As you cross the huge dry river-bed, you are told that around three thousand years ago Siddhartha Gautama, who later will become Buddha, took those same steps.
Despite the fact that locals use this dusty river-bed as a toilet throughout dry season, hence the imagery of such a holy trail becomes truly disturbed, it is not hard to imagine why Siddharta chose these surroundings to meditate in and, eventually, reach enlightenment: it’s a remote and isolated spot, hot as India can be in summer, with sinuous hills filled with caves but with a remarkable fertility only intuited by the size of the now empty toilet-river-bed. The perfect combination between abundance and scarcity, tranquility and agitation. The right place to realise the Middle Way.
In the Siddhartha School, although Pramod, the secretary, describes child begging in contrast to the most known spiritual explanation of Bodhgaya, we were glad to locate some of the essence of Buddha’s Middle Way. They have little resources, but their task is enormous. Kids and teachers are humble alike, but children’s chances of a future with wider opportunities are far more achievable by being at the school.
They provide a holistic approach in their education; mixing boys and girls (a rare fact in India), denying any caste or social distinction and avoiding any particular religious approach. It is a secular organisation bond in one of the most sacred places of Buddhism.
It’s surprising to see, not far from this school, the huge and well resourced temples spread throughout the town: Tibetan, Sri Lankan, Japanese, Tai,… all built to accommodate the thousands of Buddhist monks and Pilgrims that everyday arrive to visit and pray under the same tree under which Buddha reached enlightenment. They have great facilities, big shiny halls, meditation rooms and clean open bedrooms. They serve good food and provide endless services for their visitor’s commodity. Even monks don’t have to pay to stay…
In the same very place, children from the village wander around the sacred place, begging for money. But thanks to people like Pramod, the Buddha Educational Foundation, and the teachers of the school – who earn a 20% of what a public school teacher does- some of these kids will no longer have to beg in their own streets. They will have an education and they will be resourceful enough to earn their own living.
By the way, we were taken to the school by two former students. In their spare time, they chat to foreigners and invite them to visit their school. You could become their English teacher for a day… or two or three months if you like!, they tell you. They show you everything and then, if you like, you can donate something for the school. Those teenagers were so thankful for having had the opportunity to study and that was the their way of giving back to say thanks. They were already profiting from what they had learnt.
If you want to visit or contact the school…
Mr. Pramod Mishra (Secretary)
Siddhartha Free Educational Foundation Society
Under Buddha Educational Foundation Society
Bakrour, Bodhgaya, Gaya (Bihar) India CP 824231
Phone no: +91 9934054899