February 22, 2007

Huh? Monks Smoke?

'What?' my friend gasped, 'monks smoke!?' and almost trumbled over with shock that I thought I might have to call an ambulance.

Yes, it is true. Monks in South East Asia smoke like any other smokers. Like my friend, most Bhutanese would surely raise their eyebrows and question some aspects of Buddhism (that we believed).

'Why? How could...?' my friend was still dumbfounded.

We talked about it for a while. We got at nothing. It was too scholarly for us.

Yes, we know there are different sects of Buddhism. We claim ours is the Mahayana school of Buddhism and theirs is the Hinayana. They also claim that theirs is the Mahayana school of Buddhism while ours is the Hinayana. Whatever the fact, our friend was still ruing over the fact that monks smoke. It somehow seemed 'unethical' and unacceptable.

'Even some of our monks are said to be smoking...' I joked. This didn't please him.

How is smoking 'bad' or 'harmful' or 'unwholesome' from the Buddhist point of view? We will many answers. As a little boy, I was often admonished by my parents that smokers suffer in hell. A tobacco plant will grow from my body, its roots and branches shooting out from my eyes, nose, mouth, ears and any other orifice of my body. I was scared, as a child, but not anymore. Tobacco plants growing from my body after I die? I laugh. Other than the plant growing from my body in my hell life, no definite answer was provided why it is harmful.

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche says at the Deer Park Gathering (a Buddhism Discussion Forum)

Basically one should refrain from anything that harms other beings or oneself. When we talk about harming, we are talking about a very big subject. Depending on how sophisticated you are, your interpretation of harming will also change. Of course, if there is someone who would kill another person if he can't get a puff, I would rather just let him have a cigarette rather than kill. Now if the same person is a bit more sophisticated and can learn to calm down, he will not become a murderer if he misses one or two puffs. I might say to such a person:
"Maybe it is time to slow down with killing yourself."

Great answer! But those monks may not have heard about Khyentse Rinpoche or his answers and they may never read this blog. Will DJKR read this blog?

February 20, 2007

Oh my God!?

'What's the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism?' I remember reading somewhere. The answer's simple. Hinduism believes in the concept of God as omnipresent and omnipotent that He is the creator and destroyer of all things. Buddhism never believes in that concept. Buddhism does not believe in the concept of god, but rather holds the view that everything 'is' as a result of 'cause and effect.' The Karma, as the west is more familiar with.

But modern times see Buddhist, especially in Bhutan, use (or rather misuse) this concept of god and it has even crept into our intelligence. 'Oh God!' or such similiar phrases are issued from the mouth of young Bhutanese claiming to be Buddhist. Again 'God Bless you!' or 'May God be with you!' or 'May his/her soul rest in peace!' How on earth did this happen?

'Buddha is not a god...' we hear our Gurus say, 'but an enlightened being.' Buddha itself means 'the enlightened one' or 'the awakened one' though translators acknowledge that the 'real' meaning of 'Buddha' has no english equivalent term.

I asked a high school student recently how we should say, 'Oh my god' in our own language. He smiled and said, 'Lama Kheno!' or 'Kencho sum!' He didn't hide his pride nor his confidence. Now 'Lama Kheno' as far as I know is not what he says but rather 'Teacher, think of me!' and 'Kencho sum' is the triple gem. Do I need to write what triple gems are? And Buddhists do not believe in 'soul'. Buddhism is all about mind, mind and mind...

Whom should we blame? How did this happen? Should we blame the Christian Missionaries who came to Bhutan with Missionary Hospitals and Western Education? Is it because of our close proximaty to India and their culture?

February 10, 2007

Unsocratic dialogue between two Buddhist in a Buddhist Country (an excerpt)

Two men, one much younger than the other, are seated in a bar filled with cigarette smoke and other bar(ly) strentch. Having gulped a couple of shots, they are rather in a shaky state of being, but not their intelligence. Their subconscious wisdom being lubricated by their alcoholic fluid, they pursue on the toughest of tasks, to follow the trails of Buddha.

By the time we hear them, they are already in the middle of their dialogue.

Young Man: But I don't understand...I may be drunk, but I am still in sense, you see? What are you trying to tell me?
Elderly Man: I am not trying to tell you anything. (Long Pause). What was I saying? Um, ah! you see, Buddhism is great. Just great.
Young Man: Why is that? Every religion is great in their own rights. But don't get me wrong. I am a Buddhist myself...but I don't understand...
Elderly Man: What do you not understand?
Young Man: I mean, look, it is complicated, don't you think?
Elderly Man: (takes a sip of his drink) It depends how you look at it.
Young Man: What do you mean?
Elderly Man: If you see it as complicated, then it surely is complicated. If you see it as simple, well, it surely is simple.
Young Man: But, how many gods are there in Buddhism? Look at all those ferocious looking statues in the temple...what are they?
Elderly Man: First of all, Buddhist do not believe in the concept of god. They are not gods, these fiery statues you are referring to. They are deities...they are bodhisattvas...you won't understand it until you practice it fully.
Young Man: But why do the foreigners understand more Buddhism than us?
Elderly Man: Do you think they understand more than us?
Young Man: Yes, I mean, I don't even know four noble truth or the eight fold path, but they recite almost every text...
Elderly Man: Recitation and Knowing the real Dharma are totally different things.
Young Man: Okay...but I still don't get it...I don't understand Buddhism at all...nor any other religion. But Buddhism is peaceful...I think.
Elderly Man: (smiles) So, why do you think you don't understand Buddhism?
Young Man: I don't know...may be fed up of listening to our parents about this and that about Buddhism. And we don't study that much about Buddhism in school. There are lots of reference to other religions in the text books...but Buddhism? Hardly! And one more thing, I...

At this point, a group of men and women walk into the bar and make a lot of noise. The two men decides to leave promising each other to delve on the matter deeply and seriously the next time they meet.

February 9, 2007

Buddhism and the Art of Eating Meat

Meat is widely eaten in Bhutan. Yak meat, especially dried, seem to be the favorite among the Bhutanese meat lovers. Despite claiming to be the land of Buddha Dharma, meat is a necessary dish for the Bhutanese Buddhists.

‘If we did not kill the animal, it is okay to eat, right?’ said a lively young man, ordering a huge chunk of pork.

I am not so sure about that. But for whom was the animal killed in the first place if not for people like us?

Buddha said something like,

"I allow you fish and meat that are quite pure in three respects: if they are not seen, heard or suspected to have been killed on purpose for a monk. But, you should not knowingly make use of meat killed on purpose for you."

The Mahayana Buddhist holds the view that eating meat conflicted with the principles of compassion, harmlessness and non injury to living creatures. They asked how a bodhisattva, who wished to treat all living beings as though they were himself, would accept eating the flesh of any living being. They declared that men should feel affinity with all living beings, as if they were their own kin and refrain from eating meat.

But are we bodhisatvas? Are we monks? What makes us a Buddhist?

May you take the hint and be kind to animals.

February 8, 2007

Buddhism in Bhutan

Borrowed from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan, and Buddhists comprised about 70 percent of the population. Although originating from Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism in Bhutan differs significantly in its rituals, liturgy, and monastic organization. The state religion has long been supported financially by the government through annual subsidies to monasteries, shrines, monks, and nuns. In the modern era, support of the state religion during the reign of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck includes the manufacture of 10,000 gilded bronze images of the Buddha, publication of elegant calligraphied editions of the 108-volume Kangyur (Collection of the Words of the Buddha) and the 225-volume Tengyur (Collection of Commentaries), and the construction of numerous chorten (stupas) throughout the country. Guaranteed representation in the National Assembly and the Royal Advisory Council, Buddhists constitute the majority of society and are assured an influential voice in public policy.

February 6, 2007

Why am I a Buddhist?

Well, I must confess at the outset that I know little about Buddhism (didn’t I say this already in the last post?). But I am a Buddhist. Why? Because I am.

I was conceived as a Buddhist. Long before I was born, long before I knew I was going to be born, long before there was such thing as ‘me’, I was already earmarked to embrace the Buddhist way of life. Karma? Maybe. If you believe me. No ceremonies and rituals marked by entry into the Buddhist world. In fact, I was pushed out into the world as a Buddhist.

The first breath of air, the first sight I saw, the first sound I heard, the first taste I relished, the first touch I felt, were beaming with Buddhist extravagance. No body, not even I, sanctioned Buddhism into my life.

But why am I a Buddhist? How am I a Buddhist? How much do I know about Buddhism? Am I Buddhist enough to be called a Buddhist?

Deep inside, somewhere, if Buddha Sakya Muni knew this, He might be labouring a sense of loss and sympathy for me, a mere sentient being, roaming endlessly in the Samsara.

February 4, 2007

What is Buddhism?

Before we talk about Buddhism in Bhutan, let us first try to understand What this Buddhism is all about?

First of all, I am not a Rinpoche nor a Buddhist practisioner. I am just a common man, a sentient being, foreover swaying in the ocean of Samsara. There will be, definitely, lots of shortcomings (and misgivings) in what I will write. It is with a hope (and prayers too) that I will begin to understand this fasciniting legacy left behind by the Buddha.

Anyway, what is Buddhism?

Some people say it is a religion, a theocracy bounded by orthodoxical misgivings. Some say, it is a complex web of ritualistic nonsense. Some believe it to be like any other religion. Yet, some believe it is a philosophy, a way of life that aims at improving the livelihood of the people and the world he chooses to live in.

Whatever the definition, Buddhism has engrained itself into the lifestyle of almost every Bhutanese. The culture and tradition and the whole landscape of Bhutan is endowed with Buddhistness (excuse the term) of Buddhism. It is as if the whole nation is breathing a Buddhist fume!

Besides the exaggeration, Buddhism surely has found its place in the lives of almost every Bhutanese (am I repeating myself?).

Prayer flags, Monasteries, Stupas, Monks, Gomchens...are the only trademark of Bhutan's cultural wealth and it is a wealth of Buddhism.