Finding wisdom in India


courtesy of Brittany Miracle

Miracle and Turco with friends in India

Two Johnson State College students traveled to the foothills of India to immerse themselves in Buddhism over winter break, leaving the day after Christmas and earning 6 credits in the process.

Having no pre-departure group meetings, Marina Turco and Brittany Miracle embarked across the globe with 19 other New England students as part of a Wisdom Study Abroad class, taught by the organization’s founder and director, Castleton State University philosophy professor James Hagan.

“My friend Taylor Zamlowski went to India last year and when she got back, I was captivated by her stories and knew I had to go…and also convince Brittany [Miracle] to go,” said Turco.

Arriving in Kolkata, the group stayed at the Vedic Village, a hotel designed after ancient Bengali nature and healing. Surrounded by acres of farm and natural springs, the Vedic Village is almost spa-like. “The views and the biodiversity were amazing. I loved all the different plant life that surrounded these areas,” said Turco.

While in Kolkata, the class visited Jain and Hindu temples and explored various neighborhoods.

After spending two days in Kolkata, the 19 students and Hagan moved on to Delhi, meeting with their drivers, who took them into the foothills of the Himalayas.

Among the initial stops as they ascended into the mountains was Darjeeling, which is one of the most popular towns for tourists in the eastern Himalaya, known for its tea plantations. Once there, both students began learning about Buddhist philosophy, art, and culture.

“We spent a few days in Darjeerling, where we could see Mount Kanchenjunga, which is the third tallest mountain in the world,” said Miracle. “In Darjeerling I bought tea!”

While in Darjeeling, the class received a lecture on Buddhist meditation from the abbot of a large monastery.

In the afternoon, Hagan took his students to visit Darjeerling’s market where locals work and trade. The group then set off for Sikkim, which is a former Tibetan Buddhist Himalayan kingdom.

“The main point of the trip was to learn about culture and religion,” said Miracle. “We would go on long car drives through the foothills, go into temples, find a spot on the floor and we would begin to learn.”

Wisdom Tours also offers service as a trip highlight, and students went to a non-profit organization called Empower the Children, where they worked with Kolkata’s neediest children.

“We brought them toys and played with them,” said Miracle. “Just to have someone reach out to these kids and hold them is a lot more than what they get on a daily basis. It was more important to them than we could actually realize.”

On the ninth day of the trip, students traveled through the mountains to Enchey Gompa, home to more than 100 monks. Here they heard a lecture on Buddhist compassion from a senior nun.

Next was a trip to the small town of Kalimpong, which was once a very important valley for trade. After arriving at the Himalayan Hotel, once visited by the 13th Dalai Lama, they departed for the Thongsa monastery. The next morning they had art lessons on how to make sand mandalas, which concluded the trip.

For Miracle, the most important lesson learned in India reflected core teachings of Buddhism. “The teachings we received in India were unlike anything we would learn here in America,” she said. “I was being told things that had been instilled in me were impossible. For example, that suffering is not something that we have to go through, and that there are ways we can relieve suffering in our lives. In America we say, ‘That’s the way life is and we’re stuck with it.’

For Turco, the trip was also a profound experience. “How do you explain to someone what you experienced emotionally and spiritually during a trip like this?” she asked. “Coming back to Vermont though has made me more appreciative of my life. I look at my friends and family now and feel so much unconditional love for them…This trip has left me wanting to travel more, that’s for sure.”