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Our beloved Prajna Vihar School, Bodh Gaya, India. A photo collection from 2018 – 2022
In 1985, the Abbot of the Royal Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya kindly gave me permission to offer a meditation class for the poorest children in Bodh Gaya, Bihar India – the poorest state in India. Many of the children were beggars appealing to pilgrims worldwide for some rupees to feed themselves and their families.
I gave a 40-minute talk and guided meditation class to kids, girls and boys, aged from around four to early teens. Around 50 to 100 would come to the Thai Monastery at 8 am each morning during the two 10 days back-to-back insight meditation retreats in the Royal Thai Monastery every January unto the start of the new millennium.
Accompanied with Prama Bandhari, my translator, I sat in front of the beautiful Buddha statue in the temple with the kids sitting in front of me. Photo taken in January 1996.
Afterwards, we provided the youngsters with bananas, peanuts and biscuits.
I would tell them stories, sometimes with humour and theatrical gestures, with a moral or insight to the story. 15 years later, I told many of the same bedtime stories to my four grandchildren. Bhikkhu Anuruddha, a resident Indian monk in the Royal Thai Monastery and Prama from New Delhi were among the regular translators for my morning class.
Photo shows a meditation class in the Prajna (Sanskrit. Pragya) Vihar School. It means the School for a Wise Abiding.
Click on photo at bottom of page to see photos in the Prajna Vihar School album
In 1989, Bhikkhu Anuruddha asked me if I could ask some retreatants for some support for a class he wished to start. Space was found in a nearby Tibetan temple. Twenty children were initially enrolled. Ven. Anuruddha and Kabir Saxena from the Root Institute in Bodh Gaya cooperated to get the daily class underway. Rick Peterson, who attended the retreats, gave support to the classes, which later became two classrooms in a bamboo hut.
We developed an inter-religious school in Bodh Gaya welcoming children of all faiths. Our school honoured the spirit of India, namely a home for 3000 years for so many religions/spiritual practices. Bhikkhu Anuruddha continued to develop his Buddhist school in a village outside Bodh Gaya.
An elderly Canadian citizen, who attend one of my retreats in the monastery, kindly donated $1000.00 in 1991. We raised money in the West to buy land from a Tibetan monk a few minutes’ walk from the Thai Monastery. Then we built concrete classrooms offering a free education for the poorest of the poor. Burmese Bhante, Abbot of the Burmese Monastery, assisted us every step of the way including finding reliable and trustworthy builders and overseeing the construction.
In the initial years, we raised significant funds through the retreatants in the Thai Monastery. I invited the 100 plus retreatants to come on the afternoon at the end of the retreat to attend a dance performance of PV schoolchildren aged five to 15, at the time. At the end of the concert, I made an appeal for dana (donations) to support the fledgling school.
Eoin/Kerstin and others set up the Bodh Gaya Development Fund (BDF) in Brisbane, Australia. Felix in Switzerland, Eoin, Kerstin and myself became the primary fund raisers in the West. My mum (1920 – 2015) became the first person to give a monthly sum, via a standing bank order to the school. Judy, my sister in Brisbane, continues to give support to the school.
Our school committee invited Roman Catholic nuns to join the small teaching staff including one nun to be the head teacher.
Click on Photo at Foot of Blog
Click on photo at foot of blog to see 116 photos in Flickr album. Mostly taken between 2018-2022, the photographs in the Flickr album show our school children, teachers, classes, prize winning ceremonies, parent meetings, school committee members in Bodh Gaya and Gaya and international supporters of the school. You will see photos of Sr. Shobha, a Roman Catholic nun and head teacher, receiving thank-you gifts upon her retirement in November 2022 for her years of devoted service to the school. Our school is a family, a Sangha, within Bodh Gaya, within India and worldwide co-operating together.
Around year 2002 and 2004 Tom Riddle, a photographer, short filmmaker and I put together two short documentaries Purity and Poverty in Bodh Gaya – Tom provide the film and photos and I provided the commentary. A couple of years later, we made another short documentary on the school, Planting Seeds for Change, plus a 12-minute interview with Sr. Yogita, head teacher. Photos can speak louder than words and film can speak louder than photos. The two films became a major source of fundraising in the West. I spoke about the school at the end of the retreats in the West, made available a DVD and posted DVDs to friends, who would engage in fundraising for the school in their homes for family and friends.
I remember we asked our head teacher to set a ceiling of 250 children, most were born into the poorest of the poor families, as we were concerned about our capacity to raise so many small donations to build and run the school. In the 1990s and into the new millenium, I brought the annual donations to the school in a pouch under my t-shirt and three other layers, with a string around my neck, to ensure the wads of money did not get lost en route. The journey from Totnes to Bodh Gaya included the 17-hour train journey from New Delhi to Gaya. In those days, bank transfers to India from the West were in grave danger of falling down the ‘black hole.’
Bless the head teacher, she could not say No, I’m sorry to the tearful parents. Desperately poor, they wanted their children to have an opportunity in life denied to them. We provided a free education. Numbers of children every year went up. 25. 100. 250. 350. 500 and finally 600 children. We engaged in increased fundraising, including support from California, via a charity and support of Shaila and others. In three decades, the school has expanded to reach its full capacity.
From a small seed a large tree grows.
What does our school offer?
Our beloved free school for 600 youngsters from five to 17 years offers classical education, the arts, dance, mindfulness, environmental awareness, meditation, prayer and yoga.
Teachers come from different faiths. This is an inter-religious school providing education for Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians etc., and those with secular values.
Girls and boys develop the art of finding their voice, sharing knowledge with parents/friends and peaceful co-existence.
Through the dedication of the teachers, the pupils have won many prizes over the years.
Most of the children have come from some of the poorest families in Bodh Gaya.
A handful of children over the years, who were beggars, have gone onto university. Others have travelled overseas for study and work. Some work in business, work as tourist guides, manage hotels, teach English and appear in Bollywood movies. They earn money and support their families and speak to the new generation of pupils in the school. It is the largest school in Bodh Gaya and loved and respected over the decades.
Internationals on pilgrimage in Bodh Gaya regularly visit the school. If timing allows, they attend our dance concerts held in the grounds of the school. Kerstin, a former schoolteacher in Brisbane, has taken groups of people from Australia to visit the school to introduce them to the teachers, pupils and experience the school’s vision. On her visits, she shares her years of experience of teaching with the school and the children. The children are delighted to see so many visitors from the sub-continent of India and numerous countries. (See photo of Kerstin and friends in the school and a group of Japanese visitors).
We have a graffiti on a wall in the school. It says from Learning to Liberation. See Album for photo.
Prajna Vihar School is situated a few minutes’ walk from the Bodhi Tree of the Buddha’s enlightenment.
To Make a Donation to Prajna Vihar School
Here is the link to the school website. The school depends on donations. We have no major benefactors but continue through numerous modest donations.
Do make a donation. Every cent goes directly to support the running costs of the school. See website for further information.
For more information on the school history, go to https://www.pvschool.in/History.html
Information on Prajna Vihar School website about donations. https://www.pvschool.in/support.html
Click on Photo to see 116 photos.