During the fifth YouTurn event held at DYS Auditorium in Thimphu on the evening of Friday, 31st March 2017, Lama Shenphen Zangpo made his message to the youth of Bhutan loud and clear. Speaking from the Buddhist’s perspective, he said that a peaceful mind is the most important factor that can promise a happy and content life. If your mind is not in peace, you will never be happy even if you are the richest person in this world. So whether you are happy or not mainly depends on your inner peace and self-contentment. As Buddhists, we don’t have to try to become good human beings because we are born with natural goodness or the Buddha Nature. The only thing we should do is to cleanse ourselves from the negative qualities such as desires, ignorance, jealousy, greed, and ego and anger which chain us to endless suffering and pain every day. We should never let those factors obscure our mind and block our path to enlightenment. Another major source of unhappiness is that we focus too much on what we don’t have and often forget to focus on what we have. It is important to be content with what we have because too much expectations would always bring disappointments and frustrations. If we learn to appreciate what we already have, we can have a happier life than the rest of the people. In a nutshell, the following were some of the key messages he conveyed to the youth of Bhutan.
It was January 2009. I was travelling alone in a bus from Thimphu to Phuntsholing on my way to Rangjung in Trashigang to participate in a writers’ workshop organized by Curriculum and Professional Support Division (CAPSD) of the Ministry of Education. I had a friend waiting for me at Phuntsholing in the evening. So I had nothing much to worry about. In the morning, my wife dropped me at the bus station, got me to my seat and left. Soon somebody came in and sat next to me without talking even a single word. So I wasn’t sure whether that person was a girl or a guy. I wanted to strike a conversation with this person hoping that I might be able to get some help on the way especially while going for lunch, but he/she wouldn’t talk. The bus slowly pulled out of the station and started to move.
I was once listening to a recorded discourse by His Eminence Sogyal Rinpoche on his groundbreaking book ‘Tibetan Book for Living and Dying’. He was talking to a group of students in a college in California, USA. After sometime, a student raised a question which can never be answered with certainty. He asked “Is there life after death?” I wondered how would Rinpoche respond to the question because he was certainly not talking to an orthodox audience who would easily believe what is written in the religious scripts. But the answer he provided moved me completely. It was perhaps the best answer one can ever expect for such a question.
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:
My uncle and his family are devoted Christians and they believe in the supernatural powers of Jesus Christ and the bible. But on the other hand, I am a devoted Buddhist and I believe in the teachings of Lord Buddha. After having learned Buddhist philosophies in Dzongkha lessons in the school for years, I have understood more about Buddhism than any other religion and hence, I decided to call myself a Buddhist since my early school days. So when I went to my uncle’s place during winter vacations, I was spiritually in conflict with rest of the family because even my father was a Christian after he was convinced that believing in Jesus Christ would help him get rid of his physical disability. He was paralyzed on the left-side of his body after he suffered a brain stroke due to hypertension and he had tried almost everything available within his reach to treat his life-long disease. But he never compelled me to become a Christian to get rid of my disability. He told me a couple of times that if I believed in Christ, I might regain my sight but after I convinced him that I have understood more about Buddhism and that I would continue to believe it, he never persuaded me to go to the church with him although I occasionally went to give him company.
It’s true that deep inside our hearts, we all know that we are a Buddhist nation and that it’s against the teachings of Lord Buddha to even eat meat, forget about killing animals. Everybody knows pretty well how painfully innocent animals are slaughtered everyday for food and yet due to the cultural influences, we afford to push aside those harsh realities and enjoy our meals without even the slightest sense of guilt. I believe that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, then everybody would become a vegetarian. Just because we have not been to a slaughterhouse, we don’t realize the actual pain and torture innocent animals are forced through before they get to our refrigerator.