Bicycles are my favourite mode of transport. They are less grouchy than camels, they don’t have minds of their own the way horses do, they are cheaper than cars, and they are speedier than going on foot. So it was a pleasure today to borrow a bike from my guest-house here in Bodhgaya, and to set out to explore the outer reaches of the town.
I started out with some trepidation, as it’s a long time since I’ve cycled anywhere like India. Back in the day, when I was living in Pakistan, I used to regularly cycle across Lahore to my job as a school teacher. After miles of cycling through the choking fumes, jostling horse-carts, rickshaws, motorbikes, buses and cars, I developed style of cycling that combined fearlessness, justified caution, and a degree of panache. Today as I got on my bike on Bodhgaya, I found that old knowledge coming flooding back.
Although it was a delight to be on two wheels (I’ll see if I can upload some photos tomorrow), it has to be said that the bike was not particularly great. There is a much-circulated—and somewhat contested—claim that the Buddhist term for suffering, dukkha, derives etymologically from roots meaning something like “an ill-fitting wheel”. By the I’d spent an hour or two getting used to the thunk! thunk! thunk! of my back wheel, I was beginning to think that—leaving questions of etymological accuracy to one side—there was something in this claim.
Fortunately this suffering hasn’t precluded a great deal of pleasure. It has been good, in particular, making connections with people from the Triratna Buddhist Order here in Bodhgaya. There are many people here with whom I have a great number of old friends in common, so it has been good to just cycle here and there, and meet with people, and fall into conversation over cups of tea, finding that there is much common ground, even for a no-longer-quite-Buddhist-practitioner like myself.
It’s increasingly apparent to me that one of the reasons I’ve come down here to Bodhgaya is that I’m keen to rethink my relationship with Buddhism once again. I practised Buddhism with the utmost seriousness for probably a decade and a half, and since then I still continued to do so in some kind of wonky and sporadic fashion. And there’s much in the various traditions of Buddhism that I feel has long ago taken root in me, and that is here to stay. Often—perhaps more often than not—Buddhism is what I think with. But these days I don’t really feel that I can claim that I am a Buddhist. As I cycle around Bodhgaya, there is both a kind of kinship with what is going on around me, and also the question in my mind: what it is all for?
Once, when I was a serious Buddhist, and not a wonky not-quite-Buddhist, this might have been an occasion for some kind of heightened existential drama; but these days I can’t really be bothered with all that. I don’t think that I have to really work all of this out, or that I have to come to a settled position (one reason that I gave up calling myself a Buddhist was because it felt as if that was a settled position, and I wanted to maintain my ability to slip across thresholds and cross borders). But I’m also inclined to think that it probably doesn’t really matter that much either way. So whilst I’m not really trying to work it all out, I’m intrigued nonetheless to trace the multiple threads here. And as I cycle round, the thunk! thunk! thunk! does not bother me as it once might. It’s just good to keep moving; with a measure of fearlessness, with a dose of justified caution, and, if possible (it is not always possible), with a degree of panache.