After I became a monk I decided to try to retrace some of the Buddha’s journeys. The longest and most wonderful of these was the walk I did from Bodh Gaya to Rajgir and back again. The these two places are about 100 km from each other and are linked by a line of rugged, treeless mountains. I walked along the south side of the mountains on the way and returned walking along the north side. I begged for my food all the way, slept in the open and bathed in irrigation tanks and villages. The knowledge that I was walking where the Buddha had, in a manner similar to the way he did and through countryside he would have recognized, filled me with such elation bordering on, that I did the whole trip in an almost dream-like state. Thinking about it now, I realize how much danger I was in, this part of Bihar being infested by very ruthless bandits, although I had no sense danger. And everywhere, villagers were kindly, generous and helpful to me. The only difficulties I had were with village curs, buffalos (for some reason Indian buffalos always freak out when they smell Westerners) and nosey jackals at night. I have no pictures from that time because I had no camera.
During my time in Sri Lanka I often visited India and did other journeys –from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath, from Allahabad to Kosambi, and the longest, retracing the Buddha’s last journey from Rajgir to Kusinara. Here are some photos from some of these journeys. This is me in some Bihari village with a jatila, a matted-hair ascetic. These guys are often mentioned in the Tipitaka as dialoging with the Buddha, and of course three of the Buddha’s early disciples, the Kassapa brothers, were jatilas. It looks like someone is pointing a rifle at him, ‘OK swami! One move and I’ll blow your head off!’ Actually it is the handle of the village pump.Once I passed through a village in UP and half the population came out to stare at me. The local school teacher, who spoke some English, stepped forward to welcome me and then informed me that outside the village under the local sacred tree was an ancient Buddha statue. This is it. The villagers begged me to stay with them which I did for three days; blessing them and their children, listening to their problems and concerns, telling them about the Dhamma, and they shared their meager food with me. Peasants in this part of India must be amongst the most neglected, the poorest and most exploited people in the country – but this does not stop they from being very hospitable to strangers and respectful to swamis. This is me wading across the river near, I think Wazieganj, a village roughly between Gaya and Nawada in Bihar. There are ancient Buddhist ruins at the foot of the mountain. Here I am with Venerable Chandraratana Nayaka Thera, the High Priest of north India, and the then vice-president of India, Shankar Dayal Sharma, at the opening of the Nava Jetavana Mahavihara at Sravasti in, I think, 1987.