chapter  11
17 Pages

Universal education and social transformation in

ByBodh Gaya

Introduction Most Buddhists consider Bodh Gaya as the “navel of the earth” and the most important pilgrimage site in the world. This sacred place is also located in Bihar-one of the most impoverished states in India. Encountering Bodh Gaya’s social, economic, and educational challenges, several Buddhist pilgrims have begun shifting their spiritual focus. Traditional forms of expressing devotion such as meditation, offerings and prayer have recently expanded to include social service, exemplified by pilgrim-sponsored schools, health clinics, and vocational training centers for the poverty-stricken areas which surround Bodh Gaya. The increase of Buddhist-operated NGOs in Bodh Gaya is partly a response to the notorious failures of the Bihar government to provide adequate education, food, medicine, clothing, and in some cases shelter (see Weiner et al. 2006; Ramagundam 2006; Giacomin 2000; Sainath 1996), and partly as a response to a Buddhist perception that education is a primary tool needed to lever personal, social, and spiritual transformation (Goss 2000; Thurman 1996; see also Learman 2005). Many foreign, socially engaged Buddhist pilgrims are interested not only in meditating and worshipping at Bodh Gaya’s celebrated shrines, but in establishing charitable organizations aimed at addressing local poverty, corruption, and religious intolerance, as well as natural and human-caused environmental degradation.1