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Decline of Buddhism in Buddha’s Birthplace

August 1st, 2015

By providing relief in Nepal, it has made us realize that it is indeed hard to hear the profound Dharma and to seize a divine affinity. Hence, always serve in the multitude especially at places where help is needed most. Then, we will see the Dharma everywhere and in everyone around us.

On April 25, Nepal was rocked by a massive earthquake, the worst disaster in 80 years. More than 8,000 lives were lost and over 300,000 families were affected, with many having to sleep in the open and on the streets. Many heritage and historical sites of few hundred years old, as well as, houses were reduced to rubbles.

Besides the populated Capital, it was also a major challenge to mobilize timely relief to the outlying epicentre and badly hit remote areas across large swathes of mountainous Nepal as most of these areas were inaccessible by roads. The impoverished nation had struggled to initiate an effective emergency response.

When the country was struck by another strong earthquake measuring 7.4-magnitude on the Richter scale on May 12, it caused widespread panic. The streets were jammed with people and with the approaching monsoon season, tents for temporary shelter were in high demand. All these had put tremendous pressure and burden on the government, and slowed down the rebuilding process.

On April 27, under Master Cheng Yen’s instruction, 15 volunteers departed for Nepal to conduct a disaster survey. Due to service disruptions at the nation’s only international airport, an influx of flights delivering aid and carrying many humanitarian teams, including Tzu Chi, were forced to land in neighbouring countries.

After two days, the team finally met at the international airport in Kathmandu. But, it took another three long hours just to clear our luggage due to limited handling facilities.

Upon assessing the situation, we decided to give Kathmandu and Bhaktapur a top priority in relief efforts. Besides the 35,000 people in need of urgent help, there were more than 5,000 totally damaged houses, with another 3,000-plus houses partly damaged. Medical teams worldwide had arrived and were stationed at the disaster areas. As at May 13, Tzu Chi’s fourth batch of relief team was also on hand to provide medical assistance.

 

Upholding the principle of being the first to arrive and the last to leave, Tzu Chi is planning to carry out a short, medium and long-term reconstruction programme besides conducting free clinics, bone surgeries and aid distributions, subject to the right conditions.

 

Actually, this type of rebuilding programme is not new to Tzu Chi as it had been implemented in various countries, including Aceh and Sri Lanka following the South Asia Tsunami; Sichuan in China after being devastated by an earthquake; Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis; Haiti after an earthquake; Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan and so on.

For better effectiveness, the relief team has purchased relief aid locally. After distribution of emergency relief goods, the team looked into the provision of tents and multi-purpose folding beds as these items need to be imported and require cumbersome clearance.

In view of the June rainy season, the team went full steam to source for tents from various countries. The first batch of tents, eco-blankets and multi-purpose folding beds finally arrived in Nepal on May 15 in time for distribution.

Also damaged in the disaster were 7,000 classrooms; and following a subsequent May 12 strong earthquake, the schools’ opening, scheduled for mid-May, had to be postponed till the end of May.

With cooperation from the local government, Tzu Chi is now assessing the reconstruction of schools, hoping to channel the love from Tzu Chi people and public members globally to the poor children, bringing a ray of hope to them. At the same time, the Foundation is also discussing the idea of constructing permanent housing with the local government.

Currently, Tzu Chi volunteers in 30 countries are soliciting donations for the Nepal quake victims, working together towards the same goal of selfless-giving. When contributing to financial and human resources, one is actually forming good affinities with others and will eventually be the one to gain the most, as stated in one Jing Si Aphorism that says, “The more we do, the more we gain; the less we do, the more we lose out.”

 

Whenever there is an opportunity to contribute, seize it and be grateful for it. This is the true teaching and supreme Dharma.

 

Nepal is a beautiful country where Hinduism, Buddhism and other religious beliefs have interweaved. It is also rich in cultural heritage that includes the age-old caste system, which is divided into four folds, namely, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra. The lowest caste is colloquially known as the “untouchables” and the membership is permanent.

The Nepalese caste system is still thriving even though the caste distinctions are no longer supported by law. The caste relations have shaped present day social stratification, with the higher castes having the best educational opportunity, while the lowest caste cannot receive an education. As a result, Nepal has remained an “economic untouchable”.

Nepal was the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha. The Prince’s “great renunciation” took place at the age of 29 and the “spiritual awakening” took place at the age of 35. The Buddha recognized the equality of people, and preached that each one of us could attain perfection in emotional and intellectual maturity like the Buddha if we cultivate the same qualities within us.

Regrettably, Nepal saw a decline in Buddhism and has continued to adhere to its socio-economic inequalities. Although Nepal is known as an ancient Buddhist country, 80% of the population are Hindus. It is indeed sad to see Buddha’s teachings being diminished in His birthplace.

In the caste system, everyone is classified in terms of their relative ritual purity into the four broad social classes: the Brahmin priests and scholars, the Kshatriya aristocrats and warriors, the Vaisya farmers and traders, and the Sudra menial labourers. There is one additional group technically “outside” the caste system, which has been rendered “untouchable” because of their ritually defiling occupations.

Come to think of it, had it not been for the productivity and services from the lower castes, the upper castes would not be able to enjoy a comfortable life. The Buddha taught us to feel a deep gratitude and great empathy for all beings. Let there be no distinction between our mind, the Buddha’s and the living beings’. As a result of the deep-rooted caste system, the Buddha’s teaching could not flourish in Nepal and India.

Rare is the birth as a human being, hard is the hearing of the true teaching, tough is the encounter of a wise teacher, and difficult is the treading of the Bodhisattva Path.

Through provision of relief efforts in Nepal, we have realized that it is indeed not easy to hear the profound Dharma and to seize a divine affinity. Hence, always go among the masses to serve, especially at places where help is needed most. Then, we will see the Dharma everywhere and in everyone around us.

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