My second stop on the travels I planned for myself was Bodhi Zendo, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Once again, I left with a strong desire to return one day and stay longer.
When I was trying to decide where to go in April, Ravi suggested this place. When I looked it up online, I was amazed to find that the teacher here, Fr. AMA Samy, is the same person who holds a retreat at Grailville in Loveland OH every September. I had never been able to attend, but have Grail sisters who had. In fact, one of them had even been to the Zendo!
Father AMA Samy has a really beautiful smile and peaceful face. Quite an interesting fellow. He was born in Burma to Indian Christian parents who couldn't afford to raise him, so sent him to his Muslim grandfather, who was soon thereafter killed in an accident. AMA Samy somehow managed to become a Jesuit priest, who later continued searching for his spiritual path by visiting Hindu ashrams. At some point he found Sri Ramana (who founded the Ramana ashram I visited in January) and followed his teachings. Sri Ramana's advice was to meditate on the question "Who am I?" Father AMA Samy spent several years as a wandering mendicant. He then met someone who introduced him to Zen, and he went to Japan to study there. He came back to India and established the Zendo in 1996. He describes himself as standing in the in between of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. He's written several books, of which I read Zen Heart, Zen Mind, well worth reading.
There were probably about 40 people there from all over the world. Probably just over half from the west, some of whom are now living in India, from Europe and the states mostly. All ages, mostly pretty young and kind of old. Others are home raising their families. I've met several people who've been coming for many years, staying for several months. Apparently I was lucky to get in. It can be difficult. I made my reservation in January, and I guess it's good I decided early to come here. It was the first place I decided to visit.
There is a schedule that one is expected to follow, and everyone did while I was there. The morning bell rings at 5:30, and of course I was already up. First zazen, i. e. sitting meditation, is from 6 to 7. There is a short break for walking meditation in the middle of that time. At the end of zazen, we did some chanting together, Also during that time, anyone who wishes can request a short meeting with Fr. AMA Samy, who leaves zazen midway to go down to his space to prepare for visitors. I took advantage of the opportunity to meet with him a few times. Breakfast is served at 7, and all the meals were excellent. At 7:10, the silence that has been in effect since 5:30 PM the day before is broken and chattering begins. Seva, or selfless service, is from 8:00 to 9:30. I was assigned to chop up vegetables for lunch and dinner. All the vegetables come from the organic gardens at the Zendo. In addition to the overnight silence, we were also silent from 10:30 to noon and from 1:30 to 4:00. There is a half hour zazen at noon, followed by lunch. The next zazen is from 6 to 7, followed by dinner. The day ends with a final half hour zazen from 8:00 to 8:30. All the meditation sessions start five minutes before the specified time, so 6 AM zazen actually started at 5:55. I guess to make sure no one was late. Wednesday was a day of total silence until dinner time. Thursday was a free day, and many of us went into the nearest town, Kodaikanal. Sunday afternoon was also free time. I happened to be there for Palm Sunday, and we had a Palm Sunday service, complete with communion. I left Monday morning of Holy Week. There was a sesshin that week, with silence observed all day every day all week long and longer zazen sessions. In addition, there were some optional Christian services.
One would think that with all that silence there is little chance to get to know people, and at first I thought that was the case. But after a few days time I had met a number of people who I consider kindred spirits. I hope to keep in touch with them. I think being there strengthened my practice. I left with a peaceful heart, and an intention to come back some day. In the meantime, it appears there is a New Mexico connection. Barbara, a fellow Leo who turns 80 this year, lived in Santa Fe before moving to India. She'll be back for a wedding and we will get together in June. Ritish, the young man who works in the library, spent several years living in a number of places in the States, including Chicago and El Paso, and he speaks Spanish! He told me about a sangha affiliated with Fr. AMA Samy that has a space in San Lorenzo, not far from Silver City. In fact, I've been biking there quite a few times. And finally Karl, who is from Taos and has lived in India for the past 8 years, is flying back to the states in May. It turns out, on the same flight I'm on as far as London!
The drive from Auroville to Bodhi Zendo was long but beautiful. The first mountains I'd seen in India.
I had a lovely view of the mountains from the window in my room. This was my view as I sat at my desk.
The view as we did walking meditation. Hazy but beautiful.
The beautiful gardens that provided much of our food. Maintained by both volunteers and employees.
The lotus garden behind the buildings.
The grounds all around the Zendo were filled with wonderful surprises and great places to sit in silence.
At the entrance to Bodhi Zendo.
Outside the door to the meditation room.
A lovely place for a hike.
A lovely place to enjoy tea before we head back to the Zendo.