. It dates back to 5th century and it is in the Unesco World Heritage list. Its pyramid structure was derived from the design of the stepped stupas.

The sacred Bodhi tree (above) is inside this Mahabodhi Temple complex. It is believed that Buddha attained enlightenment under what became known as the Bodhi tree. Many pilgrims come here every year for prayer, study and meditation. You see many Buddhists performing full body prostrations, walking around the temple and praying all day long. Indeed you don’t need to be a Buddhist to feel the sacred energy of the place.

Courses and retreats in Root Institude often include visits to Mahabodhi temple for extra blessings and inspiration. I visited the temple as much as possible and let the pure energies penetrate in me. It is unbelievably purifying. I walked in circles for long hours around the temple and meditate. I won’t forget that special night when it was the fullmoon and the equinox at the same time. And it was also the supermoon (it is when there are two fullmoons in one month). The moon was so big, up in the sky, lighting the whole view from the top of Mahabodhi temple. Hundreds of pilgrims were circumambulating, praying and meditating. This always touches my heart to see people who dedicate themselves to the path of love and wisdom. It was such an impressive ambiance.
I was deeply in gratitude for being able to live my life through this precious spiritual journey. I was in the beginning phase of this whole voyage yet but my heart was open enough to show me my purest inspirations. I was intending to open my heart and consciousness to a broadest degree, to be able to let go of all the obstacles, doubts, anxieties, fears of loneliness, abandonment or exclusion, to be able to purify the defilements of my ego around pride, jealousy and regret, to be able to reach to a point to spread the inner light around me.
I prayed for the appearance of wisdom not just in me but also in the consciousness of all humanity. I was deeply in gratitude for Buddha for initiating a profound path for me to realize the truth and remember my true nature. As seeing me sitting there in tears, a young monk approached and gifted me one leaf of the Bodhi tree. I felt blessed.

It was again a blessing to be able to attend a teaching of Dalai Lama in Bodhgaya. I was so impressed to see thousands of people from all around the world who came here to listen to him in great respect. The most impressive part was the incredible pure energy he was vibrating around him. What a smile he has, what a look he has. He is carrying the clear light of bliss that unite your mind with his enlightened energy right away. His talk was on Emptiness, the core teaching of Buddhism. Those times I was not capable to grasp what he was saying on this matter. Nevertheless it was just enough to be beside him.

After I left Bodhgaya I passed to Rishikesh. And then exactly one month later I came to Dharamshala, another significant place for Buddhists. When I say Dharamshala I actually mean its suburbs, McLeod Ganj and Dharamkot that can be reached through a steep, narrow road up to the hills. The McLeod Ganj town, lying in the upper reaches, is known worldwide for the presence of the Dalai Lama.

McLeod Ganj has an average elevation of 2100m and is surrounded by pine, Himalayan oak and rhododendron forests. I had been in rhododendron forests many times in Himalayas in Nepal but this was my first time that I saw them in flower. The bright red colours of the flowers were decorating the hills and gifting picturesque views.
On the hill above McLeod Ganj, with a 20 minute walk you can reach Dharamkot and a cute little village Bhagsu. There are budget homestays or guesthouses and many cosy cafes here for long-stay travellers.

Some trekking trails start from Dharamshala, Dharamkot and Bhagsu. The most favourite is the Triund (above) that is a beautiful trek through forested steep slopes and have wide views of the Kangra valley and the Dhauladhar ranges. If you like to continue you can hike 2-3 hours more to the snowline.

I really enjoyed to walk to Triund and to other valleys in a different direction with rivers and waterfalls. These lovely folks above, these dear souls were my companies with whom we had an intense but enhancer course at Tushita. I will come to those days in the following lines.

The Tibetan settlement of Dharamshala began in 1959. When the Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet, the prime minister of India allowed him and his followers to settle in McLeodGanj in Upper Dharamshala. So the Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered here. Several thousand Tibetan exiles have settled in the area, therefore McLeod Ganj is known as ‘Little Lhasa’. It is the perfect place in India to be close to the Tibetan culture. You can explore many things in the little alleys of this hill town where you also see here and there many monks and nuns in their robes. Dalai Lama Temple (Tsuglag Khang) is a must see place.
Many people from all around the world come here to study Tibetan Buddhism, culture, crafts. Dharamkot hosts a Vipassana meditation centre as well as Tushita. The main reason I came to here was the 10 day ‘Introduction to Buddhism’ course and retreat at Tushita.
Tushita is a center for the study and practice of Buddhism of the Tibetan Mahayana tradition. It aims to provide a friendly and conducive environment for people of all nationalities and backgrounds to learn about and put into practice the teachings of the Buddha. They offer courses on introductory Buddhist philosophy and meditation as well as intermediate level courses and residential retreats for more experienced students. You can also attend drop-in guided meditations everyday (except Sunday) at 9.00 that last for one hour. It will give you a beneficial orientation about the practice of meditation.

These words of His Holiness Dalai Lama tell about the Tibetan culture beautifully. These words also include highly valuable teachings for humanity:
“As we see today human greed and unlimited wants have caused additional problems to the world and immesurable harm to animals. Based on the principles of nonviolence and peace, we have a culture of contentment and not taking too much from nature. We have a culture of caring not only for human beings but also for animals, we do not unnecessarily use, kill or harm living beings.
We should tame and make our minds peaceful through compassion. Our culture with compassion and mercy as its core and gentleness and morality as its essence has the potential to benefit all beings. These are among the most precious and important qualities in today’s world.”

So the ‘Introduction to Buddhism’ course and retreat started with an intense schedule. We were almost a hundred people who were willing to open ourselves to the teachings. We had Venerable Namgyel as our teacher and it was such a pleasure to get the intensity of the philosophy and the practices through his magnificent way of teaching and guidance.
Based on the teachings, I was diving deep to understand the causes for human -so my- suffering. I was observing pride, jealousy, fear of losing, fear of abandonment, low self esteem, anger, shame, selfishness, resistance on acceptance and so on. The more I observed the more I saw that I was stucked in the mud which was nothing but the domination of the ego.
I was spending some of my time in the library in between the books. Dalai Lama’s words on inner peace were guiding me delicately. He was saying that if we can truely establish inner peace then we can stay balanced and have loving kindness and compassion in all of our actions, words and thoughts even if the outside world would be so chaotic. He is always emphasizing patience that it is one of the greatest virtues.
Now it was time to put all the teachings into practice. Otherwise they just stay as words but not penetrate into your understanding. I was lucky enough to learn meditation, in Vipassana retreat and in these centers of Mahayana tradition. During the course we were sitting in concentration (calm abiding / shamata) meditation as well as we were guided in analytical meditations on different subjects like; precious human rebirth, impermenance, death, attachment, equanimity, suffering, love and kindness and so on. When the subject was forgiveness (for yourself and for others) most of the people in the group bursted into tears. This was showing me how a major suffering it creates in human consciousness.
As I kept on observing my ego, unexpected emotions were coming up to the surface. Although I kept my commitment to purify the defilements with love, I was failing. It was as if there was an inner power that was blocking and preventing me to generate love and compassion unconditionally for myself and for others. Then as a result a big sadness was capturing me with the feeling of incapability. Tears were showing up over and over again.

I am so much in gratitude for this big smile of Lama Yeshe (above). During the teachings in the gompa, this picture was exactly behind my teacher. I was listening to him with a remarkable suffering in my heart and at the same time seeing Lama Yeshe, looking directly at me with a big smile on his face. It was like an invitation to me to be patient. It was like a comforting reminder that all will pass and wisdom will appear which will make me smile for ever.
Lama Yeshe, together with Lama Zopa Rinpoche, after their exile in India, they began touring and teaching in the West. They became like pioneers on spreading the teachings of Buddha in the other part of the planet. They founded FPMT (The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition). Tushita in Dharamshala and Root Institude in Bodghaya are the centers of this organization.
The beautiful peaceful gardens of Tushita and the monkeys on the trees were helping me to relax. It was a silent retreat so we were invited to be silent during this 10 days. Some friends from our group were giving me little smiles without knowing how supportive this was during my intense inner journey. I am so thankful for those people.
I was seeing two paths in front of me which was confusing my mind. One was to analyse every aspect of my ego, see what I want to change and do my best to transform them. Second one was to put all these aside, remember the fact of death and the law of impermenance and then concentrate on Emptiness. Which way was more valid?
So I asked guidance from my teacher. How could I be more patient? How could I develop forgiveness? His orientation was direct and simple. He recommended me to work on letting go to open up some space that could be filled with love again. He also advised me to work on renunciation to worldly happiness. This was extraordinarily surprising. He said; “Stay patiently with your disturbing emotions. Let them manifest themselves. Be attentive on not clinging to any of them. And take these into your life one by one;

  • Renunciation; the act of abandonment from something that we have clinged to
  • Bodhicittha; the mind that strives toward empathy and compassion for the benefit of all beings
  • Emptiness; Buddhist concept which indicates that all phenomena are empty of all presuppositions. And this eventually leads to the realization of non-seperate self or non-self.

This was a great guidance. Then the course finished leaving me with many teachings, orientations, realizations like medicine, just at the perfect time. How magical is the unknown flow of life. How magical are the unimagined and meaningful synchronicities that manifest in accordance with our conscious intention. Then us (the ego) and our expanded awareness both participate in the same creative process. Whether it is painful or joyful, it is a blissful gift of the universe.

Couple of days after the course Booooom! An unexpected staggering experience occured in my life suddenly. It was so much painful that it drived me into an even more intensive inquiry and quest that would be life changing eventually. Naturally a sudden grief emerged at the first place. Regardless of how deep our realizations are, grief is a very special and distinctive matter. I believe it may be the most personal and intimate thing. But like any other thing it is an energy. It comes, stays for some time (maybe long years) then it may go due to our perspective and wisdom.
It was as if the unknown flow of all potentialities was creating so harsh conditions for me to realize what I needed to realize. It was as if everything was unfolding one after another for me to learn to love unconditionally. A brand new era was opening in front of me.
“Every experience no matter how bad it seems, holds within a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it.” Buddha
I am so grateful for all the teachings and teachers that came into my way at those times. Without them I would lose myself and go into a heavy mental break down. Out of compassion I wish no one would live my situation but paradoxically I am in gratitude for these extensive experiences that were profound teachers. Without them I wouldn’t meet with the light, with the real Self. At every moment I was knowing so deeply that there was a mysterious, wise, sacred energy that was there to protect me, support me to overcome my suffering and to guide me to the truth.
Imagine a pendulum. When it rises to one side, it is inevitable that it will rise to the opposite side with the same momentum. Just like that, after we attach to desires and ride with them to the edge, it is inevitable that we will suffer to the same degree sooner or later. So how about chosing to stay in the middle? This is a great exploration. So it was inescapable that I failed to extreme suffering after massive pleasures. You may have guessed, yes it was a love story.

“I understand the wounds
That have not healed in you.
They exist because God and love
Have yet to become real enough
To allow you to forgive
The dream.”

Hafiz, a great Persian Sufi poet

2,5 years already passed over those times. Remembering how was Deniz back then, I am wrapping her in my arms, wiping her tears, loving and easing her with great compassion.
If you feel lost in your disturbing emotions, there are so vital things that has to be remembered to heal them. The very first step is to relax. If you don’t relax then you always stay with resistance. See if you can open yourself into a non-reaction state. Which means not to identify with your experience, not to attach to any of them and be dragged by the strong pull of thoughts, emotions and sensations. Without analysing, judging, resisting and without pushing them away just let them be as they are. This practice can be done most effectively during meditation. Then in time you learn to expand this perspective into all of your moments.
I know, I really know it is not easy. But with courage and patience you will learn to be free. Don’t push pressure on yourself, mind transformation can take time. Once at a time. Don’t sprint to win the race. At these times it will be easy to fall into your pain. Ask yourself which one you want to choose; Dharma or drama? The real nature of you or suffering? It is a matter of choice. So always refresh your motivation. When the motivation is clear then you hold on to your path with a more dedicated energy. At first times the motivation can be to end your suffering but then it will go deep and suffering won’t be an issue anymore.
So it was time for me to stop conceptualising the outside world, stop treating the illusion as if it is real and see everything as it is. I learned that fixing happiness on changing phenomenons was meaningless. The source of real happiness and peace was within. I let the silence take me to my core.
I focused on my path with acceptance that everything is changing and I can not control anything. So what was trust then? I investigated into it deeply. Trust literally means firm belief in the reliability of someone or something. And reliance literally means dependance. Then the question arises; how can I depend on the impermenant nature of the universe? I come to the realization that it is meaningless to seek trust in the relative make-up of the world. But still, there is an immensely deep trust there in the heart itself. That is the true nature of Self. That is the source of real Love. I was going to find that soon.

If everything is impermenant what is it that always remains? I am leaving you with this profound question.

The Author

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