The travel guides and Delhi maps all show the Buddha Jayanti Park, and I’d read something about it, that it was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama, that it was in recognition of Buddhism’s role in Indian history. But I’d never seen anyone refer to actually going to it. When I decided to go, I flagged down an autorickshaw, but he had never heard of it, and even though I showed it to him on the map, he ended up declining my fare. The next driver seemed to have a possible flash of recognition at “Buddha park,” and I showed him the map and he started going… to a service center, where he took my map with him so that he could get directions to it.
Eventually, I found myself riding through a forest on a curvy road, through sparse traffic, when I saw a sign above the retaining wall: “BUDHA JYANTI COMMORATIVE PARK.” “Here you are,” he said with some relief. Just beyond the gate there was a parking area, and to the side, there was an area where the ground was sunk a little below street level, five ragged tents stood, their residents sitting on the gravel outside. I walked toward the official entrance to the park.
I started walking on a path that cut through a grassy park. Some couples and families were having picnics on the green, or the “brown” in places that the grass had dried up. As parks go, it was pleasant but shabby, generally consistent with Indian standards, and all in all nothing special. But I started off enjoying the stroll, finding a sign that pointed down a path to “BUDDH STATUE.” Following the path, I eventually got to a few more signs pointing the way to the statue. And then there was an unmarked intersection, but the left path led to a dead end and a pile of dirt. A small concrete footbridge went over an emptied pool. Another sign pointed the way to the statue.
I began to get exasperated. I’d long passed the domain of the picnicking couples, and now was alone, no one else in sight. I made up a joke imagining a Samuel Beckett Commemorative Park, full of signs promising that the statue of Godot was surely just around the corner. I began to get exhausted; I didn’t expect the walk to be that long.
I remembered a story from Korea, that a park near one of the temples promised the world’s most beautiful Buddha at the end of a footpath up a mountain. When visitors got to the top of the mountain, they were greeted with a breathtaking view of the valley below, sweet green trees and a gentle river, and a plaque advising them that if they couldn’t see the Buddha there, they should go back to the temple and meditate more.
Perhaps Buddha Jayanti Park helps us see the opposite. It’s easy to be inspired by love of Buddha and compassion for the world when a gentle mountain breeze blows across your face, songbirds make a peaceful tune, and you see the valley from afar. That’s not the Buddha that really needs practice to see. It takes practice to see Delhi’s park as a manifestation of the Buddha, the chattering of crows, the cow pie that’s decaying on the walkway, the empty pools, the unfinished construction, the stray dogs fucking on the lawn, and all in the baking heat of Delhi August, and to remember the gatha, “May I hear all sounds as the voice of the Buddha.” The suffering in the world is not usually caused by people looking at beautiful hillsides. The suffering is caused when we can’t see what is–Detroit to Delhi, so cold it kills you to so hot it kills you–as the Buddha speaking to us.