|Forest Sangha Newsletter||July 1993|
On Returning to Ladakh
Q: How did you come into contact with Theravadin Buddhism?
There are many things that we don't yet know about, and we'd like to invite knowledgeable people from different parts of the world to share their knowledge and to educate our students in this sort of development.
|Q: Could you explain about your teacher - what his tradition is, and how he became a teacher in India.|
A: Originally he came from a Brahmin family, and was very learned and educated. He was in the British Army, but after seeing a lot of bloodshed and killing he decided to lead the spiritual life. Having ordained as a Hindu Swami at the Ramakrishna mission, he lived there for one year studying and practising, and then left to become a Buddhist monk. He studied Pali and the Tripitaka and practised Vipassana meditation in Sri Lanka and Burma. Then he moved to India. Eventually, at the request of some Sri Lankan people, he went to Bangalore and started the Buddhist Society there in 1954. He was a very dynamic monk and a very good teacher. He also used to visit hospitals and homes for elderly people, and would often distribute medicine and clothes.
One day he saw a burns patient lying outside the hospital, and he found out that the reason he wasn't being treated was because the hospital was full - but the patient's condition was serious! So, he returned and collected funds and built a hospital especially for burns patients. Now it is run by the Government and 200 patients are getting treatment there. Then he built another hospital with the support of many Hindu followers, an artificial limbs manufacturing centre which provides limbs and crutches for the poor, and a school where we have 75 children who are given a free education. We also have our own printing press and publish a lot of books in the Indian language and in English.
Q: Do you have any industry in Ladakh, or any natural resources on which to capitalise?
A: No, the people don't have any industry, but they are very hard working people. The only income for Ladakh is tourism. There are some handicrafts. For example, they have beautiful painting, weaving and carving - they make many beautiful statues, but these would need to be developed as a source of income. So far our people have not thought in this way. They don't have any idea about this - how to make something, and sell, and make money.
However, we have an idea for the children in our school to do some handicrafts, Ladakhi art, and painting - they could make and sell them to earn money. We'd like to educate them in how to improve their standard of living by using more natural resources like greenhouses, and to learn how to make use of solar energy. Yesterday I told you about the tomatoes; nobody thought it was possible to grow tomatoes in Ladakh. Now in one part of Ladakh they grow plenty of tomatoes! There are many things that we don't yet know about, and we'd like to invite knowledgeable people from different parts of the world to share their knowledge and to educate our students in this sort of development.
Q: You must teach them commercial skills, too. It's important in the world of Samsara!
A: Yes. We have already planned this. It seems that only education can save us from exploitation and suppression, so we need to develop this. If people do not gain education, they will remain poor and will be easily exploited by other people, other communities.One time I went to visit a family Health Centre, and inside it there was nothing - not even a sheet on the beds. We asked if there was a doctor. They said, 'Yes, but he is not here'. We asked how long he had been absent. The person answered, 'One year'! - there is no doctor here!
|Q: Do you get any help from the UN or W.H.O. etc.?|
A: No. Ladakhi people have no education, they have no idea at all about these or the many volunteer organisations. They don't know so they haven't contacted them.
Q: It seems that Ladakh is a country which benefits from not having so complicated a society. There, although people may look as though they don't have very much, they can seem content with the little that they have. It seems strange that you, as a Dhamma teacher, are trying to bring these things from outside in.
A: There are many reasons. First of all, it is true that Western countries are overdeveloped educationally and intellectually, so it was not our intention in starting the school for the children to become too dependent on being intellectual. People also say that if we create this school, it might lead to what is happening in big cities in California, New York etc. But there is nothing to worry about; it will take a few hundred years and even then, Ladakh will not become like big Western cities. Tourists can only go there for a few months each year. The rest of the time, Ladakh is Ladakh.
Many people say that Ladakhi villagers are simple and contented. They have to be contented because they are not developed. Our people don't have much comfort, but I think all people deserve a little bit of comfort that modern science and technology can provide - there is a minimum requirement to lead a dignified and comfortable life. You can't say that the Ladakhi people are happy and contented. If you go to the villages you will find that people seem to be happy and contented, but that is not because they have understood Dhamma - it's because they are totally closed. They are not exposed to the world, they don't know anything. You can't say that they have a peaceful and happy life, because they are ignorant. What you see is not real happiness, which arises from understanding of Dhamma - it is not wisdom.
We can share - there are some things you could learn from Ladakh, and there are some things we could learn from you.Q: Can you tell us about your first impressions of the Western world. What was it like when you left Ladakh to join the army?
A: At first I was very happy. I had prayed and desired to get out of Ladakh to see and know the world. I used to like all the modern things - travelling on buses etc. - I liked any modern technology. I wanted to go very much and was happy to see the big cities. In fact, I think most people in Ladakh or underdeveloped villages would be very happy to go West and experience modern life. Now you might be fed up with living in London but, in the beginning at least, most people in India feel that they are transported to heaven - all this comfort! If you press a button the tea is ready, press another button and you can see what is happening in America - sitting in a chair! These things are very interesting for them at the beginning. I felt that, but now I realise that I do not prefer to have these things and to live in the West. I like living in Ladakh. I want to go back and live in Ladakh. I realised that all the modern comforts cannot give us contentment or satisfaction or happiness.
Q: It seems that as a Theravadin monk, you are living like a Bodhisattva which is of course more the Mahayana ideal, as opposed to the aspiration of the Theravadin tradition to become an arahant.