Notes on a Pilgrimage to the Bodhi Tree

by Robert Hirschfield May 10, 2010

Photo by Robert Hirschfield.

Robert Hirschfield visits the Bodhi tree where “a man got it straight about suffering.”

WHEN THE WIND MOVES through the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, more than the leaves move. Pilgrims sitting in contemplation beneath the tree chase after the leaves like mad hens.

Sometimes monks will watch them and smile. Sometimes, sheepishly, they will join in.

I am against participating in mad dashes. My anti-social side is too well-developed. Once, riding the Number 2 train in Manhattan, two men engrossed in a gunfight, stormed into my car. Everyone exited, screaming and tumbling. Only I remained, clutching my copy of The Brothers Karamazov, putting privacy (relative as that was) over safety.

I am against participating in mad dashes. My anti-social side is too well-developed.

I had always wanted to visit Bodh Gaya and see the tree, where many centuries ago, a man got it straight about suffering. A shrine without a blood component.

The first time I saw the tree I fell in with a cluster of Sri Lankan women, all in white, like a delegation of swans.

Seeing it inside its protective gapped fence (I imagined it unenclosed, unlimited, like the mind of the Buddha), I felt deep inside me the immense marching feet of tears saved over time for just this moment. Not so much tears of devotion, I think, as tears of recognition. Recognition of my ignorance.

Gingerly, I seated myself beside the burgundy-robed Tibetans, beside the tangerine-robed Thai monks. I am sure they are all clairvoyant and can see they have an impostor in their midst.

I search for my first mindful breath of the day. It’s here somewhere. I know it is.

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