Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Who has time for the Dhamma?

Pic by Mstyslav Chernov (Wikipedia) 
Yesterday, while joking around in office, I said I was religious for only a minute or two each day. This was when I offered flowers, gilan pasa and the Buddha pooja to the white statue on a shelf at home. I would light the oil lamp, often cursing the matches for not lighting at the first strike, then take two joss sticks out of the packet. One I would light and offer the Buddha. Then I say four or five lines that cover pin awashya ayata pin deema, keeping everyone safe, mentioning a few specific people like Jayawathi and then wishing for the strength to attain nirvana. Once that's done, I light the other joss stick, keep it near the picture of Athamma and go about my day.

During the rest of the day, I rarely, if ever, think about my Buddhistness. I don't wear a pirith noola, I don't wish people the blessings of the triple gem, I just go about my business. I do go to temple twice or thrice a year but I’m not a huge fan of temples because of how concrete they are and the people who do everything but worship. I don't wear my religion like some people do. I don't remember much of what I learnt at school about Buddhism. I went to daham pasal for a couple of weeks only.

But I do love reading and hearing about the Dhamma. I look at the Buddha not as the statue we worship and offer flowers or food to. I take part in this form of worship only because it calms me. Mornings are hectic at home and the ritual of offering flowers, lighting a joss stick, reciting those few words, gives me a way of stepping away from the morning rush.

If someone asks me what my religion is, I might say I'm a Buddhist and it is this conversion to religion that has brought about the distortion of Buddhism. It's not easy to be, for instance, a Christian and believe in the entire Buddhist doctrine too. Anithya, or impermanence, is defeated by the concept of a soul that, after its time in this human world goes to heaven or hell.

However, this doesn't make Buddhism a religion. I dislike the Buddhist rituals that contradict what the Buddha preached, for instance, the offering of flowers to a statue of a person who is no longer alive, in any form. I remember one Buddhism lesson in school where the teacher told us that the Buddha’s presence is everywhere. She made the Buddha seem like god. And then they tell us the Buddha attained enlightenment. His samsaric journey ends. He no longer exists. His aathma is no longer there.

So the Buddha has been deified, even though wrong perceptions or beliefs or mithya dushtya is warned about in the Dhamma. Some Buddhists have gone the extra mile and converted Hindu gods to Buddhism. There was a time when I accompanied my uncle, aunt and cousins to Katharagama each year. Usually, we first worship the kiri vehera and then they go to the dewala while I try to avoid the puja. The last time I went with them, I remember how they said they would be late for the puja if they went to the kiri vehera first. So they went to the dewala while Athamma and I said our gatha, walked around and meditated.

So what is Buddhism if the gods are given more importance than the Buddha? Is your shrine room of any use if I can't worship or offer flowers or just meditate simply because your deity statues don't like it that I'm on my period?

If you look at the niyama dhamma, offering a tray of fruit and money to deities will not change anything in your life. The number of people you invite to an alms giving isn't as important as the alms you give a person, especially a monk, or animal.

A saffron robed person isn't necessarily a monk. Hell, I can don a robe, shave my head and slander Buddhism. My appearance doesn't make me a monk, and my views and what I say cannot be turned into a story where a monk herself insulted Buddhism. It takes more than a robe, a shaved head and residence in a temple to be a monk.

During a sermon, a monk once explained who a Buddhist is, and it sure as hell isn't someone whose birth certificate says he is a Buddhist.

Imaad Majeed had recently posted a photograph where beneath a picture of the Buddha is a garbage bin. Some people called it disrespectful. How is it disrespectful? Yes, it is trash but the Buddha is so much more than paper and ink. And then, if you are talking about Gautama Buddha, he is in the Dhamma and the Sangha and not in the statues and pictures we worship. The statues give us a way to focus our wishes and gatha but they are here due to our weaknesses, our inability to worship something that's not, in some form, before us.

One of the ladies in the staff transport van I travel in spends most mornings reading gatha. She slightly raises her bum from the seat when passing the golden Buddha statue in Panadura and a small statue on the New Galle Road. And yet, she makes racist comments about the 'Muslims that are taking over' and believes that deities can change our lives. She also raises her bum from the seat when passing the kovil in Bambalapitiya. It really doesn't seem like she's paying attention to the Dhamma.

We tend to look over the second of the three gems. The Buddha we have in our homes. The Sangha we offer alms to. But the Dhamma goes forgotten. Who, after all, has time for the truth, for a reminder of reality?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Complinsults (Van lady tales)

One of the van ladies told me today that she has noticed I've made only one or two calls during my 2 1/2 years in the van. She thought I was being considerate of others and didn't want to have personal conversations in the van. I didn't have the heart to tell her that it was all that but also because I've managed to distance myself so much from people that most of my conversations happen on Twitter. I did tell her that I avoid phone calls like the plague and she said it was surprising that although a young girl (this sure sounded like an insult), I wasn't glued to my phone all the time.

The fact that I'm not like everyone else (in the van) made me happy, but sometimes I actually wonder if being like them, being someone who has (phone) conversations and doesn't avoid relationships, might do me some good.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

There are many Ohs among us

Home is an animation about Boovs who have come to the Earth and the friendship between a Boov named Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons) and a human girl named Tip (voiced by Rihanna). There will be mild spoilers, you have been warned. I watched the movie with my mother. The cinema, thankfully small, had an audience of kids and also adults. So as someone who is clearly not a kid, I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable about being an adult watching a children’s movie.

Before your raise your objections, let me explain. I am incredibly afraid of children and so feel conscious of myself when in their company. Animations tend to attract hoards of children, and yet, if the film is worth it and the audience keeps quiet, I don’t mind it. While I accept that all animations aren’t meant for kids only, most attract people of that age and it is for this reason that Home was called a children’s movie in the previous paragraph.

However, Home was definitely not a children’s movie. In fact, I was very close to tears at least twice during the movie. There is one scene at the beginning of the film which is as emotional as the scene in The Lion King where Mufasa dies.

Oh is a friendly Boov and likes to make friends. While setting us home on Earth, Oh has a house warming party. He invites his neighbors, has ‘food’ in bowls and uses toilet paper as streamers. Oh is excited about his party and when the time is right, he stands by the door, ready to greet other Boovs. No one attends his party.

Outside Boovs go about their business quietly, in fear that Oh will hear them. When one makes a noise and Oh thinks his guests are here and opens the door, the Boovs hide. This scene is so sad and heartbreaking that while battling the tears, I was shocked when a child laughed at Oh. Considering the fact that IMDB has labeled the movie a comedy, may be this scene was supposed to be funny. Yet, how can we laugh at someone’s distress or pain? How can we laugh when someone is sad?

I’m not a social being. Social gatherings scare me. I prefer being alone and not having to talk with people. And yet, this doesn’t mean there are moments when my lack of social skills frustrates me. I often pretend I’m comfortable being alone and not being part of the crowd. It’s sad when you are with your friends, people you shared much of your life with, and you don’t belong with them. It makes you wonder if there’s something wrong with you.

While watching Home, I couldn’t help being able to relate to Oh to a certain extent. Thus it annoyed me terribly that a child found Oh’s lack of friends something to laugh at. I understand he’s a child and mayn’t have even understood what was happening, but such attitudes are apparent in adults too.

It is somehow funny when someone doesn’t have friends or doesn’t talk much. “What is this, men, in your room all day? When I was your age...” and the past is remembered. Parents jokingly say, “High time you found someone, or you’ll end up an old maid.” They don’t realize that the reason for our lack of relationships is an inability to form them.

Sometimes, we are like Oh. We try our best. We want to make friends, but people don’t want to be our friend. When you are a child or teenager who doesn’t belong anywhere, you grow up to be someone who loves solitude. This isn’t only out of choice. Sometimes all you know is how to spend time alone and so anything else makes your terribly uncomfortable. There is nothing wrong in this. Being alone isn’t funny. However, we all feel lonely sometimes. There are times when all we want is someone we can spend time with.

As Home shows us, this person may not always be like us. None of the Boovs likes Oh, but Tip, by spending time with Oh, found a very good and caring friend in him.

There are enough and more Ohs among us. There are people who don’t understand how to be friends with others or lack social skills. Be patient with such people. Don’t force them to behave in a way they aren’t used to.

Quotes from Home

Oh: When the other Boov’s said, “Oh!” I knew they were not happy to see me. The truth is that among the Boov, I do not fit in - I fit out.
Oh: Hello friend Kyle!
Kyle: I am not your friend.
Oh: Of course, you are... We have had many enjoyable talks.
Kyle: We talked because I am not allowed to move.
Oh: You are always saying the funny things. Perhaps you can say them at my warming-up house party tonight?

Oh: Welcome home, neighbors!
Boov: Boov do not have neighbors.
Oh: But that’s only due to the size and topography of our former planet.
Oh: But now our closer proximity can leads to friendship. You are all invited to my warming-up house party, say 5 o’ clock? Yes!