In this pandemic era when people across the world are experiencing the devastating effects of the fatal virus Covid19, probably it is not necessary to explain how thwarting human ‘suffering’ is and how impermanent human life is.

The virus has reiterated the basic truths of life, viz. impermanence, suffering, and emptiness that the Buddha said nearly 2600 years ago.

When this author was tested Covid positive last month and was battling with the spells of the virus, she wrote to the chief monk of Bodh Gaya seeking metta (loving-kindness) and karuna (compassion) from the land where the Buddha found the cause and the way out of suffering.

In his reply, Bhante wrote, with due homage to the Samyak Sambuddha, I wish you rapid recovery from Covid-19 and bless you abundantly with health, happiness and peace.

The chief monk is none other than Dr. Chalinda Bhante, a Theravada Tai monk of Assam root. Born on November 9, 1965, Dr. Chalinda spent his early childhood days in Meghalaya, a neighbour state of Assam. His father was Late Budhin Shyam and his mother Late Nang A Shyam. Though they basically hailed from Pothar Shyam Gaon of Jorhat district of Assam, his father was posted in Meghalaya when he was born.

He had his school education at Titabor Chariali and higher studies at Nandanath Saikia College. A spiritually gifted child as he was, he pursued his Dhamma practice alongside his formal education from his childhood days. In 1977, when he was hardly 12, he was ordained as Shamnera (lower ordination).

Later in 1989, he got his higher ordination (Bhikkhu) under the preceptorship of U. Shasana Mahasthavira. Apart from his preceptor, the Dhamma Gurus who helped to shape his spiritual life were Jnanasila Mahasthavira, Sasanavangsa Mahasthavira, Amita Nanda Mahasthavira, and Vimalankura Mahasthavira.

Soon after attaining Bhikkhuhood, he took the charge of the vihar of his native village Pothar Shyam Gaon. Then, for a monastic, Dhamma practice progresses in ascending order. In 1994, he landed at Nalanda to pursue his Master’s at Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, a great seat of Buddhist education. And this marks the onset of his journey towards the Holy place of Enlightenment, Bodh Gaya.

At Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, he studied Pali, the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism, and the language of the Pali Canon or Tripitaka. His quest for in-depth knowledge in Buddhism and its relevance to mainland philosophy drove him to pursue his Ph.D. degree. He worked on the topic of the status of Buddhism in Indian Philosophy under the supervision of Prof. (Dr.) Vishwajit Kumar, a Pali expert as well as the Head of the Department of Pali at Nava Nalanda Mahavihara and awarded the degree in 2010.

The year 2001 was a landmark in Dr. Chalinda’s Dhamma career. In that year, he got the opportunity to serve Bodh Gaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. His humbleness, honesty, sincerity, determination, and competency to undertake Dhamma responsibility impressed the running committee and the inmates of the holy place.

In 2007, Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee entrusted him with the charge of Chief Bhikkhu of Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, the heartland of Buddhism.

Appreciating his modesty, Prof. Vishwajit Kumar told this author that Chalinda Bhante is one of the humblest monks I have ever met. He is very liberal and free from sectarian meanness. He has equal regard for all faiths and a deep love for all people.

He possesses all the characteristics of a traditional Buddhist monk. He is a true representative of a devout Buddhist monk who abides by the original teachings of the Buddha.

Chalinda Bhante is one of the ten main monks of the Mahabodhi Temple. Apart from them, Bodh Gaya houses nearly 3-4 hundred monks from different parts of the globe.

Regarding his experience, sweet or sour, at Bodh Gaya, Bhante shared, it is a peace destination for the peace-lovers. Every year, nearly ten lakh pilgrims visit this place. For the Buddhists, it is a very important place and they should visit and pay homage to this Land of Enlightenment at least once in their lifetime.

Then, with a sigh, he said, 2013 was a dark year for the Buddhist world! In that year, extremists exploded a series of ten bombs in and around the Mahabodhi Temple complex leaving a few monks injured.

In the same year, however, to the bliss of the temple inmates, Royal Thai and the devotees of Thailand donated 289 kg gold for the renovation of the Mahabodhi temple crown.

A soft-spoken monk Dr. Chalinda is loved by his fellows and devotees across the world. Well-versed in many languages, he talks sincerely to the devotees in their mother tongues. During her visit to Bodh Gaya, this author found him speaking in the Thai language with the devotees from Thailand who were offering him their home-grown fruits with great devotion.

Buddha Purnima, the day on which the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and left his mortal body, is the most important event of Bodh Gaya. Generally, this Thrice Blessed Day is commemorated with an elaborate festival amidst thousands of devotees, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, lays and monastics alike in the temple premises.

But this year, Chalinda Bhante said, they would celebrate the event by following Covid-protocols issued by Bihar Government. Then, at the request of the International Buddhist Confederation, live streams of the celebration would be made available on the Facebook page of Bodhgaya Temple from 8-9 AM on May 26. This would help the devotees across the world to pay homage from home in real-time and thus earn merit on this auspicious day.

Through this propitious occasion, Bhante said, he would send metta (loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkha (equanimity) to all the beings on earth including the Covid-affects and pandemic-hit people.

Ramala Sarma

Ramala Sarma is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy in Nowgong College. She can be reached at: ramalasarma@gmail.com