I went to the Bodhi tree. I sat at the base of the tree in amazement, in wonder. I sketched a drawing of the tree in my journal. I picked up one of the sacred leaves off the ground and pressed it into the white pages. The tree itself is a descendent of the original Bodhi tree where the Buddha sat when he became enlightened. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the exact same place where the Buddha sat some 2500 years ago. The garden that surrounds the Bodhi tree is surprisingly unassuming. It’s not like the big Lotus Temple in Delhi or the Taj Mahal in Agra. It’s just a garden and a tree and a few visitors – a colorful mix of Asian, Indian and White people. It’s quiet there. Not deliberately quiet like church or a library. Just quiet like a garden. I don’t think anyone stared at the tree quite as much as I did. I was mesmerized. I was much more intrigued by the tree where the Buddha sat than with the Buddha himself. There was something about the aliveness. The tree was alive. The Buddha was dead. The tree was breathing. The Buddha is a memory. I felt the same way sitting and staring at the tree as I did the day my mother died and again when I was standing in the forest in South Africa. I thought, “I know you! I know this feeling. I know the experience that the Buddha had when he was sitting underneath you. I felt that too.”
It’s a connectedness. It’s a familiarity with nature, like nature is your friend and nature loves you. It’s a feeling that we come from nature and return to the essence of nature when we die. That’s what happened when mom died. She went back into the nature, back into the essence of everything. I felt her in the air, in the leaves of the tree, in the caterpillar. And I felt that essence standing in the forest in South Africa and again staring at the Bodhi tree in India.
The Bodhi tree is difficult to get to. It’s out of the way, off the beaten path. You really have to go out of your way to get there -- take a train for 20 hours, then ride in a taxi for 8 hours, then take a rickshaw for 20 min to the garden. You have to really want to go there, to make the trip. It really was the only thing that I wanted to see in India. It was the most important site to me. The big temples and statues and grand structures are pretty, but I’m much more impressed with the essence of a place. And for me, the essence of India all stemmed from the spirituality of the land and that spiritual essence was grounded for me in a tree in the middle of the desert.
India is hot. It was hot and dry and dusty. Brown everywhere. The tree was green. The leaves were shaped like hearts, little beating hearts falling from thick dark branches creating a blanket of hearts around the trunk of the tree. I smiled when I saw the leaves. Of course they look like hearts! Why wouldn’t they!
I recognized the tree when I saw it. Not recognized the site of it but the feeling of it. I felt at home. I was so far away from “home” so many thousands of miles from home all alone in the desert of India and yet I was in a “known” place. A guide took me up to the cave where Buddha sat for twelve years before he walked down the mountain across the river and sat under the Bodhi tree. The cave was black inside. Empty. Cold. No one was even there. There were a few tattered Tibetan flags marking the mountain but even less people ventured to the cave in the hot sun than they did to the tree. I imagined sitting in the cave for 12 years, listening to the bustling valley below. Wondered what it would be like to sit for 12 years and listen. That’s not what led to enlightenment though. There was no enlightenment until Buddha left the cave, crossed the water and sat under the tree to find the “middle way.”
So many times before and after my visit to the Bodhi tree I have sat at the trunk of a tree looking for comfort. So many times I have rested my hand on a tree to say, ‘hi friend. Can you give me a little support right now?’ So many times the tree has graciously and unconditionally offered its love and support to me. One time, I was walking in the woods, feeling lonely and I sat down on a rock in despair. I felt a branch touch the back of my shoulder like a friend putting her arm around me. I sighed in gratitude and thanked nature for reaching out. Another time, I was arguing with my boyfriend in Los Angeles and I decided to go for a walk to clear my head. I was raging inside with anger and frustration. I walked a few miles over dirty cement streets surrounded by street lights, head lights and cars wooshing by. It wasn’t until I got to the top of a hill where the road opened out to a golf course that I caught sight of a big beautiful grove of trees and I sighed again, saying a quiet thank you inside. I immediately felt the shift in my body. Felt all the anger release. Felt myself come into balance and found my breath once again.