September 10, 2014 – Day 9 – Thimphu, Bhutan

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Today was a Wednesday and it was our first cool day since we began our journey on August 30th. We were going to explore Thimphu today. We stopped to visit the Tashichho Dzong translated into the Fortress of Glorious Religion. Every Dzong and Monastery has a Cupola with a golden roof and the locals call it a canopy.

We visited a small monastery that was built in the 12th Century. There was a larger monastery just below the one we visited built in the 16th Century because the population of the monks grew and they required a larger facility. But at this time the ceremony was being performed in the smaller temple. We all filed into the temple and sat on the floor where we were all blessed in a ceremony. First water was poured on our heads, then we were served tea and crackers. The water, tea and crackers had all been blessed. The whole time we were eating there was a circle of monks chanting and playing their instruments, long horns (called a telescopic trumpet), small horns (called a flute), drums and bells. When the long horns are played the monks blow a continuous stream of air into them. Somehow they can suck air into their lungs and keep blowing out into their horns. The horns were very difficult to play and took a long time to master. On the small horn, looked something like a clarinet, there was a young monk around 10 years of age and he was learning by watching an older monk beside him. When the older monk changed his fingering the younger monk would copy.

Then we paraded through the monk circle to the head monk where he blessed us and draped a white prayer scarf around our necks. He also gave us each an envelope with three different coloured strings (the colours used were the 5 colours of the prayer flags, red, yellow, green, blue and white) and three seeds. All of these were blessed and were now holy. The seeds we were to eat for our health and the strings were to be worn. Most of us braided our strings before wearing them around our necks.

Another interesting thing done by the monks was the twisting of their hands during the chants. They would interlock their hands back to back and their thumbs held down their baby fingers and their index fingers held down their middle fingers, leaving the two ring fingers sticking up which they placed back to back. This was the position used when offering a Mandela prayer, which was offering of food or water. Try it, not very easy to do.

The monks at this monastery moved to a different monastery for the winter. Thimphu was 2,320 meters above sea level and it had a colder winter than the lower elevations in Bhutan. The dogs at this monastery did not look healthy, they had mange. I tried to explain to the monks that they needed attention because mange was contagious. Even some of the monks looked like they had mange on their heads from touching the dogs. Do not know if they took me serious or not?

Next we visited a museum of a farmhouse. I have already described these previously but I did learn about their bathtubs here. The Bhutan baths were located outside of the farmhouse made of wood and sunk into the ground. It was sectioned off with one large chamber to house the bather and a smaller section to hold hot rocks and water. The divider would have holes in it near the top to allow the heated water to flow into the bath chamber. A helper would keep adding heated rocks and water into the small section to keep the water warm for the bather.

Another common feature on Bhutanese homes was a decoration of a man’s penus either hanging from the corners of the roof or hung over the doorway. The penus protected the house from evil spirits and also made the family members fertile. After all the more children a farmer had the more hands to help the farmer. More on this subject later.

The girls visited a different monastery in the afternoon while the boys went golfing. We girls went to the monastery to have our horoscope read by a monk. They take astrology very seriously here in Bhutan.

I was told that in my past life I was a serpent under the water. Serpents were the protective Dieties of lakes, oceans and rivers. Next, I was told that I loved sleeping! I was thinking that the monk was correct there because I am always tired from lack of sleep. I was also told that I was stubborn, that I never backed down or gave up from a challenge. Mary, my sister-in-law, said that was very true. Then I was told that I had a birthmark on the bottom half of my body. This was true if I counted my moles. The monk then said I would be a bird in my next life unless I did lots of good in this life then I would come back as a child of a wealthy family in the West. My best day was Saturday, Tuesday should be my donation day and Wednesday was my bad day (whatever that meant).

Jaz, our guide went on to explain that In the Buddhist Wheel of Life, the human life was the best because we have control to make decisions and decide if we act good or bad. After our death during our judgement time the good and bad deeds will be weighed against each other and if the good out weighs the bad, then we will be reincarnated as a person again. If not we could come back as an animal or one of the other sections in the wheel of life.

Back at our hotel a Monk gave a talk to us about Buddhism. He was born in Tibet and recognized as a reincarnated Lama when he was 2 1/2 years old. At age 5 or 6 he was taken away from his family to live at a monastery. He remained in Tibet until age 20. He left Tibet the same time as the Deli Lama in 1959 because of all the turmoil with the Chinese Government. Eventually he came to Bhutan to work for the Bhutan government. This Lama had lived in Bhutan for the last 40 years and had acquired his Bhutanese Citizenship 20 years ago. He has visited Tibet 13 times, since leaving and feels very lucky to have been able to do that. His first visit was in 1991. Today, he was a retired Lama (Lama Emiritus) who had travelled the world speaking on Buddhism. He also founded the National Library, National Archives and National Museum of Bhutan. For the last 32 years he headed these three institutions.

He introduced Buddhism to us in a simple way by describing the basic philosophy and some historical events of Buddhism. He said that Buddhism was a religion with reason and the basic Buddhist philosophy was interdependency. They believe nothing is singular or permanent, everything is interdependent to each other. They believe in rebirth, reincarnation, past life and future life. Buddhism is not the only religion that believes in reincarnation all major Asian religions believe in reincarnation, like Hinduism and Jainism. The practise of Buddhism is on different levels. The basic theme of Buddhism is non-violence, not to harm living beings. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to attain freedom, wisdom and compassion, through enlightenment for one and all.

Buddha was born 2,642 years ago, which made Buddhism 2,607 years old. This was the date accepted by all the Buddhist practitioners in the world. There are two main divisions (or traditions) of Buddhism – Mahayana, northern Buddhism (practised in Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia, China, Japan, Korea & Tibet) and Vajrayana, southern Buddhism (practised in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, etc.). Buddha gave 84,000 different teachings during his life. All of his teachings can be summarized into three major traditions, Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Buddhism came to Tibet, Bhutan and the Himalayan area in the 7th Century, in 641.

Buddha was born to a Royal Family in India but today his birthplace is said to be in Nepal due to India’s borders changing. He was married and had one son when he renounced the world and left the palace at age 29. After 6 years of meditation he became Buddha. Buddha means “awakened one” in other words he overcame all negative thoughts and understood the good things in life. But he claimed to be just a human being like everyone else! The only difference was he knew certain things. He said “I can be your guide or I can be a physician to you and help to solve your problems”.

Buddha also said that all people were equal in status. Because up to then Hinduism was the main religion and they had a cast system. If you were born in the lowest cast you were stuck there, could not go to school or participate in the religious ceremonies. Therefore, the concept of everyone being equal was new.

Buddhists can also eat meat. Because Buddha said if someone prepares food for you it cannot be refused. As long as the animal was not killed for the Buddhist specifically and they did not see the killing, then the Buddhist could eat meat.
In Bhutan, the food is prepared in the monasteries for the monks and they do not serve meat. But the monks can eat meat if they are out and someone prepares a meal with meat.

Buddha started with the 4 noble truths, simply; 1) there is suffering in this world, the major sufferings, which we all have to face, are birth, old age, sickness and death; 2) the cause (or origin) of the suffering, which is not equal to everybody, is the result of Karma from your past life; 3) how to escape (or cease) the suffering; 4) the path leading to the cessation of suffering, called the noble eightfold path: A) Moral Conduct: of right speech, right action and right livelihood; B) Mental Development: of right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation; C) Wisdom: of right thoughts and right understanding. To live a good life you must practise the opposite of the eightfold path.

Buddhists try to help others and to definitely not harm others. They also believe there is no certainty. Mahayana Buddhists in Bhutan, practise for the sake of others not just for ourselves. Ego is the human’s main problem. Dharma means to shape or teach the mind. Every religions have the same objectivity. Buddha just uses a different transportation to reach the same destination. Buddha said do not follow my teachings blindly, but test them. Like refined gold, we burn it, cut it and rub it before accepting it as real gold.

In a modern sense Buddhism can be used three ways 1) as a religion, 2) as a philosophy and 3) as a science. Buddhism as a religion consists of do’s and don’ts, for practising Buddhists, as a philosophy for non-religious people and as a science for researchers looking at the mind and the possibility of rebirth. Buddhists believe that the mind (or mental awareness) is our sixth sense and it is continuous, the mind leaves the body at death and is an energy force, which is reborn again and again. How we lived in our past life affects our present life and how we live today affects our future life.

Buddhists also believe that Meditation clears the mind from negative thoughts and allows you to be as it is. For example our mind is like a glass of dirty water; let the glass sit and the dirt settles to the bottom allowing the water to be clear again, similar to our minds becoming clear with less negative clutter after meditating. Shake the water up and the water becomes muddy again. If you use your mind for anger or bad thoughts and never meditate to clear your thoughts, your mind will become clouded like the dirty water. Another example is when a person is angry the mind is like frozen water, hard and cold. Meditating is like taking the frozen water out of the freezer and allowing the ice to thaw to become clear water again.

In the 17th Century, Bhutan was unified by a Tibetan Monk. Today there were over 2,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries. With approximately 10,000 monks supported by the government. When we toured the monasteries we noticed many young monks, and I asked the Lama at what age did the boys go into the monastery to be trained as monks. He replied that they did not have a specific age but they used a test. As long as the boy (or girl) could chase a crow away, they would be old enough to enter the monastery. Because if the child only crawled, the crow would not fly away and that person would be too young.

Full ordination to become a monk was around age 20 and the person would have to want to become a monk for life. If a young man did not want to be ordinated he could leave the monastery and get married, have a family and still work as a lay person for the temple. He would be paid to play an instrument and chant out the ceremonies only he would not be dressed in the red and orange uniform of a monk.

Monasteries have a Council with an Abbot and a Disciplinary Master. The Councils administer the Monasteries. Buddhists believe that the current Dali Lama is reincarnated from the God of Compassion. The Dali Lama was not allowed to visit Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet but many people flocked to see him in India. China puts too much pressure on those countries for them to allow the Dali Lama into Bhutan. In Tibet the Chinese government has cameras in the monasteries to keep an eye on the monks, said this Lama.

It was a very interesting lecture and the Lama did a Q & A afterwards. What was suppose to be an hour turned into 2 1/2 hours. He was a very knowledgeable and nice man.

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