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famous Bodhi Tree, where the Buddha attained enlightenment.
visit to Sarnath, where the author met His Holiness
the Dalai Lama.
In December 2006, I took the opportunity of a lifetime
to travel with my friend Kelsey to India, the birthplace
of Buddhism and Gandhian nonviolence. These are the two
strongest philosophical forces in my life, and I was tremendously
excited to see, feel, hear, taste and touch the physical
and cultural contexts from which these philosophies and
practices had emerged. Kelsey and I traveled across the
north of India for two weeks studying Buddhism in Sarnath,
Bodh Gaya and Kushinagara. The following two weeks, I
joined Global Exchange's "Gandhi Legacy Tour."
This tour was led by Arun Gandhi, who is both the founder
of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and the Mahatma's
grandson. Traveling to India woke me up to a rich land,
history and people, who have contributed immensely to
the world and our conceptualization of peace and nonviolence.
I can't wait to go back!
After Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) defeated his mara
(internal demons) and attained enlightenment, he was faced
with a new challenge: would he continue to sit or would
he teach others to free themselves from suffering? He
wisely chose to set out and teach others, and the small
town of Sarnath was where he delivered his first lecture
to his first five disciples. It was also in Sarnath where
I shook hands with the Dalai Lama! His Holiness currently
lives in Dharamsala, India, which has become an international
hub of Buddhist peace activity.
Seated in lotus position, Gautama attained enlightenment
underneath the bodhi tree, which is located in what is
now the town of Bodh Gaya. Today, Buddhists from across
the globe pilgrimage to sit, meditate, chant and pray
beneath its branches. I sat for hours and chanted the
Nichiren Buddhist mantra nam myoho renge kyo (meaning,
the teaching of the lotus flower of the wonderful law)
as I contemplated the message of the Buddha: to achieve
enlightenment one must battle and win against the mara
that haunts one's consciousness. Gandhi's brilliance was
to use this method of "fighting" to successfully
liberate India from the British in 1947.
I took a two-day train ride from Northern India to Mumbai
where the Gandhi Legacy Tour commenced. The first day
of our tour, we visited the Women's India Trust. This
organization is a co-operative that provides women with
empowering work opportunities, such as making linens,
paper products, handicrafts, and jams. The second day
of our trip, the group visited Mani Bhavan, where Gandhi
resided from 1917 to1934. His bedroom is still preserved,
and it was there that Martin Luther King Jr. spent the
night in 1959 and deepened in his commitment to nonviolence
and the civil rights movement in the U.S.
Every day, our group visited co-operatives and schools
where Indian men and women, inspired by Gandhian ideals
of self-improvement, empowerment and village uplift, work
to transform their lives and society. My group was composed
of activists involved in similar activities across the
U.S., Mexico, Nicaragua, Palestine and Switzerland. Sami
Awad, the founder of Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian nonprofit
that educates and trains people in nonviolence, was one
of the many illustrious members of my group. Awad had
come to India to deepen his own understanding of Gandhi's
teachings, and share his findings with other Palestinians
struggling against Israeli oppression.
I had been most excited about visiting the Satyagraha
Ashram, the legendary birthplace of Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha,
in 1930. This stop in the Legacy Tour was also the most
enlightening for me, as it gave me much insight into Gandhi's
daily life. The Mahatma worked very hard, starting his
days at 4 a.m. He dedicated his time to cleaning, cooking,
studying, meditating, writing for Indian Opinion and Harijan,
meeting with liberation leaders from across the globe
and taking care of his own physical health. Not only did
Gandhi work steadfastly, but he also led a simple material
life. Such a peaceful, frugal lifestyle was a true feat,
especially considering that the Satyagraha Ashram is on
the outskirts of Ahmedabad, a bustling city.
Raj Ghat, the site of Gandhi's cremation in Delhi, has
become a pilgrimage site for Gandhi students from all
over the world. Although Gandhi was the "Guru"
of the movement, it took the actions of ordinary people
across India for the liberation movement to succeed.
At the entrance of the site, a plaque commemorates Gandhi's
I would like to see India free and strong so that she
may offer herself as a willing and pure sacrifice for the
betterment of the world. The individual, being pure, sacrifices
himself for the family, the latter for the village, the
village for the district, the district for the province,
the province for the nation, the nation for all.
The final few days of my tour, I stayed with
Preeti, Maneesh, Yashua and Namya at their home in Gorgaon,
a suburb of Delhi. I met this family in California where
they had come to live for a year and practiced Buddhism
with my family. They moved back to India a few months before
my trip and invited me to stay with them. This exchange
was a beautiful manifestation of grassroots "globalization
from below." First, they served as citizen ambassadors
from India; then we met again during my tenure as a citizen
ambassador for the U.S. What a powerful experience!
Jerlina Love is a graduate student
in the African Diaspora Studies program at UC Berkeley
with a love for peace, vegetables and dancing.