beggar bodh gaya

3 December 2004

All along the tourist circuit in northern India, the psychological manipulation by the touts, merchants and beggars is way over the top. So it gets harder and sadder to respond in a human way. Perfectly normal compassionate people find themselves staring blankly at people without limbs, flies caked on their eyes, endless children and mothers with "me baby me baby food fi me baby be baby".

The problem is that children are sold because they can make money as beggars. After they aren't worth anything, they get sold as prostitutes or to factories. Children work for other children. Its really hard, sometimes you want to even just buy them some food, but because of this more children get thrown out on the street, more people leave their villages and give up farming because there is the chance to earn more money begging. For a while. So its destabilizing normal life. But this is Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. Kerala is also poor, but they are well educated, the state is less corrupt so they actually built schools and hospitals with the money. Bihar is just really sad. People just give up, or if they get ahead, they don't look back.

There are some good charities here that I've been able to give money to. Root Institute of Wisdom and Maitreya Schools are both really good and are changing things.

Every time I walk anywhere I have children trailing me. Even at 7 years old, they scurry along beside me and flip the exact same script (without feeling or listening to the answers) : "what country are you from ? how long you been in india ? first time in bodh gaya ? rupee ? rupee ? pen ? "
I try "if i give you money, you don't bother to go to school. if you don't go to school you will stay on the streets your whole life. you don't want to do that." answer: "i have no money, need pens, need books" which of course he will just sell back to the store, get the money, and then never go to school. Or I have one little friend who bugs me every 2 hours asking me to go to his school and maybe donate money. The problem is, I don't trust anyone anymore. Its really sad. Its probably a scam. Not that he doesn't deserve to make a bit, and maybe it is legit. But I found what I know is a legit school and orphanage, and they will get a bigger amount.

Today I saw somebody with their eyes freshly gouged out. How does that happen ? Does he do it himself ? Shit, I gave him money. Most beggars never say thank you or even look at you. Many of them look angry if you do or don't give money. A well known tibettan buddhist teacher gives 100 Rs ($2.50) to hundreds of beggars every time he comes to town. They have to keep it a secret or the place goes nuts.

The other problem in Bodh Gaya is that every shop owner is over the top trying to sell things. I have tried to buy a Buddha here. All of them look grumpy. No doubt they are sick of it around here too. If I so much as walk past a table they guy goes nuts, trying to shove Buddhas into my hand, shoving Shivas into my hand, anything. "please sir please sir, what do you want ? do you like this ?". Its kind of hard to tell what I feel, I'm a bit overwhelmed by you shoving things into my hand. I walked into a shop and glanced around, then walked out. The guy looked in a real panic "what do you want ?"

All of this is actually good for the pilgrims. Being too tranquil, too assured, too pleased with your own emanicapation is a ceiling on your attainment. Brings you back to samsara. This is partly why Mahayana emphasizes that the only full enlightenment is to be a Bodhisattva, and to attain in the service of other beings. To gain enlightenment so that you can releive the suffering of all beings.

at least someone's making an honest living

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