16 July 2013

Looking for Enlightenment

We are staying at a homestay hostel/hotel in Varanasi, and one other family, the Patel family, is also here. The Patel's are Indian heritage, but live in London, England. They are here for a family vacation. They welcomed us to join them (and share the costs of a car with them) for the day.

Sunrise over the Ganges should not be missed. All of the tourist guides recommend it for visitors. We woke up at 4:45 to leave at 5:00am for the sunrise. We were surprised when at 5am, the sky was light. We were sure that somehow we missed it. But we drove to the Ghat from where we would observe the sunrise. It's amazing how many people were up and about at 5am. A number of Indians were at the Ganges, bathing and starting their day. It was fascinating to just watch them. The men were extremely adept at changing clothes in public without showing anything they shouldn't. It's still hard to reconcile the knowledge that the Ganges is full of fecal matter and is at the same time a local bathtub and wash center. The sun began to rise above the Ganges. A red ball in the sky. It was beautiful and calm. Slowly the riverbank became more and more alive with people. We took a boat ride on the Ganges to the various Ghats. It was a calm start to the day and a great way to see the city come to life. Afterwards we went back for a short nap and breakfast. Then we headed out again.

We went to the the Krishnamurti Center. Krishnamurti was an Indian who believed that religion divides us and that we should all love each other. His teachings and philosophy were written and studied and now around India are schools based upon his system. The school in Varanasi is for students aged 7 - 18. The students pay approximately $5,000USD a year to attend, which is mid-range for a boarding school in India. Most of the students are boarders, but there are also some day students. The day students are all girls who live nearby. The school follows a normal curriculum and then offers enrichment programs such as yoga classes in the morning or afternoons.
It was a lovely campus to visit, right along the Ganges. It was definitely an oasis of calm outside of the hustle and bustle of Varanasi. We were given a tour of the school. The classrooms were situated around a courtyard and all the doors and windows were open to let in whatever breeze was possible. It looked like a good place to learn.

After the Krishnamurti Center we went to Sarnath, the birthplace of Buddhism. At the Maha Bodhi Temple in Sarnath we saw the story of the life of Buddha on the wall. It is said he was born from his Mom's armpit and lived life in his father's palace, apart from the world. When he was older, he went into the woods and meditated for 70 years. Upon reaching Nirvana, he went out to teach others. At the Maha Bodhi Temple, he sat under a Bodhi Tree with his first 5 deciples and taught them all he had learned.

Then we visited the Stupa near the temple. It was blistering hot and we enjoyed the shade under the Stupa. Sarnath was a beautiful area with a calm that was missing from Varanasi.

In the evening we went to the Assi Ghat. The Ghats really come alive in the evenings and make for a great place to sit and people watch. While there, a man blessed us and put a dab of red on our foreheads. We could see a nearby ceremony and watched the stillness of the Ganges River. We wrapped up our day with some souvenir shopping and dinner. A full day, a great day.

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Location:Varanasi and Sarnath, India

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