Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Buddhas of Myanmar

During my travels in Thailand and Myanmar, I took many photographs of Buddhist art.  The enormity of the statues, as well as the gold, enthralled me.  There were happy Buddhas, sad Buddhas, fat ones and bony ones.  Some were young and beautiful and others were old and ravaged.  I could not get enough of them, and believe me, there were plenty!

I had, of course, a rudimentary knowledge of Buddhism.  I had read a biography of Siddhartha Gautama and knew about the Four Noble Truths, but I didn't know any practicing Buddhists.  It wasn't until our trip to Bagan that our guide, Edwin, spoke about his beliefs with a thoughtfulness that I remember to this day.  He was very upset when he saw people praying in front of a Buddhist statue.  He made it very clear to us that Buddha was not a god.  He does not answer prayers or acknowledge favors.  The statues were created out of respect for his teachings

  "They are there to remind us to lead a moral life, to not be ambitious, and to curtail desire."  During the course of the day, his honesty unsettled me a bit.  He told us that sometimes the Buddhist way of life was very difficult to follow.  "I try not to want things and I succeed most of the time.  It's hard when I see tourists like you with expensive cameras and nice clothes," he admitted.  "And  I try not to be angry.   But Buddha also taught us not to worry and this I cannot do.  I worry all the time.  I worry about my children and I worry about my job."  I nodded.  I understood whole heartedly.  He shrugged.  "I am a human being."

In Thailand I realized I had made a mistake when I gave a guide a large tip at the end of a three-day trek.  He did not want to accept it, but I insisted.  "Please buy something for your children," I said.  He was very flustered and embarrassed by my offer.  I did not make this mistake with Edwin.  Buddha taught us to be mindful of the feelings of others.  We may mean well, but we must think before we speak.  I simply shook Edwin's hand and thanked him for a wonderful day.


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