This morning Sri and our

by francine Hardaway on November 27, 2005

This morning Sri and our guide, who has been taking people to Buddhist sites in India for forty years, went to the Mahabodhi Temple, the most important Buddhist shrine in the world. It was built in the 3rd century BC, and had to be excavated and reconstructed in the 1880’s. The shrine is called a stupa, in which all the little Buddhas add up to the big Buddha.

We had to take our shoes off at the entrance to the inner ring of the temple, which is mostly outside. There are seven places around the monument where Buddha spent time after receiving enlightenment sitting under the Bodhi tree. A tree still exists in the original spot, containing the DNA of the original tree.

At sunrise, the temple is almost indescribably beautiful. Monks from all over the world are softly walking around; many of the Tibetan Buddhists are doing their prostrations, as are elderly women.

This temple is a place where Buddhists from all over the world come; they seem to have a lot in common. Buddhism is a religion of ahimsa, or non-violence, and everyone in town is meditating for peace on earth.

We stayed at the temple for two hours, and then went to the eye camp that Swarko-ji’s ashram has sponsored for twenty-three years. Dwarko-ji showed us how they have set up a system to do 1000 operations a day with no infections, serving 21,000 people this year. The people from neighboring villages come to the eye camp, where they receive a preliminary screening that tells whether they need surgery, whether this particular surgery (Yag laser cataract surgery and the insertion of interocular lenses) will work for them, and whether they have any other health conditions that might affect the surgery. The next day, they wait in line to be operated on. They are given a local anaesthetic, and they lie on massage tables, with each doctor going back and forth between two tables at once. An army of volunteers, masked and with hair covered, supports the doctors — carrying equipment, sterilizing instruments, washing towels, etc.

After the surgery, the villagers stay at the eye camp in the tents for three more days while the dressings are changed and they are examined on a daily basis. On the fifth day, they are discharged with medications, glasses, new clothes, and instructions. During the five days, they are also fed three meals a day of healthy food.

This is all funded by a man who follows Dwarko-ji, and who is a diamond cutter by trade. He lives in Gujarat, buys diamonds in Belgium, cuts them in India, and sells them on 43rd Street in New York. His charitable trust funds the eye camp every year: 20 million rupees. And that’s just for the food and the hard costs; everyone else is a volunteer. This fellow, who has never married and has, like Dwarko, dedicated his life to service, believes this is his true work.

Dwarko thinks his own life’s work has been to reclaim two acres of land for the children. Although he is 84, he seems to have endless energy for organizing projects. He reclaimed the two acres of desert land into a farm for the children so they can learn the principles and technologies of farming, and he is now growing a new tree, Jatropha, that he says produces a fruit suitable to make bio-diesel. He plans to contribute his bio-diesel to the state. He already reclaims cow dung and makes it into cooking gas for his kitchens, and he is planning to buy more cows because he has been told that cow urine can be made into medicines, both for humans and for animals (it is used in antiseptics) and he wants to put his children into the pharmaceutical business. In his words, “it is a clean business with very little work.”

He is moving the children along with the times.
But lest you think India is all made of Dwarko-ji figures and Tibetan monks doing prostrations, Sri was pickpocketed on the way home from the ATM machine this morning — by a group of women, two of whom had babies with them.

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