Bodh Gaya Root Institute: At the Heart of Mahayana Compassion

- through Sophie Solere

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In Bodhgaya, an important place of Buddhist pilgrimage where all currents are represented, monasteries and institutes abound. Among them, the Root Institute, founded in 1984 by Lama Thubten Yeshe, defends the Mahayana tradition, where "compassion in action" is at the heart of Buddhist practice.

On a small dirt track through fields, two kilometers from the hustle and bustle of the Maha Bodhi temple housing the tree under which the Buddha reached awakening, a low-key portal points to the Root Institute. We enter it by a long flowery alley, we walk by reading messages from the Buddha inscribed on the walls extolling the virtues of compassion, then we pass in front of the charity clinic of the center before arriving at the heart of this place with the appearance of a monastery, where sits a large statue of Buddha, a stupa and a prayer wheel.

There, in her burgundy gown, Thubten Dekyong, the nun in charge of the centre, receives us. As it does every day for visitors wishing to stay here, masters and monastics who come to teach the Dharma, and practitioners who receive their transmissions. “Here, we defend the Mahayana tradition as its founder, the Lama Yeshe, and now Zopa Rinpoche, who succeeds him, wished. He is the spiritual leader of the center,” she explains. “Theoretical teaching is fundamental, but even more so the practice of compassion, which in our tradition is the key element for accessing wisdom. Moreover, the Root Institute has the subtitle "For the Cultivation of Wisdom". Freedom from suffering and its causes requires a deep motivation to act for the good of all living beings.

“Prostrations, it detoxifies the mind! »

A little further on, I meet Tom Kabel, a retired Dutchman who has practiced Buddhism since 1985. "I am very satisfied with what I am learning, it gives me wings to go much deeper into the study and practice of Mahayana. I feel that this is my way,” he acknowledges. In Rotterdam, he helps Syrian refugees and attends the Maîtreya center (member of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, FPMT, founded by the Root Institute). Tomorrow, with Kim, 37, a Scottish woman who will stay here for a year, he will start a teaching devoted to compassion. “I gave a leave of absence at the university where I teach psychology. Compassion develops patience in me and it helps me to manage my students better. I can sometimes lose control so easily! exclaims the young woman, adding that the practice that soothes her mind the most is prostration. “It detoxifies the mind! Coming to meditation in 2017, she made a Buddhist pilgrimage organized by the FPMT in Bihar. “I had a click. I wanted to go deeper into Buddhism and actually practice.” What she finds here. Volunteers are always welcome to participate in the life and maintenance of the center. Some Westerners help in the kitchen, others give yoga classes. Still others help out at the clinic or at school.

The Shakyamuni Buddha Clinic

Aurélie Ravaud, Lyonnaise and acupuncturist, is a volunteer at the Shakyamunni Buddha clinic for two months. It is 8 am, she joins the day's team to participate in the prayer which reminds us of the importance of commitment and motivation to act for the good of beings. In front of the doors, old people and mothers with their newborn babies in their arms are already waiting for the opening. "Sometimes they come from very far away and have taken a night's train to benefit from good free treatment", points out the young thirty-year-old, full of enthusiasm. Buddhist? "I don't consider myself a Buddhist just because I'm human with values," she smiles. “For me, giving and doing good to my patients is my greatest satisfaction. When I see them get better and smile at me, it's a huge gift. She works under the authority of Sanju, one of the three homeopathic doctors in charge of the clinic. “We are in the tradition of Tibetan medicine and only use homeopathy and plants. The results are so convincing that we are attracting more and more people. » Physiotherapy, cerebrovascular diseases, dental clinic, AIDS support… « We receive 2200 people every month and we treat hundreds of others daily in remote villages with our mobile clinic ».

Every action in this center is an example of “compassion in action”, “the common thread of Mahayana as promoted by the Root Institute. » Thubten Dekyong

Another equally important aspect is education. “We have programs dedicated to adolescent girls every Wednesday and we train villagers in the basics of health and hygiene so that in their villages they can inform and enable people to access care,” continues Sanju, writing a prescription on his desk at the entrance to the clinic. Inside the property, Buddhist prayers translated into the local language are broadcast through loudspeakers throughout the day. Wink to the Dharma!

The school of benevolence

In their burgundy and white uniform, wisely seated cross-legged in the school's covered hall where a large Buddhist altar is installed, 306 children from kindergarten to high school come to this school opened by the Root Institute in 2012 and called Maitreya (benevolence in Sanskrit). “We teach them the curriculum, but more importantly, values ​​like honesty, compassion and kindness, and the sixteen great principles as presented in the Great Mahayana Vehicle. This is the heart of the philosophy of Buddha Maitreya: to give children the tools so that their lives have meaning, "says Pema Tsering, a young thirty-year-old Nepalese, director of the school which employs sixteen teachers, mostly Buddhists. . Each day begins the same way: sport, meditation on the breath and then a brief teaching on a Buddhist concept.

This morning, one of the teachers takes the microphone: “Be kind to others and imagine that you are spreading your love and kindness all around you. Visualize people happy to receive your kindness and feel the warmth it brings to your heart. Showing a photo of the school with the Dalai Lama who comes there almost every year and directs the spiritual education, Pema specifies: "These teachings are in no way religion, but simply an ethic, a morality which will help these children to build their lives. Especially since many come from the most disadvantaged Hindu caste, the Dalits, some of whom had to convert to Buddhism to escape discrimination.

Every action in this center is an example of "compassion in action", "the common thread of Mahayana as promoted by the Root Institute", concludes Thubten Dekyong.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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