Some pretty incredible moments have taken place within the last four years; Defying all predictions from the most prestigious research institutes, Donald J. Trump became the president of the most powerful nation on earth and continues to model a style of leadership that makes my political science education seem like a manual on making stone axes. Within the same span of time, shocking my own seemingly firm belief that I would settle in an outside country (as we so often love to say in Bhutan), I came to realize that the word ‘home‘, would really only come to be deserving of the country in which I received permanent scruff marks on my knees playing marbles; Where I wrestled with the weight of fifty marbles in my pant pockets that were hell-bent on exposing me naked from the waist down, as I ran home as the Dotey Marble Champion; The country which I left ten years ago only to yearn for it and come back seven years later.
More recently, with the new year, the Corona virus has literally brought the world to a stand still and mixed emotions; Where some cities residents are witnessing blue skies for the first time in their lives, others have become replicas of horrifying scenes from apocalyptic movies. All of this, happening in a world that used to seem so far away from us just a decade ago but is now a couple of inches in front of us on our social media feeds.
If we are to genuinely believe in the beloved Jataka tales (which my fanatically rational and limiting mind refuses to do), then Gautama Buddha died and got reborn many times as various animals, kings, beggars, outcasts and even hell beings before he accumulated enough merit to be able to realize as the abdicated Shakya prince that
All compounded things are impermanent
Such simple words to type out on a keyboard; Such a simple string of words to memorize and regurgitate like the ‘correct’ answer on a Bhutanese education system’s test; But an almost impossibly difficult truth to even understand, if by ‘understand’ we mean, being affected in a manner that brings our intellectual, emotional, psychological, spiritual and our will to a complete stand-still. Like the difference between understanding the impact of Corona virus three months ago when it was confined to Wuhan, China and understanding it as it gives our nation’s leaders countless sleepless nights and inspires ignorant citizens to buy 9,000 kgs of rice, 800 liters of cooking oil, 100 plus boxes of biscuits, 300kg of flour and 100kg of cheese in fear. An unassumingly simple fact that I fail so miserably to understand.
In chapter 3 of ‘What makes you (not) a Buddhist’, Khyentse Rinpoche recollects a story of Gautama Buddha and a butcher who is advised against killing, to which the butcher replies, “This is all I know, it is my livelihood”. The buddha then makes the butcher vow at least not to kill from sunset till sunrise. Rinpoche remarks that from this story, we are not to take it that the Buddha was “Giving permission for the butcher to kill during the daytime, but was guiding him to gradually minimize his unwholesome actions …through skillful means”.
Likewise, I am unable to understand the undeniable truth of impermanence in a manner that brings my intellectual, emotional, psychological, spiritual and will to a complete stand-still but I found the inspiration to want to understand. Khyentse Rinpoche assures me in the same chapter,
“Yet, for a serious seeker, inspiration is everything”
Like a sailor on the frozen arctic sea, who is able to see the tip of the iceberg and becomes aware of the rest of the iceberg that remains submerged beneath more than meets the eye, What makes you (not) a buddhist has provided me such a glimpse into the timeless treasure, that is the words of Gautama Buddha and the successive Buddhas after him.
However for me, “although thousands of buddhas may have come, this person is the one who brought the truth to (my) doorstep” inside of a beautiful white teacup with a pair of eyes the color of an ocean, which are as contemplative as they are piercing.