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Lions Roar : January 2019
Bodhgaya is the most important pilgrimage site in the Bud- dhist world, and it’s believed that even in the Buddha’s time there was a shrine here. At first, the Bodhi tree was marked simply by a two-story wooden structure and stone throne. Then in the third century, Ashoka, the Mauryan king who was instrumental in spreading Buddhism in India, ordered the construction of a commemorative temple. Mahabodhi was originally built in the sixth century and over the years has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Along with the rest of the delegates, I take my place under the Bodhi tree, which is right beside the temple. Sitting on ori- ental rugs that have been laid out for us, we face an altar laden with dragon fruit, pomegranates, pink roses, and a statue of the Buddha. A Theravadin monk lights a lamp, and the chant- ing begins, then builds, and finally stops. Slowly, I let go of my rushing and grasping and find my breath. Shantum Seth, who sits facing me and the other delegates, rings a bell. “Our teacher, the Buddha, sat under the Bodhi tree for forty-nine days and nights and then continued to be with the Bodhi tree for another forty-nine days,” he says. “So, we look at the Bodhi tree as our spiritual ancestor and we sit with her in the same way the Buddha did—in the present moment.” Seth holds a yellow Bodhi leaf in his hand and glances down at it occasionally. Focusing on our breath, he continues, our body and mind come together. Often our body is here but our mind is elsewhere. Meditation trains the mind to come back to the present and gives us a way to look more deeply into what’s going on both inside of us and outside. Seth rings the bell again and guides us to straighten our backs, relax our shoulders, and feel the gentle rise and fall of our bellies. He has a soothing voice, which eventually dissolves into silence. Now, we are hundreds of people, all Sarnath is where the Buddha gave his first sermon. Teaching the four noble truths, he laid out the foundation of Buddhism. LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2019 36