It is an all day

by francine Hardaway on November 26, 2005

It is an all day flight from Shanghai, which seems now to me like San Francisco, and Gaya, India, where Buddha received his enlightenment. I can see why enlightenment might happen here. It’s a remote, dusty village where cows have the right of way on the road.

Everyone on the second flight, from Bangkok to Gaya, is a pilgrim but me. We arrive at the airport, and I can tell I am in India. We get off the plane on the tarmac and are met by a rickety bus. We are told to board the bus, and I do, but then I find that the bus rise to the terminal is only about fifty yards.
When we get to the terminal, we are asked to identify our bags outside. But once we identify them, we still can’t claim them; we have to go inside and wait until they are put on a conveyor belt and come to us. It’s a process they learned somewhere, and even if it’s inconvenient and makes no sense, they follow it.

We then stand on a long line to go through Immigration; the monks go first.

At the hotel, the electricity goes on and off randomly, plunging everyone into darkness. In a moment, a generator will come on. Better save your files here!

At the ashram, Dwarko-ji sits in the gathering darkness anyway. He talks about the eye camp, where twenty doctors from Gujarat have done 16,000 cataract operations already this month on children blind from birth. He is proud that there has not yet been one infection, although the surgeries are done in tents by the side of the main road. I will see the eye camp later this morning; the doctors still have 5000 more surgeries to do. There are a million people in this province alone who are blind, mostly from poor nutrition. This is the poorest province in India, and Dwarko-ji chose to come here fifty years ago because of its poverty.

His education program here is, as he says, revolutionary. He teaches village kids in a dormitory setting. They are all children whose parents can’t afford to feed them, much less educate them, and he prepares them for life. He teaches such subjects as hygiene, gardening, and parenting; math and English are taught in the context of the other subjects.

While he labors, others who come to Gaya visit the Buddhist temples and shrines. There is a monastery here representing every form of Buddhism: Tibetan, Japanese, Thai, etc. Today I will see them, too.

I think of my life in the United States and how difficult it is to communicate to my friends and family what I see on these trips I take. In some ways, it’s the same world — one with children to be raised, cell phones to be used, and computers. But the climate of uncertainty is so much greater here. Not even a question of will your child get into college. More a question of whether you can feed him till he grows up.

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