Bhutan is known to the world as a Buddhist country but Buddhism is not the only religion our people are allowed to follow. Today, we have a significant number of Hindus and Christians as well in the country who have their own rightful places to worship and carry out their rites. Unlike some other countries, Bhutanese people have never been subjected to religious persecutions for not following the state religion. Although some people initially believed that Christians were discouraged by authorities to influence others to join them, there was no written order issued to this effect and nobody has been legally charged so far for being a Christian or for influencing others. So considering this liberal attitude and tolerance of the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Bhutanese population towards other religions in the country, I think now it would be fair to call ourselves being in a multicultural society where people from different faith and cultures have been living in harmony for centuries. Honestly speaking, I have been exposed to the culture and practices of all three major religions found in Bhutan: Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism. I was born and brought up in a Hindu family and I have some understanding of Hindu culture and traditions. But after my father suffered a brain-stroke in the November of 1990 and partially lost his ability to walk, we started living with my paternal uncle and his family who are Christians. My father was then convinced to believe in the miraculous powers of Jesus Christ to help him regain his mobility and then he was baptized. Since then, I grew in a Christian family during winters where I got to learn many things about Christianity and its cultures. I often used to accompany my father to church on Sundays and attend the church services. But I could never decide to become a Christian although I was frequently invited by my uncle to sit with them for prayers. Then when I was in school, I got the opportunity to study more about Buddhism and that’s how I got more exposure to the philosophies and teachings of Lord Buddha, which ultimately made me realize that this was my religion, if I ever have to adopt one. However, I have learned that although the actual essence of every religion is same, the spiritual practices are often influenced, either for good or bad, by our cultures and vice-versa. So based on my superficial understanding of these three religions, I would like to draw a brief comparative analysis of Buddhist, Hindu and Christian cultures as seen specifically in Bhutan. I am saying particularly ‘cultures’ because what I have seen and heard is the cultural aspect and not the spiritual part. The following are some of my observations:
1. Love and compassion
The need to demonstrate unconditional love and compassion to all sentient beings is an integral part of all three religions. All Buddhists, Christians and Hindus believe in helping others and not harming anybody. Being sensitive to the needs and emotions of others is taught in churches, temples and monasteries but when it comes to actual practice, I have found that Buddhists are more capable of upholding these spiritual values. For instance, Hindus and Christians do not hesitate to slaughter animals. Hindus still believe in Shamanism and worshipping nature which often require them to slaughter animals to appease their local deities. Christians believe that animals do not have souls, they only have life, and that they are given to them by their Lord to eat. Contrary to this Christian belief, Buddhists believe that all animals are our parents and that killing is one of the most sinful deeds. So, although eating meat has become a common practice in Buddhist culture, I have learned that most of the Buddhists never kill.
2. Ritual rites
I believe that religious rites symbolize a holy reunion with God and one has to be pure in thought as well as in the body if you are inviting God into your house. When we perform religious sermons in the house, you basically get connected to God in spirit and receive his blessings for everyone in your house. Since God symbolizes absolute purity, Hindus never use meat during any religious rite which, I think, is an excellent practice. Although I am a Buddhist, the practice of serving meat during rituals and funeral rites is one thing I have never been able to accept as a part of Buddhist culture. I know Buddhism has never encouraged the use of meat even in our daily life, but the popular culture has weighed down so much on us that if we don’t serve meat during rituals, people say even the monks won’t accept your invitation next time. Christians do not believe in animal sacrifices but even the holiest day of their calendar, the Christmas is celebrated lavishly at the cost of so many innocent animals.
3. . Alcohol vs. holy water
If you go to a Hindu temple, they would bless you with Tika (colored mark) on the forehead that is believed to invoke a feeling of sacredness in you and they would serve you a drop of holy water. If you are a baptized Christian and go to a church, you will be served red-colored water which is believed to be Jesus Christ’s blood. My father told me it is sweet but I never got to taste it since I was never baptized. In Hindu temples and Christian churches, the holy water has no implication on your health or culture. But if you go to Buddhist temples particularly during special rituals, you will be given a sip of locally brewed alcohol or locally fermented wine (Bangchang) as Duetsi. This is the holy water which you might even hesitate to let your child take. Thrichhu is another form of holy water and there is no problem with it, because this is pure water served from the altar. But in the absence of Thrichhu, it’s not uncommon to get Duetsi made of alcohol and wine. Once again, Buddhism does not encourage the consumption of alcohol calling it the root of all other sins as demonstrated in a legendary story of a monk, who after getting drunk ended up slaughtering a goat and marrying the woman who offered him alcohol in a bid to destroy his innocent monkhood. But culturally, this other-wise sinful practice has got into our spiritual life and it has now gone beyond what is being used as only holy water. In all special rituals and ceremonies, it’s acceptable to get drunk beyond one’s capacity and this, I think, is not so compatible with our religious values and sentiments. However compared to Hindu rituals where they serve a cow’s urine as holy water, I think this is a better option. For Hindus, worshipping cows as mothers and getting blest by taking a drop of their urine has its own significance. But I could never learn to accept a cow’s urine as holy water although my wife is a Hindu. However, please don’t worry; they will never serve cows’ urine in Hindu temples. This is mostly a local practice.
4. A sense of community
I have noticed that a sense of community is very strong within the Christian community. There is hardly anybody whom they do not know within their network and one good thing about them is that one does not have to be a relative of somebody to get help in times of need. But in Hindu and Buddhist communities, we mostly live an individualistic life and we don’t care much about other Hindus or Buddhists. We mostly walk our own way and this is how we tend to miss the opportunities to help people who are in trouble or those who are in need. However, unlike some Christians, Hindus and Buddhists do not voluntarily claim spiritual supremacy over other religions and discriminate people from other faith. So while this is something Christians could learn from Hindus and Buddhists, we could also learn the value of community bonding and interfaith brotherhood from the Christian community.
The above comparative analysis of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity is not intended to glorify any of the religions. I strongly believe that every religion is created to discipline mankind and to direct people to a more peaceful and prosperous life through good conduct and good thoughts, but I am also of view that no religion is 100 percent perfect. So, there is always a room for us to learn from each other’s cultures and belief systems. This is what this article is intended for. I hope you would further analyze it.