The real journey began when I was three years old.
On Buddha Purnima day, my mother took me to the only Buddhist temple in Shillong situated on top of a hill. I was transfixed by the sight of the Buddhist monk in his ochre robe and shaven head. I ran behind him to the edge of the hill as he climbed down to his living quarter. My mother raced behind me '
' Don't go to the edge of the hill, Mamoni.' she said, ' you might fall down.'
But, fall I did many times as I went to the edge often! However, in so doing, I finally fell at the feet of my Masters.
I remember staring down at Shillong from the hilltop ' it looked so far away. Then it was forgotten. Or was it? Over the loss of love in early college days, I was reminded of it again, when I sat for days at the Marine Drive, in Bombay, staring at the sea, like a boatman anchored at the bank of the river. However, this time a quantum leap happened. Lashing against the shore and then receding backward, the sea remained not far from me. But I became far from the sea.
A clear separation had happened - between me, the observer, and me, the observed. The inner journey had begun.
The road to Buddhaland is a very short distance - a passage from head to heart. Yet it is the longest journey I have undertaken, a journey, which might take a few lifetimes to complete.
It was mid- June. The Bombay sky was overshadowed with dark clouds. The welcome rains were just around the corner. From Dadar station I took the train to Igatpuri, (138 km), a small station before Nasik. The rains had already bathed Igatpuri with a few showers. Dhammagiri, where I was headed to, is S N Goenka's seat of learning of Vipassana, the art of meditation as taught by Lord Buddha. I had no previous booking, which is mandatory. Luckily, someone dropped out and I got include.
I had arrived the evening before the actual 10-day program began. At five o'clock that evening we were told about all the dos and don'ts. If you are one of those compulsive rule breakers, be warned! That evening the Golden Silence began. What is that you ask? Here, experience it! For just one hour lock your self in and stop all communications - Talking, listening to TV, radio, music, reading or writing. No! No laptop either. Or Internet, cell phone! No eye contact, or touching. Sorry! You can't throw that flying kiss either! That, then, is the Golden Silence carried out for ten days! From 4 a.m. to 8 p.m., we were engaged with only meditation. When all other activities stops, it is possible to see how difficult it is, not to do anything. We hide behind activity and we talk as Khalil Gibran says ' '.because you are not at ease with our thoughts'. The inner journey begins when we finally arrive at a bivouac of life. Outside travel entails arriving at a certain destination, within a given time frame. The inner journey transcends both, time and space.
Green hills and trees surround Dhammagiri. Clean air and lots of open space. Birds chatter to make up for our imposed silence. The large Golden Pagoda is the central theme of Dhammagiri. For those who are there for the second time onward, they spend most of the ten days in the dark underground cells beneath the Pagoda.
The Maharashtrian community is marked by measured lifestyle. Simple living. Simple food. The people at Igatpuri reflect this philosophy of life. Men dress mainly in white pyjamas, a light colored shirt and wear a Gandhi cap. Women wear saris tucked between the legs like a dhoti, to keep the legs free for movement. They are hard working people. The typical diet is simple ' chapattis with vegetables, daal, pickle and a small bowlful of rice.
Food, at Dhammagiri, is sattvic ' Totally vegetarian, without onions, garlic, or spices. Lodging and boarding is free. You pay for your laundry. And donate later, according to your capacity.
For me, a good holiday must rejuvenate me at multiple levels - intellectual, spiritual, physical and emotional. Around Igatpuri there are many other activities I can do, after or prior to the 10-day retreat. Trek to Mount Kalsubai ( via Mori Village). Visit Infant Jesus Shrine at Nasik (27 kms), or Sai Baba in Shirdi ( 140 km via Nasik)
But wherever I go, I keep coming back to the unique Buddhaland experience. I have touched my original Self - Silent. Peaceful. Forever mine. It is positively empowering, healing and no matter what happens in my life, I can always tune in to this Silence for strength and equanimity of mind. It is my Original Face, calm and collected, still, as a pond undisturbed by the pebbles thrown on its surface. The ripples are what the world perceives. They are transient and impermanent by nature. Inside, the stillness remains unmoved. Growing in depth everyday.