At my journeys end, as I stood in front of the stupa in Anuradhapura while worshippers and monks streamed passed me, a neglected, abandoned puppy whimpered as it looked up at me with pleading eyes. Hungry and alone, it seemed to be invisible in the crowd, no one paying it any heed aside from an occasional sideward glance. It couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old, but to the people around me it may as well have been dead.
During my visits to the countless temples in Sri Lanka, it has become abundantly clear that here Buddhism is no longer a philosophy but a religion, Buddha is no longer a teacher but a deity and praying seems to have replaced meditation. Masses of people line at every temple, fervently mumbling prayers and making endless offerings to every statue, shrine and holy tree.
Yet amongst this devotion, it is apparent that there has been a departure from the core principles of Buddhism. No longer is the focus on improvement of one self through meditation, atonement and acts of kindness but instead on bartering prayers and offerings for good luck and fortune.
No longer is the onus on each individual to overcome the obstacles in their lives and to take responsibility for their own failings, but instead it lies in the prayers each individual makes to their deity, desperately hoping that enough prayers will result in this benevolent being eliminating any hardships that might befall them. When did Buddhism become the scapegoat for life’s problems?
No longer does enlightenment come from the elimination of attachments and desires and working to pay off your karmic debt, instead it is about worshipping every artifice that belonged to Buddha, with each temple and stupa housing a relic as its prized possession and validation of its connection to him. From Buddha’s tooth, to his rice bowl, all the way to a holy tree which was grown from a branch of the original tree Buddha once sat under to meditate.
My question is, if Buddha still walked this earth today, what would he think if he saw you walk passed a helpless, starving pup without a second glance, on your way to pray to his rice bowl and to ask his statue to bestow good fortune?
I think Buddhism, along with many other religions whose truths have been distorted by man, could do with a good dose of minimalism. Strip back the layers of commercialism, misguided beliefs and the bartering of prayers for good fortune and beneath it all we may be able to find out what life is really about.