Outside the Gate, and In: Audio, Bodh Gaya, India

I’ve just returned to Bhutan from two weeks in Bodh Gaya, the home of the Bodhi tree, under which Siddartha Gautama became the Buddha, the Awake One.  Hundreds of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims come to the temple every year to pray, to prostrate, to chant, to offer, to sit, and to circumambulate the temple. I flew on a lovely flight over the Himalayas–Everest, Annapurna, Jhomolhari, sea of mountainous snows and clouds–on a plane filled with Bhutanese pilgrims. It feels very safe on a plane murmuring with chanted prayers and the quiet whirr of hand held prayer wheels.

I went for a ten day silent Vipassana meditation retreat, and I was under the hugely mistaken thought that going to Bodh Gaya might be a gentle introduction to India, a way of dipping my toes in. Nope. Thrown in, and struggling to swim.

The noise was the most difficult thing. I could only conclude, that either Indians love noise, or, they are all so deaf they have no idea. Aside from all the daily living noises which included endless horns (required for driving), children, dogs, throat retching and hawking (especially out the door of the meditation hall), coughing (in the hall), street sellers, and fireworks, there was amplified noise: weddings, music, announcements, chanting, ceremonies, all amplified to reach anyone within a kilometer, if not two. At times it was so loud that the windows in the meditation hall vibrated and some of us wore ear plugs during meditation. And, there was no thought of considering that people might enjoy sleeping. One movie, or something, was being broadcast until 2 am. Occasionally during meditation, I would watch how the sound would affect my body: stinging pinging shrapnel of sound. And, once in awhile, there would be some beautiful music or chanting, and we would all find such relief in it. With all the daily power outages, I prayed that the amplifiers’ power would be cut, but it never was. They must have relied on diesel generators (more noise.)

I was terribly relieved to be back home in Bhutan, complete with its own night time dog orchestras and honking, but deliciously quiet in comparison.

This is a little video I made on my camera looking out the gate of the Thai Temple (where I was on retreat.) The video is a little jerky, but the sound is pretty accurate, and normal conditions out on the street.

India has nice sounds as well. I made these recordings on my no-sim-card Iphone, so you will probably need to turn up your volume. Then imagine the volume much much higher.

Just some average noise, 70-80 decibels or so:

India-Live at the meditation hall

Birds, also loud:

India-Thai Temple-Birds

Thai Temple chanting, amplified and not:

India-Thai Temple 1

India-Thai Temple 4

At the Mahabodhi Temple at the Bodhi Tree, there seemed to be two different teachings going on at the same time, with hundreds of monks chanting at each, almost side by side. The first is one teaching, the second and third, the other; one short, one longer for those who like it. You can hear all the other things going on as well: horns, people shuffling, etc.

India-Mahabodhi Temple 1

India-Mahabodhi Temple 2

India-Mahabodhi Temple 3

The meditation teachings: heart opening, and silence.

(And many thanks to friends Leanne and Suki who assisted in the audio file conversion method so I could post it here.)


8 thoughts on “Outside the Gate, and In: Audio, Bodh Gaya, India

  1. Wonderful contrast in movement and sound between the two vimeos. The prayer flags one is gorgeous.
    Also beautiful writing,most especially about flying over the Himalayas.
    Was totally unaware of the noise dimension of India til now.

  2. Thank you for changing my frame of reference. I have been listening to 4 yr old Luke sing the Star Wars theme song and do his evil laugh all morning. But that is relatively quiet! Meditation mus be a necessity in India. Thank you for sharing:)

  3. very cool, my darling. I listened to every one of your soundscapes – amazing to be that intimate with your experience there. I wish I could have lived the retreat with you. And sorry, but I couldn’t help but picture you being played by Julia Roberts.

  4. These brought back so many memories for me. I sat a retreat at the Thai Temple during Saraswati Puja in 1990. Saraswati Puja is the festival honoring the goddess of music, but as practiced, it seemed like she is the goddess of the loudspeaker. They set up shrines and honored her with loud, distorted music 24/7. What a time to go for one of my first retreats.

    But my experience was dwarfed by yours, Jennifer. Bodhgaya has grown up so much since I was there. At that time there were rice fields on two sides of the the Thai Temple. From your video it looks like it’s just part of any dirty, noisy, Indian city (with lots of monks added for local color).

    Even though I haven’t met you, I’m having a wonderful time following your travels. Thanks!

    (Inger Marie and Jared’s friend)

    • Glad to hear you are enjoying the blog. I assume you sat the same vipassana retreat as I did, as it has been running at least 30 years. There were rice paddies up the road, but the Thai Temple now sits in the midst of guest houses and other temples. Thanks for posting a comment.

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