UK soldiers to be sent to meditate at Buddha tree
Over the next 12 months more than 4,000 war-weary British army soldiers will seek to de-stress by meditating under the holy tree in eastern India where Buddha achieved enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago.
The troops, who are all practising Buddhists, will start arriving at Bodh Gaya in Bihar state in January. They will come in batches of 100 to 150, and will spend a week at Buddhism’s holiest spot.
The soldiers have all had extended battle engagements in Iraq, Afghanistan or both.
State officials said the soldiers, some of whom reportedly have post-traumatic stress disorder, would also spend a day in nearby Sarnath, the deer park where Buddha first preached his Dharma.
“The visit to Bodh Gaya and Sarnath is aimed at providing the British troops peace after their experiences on the battleground,” Bihar tourism minister Sunil Kumar Pintu, who organised the visit, told the Mail Today newspaper.
Mr Pintu said the state tourism department had reached an agreement with the British army through an international travel agent at the World Tourism Market in London last month.
It was Bihar state’s first time at the tourism fair, and it was there that British army officials contacted state officials with their request.
The descendant of the sacred ficus religiosa “Bodhi” tree, under which Buddha attained enlightenment after 49 days of meditation, is about 115 years old.
It is located behind the ancient Mahabodhi shrine.
The sixth-generation tree is sacred to Buddhists, who visit it on pilgrimage from around the world.