Bashka Jacobs participated in some of Goenkaji’s earliest courses in India. She lives in Ohio, where she still meditates, and also cooks and gardens. Her muse, she says is “The Crow.” The “Akashic records” referred to in the poem are a body of mystical knowledge used by Hindu astrologers to predict the future.

long ago (forty years?)
in the empty
dusty town of Bodh Gaya
in the state of Bihar in India
the Burmese Vihara
opened its doors
for U S.N. Goenka
the Burmese Vipassana

to hand down the teaching
of Gotama by way
of meditation

the technique was simple enough
started by watching your breath
and then taking a mental broom
and cleaning your inner being
the way one cleans their teeth
in the morning
the large broom made of
thousands of straw hairs
of consciousness as we learned
to sweep our body
fresh and clean every morning
by remembering
everything changes
nothing stays the same

recognizing that our lives
at any moment can disappear
and the only way to
be ready for this departure
is to know that you
are on a continuum that
does not last forever
and that
in our meanderings
the nature of our journey
is to remain clear
with a heart of loving-kindness
not to tenaciously hold on to anything
our anger, our distress, our idea of
how things ought to be,
to remember that it all passes
our reflections
our musings
our expectations
our art

we gathered some slept on the balcony
in sleeping bags
we called the participants
“snails” in those days
their lives in backpacks
as they crisscrossed India
adventuring into unknown places
the great adventure of the 70s
along with heads of Acid
and arms full of who knows what
but eyes towards the Doors of Perception

they came from all over
the Greek girls
the Danish boys
the Germans, the Irish, the
English, the French
each with backpacks
a camel would carry

they would stake out
their place on the
unrelenting wooden floor
and make it home
a rag of color here
a water bottle
with a view of the old trees
and the gecko singing
in the background

the day would begin
and end with meditation
and honing the techniques
interspersed with
wisdom from Gotama
who landed in this same place
and sat under the now
huge spreading Bodhi tree
and understood
that the nature of life
is about change
and learning to let go
it’s about this precious gift
of human life where
we can learn to expand
ourselves for the benefit of
all beings

this was not a religion
and never meant to be
it carried no deities or gods
there was no hierarchy
just the simple wisdom
of waking up

every morning at five
not too early for a crow
I rang the gong
three times in all
a large brass one
that continued to sing
after I swung at it
with the mallet

then from bedroll to bedroll
I woke everyone
and they cursed at me
a terrible way to learn different
and to this
day I remember some of the Greek
the German, the Slovakian
the Swedish
curses and murmurs
of a sleeping soul
coming into wakefulness
when the body prefers
to sleep

we would gather together in the great hall
while the cooks below
prepared the food for the day
we would sit in silence
blankets around us
listening to the morning chant
then the quiet of our
own reflections
the silence that led some to sleep
and others to become

the smells of ghee would curl
through the boards
the geckos would sing
large spiders would
race across the windows
the sounds from the vendors
waking up
the pumping of water
the laughter of the servants
the low bellow of the buffalo
being milked
the children playing in the courtyard
the rickshaw drivers’
wobbly wheels
on the stones
the monks swathed in orange robes
making their rounds
barefoot with bowls outstretched
and the trees held the
crows and more mellifluous birds
by noon the streets were filled
as were our stomachs

a local bearded astrologer
sat on his haunches
ready to explain
your life
and check the Akashic records
for you

many of the travelers had been
to the Ganges
had bathed in the Holy River
despite the dead cows
and worshiped there
many Indians believing that
a drop on the tongue
assured salvation

now they were here in Bodh Gaya
leaving the colorful
God-filled world of the Hindus
for the simplicity
of this teaching

They had seen for themselves
the filth of the streets
washed into the rivers
and yet
how people drank it
surely this was a miracle

and now this teaching
if the seed could take hold
was perhaps a miracle as well
that could change their lives
the teaching of loving-kindness
the teaching of change
of seeing others
as yourself

so the journey began
draped with dawn
in the small quiet town
where monks roamed
the Laotians
all wearing different styles
of robes
all having put their cultural
stamp on the words of
the Buddha
they shuffled from the great
ancient temple
to the lone standing tree
and sat

hoping for that quiet moment
of the soul

as we all did.