Aryadharma captured with Chandrabodhi, a hospitable local.
Bodhi tree leaf, Sankissa (Aryadharma took most of these photos, including this one).
Colin with Daya, from Lucknow, already working for 28 years as a social activist. He seemed very sincere. A future partner for BODHI?
A meditation tent by day, somewhere to sleep in the night
The world's tallest reproduction of an Ashoka pillar. Devotees have marketed the dharma for millennia, including Emperor Ashoka, who had the original pillar buit in Sankissa (topped by a white elephant) as this one is, over 2200 years ago. This is 80 feet high, higher than the originals (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillars_of_Ashoka)
His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, giving teachings in Sankissa (translated to Hindi and English). This was an historic event, the first time His Holiness has taught here.
Aryadharma with an ex-untouchable couple selling postcards and souvenirs in the street in Sankissa. They told us us with pride that their sons and daughters have engineering degrees, one or two having attained Masters degrees.
Gate of the Cambodian monastery at Sankissa, where we stayed - still under construction.
Doctor Sandhya, nurse Sheetal and unnamed patient - clinic in Pune
Life in the open, India. Noisy, dirty, no privacy and not too comfortable.
Beautiful monastery near Sankissa. Made possible by the activism of YBS - will the people who run this be similarly inspired by the social activism of YBS?
Karunadeepa, Padmananda (and his mother), son (Yesh) and daughter, with Colin (outside the front door of their house, Pune). Photo: Aryadharma
Colin with Susanta, founder and CEO of Sneha, an NGO which supports three schools in a remote part of the remote north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh
Suresh Bauddh, the founder and main inspirer of YBS, a grassroots organisation in northern India whose work has influenced the lives of tens of thousands of people, perhaps over 100,000 people. Sankissa, February 2015
Kailash Bauddh (the translator for His Holiness from Tibetan to Hindi), with Aryadharma, friend (name not recorded) and Colin - early morning, Mainpuri. Kailash has lived in Dharamsala, immersed in Tibetan language and culture, most of the last 8 years
Aniketh (with damaged arms) and pre-schoolers, balwadi (pre-school) in slum, Pune, Maharashtra. This project has been funded by BODHI since 2013.
Karunadeepa (on the left) and one of her staff in her office, Pune. Colin was touched to see a photo of BODHI's co-founder, Susan (who died in 2014), on the board on the wall behind Karunadeepa, on her left (third picture from the bottom).
Study class, Pune slum. More boys than girls in this class, but that's because this teacher is male. There are plenty of girls in the other classes. Some of these rooms are flooded in the rainy season - this problem could be reduced by higher lips at their entrance (or better drainage, a strategy well beyond reach at the moment).
Colin and I travelled to India on January 28th, for a tour of about 11 days. I was delighted to accompany Colin as I am interested in the lives of the marginalised and depressed in India and in how BODHI’ good work supports their lives and welfare.
It was Colin’s first trip to India in 18 months, and his first since his loss of Susan. There was no chance of travelling out while Susan was ill, of course. As Susan was a tireless communicator with those on the ground, the trip provided an opportunity for Colin to engage in person with those he supports, and take Susan’s baton more completely. It turned out it was also an opportunity for the Indian BODHI partners to share their own grief at Susan’s death, too, as they had grown close to Susan through frequent communication. Many good memories of that correspondence were recalled, and the compassion and personal concern she expressed in her almost daily emails. So the trip had a memorial aspect to it, which I felt privileged to be a part of having never met Susan myself.
I was struck by the strength of and pride of the “depressed classes”. Especially the women:for example, I was impressed by the confidence of a self-assured woman in jeans, a member of the Youth Buddhist Society (YBS), who showed us to our rooms in Sankissa. Karunadipa’s team in Pune included one young woman who works long extended hours and, we are told, is working towards a law degree. An ex-untouchable couple selling postcards and souvenirs in the street in Sankissa tell us with pride that their sons and daughters have engineering degrees, one or two having attained Masters degrees.
We visited Sankissa and the YBS in part to explore the social dimensions of Suresh Bauddh’s ambitious project of transformation as a potential place for future funding from BODHI. The talk that was being given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama was an excellent opportunity to see what the YBS was capable of – a massive undertaking of at least 3000 attendees, many of whom also needed accommodation and food. Also, Colin had not had a chance to personally meet His Holiness (the patron of BODHI) since 1990; he thought this could provide an opportunity (correctly, as it turned out).
The YBS have a definite social bent- there is some free healthcare offered on site by visiting doctors (Osteopaths and Homeopaths at the time of our visit!) as well as basic first aid training. They also do teeth cleaning- the patients were lining up for a free public teeth-clean administered by a gleeful gloved-up volunteer. There are plans for a free hospital, a library and study centre, as well as a monastery. Many young people are training as monks in various schools of Buddhism. Suresh Bauddh himself said that probably 95% of the audience at the talks were Hindu. So the YBS struck me as eclectic, socially minded, with a strong emphasis on the equality of different spiritual traditions. This seems in keeping with the age bracket, when people (at least in the West) are still exploring different traditions, and for whom equality and social well-being are highly prized. It will also provide a strong lesson for the monasteries that have sprang up around Sankissa, and might well pursue a more isolationist route, within a community which is overwhelmingly poor and disadvantaged.
We enjoyed watching the cooking preparations going on: mountains of food being chopped, peeled, thrown into cooking pots, and potatoes being cleaned by barefoot boys stomping around in water. Colin did meet the Dalai Lama, and got a hug (A hug from an emanation of Avalokiteshvara! Someone, perhaps Kailash Bauddh, Suresh’s younger brother, His Holines’s Tibetan-Hindi translator, exclaimed how fortunate he was), and Colin was able to tell His Holiness about Susan’s death. His Holiness gave his blessings, and recalled BODHI, Susan and Colin.
Susanta Chakma came to meet us when we arrived in Delhi and drove us through the snarl of traffic. We also saw him on our return from Sankissa. Susanta runs Sneha, an NGO which funds 3 schools in Arunachal Pradesh, where the exiled Chakma (from South-eastern Bangladesh, though many Chakmas have lived for generations and still live in neighboring north east India and also in Myanmar) have very little rights, resources and land, having been displaced at the time of independence, when they wanted to be in India (see this link but note that this website overstates the oppression the Chakmas face by omitting to mention the 1996 decision bv the Indian High Court in their favor. Crucially, however, the local officials have not been honouring this ruling). BODHI has been helping to fund Sneha since soon after Colin and Susanta’s first meeting, in 2005. Susanta took us back to his small flat where he lives with 2 sisters, his pregnant wife, and a nephew.
Susanta told us of the prevailing political climate in India (an opinion supported by Deepak Thakur, lawyer and advocate) shifting towards less tolerant forms of Hinduism, resulting in many Indian NGOs losing their FCRA status. (The Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FCRA) regulates foreign donations to Indian NGOs and thus can be potentially abused.) (Note that Colin thought there is likely to be a problem on both sides, at least in some cases! That is, not all Indian NGOs are likely to be able to bear the significant financial and other costs of meeting FCRA rules.)
Our final leg of the journey was to visit Pune, near Mumbai in Maharashtra, where a project with Karunadipa was planned to be expanded in Susan’s memory. Karunadipa is part of the Triratna Buddhist Community, the Australian branch of the tradition into which I was ordained in May, 2014. Karunadipa and her family went far out of the way to make us comfortable and welcome. There was a mosquito net which was a blessing as there were clouds of the things when we arrived. I was also sick, so I spent 2 days recovering from a round of some kind of gastro-intestinal infection, perhaps from food or water I had eaten in Delhi or before our return there. Karunadipa’s projects, under the title of “Bhujan Hitay Pune Project”, include vocational courses (eg sewing and computer teaching), help with creches, pre-schools, classes after school (for children raised in slums) and self-help groups for women. BODHI particularly funds their projects with the slum children. These are study classes in at least 2 slums around Pune and supplementary feeding of under-nourished children (including eggs supplied by the Indian egg board). One of the rooms for study classes in the slum is very inadequate, being very low-ceilinged and damp, and regularly flooded badly in the rainy season, because of poor drainage and low floor. This would be a worthy project to fund, I feel, to create a workable space for study rather than one that is unsafe, is damp for weeks after the rainy season, and where nothing can be stored.
I had already met some Triratna “Dhamma-mitras” or friends who have made a commitment to the movement, at Sankissa by chance, and this was a delight to see the teachings of Bhante Sangharakshita expressed through a different culture. It was like meeting long lost brothers and sisters who have been living in a strange land, but share basically the same outlook. Staying with Karunadipa and her husband Padmananda’s family in Pune was a wonderful experience, connecting with their bright young son, Yesh, drawing some family portraits and playing Rubik’s cube with him while I convalesced.
I was especially impressed by Karunadipa’s and Padmananda’s “other-regarding” qualities: not only expressed towards us, but in their concern for the children, men and women who live in difficult conditions. This seemed to be Karunadipa’s spiritual practice, gathering a group of like-minded workers and inspiring them to be proud and strong, to raise their people out of poverty and inequity. I didn’t hear her talk disparagingly of any other caste or religion.
In the course of our journey on planes and trains and juddering buses, Colin and I discussed Buddhist practice, life and everything. One of the points he kept return to was that you can’t just sit on a cushion in a monastery; you have to do something. I could see in Colin this concern for other’s welfare was uppermost in his mind, and I experienced how this motivation to help is both his practice and his drive. Often the first thing he would say when I saw him in the morning was something about a concern for one or other of BODHI’s partners. I have been very impressed and inspired by this, so I can say that I am a beneficiary of BODHI’s projects, too.
My one reservation is that I hope Colin gets some well- earned Relaxation at some point soon, as every restless Bodhisattva needs to bear himself also, within his compassionate awareness.