Reforms in Ladakhi Buddhism

By Stanzin Dawa,, Sep 26, 2006

Leh, Ladakh (India) -- I am happy to see that most of the Muslims in Leh go to the Jama Masjid three times a day for "Nimaz". Couple of times I have also been to the Masjid with my Muslim friends. The peace and internal ambience was indeed soul touching they all have assembled and collectively prayed under the spiritual leadership and instruction of the Maulvi.

<< Gompas (monasteries) in Ladakh are alienated from the village and are located on the hills, making it difficult for people to be close to the Dharma

I have noticed that going to the Masjid and assembled there for Nimaz seems to be little gender biased. As I have hardly seen any women going to the Masjid; I am sure there must be some mythological reservation as per the Quran, or may be self imposed reservation prevalent in Ladakhi Muslim culture.

While appreciating their culture of three times a day Nimaz this question comes in my mind. Although in Buddhism there is no compulsory prayer like in Muslims I am sure many Buddhists must be interested to go for frequent prayer to the Gompas. Do you think is it practical for a Buddhist in Ladakh to go the Gompa for frequent prayers (not even three but once) in a day? I don't see practically it's possible for a Buddhist more precisely in Ladakh, as the Gompas are alienated from the village and located on the hills. The old people and small children cannot reach there; the youth don't have time as they are no more living in the villages. They are busy with their livelihood or in search of a livelihood in the cities. As they have lost faith and confidence on the village way of life and culture.

Many villages in Ladakh may not be having the basic minimum infrastructure for the school and medical aid centre but you will be amazed too see that in the same village you will find magnificent Gompa, treasured with Golden statues and precious Thankas of different deities and Buddhas covered with glittering silk clothes. Although my knowledge is very limited but I have never come across any Buddhist literature mentioning that Buddha was eating and drinking in silver and golden plates and bowls, wears precious silk clothes. Buddha has detached himself from all these worldly desires than why we are deconstructing the real identity of the Buddha? Is it the right way to show our love and respect for Buddha's teachings? I don't think so. Are we not fabricating the truth of simplicity, the truth of impermanence, the truth of suffering, the truth of the real path of Nirvana?

I am not glorifying the Muslim culture in Ladakh, we may deny the truth but we cannot avoid it. The truth is that charity and solidarity among Muslims in Ladakh is much stronger and healthier than the Buddhists. They uplift the poor and deprived in their own community with adequate financial, emotional and social support. We can and must learn from each other by removing all the prejudices and narrow thinking. Does Ladakhi Buddhist have such culture? Where as Buddhist are more liberal rather more competitive in giving donation during the major prayer ceremony "Smonlan Chenmo". The amount you donate determines your status quo symbol. What a poor Buddhist can offer? Except the prayer; which is everything in itself? Why we have made Buddha and other Buddhist deities such a hungry God? Please let Buddha and Buddhism; be simple and natural for everyone.

A poor family cannot afford a simple ritual in Ladakh, its so demanding and taxing. Religion is a way of life to liberate ourselves from all the sufferings. I have observed and experienced the unhealthy practice of religion; can make you suffer more instead of liberation. With every death a Buddhist family in Ladakh becomes financial and of course emotionally poorer. The untimely death of my parents and brother has shattered our family's economy, happiness and integrity. The death was like a Tsunami that washed away everything we have planted and nurtured for ages. We have almost given or offered everything in the "Bulwa" (an unhealthy rituals of offering clothes, furniture, animals, money, carpets, wool almost everything expect another person's) traditionally Ladakhi Buddhist believes it helps in the dead person's liberation. It means the richer you are better the chances you have for the liberation. If this is true; than why Siddhartha Gautama left his kingdom in search of

My mother was a very simple and spiritually inclined woman. I have never seen her conditioned to luxuries in fact we were poor enough to afford any luxurious but with her death we have offered precious carpets, silver cups, silk clothes, number of Gonchas, nambu etc. I know she was a very caring and loving mother, even if it helps her after the death she can never be happy because she was always concerned for others than herself. How a mother can be happy? With her death all her things were blown away from our house by the cruel "Bulwa". It's difficult to control the tears rolling down from my eyes. The Bulwa scene is so vivid in my mind, I was a small child but big enough to see and feel the ugliness of such practices. I don't believe in such practice. I must make a request to my family and friends not to offer even a single hanky when I'll die; let me go to hell... We must abandon such unhealthy, inhumane and sick rituals in the name of religion. With time we need to transform our
rituals in order to make it more compassionate, humane and peaceful.

The causes for the evolution and practice of such rituals can be many but one of the significant reasons I believe is the inaccessibility of the Gompas in Ladakh. I think the Gompa must be located in the heart of the village not on the hills. Like Masjid if the Gompas are there in the heart of the village, old people can easily go there and pray, children can go there and pray and youth can go there and pray. People can discuss with the monk, know about the religion and practice with deeper understanding. The monk who wants to practice meditation can go to the hills and practice there without any disturbances.

The Gompa can be the heart of the village excellence which will connects everyone with compassion, truth and nonviolence. I have seen such thing happening in other places where religious places are located in the heart of the community. Health is not mere absence of diseases. According to WHO health is defines as physical, mental, social and spiritual well being of the person.

Keeping this into consideration we must bring a reform in our way of practicing of Buddhism by abondoning "Bulwa" and by building the Gompas in the heart of the village in order to build a healthier, happier, compassionate and peaceful Ladakh.

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