Am I a Practicing Buddhist?
One of my readers asked me this: “By the way, are you a practicing Buddhist? You have a number of Buddhist precepts in this piece.” This was in reference to my last post titled “Happy New Year”.
What a question! In all frankness, I do not know if I am a practicing Buddhist. Certainly, I am borne of Buddhist parentage and thus, I ought to have a birth right to stake my claim to being a Buddhist - by birth, if not by practice or faith.
My father, who is nearing 80, sits outside his home every morning and evening - almost five hours of his 14 waking hours - every day - bobbing his grey-haired head backward and forward - howling his prayers at the top of his voice as if the Gods in heaven were deaf. It is his belief that the Kathang Dueba prayer book that he has been reciting for the past four decades will bless all the sentient beings. Does that make him a practicing Buddhist?
I have a cousin whose practice of Buddhism takes her to places such as Dorjeden and Tso-Pema and to every other location where Moenlam Chenmo and Wang and Loong are conducted by lamas of the highest merit and lineage. Her offering of Tshog to Koencho Sum is so lavish and so repetitive, that I couldn’t help but caution her one time that at the rate she was going, all the Gods in heaven would one day end up suffering diabetes! Her zealotry keeps her away from her home and her family and her responsibilities for the better part of a year. This has been going on for the past 2-3 decades, with devastating consequences. Does that make her a practicing Buddhist?
My late grandmother never failed to attend a Wang or a Loong. At close to 100 years, she braved scorching sun and torrential rain, swirling dust and filth and stinking human excreta, to hear a Loong being recited over the Waarshang - in Choekey or Sanskrit. It did not matter to her that she couldn’t understand a word of what was being blasted over the PA system. She sat, in great reverence with folded hands wrapped with her rosary, among few hundred other like minded zealots who also believed, like my grandmother did, that there is merit in suffering the harship and toil, rather than in understanding and making sense of what was being said by the high lama. Does that make her a practicing Buddhist?
What is currently in vogue in Thimphu and Paro is: visiting the dead body of HE Dungtse Rinpoche that lies in state in Paro and, in their words, getting blessed. A large number of my friends are incredulous when I tell them that no, I have not been to Paro to get blessings from the dead body of the Lam. They are even more incensed when I tell them that I do not believe in seeking blessings from a dead body. It is a different matter if I were to be asked whether I paid my last respects to a great soul that he supposedly was. Even then, I still would not be compelled to pay my last respects because, frankly, beyond the fact that he supervised the construction of the Memorial Chorten, I am clueless about his other greatnesses or achievements. Those who are in the know of HE's greatness is justified in going over and paying their last respects. I, on the other hand, plead guilty of ignorance. Does that make me NOT a practicing Buddhist?
I know a lot of people, including a large troupe of my relatives, who believe that making offerings of money and jewelry to Lhakhangs and Chortens and Lams will cleanse them of their past misdeeds and channel their souls to heaven and redirect them to be reborn as humans in this world. I know too, a lot of people, who cheat and rape and commit crimes against humanity and, when they are about to die, they perform penance and construct Lhakhangs and Chortens and prostrate before statues of Guru and Sangye - in the escapist belief that it will wash away all their sins. Does that make them practicing Buddhists?
One time, as I was driving towards the East, I came across a bunch of Bumtaps in Ura, vigorously stoning a pack of wild dogs, preying on a deer. While the Bumtaps saw merit in sparing the life of the deer as an act of compassion, my act of compassion was in defending the right of the wild dogs to feast on their natural food. Does that make me NOT a practicing Buddhist?
What are Buddhist percepts and who or what exactly is a practicing Buddhist?