She is a devout Muslim who offers Namaz five times a day and reads ‘aayats’ (verses) of the Quran every day as part of her religious practices. But that hasn’t stopped Caren Chawa, 30, from travelling almost 5,000 km, from Lebanon in West Asia to the south central Bihar Buddhist pilgrimage town of Bodh Gaya, for what has essentially been a voyage of self-discovery.
An architect by vocation, Chawa is in Bodh Gaya to participate in the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama-led Kalachakra Puja, a popular event on the Buddhist religious calendar that brings to the town his followers from across the world.
Chawa confesses listening to the spiritual discourse of the Dalai Lama during the 10-day Kalachakra puja, which began on January 2 this year, helps satiate her quest for knowledge and peace. “I experience a strange kind of relaxation here,” she confessed.
Yet, her participation in the Kalachakra puja has not been easy.
“Being a Muslim, I had to convince my parents and relatives to let me come to Bodh Gaya. My mother, an artist and father, a businessman in Beirut, convinced other members of my family to allow this journey,” she said.
Chawa, who is single and resident of Beirut, said her parents called her up every day and asked about her wellbeing.
To a question as to whether she would convert to Buddhism in future, she laughed and said, “Never. I am a staunch believer in Islam and Prophet Mohammed, who has given the Holy Quran to us.” She said, reiterating only her hunger for knowledge and love for peace had brought her to Bodh Gaya.
She described the Dalai Lama as a great human being who had been striving for restoration of peace in the world. “I regard him as a messenger of love, truth and peace. His preaching is an inspiration for me and I have learnt here to respect all the religions of the world,” she said.
Chawa said, during her stay at Bodh Gaya, she visited the Mahabodhi temple every day and watched in silence the Mahabodhi tree, the place where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. She has also gone through many texts of the Mahayana sect of Buddhism.
Chawa’s strands of gray hair belie her age, making her look slightly older than her 30 years. But her exposure to other cultures and religious practices seemed to have bestowed upon her a more cosmopolitan outlook in life.
It comes as no surprise that Chawa also plans to read the Gita, soon.
“I am told that the book offers answer to any or all questions on life. I will buy a copy of the holy book and go through it,” she promised.