By Kayla Daughtry, junior EC Scholar
Hello everyone! My name is Kayla Daughtry, and I am an EC Scholar who majors in neuroscience. Although my line of study focuses mainly on sciences and medicine, I am incredibly interested in world cultures and religions, but have felt that I don’t have the time to dedicate to such study. Luckily for me, the perfect opportunity arose, and I made the decision to travel to India for five weeks this summer with Dr. Derek Maher to do Religious Studies research about the Buddhist Holy Land.
Stepping out of the airport in New Delhi was the hugest culture (and heat) shock that I have ever experienced. Throughout my time in India, I was constantly in awe of the differences in infrastructure and quality of life in comparison to the United States. During the trip, we traveled to various sites that had importance in the Buddha’s life and teachings, including Sarnath, Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, Shravasti, and Nalanda. My research was done in the Spring semester in an honors seminar, and I specialized in the place of the Buddha’s death, Kushinagar.
It was such an interesting experience to perform extensive research and create a plan for documentation for a location that is unfathomable from halfway across the world. Once in Kushinagar, as well as at all of the other holy sites, we photographed, documented, and made observations about the monuments that were placed to commemorate the importance of the life of the Buddha. Dr. Maher taught lessons and told stories at each site that provided us with more information about Buddhism and all that occurred in the locations during the time of the Buddha and what has occurred afterward. It was so neat to walk in places where such an influential religious figure spent time and taught the foundations of what we now know as Buddhism. We even got to spend time meditating beneath the tree where the Buddha was enlightened! Our trip was part of the first steps of the research project and the hopes for the future are to create a huge database for religious studies students to utilize for highly accurate information about Buddhism and the life of the Buddha.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was meeting a female monk in Kushinagar (pictured left), who took me and two other students to the Buddhist temple for women that she is building all on her own. She expressed to us that her goal is to combat the oppression of women’s freedom in India, and has already accomplished a by being such a powerful presence and enforcing her own right to buy land, build, create, worship, and become ordained as a monk, which are all incredible feats, especially in such a patriarchal society. My eyes were truly opened on that day, to the extreme oppression that Indian women face in aspects of life that I take for granted.
In addition to Buddhist holy sites, our group visited New Delhi, Varanasi (the holy city on the Ganges River), Agra (where the Taj Mahal is located), and McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala which is positioned in the lesser Himalayas. In these places I learned of so many things, such as Hindu traditions and worship, ancient Mughal tradition, Tibetan medicine and arts, human rights activism for Tibetans and Tibetan refugees who have come to India, Tibetan occupation by China, and the crisis that the country faces in attempting to preserve its culture and humanity.
In just five short weeks, I have seen, learned, felt, and experienced a vastly different culture in all of its beauty and difficulty. These experiences have made me feel angry and sad at times, but also the most elated and joyful that I have even been in this lifetime. These emotions, paired with so much new knowledge, have widened my eyes and greatly impacted my view of the world, cleared my mind and allowed my heart to be entirely full of love, increased my sense of international activism, and given me an urge to go back to India as soon as I recover from the 24 hours that it took to travel back to the U.S.
I would like to sincerely thank the Honors College and EC Scholar program for providing me with this opportunity, the friends I made on the trip for keeping me sane, and Dr. Derek Maher for being such an amazing mentor and teaching me the most valuable lesson: everything is subject to change… the ability to adapt is what matters most.