Saturday Oct 15, 2005 - day 16 - Varanasi to Delhi - Kathy: 53 photos, Bob: 48 photos

            Today, as promised, we visited the Sarnath Buddhist temple.  This is supposedly the holiest place in all of Buddhism.  As I understand it, this is where the Buddha gave his first lectures and teachings to his five original disciples when he started his mission.  They built a sacred Buddhist temple here, and the Buddha lived there for many years, praying and teaching until his death.

            On the bus, we got a little talk about the Buddhists from our local guide.  Here is what I remember from both his lecture and my previous exposure to Buddhism in Thailand and my own studies:  The Buddha was born in the year 563 B.C.  His given name was Siddhartha Gautama, and he was born a prince in a high-caste Hindu royal family.  As I understand it, he led a very sheltered life inside the royal palace, getting married and having children until one day he became curious about life outside the palace.  The guards tried to keep him from going outside, but as the Prince, he insisted and they could not deny him.  When he got outside the palace, he was shocked and appalled at what he saw.  He encountered hunger, disease, famine, suffering, death.  It changed his life forever.  Suffering was something Siddhartha had never known, so he prayed to understand the cause.  One day when he got an opportunity, he snuck out of the royal palace in the middle of the night, and left his wife and children to become a monk.  He meditated under a fig tree and then he became enlightened, which is the meaning of the word Buddha (Enlightened One).

            Buddha taught that the cause of all human pain and suffering comes from desire.  The only way to end suffering is to end desire, and escape the cycle of rebirth (reincarnation).  There are two paths to salvation: Mochcha (not sure of the spelling, but it’s pronounced moke-cha) and Nirvana, which is to obtain your own enlightenment and extinguish the ego until all that remains inside your body is consciousness of God.

            Buddha taught that it is not good to be extreme, like the extreme ascetics who deny themselves and abandon the world, or the extreme materialists.  Instead, he stressed the middle path: everything in moderation.  He also taught something called the “Eight Noble Path” which our city guide said was Right View, Right Speech, Right Determination, Right Action, Right Effort, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation.

            We started out at the modern Buddhist temple, which was next to the archaeology site. 


Inside, the temple had modern paintings of the Buddha’s life and a golden statue of Lord Buddha..


            Outside the temple was a large fig tree. 


This tree, they said, was planted in 1931 from a cutting the holy tree in Sri Lanka, which was planted in 300 B.C. from a cutting of the original fig tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment.  The site of that original tree was in India, in a place called Bodhgaya.  The original fig tree that Buddha gained enlightenment under was burned and destroyed by guess who: the Muslim invaders.  So the tree in Sri Lanka is 2300 years old, and is the biggest and holiest tree on Earth.

            Next, we went to the Sarnath archaeology site. 

Unfortunately, the place was again completely destroyed by you-know-who.  So the site now is pretty much an archaeology site.  It is only partly excavated, and archaeologists could work for a hundred years uncovering things there.  It was a very cool place.


            At one end is the three remaining pieces of the famous Ashoka Pillar. 


This pillar, with inscriptions on top, talks about the ancient ruler king Ashoka, who was long before the Muslims.  He was a very early guy historically speaking, one of the ancient rulers.  According to a book Kathy and I read, he tried to teach the people the concept of “Dhamma” which is an early predecessor of the more modern word “Dharma,” which is the concept of one’s duty and indeed destiny to do good things.

            At the other end was a massive stupa that was supposedly just solid bricks and stones with no passageway.  It was still impressive for its size.

            After that, we went to the archaeology museum where we saw lots of stone statues and the beautiful four-lion faced crown of the Ashoka pillar.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to bring our cameras inside.

            At one point today, I asked Sujay to talk about the Zoroastrian community in India.  My brother Joe has spent years of his life studying the ancient Zoroastrian religion, which was the first religion to teach that there is only one God instead of many.  Many people believe that Judaism, Christianity and many other religions directly stole many basic beliefs from the Zoroastrians, including the concept of a savior.  Joe has a whole web site dedicated to it:

            Anyway, I knew that the Zoroastrians were centered in ancient Persia (Iran and Iraq) until the Muslims came in and persecuted them.  They were driven farther and farther south until they ended up in India in the city of Mumbai (Bombay) where many still live today.  Anyway, I asked Sujay about them. 

            He said that they are a close-knit community and many Hindus are prejudiced against them.  They think the Zoroastrians are weird, not to be trusted, etc.  In other words, they just don’t like them.  I suppose that’s just one man’s opinion of the situation, and I certainly don’t know the score.  In my opinion, it sounds like classic prejudice, just like the Turks don’t like the Kurds.  Anyway, I thought it was an interesting observation.

            [Author’s note: On a return trip from Raleigh to Minneapolis, I met a Hindu man who was from Bombay.  He said that the Indian people are not prejudiced against the Zoroastrians (Parsis) at all.  He said they are rich people who pretty much keep to themselves, but they are definitely well respected.]

            The rest of the day was spent going to the airport, going through the security checks again, and flying back to Delhi.  Earlier, Sujay got a call from someone telling him that our flight was delayed by an hour.  At the airport, we were told that our flight was delayed some more, so we went to the lounge and sipped on some coke.

            Once again, the security was overkill, checking and re-checking our bags and our identities dozens of times.  I guess I don’t mind that, though, if it keeps me from being blown up by some terrorist idiot.

            Once we arrived at the Delhi airport, we retrieved our luggage and walked to the bus with it.  Sadly, they told us they could not trust the Delhi porters at the airport with our luggage, so we had to use carts ourselves.  (Everywhere else in India the porters have been trustworthy and extremely efficient).

            Once we boarded the bus and headed for the hotel, we borrowed Sujay’s cell phone and called Duni, the guy from Journey Masters who is helping us plan and execute our extra three days in India.  I told him we were on the bus headed for the hotel.  He sounded a little bit annoyed when he said, “I’m right now at the hotel.  I’ve been waiting two hours.”

            When we got to the hotel, we met briefly with Duni, apologizing profusely for having been delayed and not calling him. 

            Earlier in the day, Sujay had invited the whole group over to his home for some snacks and beer, whiskey and wine.  It was a lovely evening, and it was sad to see this part of the journey end.  Sujay was one of the best guides we’ve ever had.  He was a friend, colleague, wise guy, even jokester, and he took great care of us.  He was patient, kind and understanding, and he did everything in his power to give us the best Indian experience possible.  He once told us that former president Bill Clinton visited India and they had to choose a guide for his trip.  Of all the hundreds of tour guides the secret service interviewed, the choice came down to just two: Sujay and another guy.  Unfortunately for Clinton, they chose the other guy.

When we got back to the hotel in our separate taxis, we realized that we wouldn’t have a chance to say goodbye to everyone in the OAT group before they had to fly back home.  We passed our goodbyes on through Dorothy.