Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Will the Real Buddhists Please Stand Up?

At the heart of Buddhism is the notion of compassion, balanced with innate wisdom. Nelson Mandela (who is not a Buddhist, at least in name) got it right when he said, "A good mind and a good heart are a formidable combination."

Fast forward to Bodgaya, India, the place where the historical Buddha Siddartha sat beneath a bodhi tree and attained enlightenment. Given that India is an ancient country with written historical records, it is possible this lore is based on a real event.

Every year on a certain date in February, calculated on the movements of the moon, 10,000 Buddhist monks, nuns, lay practitioners and others gather at an enormous temple erected around the bodhi tree to pray for world peace. The spectacle is impressive. Aside from an array of people dressed in robes of many colors, the grounds are adorned with literally thousands of flowers arranged in mandala-like designs, as well as gold statues of Buddhas with attending saints, and an array of traditional Tibetan religious items that are a veritable feast of eye candy.

Upon leaving the sprawling grounds of the Mahabodhi Temple and descending into secular India, one encounters an array of beggars who are counting on the entering or exiting faithful to spare some change. Yes, these unfortunates are the legendary horrors of India. A teenage boy with his hands cut off holding a cup in his forearms. An emaciated man sitting on the ground with a withered leg that runs permanently parallel to his upright torso. Yet another teenager with no legs scraping his torso along the ground, sweat pouring down his face at the effort, pulling at the robes of a monk who pays him no mind. An old woman so thin she looks as if she is about to shatter, being screamed at by an Indian policeman. "Move," he bellows from his tall height as the clearly disoriented woman looks up helplessly. I think to intervene but decide that challenging an Indian authority might not be wise. All the while, a group of Tibetan women look on with sympathy. No one, including me, helps her.

I do give a few of these hapless beings some rupees, but by the time I reach my hotel I have run out...too many on the five minute walk to manage.

The next morning on my way to the temple to film - and meditate, I pass a group of monks eating at a makeshift table by the dusty roadside. Although it is humble fare, they are happy and fresh in the early morning light. I stop to buy a chocolate bar at the store where they eat, and as I unwrap it I notice a small girl in rags looking wistfully at the food the monks are consuming. I take a third of the bar and hand it to her. Then I wonder why none of the monks offer a part of their breakfast -  or even notice this mute wraith standing behind them.

So where is all this going? Not sure. But the complete indifference to these wretched human beings by the seemingly well-fed is shocking. The seeming callousness cruel. Apparently,  overwhelming poverty is discouraging, generating a hopeless inaction, a determined avoidance. Although it is easy to point a finger, in reality they are me and I am them.  

What to do next?

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