Robert Hirschfield visits the Bodhi Tree, where “one breathes first and asks questions later.”

I BREATHE him in. I breathe him out.

Under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, one breathes first and asks questions later.

Everything loses itself in currents of breath, in small measures of sanity.

Where the Buddha sat, I can almost feel the calm waters that opened to yank his hiking feet (Swimming was another story. A one-sided love affair.), his mouth full of Psalms, into the deep. Inside my deep, there is a sharp sadness. Will it exhaust itself one day, being impermanent, as the Buddha said all conditioned things were?

I think of the ancient marriage between travel and death. The traveler arrives at a sun-drenched port with his baggage of absence. He finds awaiting him the off-center life of a new land. A strangeness that breathes.

Bodh Gaya, a place wisdom created, is a kind of safe house for people like me who awake in the morning with the non-living. (I did not know my brother very well when he lived. My love for him embraced me from behind one afternoon, when I found him loitering where my roots were. What touches it, is absorbed in it.

All around me sit the women of Sri Lanka, in whose country for over twenty-five years bushels of violent death fell everywhere. Brothers and sisters were shot, bombed, tortured, driven ruthlessly from their bodies.

The Bodhi leaves stretch far from the base of the tree. They make room for all the grief shapes below, each with its own story flag.

Community Connection

Please read Robert Hirschfield’s other reflection on the Bodhi Tree.

For an overview of the Bodh Gaya, please read 5 Sacred Cities at Brave New Traveler.

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