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HH The Sangkharaacha

Reflections on Nationality

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Reflections on Nationality by HH The Sangkharaacha


Every nation has folklore and as a result of tales shared and told again and again, celebrations based on folklore become a norm. So where does Buddhism come from? Should American Buddhists adopt Asian ways and become Chinese, Korean or Tibetan in the hope that it will make them "more Buddhist" or should they remain true to their own roots?


When you pass a Chinese restaurant, you will see certain things. You'll probably see a pair of Fu Dogs, Chinese looking dogs that in Chinese mythology, are the powerful mythic protectors that have traditionally stood in front of Chinese imperial palaces, emperors' tombs, and government offices, from the Han Dynasty to today. Fu Dogs are important to Buddhists. Why? Because the cultures of Asia have been built around Buddhist thought. Culture and faith is intertwined and so we take many important symbols from cultures we may be very unfamiliar with. Buddhist monks and nuns will go on pilgrimages and long walks and in Ancient China, they would come back and tell tales of the things they saw which influenced thinking and interpretation. How can Fu Dogs be a symbol of faith? Well, if you see a Fu Dog with it's mouth open, it is said to be saying "om". They are said to be protectors of dharma. So, that very typical symbol - a Chinese Dog, actually has a meaning in Buddhism the world over.


Hama Yumi. A small sacred bow used in 1103 C.E. in Japan when the Imperial Palace was said to be over-taken by an evil demon. An archer was brought in hoping that his bow and arrow would help. The first arrow killed the demon and the bow was named a Hama Yumi - an Evil-destroying bow. And now, in Buddhist Temples, you will see a Hama Yumi. From fact into folklore into ritual - that has been the Buddhist way for thousands of years. Buddhist rituals and traditions cannot be traced exactly. We can only go so far before the answers we want are unavaliable because Buddhism is a faith of learning and of teaching each other. Things were handed down by word of mouth, not by written document and so we get to a stage where the only thing that gives us our answers - is faith. But faith is something that human beings make indigenous.


We give homes to faith and so as we learn and grow in our faith, we may adopt traits that aren't within our national psyche to adopt. A French Roman Catholic may pray in Latin, an American Orthodox Christian may pray in Russian and a Finnish Buddhist may pray in Tibetan. Let us take the example of a pray of homage. "Namo Amituofo" is a pray of homage to the Buddha which you will hear if you go into any Buddhist Temple. But why do we not chant, "Praise to the Buddha". Surely if the sentiment is the same, the language we express it in is irrelevant?


I am a follower of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism is so called because it takes it's doctrine and it's institutions from the traditions of the Himalayas. I don't need to become Tibetan to follow the school of Buddhism but I do need to be faithful to it. I can travel to Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Manchuria and Jilin but it won't make me a faithful Buddhist. Until I accept the ways of the Buddha and follow them, I will not be a Tibetan Buddhist. Does being a follower of Tibetan Buddhism make me any greater or poorer than a follower of a different school of thought? No. It makes me a brother in discovery and learning. So, I don't have to change my nationality to be a good follower of Buddhism. I just have to be faithful. I am free to learn Tibetan, to learn Chinese folklore and mythology, to believe it, to accept it and to make it part of me. But it will not make me better spiritually. It may serve to make me feel more at home at a Temple where the faithful who attend are mainly Asian but it won't make me a better Buddhist.


The Buddha told us, "The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows". Nationality is a birth issue. It is not a permanent mark upon us and we can change it. But faith - faith should be a matter of choice and of permanent learning. Do not try to be Chinese or Tibetan, Japanese or Korean, Nepalese or Bhutanese - try to be faithful.


Contemplate. And learn.


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