In March of this year, I went to Sarnath, India, where Shakyamuni Buddha gave teachings for the very first time. While I was there I had the incredible good fortune to have a private meeting with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. My meeting was limited to 3 minutes, so I had time for one question and one photo. In answer to my question, he essentially reminded me that the best way to use this precious human birth is to practice taming the mind through meditation, and to use that training to develop compassion for all sentient beings.
Continuing on last week’s theme of places to stay and eat in Sarnath, here is my personal favorite: Namo Buddha guesthouse. This is where I stay when I am here.
Run by German born Chris Teich and her husband Nehru, this is a little oasis of calm in dusty Sarnath. she only has 3 proper guest rooms, plus a grass hut on the roof and 2 tents if necessary. Don’t look for luxury here: think cold water bucket baths. But if you plan ahead you can use one of her solar heated hot water bags for a warm bucket bath, and if you wait til the midday sun is blazing, it actually works out well.
She bakes brown bread in a solar powered oven on the roof, and serves it up each morning with home-made jam from local fruits, fresh local peanut butter, and nice hot porridge. Occasionally she also serves a fabulous vegetarian lunch, so stop by to ask if that’s happening. It’s a great place to meet fellow pilgrims–I’ve made some life-long friends at this breakfast table.
Namo Buddha Paying Guest House
SA 10/81 Baraipur, Sarnath, Varanasi 221007
Mobile: 09 935 529 619
I’ll give this to you straight: don’t come to Sarnath looking for creature comforts. This is a sacred power spot, the place where the historical Buddha first turned the wheel of the Dharma, giving his first talk here at Deer Park. You come here for Dharma teachings, or pilgrimage.
My teacher Thrangu Rinpoche has a monastery here, and comes to give teachings every year. So, comfort or not, I come. Out of necessity, I’ve discovered a few secret spots– guesthouses and eateries–to nourish the body while absorbing the highest Vajrayana teachings to nourish the mind.
Here is the first installment in a series I’ll continue next week.
Shiva Guest House serves a nice thali if you let lovely Kalpana Sharma know a day beforehand. She also has several spacious guest rooms in her massive home that she rents for very reasonable fees. Don’t forget to check out her shop on the roof, where she sells handicrafts made by the disadvantaged girls she helps through her NGO. It’s also located a mere 4 minute walk from Vajra Vidya, so it’s very close to Rinpoche’s teachings, in case his guesthouse is full.
Contact details below.
Shiva Guest House
Sa.13/46 M-# Khajuhi, Sarnath, Varanasi 221007
Phone: +91 542 259 5760,
Mobile: 09 454 732 691
Blessed to be with a great being in this sacred place where the Buddha first taught the Dharma.
May all beings benefit
One day in my late thirties, it became painfully obvious that family life was not my path. While my girlfriends were busy starting families, I was increasingly obsessed with yoga. Until that point we had shared goals and dreams, but with no crumbs and spilled milk on the back seat of my car and no husband anywhere in sight, my life was taking a different direction from theirs. I realized I needed a new map. So I decided to pack up and move to South India for a year to study yoga.
In Mysore, I rented a big old house and a beat-up moped. Every morning at 5 am I saluted the sun and stood on my head. Every afternoon I hosted a wanton mix of students at my home for a class on yoga philosophy. I dodged cows and Tata trucks on my scooter and hung fresh garlands of jasmine over my doorway. Every evening, after meditation, I sat on my front step under the gently swaying palm trees and contemplated how bizarre, and how utterly right this choice had been.
I learned to relax that year. I became softer. I learned to breathe deeply and to keep a strict discipline. I finally learned to silence the constant self-doubt that was an heirloom from a chaotic family environment. I started to paint. I earned a teaching authorization that gave me confidence to pursue my passion further. Suddenly I could travel the world and make a decent living doing it.
When I stopped trying to fit myself into others’ versions of how I should my life, I relaxed profoundly. I followed my heart to what brings me happiness: yoga. And, while I was busy doing what I love, I found a community that shared my passion. I found my tribe. Rather than playing tag-a-long with my girlfriend’s families, I created my own.
Perhaps a spiritual journey is about making peace with our circumstances, even when life does not go the way we expect. I’ve learned that in order to respect myself, I need to honor my quirky choice of lifestyle.
That year in Mysore was one of the best years of my life. The yoga practices are part of my daily routine, and I still keep in touch with many of the friends I made there. And now I’ve got the right map to find my way home if ever I get lost.