I have heard, and have gathered a conclusion for myself, and from my brief understanding of other religions, that Buddhism is the only religion that teaches people to get out of suffering. This has also been confirmed by my Jewish friend who had come to Thailand for a month and seen it all. Yet, this contrast did not make such a big impact on me as my first day in Puglia when I went on a short tour to Locorotondo. It was not my first time in a Catholic church. The tour guide was telling me about the saints and the arts as usual, when all of the sudden she spoke a sentence which alarmed me, ‘The Virgin Mary has a sword driven into her.’
I was thrown out of my comfort zone by that sentence, like a splash of cold water on the face. It really reminded me where I was, that I was not in Thailand anymore. That sentence alone showed a stark contrast between Catholicism and Buddhism, their teaching, and their worlds. I only knew that the Virgin Mary had Jesus, however I did not know deep enough that she was very hurt when he died. At that time, I was very fresh out from my Buddhism practice, I thought of the still face of the Buddha, and the essence of our religion, that we practice to become emotionless, we look up to him because he has fully detached and overcome all the worldly emotions of lost, angerness and greediness into enlightenment. I asked the tour guide ‘why did she cry?,’ she replied ‘Because Jesus was killed.’ In Thailand, you would never see or hear any of the deities cry for any reason. The idea was bizarre to me. The first word that came into my mind was ‘moha.’ Moha is a gilead which emotionally binds people to people or objects. It creates a feeling that this person is my friend, or my lover, my son. It possesses, then when you part from that object or the object/person did not end up in the way that you wish, you will suffer. This is not what the Buddha wished people to have, so he taught us not to get caught up with this emotion, and emotionally disown everything you have, but only care about it while you are still alive. You suffer because that object/person is yours. If you disown it, then you will not be emotional about it, because it does not belong to you. Why is it not traumatic when other children die? But yours it is? Because it is your child. So this is why the Buddha does not want us to find happiness in this kind of thing because it is mai tieng, mai tieng meaning it is due to change, untrustable, unpredictable, if we hold on to this, it causes us heat and unhappiness. Our religion teaches us to prepare for death at any time, so we can be ready for ours or anyone’s death any time. When a child is born we think, ‘sooner or later it will stop breathing.’ It can die in the womb, when it is born, when it is a toddler, today, tomorrow, a year, ten years, morning, afternoon, and so on and so forth. I could almost hear the Buddha said ‘We have death, it’s normal, we cannot surpass death.’ It is a normal part of everyday law of karma and we aim not to be perturbed by this. My spiritual monk teacher said that other religions have teachings that can have the highest aim like ‘Pa po tisud,’ which are the teaching from the Buddhist gods that have not reached enlightenment like the Buddha yet, but they are investing on their kindness and collecting baramee so they can reach enlightenment in the future. This means that other religions may teach a lot about unconditional kindness, but not about middle way, and the way towards ariya. These religions may still lead you to attach in gam (sound, image, touch, smell, tate etc,) and tanha which is why it is normal for the Virgin Mary to cry.
This tour guide that had shown me around expressed to me about her difficulties in life with her one failed marriage, another failed relationship and her sons that she has to look after. She said if I could go back, and start all over again, ‘I don’t want to get married.’ This reminds me a lot about what the Buddha said about marriage. ‘Your life is hard already, why do you want more?’ Marriage equals more responsibility, ‘five karn times 2 equals 10, times three equals 15 karn to look after’. Three in a family equals three sufferings. Then she started telling me that if she has it her way, she would get married but have the husband live in another house. She told me that she would still get married because when she gets old she needs someone to rely on. ‘All sungkarn in this world is not to rely on.’ These are the words of the Buddha. He did not teach us to not help anyone, but never to think that you can have this person to rely on.
Your son can die before you, your husband can die before you. You have to be as self reliant as you can, but people should help each other like a family and friends. However, people rely on the power of tanha to be together and help each other, which can sometimes cause heat and difficulties in our life. I understand her as I know that in this culture, the idea of marriage is like the ultimate aim in life. I understood that this is why many people seemed to be so pressured because they don’t know anything else beyond that. So I said to her ‘Hey! Not all cultures and everyone in the world is like this. In Thailand, you can be a monk, a nun, a single practicing religious person, and people really do respect that. People look after people in religion so well.’ Her eyes lit up, I could tell she was intrigued. ‘In my religion we were taught that being a couple is suffering.’ I could tell she wanted me to go on, but our time was up, I took the car and left.