Thursday, March 1, 2012

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?


  1. Tobgay Sonam NamgyalMarch 3, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    Guru, dont go is a killer quicksand. stick to what we do best....the world knows your religion & mine is on a deep green river waiting for big brother to take a bite & commence his 150kph run. No known religion can get us to heaven faster than that :)

  2. Charity begins at home. I have observed people neglecting home and displaying their charity elsewhere. That is doctrinaire. That doesn’t confirm your religion. All these pageantry doesn’t mean one is good at heart. Basically what matters is human kindness and believing in humanity or goodness. I believe that is religion in itself. I am a born Buddhist as well that doesn’t dictate my life.

  3. You ask all the right questions. And might I add, you are a keen observer with wit to convey how we human beings contradict ourselves time and time again when it comes to this thing called "religion."

    I have met many people who don't call themselves Buddhist but practice Buddhism through their selfish compassion for others and who TRY to live every day of their lives following the middle path.

    We humans are strange...and I love that you catch our idiosyncrasies with such humor and succinctness.

  4. Buddhism is concern for all sentient beings, and what you believe as written in your previous article are some of the principles of Buddhism and so I wondered if you were a practicing Buddhist, meaning that may be you don’t do all the rituals such as the the daily prayers; monthly offerings but that you live according to Buddhist principles, you know, not harming others, being true to yourself, not to overcome by desires, etc.. It is not easy to follow Buddhist principles like the eightfold path, but making an effort makes the difference to oneself and fellow beings. Mindfulness and ethical conducts are very much a part of these principles. Where going to pay respects to the Kudung of late H.E. Dungsey Rinpoche is concerned, I guess it is upto an individual’s belief and faith like your grandmother’s faith in attending a spiritual gathering whether she understood what it was all about or not. In any case, I think any religion is good for a person as long as one does not get fanatical.

  5. There are so many ways to be a practicing buddhist. You start from where you are and do not need go to a specific starting point.

    some practise by making offerings and praying, some by showing kindness to others, some by meditation,some by serving sincerely, some by never uttering mean words and some by doing puja. So to each his own. That's why Buddhism is said to have infinite means. All of these ways work except that some are faster and some are much slower. Its said to be like cleaning - you could just dust or wash with cold water, or by hand or by machine, use surf or ashes or nakapani or dryclean or polish -basically what you know or have on hand or can afford.
    So different methods work for different people so lets just recognise any method as the means most suited to that particular individual and his karmic imprint.

  6. The 10 Non-Virtues (Buddhist precepts)
    The ten non-virtues are divided into three: three non-virtues of body, four of speech and
    three of mind.
    Three Non-Virtues Of Body
    1. KILLING and beating
    either directly by yourself or indirectly by ordering someone else.

    Stealing includes taking the object secretly, by trickery and by force.

    for lay people, improper time, improper place, or improper partner;

    Four Non-Virtues Of Speech
    4. LYING (there are many objects of lying, but most are included in 8: denying something you have seen, heard, experienced with your other senses, or known- or falsely claiming to have seen, heard, experienced with your other senses, or known, something which you have not.) Lying to hurt
    someone or destroy their reputation; lying to get something
    you want; conveying the lie by some means, e.g. speaking, writing, making a gesture with
    your hand or eyes, facial expression, remaining silent, etc.

    you undertake either to cause disunity among friends, or to prevent reconciliation among enemies, by saying something which is either true or false.

    speak harshly out of anger, eg words pointing out faults, etc. in the others, whether true or not, or getting someone else to speak such words on your behalf,

    indulging in gossip or frivolous talk : speaking without purpose, or getting someone else to do it.

    Three Non-Virtues Of Mind
    coveting another person's property, possessions,
    qualities, spouse, etc.

    wishing to harm another being.

    to deny something that exists or is true, e.g. the law of cause and effect, the four noble
    truths, etc. you do
    not recognize that what you are denying is in fact true).

  7. Anything you do under the influence of the five poisons of pride, jealousy, greed, hatred and desire are non virtuous and you are practising any time you are mindful and recognise these poisons and try to avoid acting when you are in the grip of these emotions.

    Cultivating their opposites is practising. Humility instead of pride, generosity instead of greed and jealousy, patience instead of anger and hatred. I think the opposite of desire is also generosity but I am not so sure.

  8. whoah this weblog is wonderful i love reading your articles.
    Stay up the great work! You know, a lot of persons are hunting around for
    this info, you can help them greatly.
    my page > have a glance}

  9. Acho Yeshey..this is Dungkar from Zurphel...and want to share with u that this is a great article....I am also bit lazy when it comes to religion but take refuge in the belief that I have not harmed others, nor do I have the intention (deliberate)...and where possible take joy in being able to help is bit difficult to believe of getting cleansed when sometimes you do not have the alacrity or capability to contribute for the act...but you have to contribute...when I pray for instance, in front of a great lama...I do not seek blessings for my own well-being...I wish for the continuity of such a great lama and wish him health, happiness and the continued power to spread dharma (for instance just as Dzongtshar Jamyang Khentse Rinpochhe)..realistic, practical and not much pain in the ass....SO does that make me not a Buddhist?

  10. Just the fact that you reflect about what is practicing Dharma shows that probably you are practicing Dharma. Being a Buddhist is not going to places, get blessings and recite prayers or do rituals, it is a bout true renouncement to attachment, being genuine to ourselves, cultivate inner happiness, being aware of the cause/ effect and therefore taking responsibility for our acts. From what I read on your blog, you are on this path :)