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Monday, September 19, 2005

To Change One's Way of Life

I've always been fascinated by something that I heard more than 10 or 15 years ago. When I was in elementary school, and as I began to discover that people all around me belonged to different 'communities' and 'faiths', I found that I was curious to know about them. I guess this had a lot to do with the fact that I was trying to be proactively religiously tolerant or something...like not stepping on people's toes, religiously speaking.

It was at this time that I came upon the idea of the Buddhist tradition/religion gaining a foothold in Tibet. At some point in my life, I'd assumed that the people of Tibet were always Buddhist. Then, I learnt about the Buddha, and I realized that this couldn't have been true. But what interested me was the fact that I learnt that a people had adopted a religion...like across the kingdom or empire, if you like. And, unlike other instances when this may have happened, as in the case of Christianity and Emperor Constantine, well, this struck me as being different. I mean, the religion, or 'way of life' as it is often referred to is rather unlike anything else this world has seen.

Think about it, the subsequent arrival and rise of religions like Christianity and Islam eventually gave way to the Crusades. Imagine a regular war-mongering folk who one day decide to take up a way of life that is almost totally the reverse of what they were othewise used to. If you look at some of the links below, you can see how the adoption of Buddhism marked the end of the expansion of the Tibetan empire. There may be some of you quick to point out that there are Tibetan guerillas who are at odds with the Chinese forces...but, unfortunately, they are victims of circumstance. They have chosen to deal with the situation that they are presented with in this way, and, well, too bad for them.

But again, think about it...from a king who is dressed in royal garb, to a king who wears robes (albeit of superior quality, I'm sure) and spends his time in the pursuit of a 'better', peaceful life. And that's cool. I mean, people have tried to do things in a big way since forever. Remember Adolf Hitler and his dreams of a German Motherland? But the amazing thing is, it's been like this for ages. For more than a thousand years people have continued this life-style and have decided to give up their warrior-like ways for a more gentle life. And good for them!

But isn't it funny how no one else followed their example? I mean, Buddhism originated in India, right? So, why didn't the Buddha return to his 'own' kingdom and 'convert' his people? Or why didn't neighboring kingdoms look at the Tibetan example and say, "Hey, that's a pretty cool idea," and do something similar? But that is essentially it. Buddhism, like other great religions in this world, requires the person to identify with its beliefs. And, since the prinicples of Buddhism are rooted in the evolution of the blissful soul, a person must identify with the fact that the process itself may take a life time. True, this message is there in all religions, but in today's world it is horribly masked behind veil of the 'institution' of religion. So, many many years ago, a group of people decided to change the way they lived. And I quite like what they did. It shows us that no matter how badly off we think we are, or how evil we perceive ourselves to be, there is always hope. If a nation full of people can do it, then why can't we, eh?

So, what am I saying? Do we get rid of everything we own, shave our heads, and wear saffron robes? Do we wake up one morning and say, "I feel Hindu/Christian/Muslim/etc today," and change faiths like we would socks? Do we realize that all faiths preach the same thing and that 'faith' in itself is blind, and is therefore the ultimate test of human will and courage? What do we do? And, when you decide upon something, ask yourself 'why' you're doing it.

Links for Thinks
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1) The Four Noble Truths
2) The Big View
3) "Bon": Indigenous Religious Tradition of Tibet
4) Tibet Timeline
5) Tibet on Wikipedia
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