What is a miracle? One definition is, “A miracle is an event not ascribable to human power or the laws of nature and consequently attributed to a supernatural, especially divine, agency. Such an event may be attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader.”
Are miracles just coincidences? I read The Celestine Prophecy years ago which convinced me that there are no such thing as coincidences and everything happens for a reason. Synchronicity can appear like a miracle… but I choose to believe in fairy dust and angels and lovely inexplicable miracles!
Here is what happened in Bodhgaya and you can decide for yourself if it was just a series of fortuitous coincidences or…
The first very unlikely “coincidence” was that my Californian friend Luis, who I rarely get to see, just so happened to be in the same tiny town in India at the same time as me.
When I arrived he asked if I would like to help with the work he and a team of volunteers were doing in Bodhgaya. Of course I said yes, thinking I would be helping distribute the 69,000 complete sets of the Sutra and Tantra to monks taking them back to their monasteries all over India. Well yes, I did help with that, a huge operation and it was great to see how happy it made the monks but on my second day I was casually asked if I would like to help with the water and flower offerings to the Buddha at the wonderful Mahabodhi temple. Would I ever! I almost bit his hand off!
There are 10,000 monks here and double that number of pilgrims and at a wild guess I would say that apart from individuals (everyone) placing little saucers of flower arrangements around the temple, perhaps less than 30 or so people a day got to help with the “official” daily offerings.
I was given a big basket full of sweet-scented red rose petals and my job, my honour, was to follow the people filling the hundreds of copper bowls with water all around the walls of the inner and outer temples and float my rose petals on top of each one. I felt like a bridesmaid scattering petals! And then as if that were not joy enough I accrued ‘merits’ which are the same as Jewish mitzvahs. I’ve got all the bases covered
Then the icing on the cake… I was invited to go in front of the High Lama, a Rinpoche no less (Rinpoche is an honorific title used in Tibetan Buddhism. It literally means “precious one,” and is used to describe Tibetan lamas and other high-ranking or respected teachers).
So I lined up with the selected people for this honour and passed by making the gesture of abeyance to this old and very venerable monk sitting on his throne and in a moment it was over. It was a little like standing outside Buckingham Palace, nose pressed against the railings and suddenly out of all the thousands on the Mall, you are asked if you would like to pop in and meet the Queen!
Another lesser lama who saw me with my basket gestured to me and wound a yellow silken cord round my wrist whilst chanting a blessing for me. So I guess everything is going to turn out OK! I was really very moved.
In fact lovely things happened throughout that day because Luis and his friendly group of volunteers were invited to a private viewing and to eat lunch at the Thai temple nearby and we were included too! It was beautiful, very peaceful with an incredible ornate “gompa” and a very fat golden Buddha statue.
Back to the miracles. Twice a day I would sit under the sacred Bodhi tree overcome that I was actually there and thinking how much Chockga, my teacher at our Buddhist centre in Leeds and Jane, our wonderful centre manager would also love to be there. They both deserve an amazing experience like this so much… but the next best thing was to take them each a precious leaf from the tree for their shrines. I wanted one too of course and one more for another friend who had just had a big birthday!
On our second day after my morning meditation I had stayed a while in the inner courtyard watching the endlessly fascinating parade of pilgrims walking around the stupa and keeping my eyes open for falling leaves when an Indian man near me caught one and then simply gave it to me! I was amazed and thrilled but later I got worried! What to do with that one precious leaf ? Can I keep i for myself?And if not, who gets it? Oh no! A miracle has turned into a dilemma! But I knew in my heart I couldn’t keep it just for me.
Our final day arrived and after I had finished meditating I realised that the chances of getting one more leaf, let alone three were slim to none. You can’t pick them or the tree would be bald! Every Buddhist would like one and I had watched the branches for hours! If a breeze rippled the leaves I waited hopefully and if a bird flew through the branches I held out my hands…. And some did fall but not one fell on me and everyone, even the most serene looking monks dived to get each falling leaf… So I prayed!
I closed my eyes and I asked for three leaves please. I finished my prayer and held out my cupped hands waiting for a leaf to drop should my prayer be answered. Two minutes later, a man walked from across the courtyard, put two in my hands and didn’t even wait for a thank you. Mission and miracle accomplished!
“Time to go” said my son. Five more minutes I pleaded, maybe I will get one for me too….. Then I saw the same man catch another and he just came and gave it to me.
Next stop the holy city of Varanasi!