The reality was a let down. There’s no other way to describe the phenomenon other than what it is: spiritual tourism. Which is somewhat of an oxymoron, especially in Buddhism. And also disheartening as it falls victim to the same scam-inducing practices as India’s other tourist markets. Scattered around places like Bodhgaya and Goa, flyers are shoved in your face, street peddlers try to convince you that they can take you to the best ashram in town (as if there’s a “best” way to do yoga). Some even promise enlightenment… for 10,000 Rupees a week. Now, I’m sure there are legitimate and profound retreats and ashrams in India. But the whole process felt cheap and inauthentic.
Children tried to sell marijuana around yoga retreat centers. And it was apparent why: the dreadlocked, tie-dyed, mid-life-crisis’ed Western clientele who streamed through enthusiastically buying from them told you all you needed to know about the scene. Two westerners I spoke to in Bodhgaya, where I considered sitting in on a retreat for a couple days, told me that they had never meditated before and were excited to learn it in India. When I mentioned that one could learn to meditate in 10 minutes at home to see if they actually liked it, they replied, “Yeah, but it’s so much cooler to do it in India.” My mind’s eye could just see The Buddha face-palming at that statement.