At a glance, Buddhism focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. It teaches that all life is interconnected, so compassion is natural and important.
Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent – change is always possible, and the quest for the path to Enlightenment can be found through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom.
Buddhism arose in around the 6th Century BC. It is not centred on the relationship between humanity and God as there is no belief in a personal God. The two main sects are Theravanda and Mahayana. There are currently 376 million followers of Buddhism worldwide.
Buddhism is the third largest religion in Bangladesh. Most of those practitioners live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and follow Theravanda, a relatively conservative form of early Buddhism, which literally means ‘Teaching of the Elders, or ‘Ancient Teaching’.
Theravanda is the oldest surviving Buddhist school, with over 100 million followers worldwide. In the hill tracts these predominantly consist of Chakma, Chak, Marma, Tenchungya and Khyang people.
There are several monasteries in the Chittagong Hills, and a beautiful Golden Temple right here in Bandarban, which houses one of the largest statues of Buddha in the entire country. To be precise it is actually a pagoda, as the building itself consists of many tiered towers. Local Buddhist shrines also form an important centre for village life, with major festivals commemorating the important events in the life of the Buddah.
Most Buddhist villages have a boarding school known as the ‘kyong,’ where boys learn to read Burmese and a little Pali, an ancient Buddhist scriptural language. It’s fairly common for men who have finished their education to return at regular intervals for periods of residence at their school.
Although the European term ‘monk’ is also often applied to Buddhism, the Theravanda term is ‘bhikkhu’, whose disciplinary code is known as the ‘patimokkha’, consisting of no less than 227 rules when fully ordained. There is often a trial period prior to ordination, to see if a candidate still wishes to become a Buddhist monk.
If he does, he will remain living in the monastery, otherwise, he is free to leave. If he stays he will lead a life of mendicancy, with a daily morning alms walk around his village, where he will receive food from the locals, although he is not permitted to positively ask for anything.
Young boys can be ordained as ‘samaneras’, literally meaning small, in essence as a novice or apprentice monk. Both bhikkhus and samaneras eat only in the morning, and are not allowed to lead a luxurious life. Their rules forbid the use of money, although this is not always followed by every modern day monk. The bhikkhus are also only allowed to own four items other than their robes: a razor, a needle, an alms bowl and a water strainer.
I was honored with an invitation to attend the recent inauguration ceremony for a newly ordained monk at my local Buddhist temple in Bandarban town.
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”