Our first task upon arrival in Bodhgaya was to register for the event and get our ID badges. We found the registration area, but the gate was closed and guarded from the inside. We could see multiple lines waiting to approach the registration tent, but the guards would not let us enter, saying that too many people were already admitted and it was dusk already. We wheedled, cajoled, waited. To our surpise, we were admitted. After waiting nearly an hour, we received our badges and headed back to the hotel for the evening.
The next morning, we traveled to the Kalachakra Ground in the center of town. Neither of us had checked the website on arrival or, frankly, for months beforehand. After passing numerous gates reserved for media, dignitaries and staff, monks, Himalayan people, general public, we found the one reserved for foreigners. We discovered as we approached security that we could not enter the vast covered area housing the ceremonies with any electronics-no cameras or phones. We had to retreat. We found our way to an auxiliary tent with astro-turf and tarps on the ground and watched on a giant screen as HHDL, housed with an assembly of senior monks in a glass house within the ceremonial tent, performing rituals to cleanse and prepare the field for the Initiation ceremonies in a few days. The preparatory rituals included blessing the mandala platform, blessing the sand with which it will be created. Sand was cast upon the platform. Continuous chanted prayers reverberate through the streets of Bodhgaya.
The streets are teeming with monks, Tibetans, and other Himalayan people, beggars, the disabled, women with 2-3 small children in tow, rickshaws, motorbikes, vendors hawking plastic pads to sit on, fruit stands, street food, teenagers hawking face masks, children’s toys, small plastic bags of coins (for tourists and monks to give to beggars), ready-made packs of 100 crisp 10 rupee notes. Handicraft shops with clothing, shawls, seat cushions, art and religious objects line the road.
We decide to head back to the hotel but stop for lunch on the way at a small bistro serving western food. I order a cappuccino, my first since arriving. In the later afternoon, somewhat spontaneously, we decide to go to the Thai Wat and the Mahabodhi temple. We got to the Thai temple just in time to witness evening prayers inside. Afterwards, we moved on to the Mahabodhi temple, now in the dark. Many more people are leaving than entering now. We stand in line at the lower level to enter the small sanctuary, walking through a metal detector that buzzes for every other person passing through.
Security doesn’t seem to be concerned, most likely because we have already passed through a metal detector as well as a pat-down as we entered the temple complex.
We perambulate a couple of times and then move up to the third tier perimeter where we perambulate again, now looking down upon the second level where nearly every space is occupied by monks or pilgrims performing prostrations at all hours of the day, and apparently night as well. Nearly every available space on all levels of the complex is taken with devotees performing prayers, sitting in meditation or prostrations. We come upon a group of monks performing Chod practice, healing prayers.
On our way out, we happen upon a yogi with a topknot of tangled dread locks. We struck a pose of blessing as we walked by and he immediately wanted to speak to us, asking where we were from. He told us some of his history of practice, including some very well-known teachers, extraordinary events including being introduced to his past lives, and encountering teachers who performed extraordinary feats.
It turned out he had a fervent concern about climate change. He also considers himself a shaman, one of a slowing disappearing breed of renegade magicians. He spoke of the dilution of the practice at this critical time on earth, the dissemination of the teachings throughout the world, which is also unfortunately accompanied by a more subtle loss of the what might be called the historical standard of rigor at the top, meaning that fewer and fewer more advanced practitioners assume the life of the yogis of the past, the solo practitioners of anu, maha and ati yoga, the highest yanas of the Nyingma tradition.
He spoke of a desire to form an international center for the study and practice of shamanism and climate change. He was aware of Standing Rock. Imagine, he said, inviting native American elders to Nepal, shamans of a people who, like Tibetans, have lost everything, but who remain as voices for the earth.
His prophecy for the earth is that within 40 years, islands will be submerged, and millions will die. It is time for shamanic practice to be renewed, to stand for and hold a counter-intention to the destruction that is upon us.
Within 24 hours of arrival, the synchronicity of being here is already apparent. Imagination is fully aroused. As the days progress, more pieces outline an emerging picture of an exciting possibility.