Every twelve years, during the year of the monkey, a twenty-five day Buddhist celebration is held at the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, India. Over 8,000 pilgrims travel from as far away as Burma to hear the teachings of venerable Buddhist leaders.
These are the true followers of the Buddha, the peasants, the farmers, the indigent. These devotees came to Leh in droves. They included the hobbling elderly, infants attached to their mothers breasts, and novice monks, giddy with excitement.
Even though this was a huge gathering, there were no real provisions for the throngs of people. A make-shift open tent shielded them from the glaring sun and swirling dust, that was their only protection. Thousands made the grueling trek to finally rest upon the hardened earth, and camp under the stars to receive the teachings of Buddha.
As I humbly walked through the crowd, I saw whole families listening intently to the speakers. The elderly spinning prayer wheels, young mother's with babies swaddled in their arms, fathers keeping a watchful eye on toddlers, and teenagers, with no electronic devices, all attentive and respectful.
Twelve women with metal pots walked amongst the crowd doling out handfuls of cold rice to the hungry. The famished graciously received the rice with open, filthy palms. The offering was quickly devoured.
How is it possible that in a crowd of 8,000 people I could not hear a baby cry, nor one complaint about the lack of seating, lack of refreshments, or wi-fi? What does that say about their culture? What does that say about ours?
I believe the 8,000 attendees understood the Buddha's teachings, for they exemplified tolerance, contentment and compassion, the core values of Buddhism. These were the true followers of Buddha. They did not need golden statues, silk meditation cushions, exotic incense or candles, they had their faith, and that alone made them rich.
There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness."
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