On the Banks of the Ganges: Reflections of a Journey in Time

Varanasi, India.  I realize this is winter in northern India just like in New York, but I had thought that India would be warmer and greener.  The countryside is often drab, so different from the vibrant rice fields of Bali.  Here, they appear to be either dusty or muddy.  I was unprepared for the cold fog that hovers about 100 feet off the ground from Delhi to Bodh Gaya, holding smoke from cow-dung cooking fires to funeral pyres low to the ground.

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Hindu street children on the streets of Bodh Gaya, where Buddha obtained Enlightenment.
Photo: author.

One incident during this trip lingers in my mind as it was repeated so frequently everywhere I travelled.  The four small girls, ages perhaps two to six, barefoot in the mud and wrapped in rags, tapped my shoe with their hand, then held it to their head in a gesture of humility and subservience.  Chanting the same Hindu incarnation over and over, they were persistent with both their eyes and their begging bowls.  I reluctantly said no.

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Young monks walking together to Kalachakra in Bodh Gaya. Photo: Sue Moy.

Abject poverty is a universal and creates its own culture.  People do lie, cheat and steal, of course, but this is often forced by circumstances as I have seen around the globe.  It is not particular to this region of the world.  In fact, I am surprised that the beggars don’t seem to steal or get angry when they face rejection.

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Family planning poster painted on to local wall in Bodh Gaya, India. Photo: author.

The smells of India, or at least Bodh Gaya, are as varied as the people.  The putrid smell of stagnant water mixed with exhaust fumes and the smoky cooking fumes of pungent curries overlaid with human and animal waste.  Men urinate along the road where the cows passively graze.  Today, there are dozens of people sitting there listening toloudspeakers carry the word of the Dalai Lama.

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama meets the press in front of the Tibetan Monastery Bodh Gaya.
Photo courtesy of Tenzin Choejor, Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The color pallet of dress here, with pilgrims from around the world, is varied, although the maroon of Tibetan monks’ robes is the predominant color.  Each Buddhist sect has a different colored shirt, but the predominant color for Tibetan Buddhism is maroon.

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Elder woman walks between hay stacks outside Gaya. Photo: courtesy of Paul Goldsmith.

The city of Gaya is full of ramshackle homes, built side-to-side, with broken tiled roofs, cows and goats tethered in the front, and men squatting in doorways.  We pass a Hindu funeral in which four drummers accompany the palette with four pallbearers, sadly walking down the side of the road, the body covered with colored linen.

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Birds-eye view of homes just outside Bodh Gaya. Photo: Sue Moy.

There have been many disconnects for me on this trip.  We have heard repeatedly this week about love and compassion, yet I have heard more than one Buddhist refer to Indians as ‘mean’ and ‘liars.’  Many monks, I heard from lots of people, frequent the red light district in Bodh Gaya.  Several Hindus have shared with me their anger as being treated as second-class citizens in their own town.  It occurred to me that if they were treated with more respect, they might not try to profit as handsomely from the Buddhist pilgrims.

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Selling the majestic lotus flowers on the streets of Bodh Gaya. Photo: author.

As I prepare to depart from the banks of the incredible Ganges, flowing down from the western Himalayas past me here in Varanasi and then south and east through the plains of North India into Bangladesh where it will empty into the Bay of Bengal, I reflect on this pilgrimage – this journey in time – a microcosm of the journey that is our lives.  I will continue mine to the fullest, then in the tradition of my ancestors, turn into ashes and dust and return to the earth.  The wheel continues.

Edited by Ferdi Kayhan.

Pilgrimage to Buddha’s Holy Sites
Main Sites: Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar
Additional Sites: Sravasti, Rajgir, Sankissa, Vaishali, Nalanda, Varanasi
Other Sites: Patna, Gaya, Kosambi, Kapilavastu, Devadaha, Kesariya, Pava

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See Stories by Jim Luce on:

India   |   International Development   |   Philanthropy    |   Social Responsibility  |   TibetOn Pilgrimage: Following the Footsteps of Buddha Across N.W. India: 14 Parts

1. HuffPo: On Pilgrimage: Following the Footsteps of Buddha Across N.E. India
2. Daily Kos: Under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya Where Prince Became Buddha
3. Daily Kos: Photo Essay of Bodh Gaya, Where Buddha Became Enlightened
4. Daily Kos: Next Step of Indian Pilgrimage: Mountain Where Buddha Preached
5. HuffPo: Touching the Untouchable in a Rural Indian Village
6. Daily Kos: Rediscovering the World’s First Great University in Buddhist India
7. Stewardship Report: Buddhism for Beginners: Insights from a Non-Buddhist
8. HuffPo: Can We Help Rescue Education and Orphan Care in Bihar, India?
9. Daily Kos: Buddhism and the Universal Concept of Social Responsibility
10. Stewardship Report: Most-Photographed Man in the World Prepares to Retire
11. Daily Kos: Varanasi: Holy City of Buddhists – As Well as Hindus, Jainists, Jews
12. Daily Kos: On the Banks of the Ganges: Continuing the Search for My Soul
13. HuffPo: My Pilgrimage Complete: Lessons Learned, Life Continues Like a Wheel
14. Daily Kos: Pilgrimage Postscript: Pneumonia and Possible T.B.

The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) is the umbrella organization under which The International University Center Haiti (Uni Haiti) and Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) are organized. If supporting young global leadership is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.

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Originally published in The Daily Kos, January 20, 2012.

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

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Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce (www.lucefoundation.org) writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (www.oiww.org), he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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