Gigantic Buddhist Rose Ceremony for the New Year in Thailand

Let’s open the 2012’s calendar with something different from typical celebration! What about the idea of rose? Universally, rose symbolizes love. Universal love is limitless. Limitless love can be love given to the religion and to all beings which it’s called loving kindness. If we could love all beings, our path of life would be paved by roses. So lets create a rose way to make a new rose year in 2012. At every special occasion, people are looking for special things to celebrate. Look at the beauty of roses, let the floral freshness quench our mind to be clean and beautiful, not allow it tainted by any old unwholesome memories in this auspicious season. Rip the rose petals and keep them fresh to add more auspiciousness. 127 Buddhist monks will walk on pilgrim on a length of 365 kilometer to bless people on this worldly greetings season. The entire 365 k route will be scattered by multicolored rose petals to unbrokenly pave the rose way for the righteous pilgrim monks to walk on. The event indicates that the 365 days of the New Year, the participants’ life will fill with happiness and success without difficulty. Thousands of people and school students take part in this joyous and sacred activity.

At the same time, the act of pilgrimage is one of the 13 Dhutanga practices of the Taravatta Buddhist monks. In the Buddhist society, after the Rains Retreat, monks are offered the Kathina Robe before they are preparing for Dhautanga. In the old days, this austere practice was emphasizing on the journey within the secluded forests. In modern days, the practice has been adjusted. The 1,127 monks will walk pass through 6 recently inundated provinces around the central part of Thailand. Their performance intends to nurture the wrecked mind of the flood disaster with the power of their loving kindness. The purity power of their cultivated mind serves as a big spiritual cleaning to all. The pilgrim route covers the provinces of Ayuthaya, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Nakornpathom, Supanburi and Bangkok. Yet, it contains another essence related to the Great Meditation Teacher of Vijja Dhammakaya named Phra Mongkolthepmuni. The designed route tracks back his life history. This noble journey commenced on 2nd of January and will last till 25th of the month – a total of 24 consecutive days. The starting point is Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani Province.

Everyone is invited to participate and witness this spectacular scene and to give the chance to be blessed. This ‘Rose Way’ exhibits a great lesson that hope still exists as long as we still can breathe. After the event we may be more aware of the benefit of keeping ourselves expose as many as possible to wholesome environment amid life’s adversity. We will be able to find happiness in any situation and transform miseries into bliss. Our mind will regain its equilibrium, vigilance and the ability to handle things with fright-free manner. Then the ‘Rose Way’ will truly pave the ‘Rose Year’ ahead for us. – Elsbeth Maurer, Zurich/Bangkok


Bhutan: Happiness above all

With a friend of mine I recently visited the Kingdom of Bhutan before I continued my journey to Nepal. Our appetite was whetted with spectacular views of the Himalayas and most of the world’s highest peak, including Mount Everest. Bhutan is mostly a mountainous country with the two main cities being over 2,200m above sea level. During the 40 minute flight, the captain reminded us to keep our safety belts fastened particularly coming into land as the plane descended through the valleys where we experienced a lot of turbulence. The flight is not for the faint hearted as the pilot made several dramatic manoeuvres’ through the valleys before a fairly sudden landing. Bhutanese are proud to claim that their pilots receive special training and can get piloting jobs with any airlines. It is worth noting that no other airlines are permitted to fly into Paro Airport, Paro being the Capital.

Tourism is third on the list of national industries in Bhutan, behind exporting electricity and farming. The tourism industry is highly regulated where one can only visit through an official tourist agency. All aspects of your travel arrangements are set out and paid for in advance such as itinerary, hotels, meals and excursions within the country. Visa costs are very expensive from $250 upwards the final cost depending on the length of you stay in Bhutan. A group of 8 British climbers paid $24,000 for their visas! Basically, the visa is an entry charge into the country. During your stay in Bhutan, you are required to take a tour guide and a driver who take you on a detailed journey through the country. Bhutan’s policy on tourism is one of ‘Low impact but high value to Bhutan’.

A brief history.

In the 17th century, a Tibetan monk arrived in the area, in search of metals and managed to bring together villages and communities. As such, Bhutanese are mostly Tibetan in origin with their 11 dialects of language being a derivation of Tibetan. Bhutan is 70% Buddhist, the signs of which are very visible from the country’s emblem, artwork, ornamentation, iconography and temples throughout. The harmony between religion & state is very evident . The Fortress complex in the capital, Thimphu, houses both government buildings, crown jewels and a Buddhists monastery. In 1907, a monarchy was established which still exists today. In the early 70’s the 4th King introduced the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’, GNH. This is perhaps why Bhutan is best known. The King commissioned a Canadian sociologist to formalize the tenets of this philosophy, namely an index to measure the happiness of people and to set out measures to create harmony between spiritual and material well being. In 2008, the 5th King amended the constitution and paved the way for the first modern democratically elected government in Bhutan with the main focus being the implementation of GNH.

The eight general contributors to happiness are:

  1. physical, mental and spiritual health
  2. time-balance
  3. social and community vitality
  4. cultural vitality
  5. education
  6. living standards
  7. good governance
  8. ecological vitality

Some statistics:

•      Similar in size, area & shape to Switzerland with a population of 700,000, among them 70% Buddhist & 20% Hindu
•      Main source of income: exporting hydro electrical power, mainly to India.
•      Bhutanese speak 11 dialects,  developed forms of  Tibetan.
•      National Sport is Archery
•      National Flower: Blue Poppy
•      National Animal – Takin (looks like a cross between goat & cow)
•      Smoking has been banned completely
•      Only 5% of population have internet access
•      Only 10% of population have telephones
•      70% live on subsistence farms
•      There are no traffic lights in Bhutan

Bhutan also claims to be the only ‘Carbon Sink’ country in the world, i.e. Bhutan produces more energy than it uses. The amount of electricity generated from hydro electrical stations far exceeds that of the energy value of oil and gas imports. Bhutan’s biggest trading partner is India. India imports Bhutanese electricity and in return Bhutan imports cars, food and the like from India. Bhutan relies on India for the construction of infrastructural projects such as roads, bridges and dams. Higher education in the areas of  the humanities and life sciences takes place in Bhutan but for higher degrees in engineering, Bhutanese travel to India. Aside from the Buddhist tradition which is deeply rooted in every day life, most Bhutanese speak Hindi and watch Indian TV, Bollywood movies, Indian soap opera, etc. There are no American fast-food outlets such as MacDonalds, Kentucky, Fried Chicken of cafes such as Starbucks.

It is against their beliefs to kill any animals – all living creatures are sacred. However, that those not mean that they are vegetarian – Bhutan imports meat, fish and poultry from India. Mountaineering is not permitted. The last expedition took place in the mid 80’s when a British team climbed their peaks – out of respect the climber stopped a few yards before getting to the peak. In Bhutan, they believe it is inappropriate for man to stand on top of a mountain as this invokes negative spirits to descend to earth and claim the souls of their deceased. Polygamy is permitted in Bhutan, but in practice is very rare as the man, in order to support more than one wife needs to be very wealthy. Divorce is also permitted. Once divorced, a woman with a child / children is very unlikely to re-marry as Bhutanese men will not accept her child / children from her previous marriage.

First impressions usually establish your level of expectations for your entire experience – the very clean, relaxed environment in the airport was impressive. And this was a reflection of Bhutanese people generally. People are very polite and courteous and see you as a guest in their country, to which they are there to serve. GNH is a reality – Bhutanese people appear genuinely content. They display a broad cultural and educational diversity with dignity, sweetness and generosity of spirit.

Text and Photos by Ambarish Keenan

First results of World Conservation Congress in Barcelona

The Spanish fishing federation CEPESCA and IUCN signed a co-operation agreement to work together on the problems facing the industry including issues such as biodiversity and sustainable use. “This is the first time in the history of the Spanish industry that a fishing organization is signing a co-operation agreement with a conservation organization like IUCN,” said Javier Garat, Secretary General of CEPESCA. “We want to show that we are ready to talk to the conservation movement.”

Today the last Sustainability Dialogue took place. It explored how religious and spiritual traditions support conservation. Panelists, including Dr. Masoumeh Ebtekar, former Vice-President of Iran, and Bishop Geoffrey Davis, of South Africa, discussed how all religious and spiritual traditions have something significant to say about our relationship with nature. In a similar vein, Buddhist Monks presented their sacred garden at the Congress, which they say brings science, spirituality and conservation together. The Sakya Tashi Ling Buddist Monks, who have been IUCN members for 15 years, say their garden unites two different visions – modern conversation science and the Buddhist mind science – to encourage a new way to see the world.

Moving swiftly from Buddhism to biofuels, IUCN, WWF, the World Bank and The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels launched biofuels scorecards. The cards contain 12 principles and criteria for sustainable biofuel production, covering rural development, conservation, land and labour rights, greenhouse gas, and other social, environmental and economic impacts. Focusing on forests, the Indonesian government and WWF announced a bold commitment to protect the remaining forests and critical ecosystems of Sumatra. The Indonesian island holds some of the world’s most diverse – and endangered – forests. The commitment announced today has been endorsed by governors of all provinces across Sumatra, and by four Ministers. The forum officially closed at the end of the day, with a call to take action to protect the planet’s natural wealth. “In the last four days the call to protect the planet has been heard from both government leaders and the NGO community,” said , President of IUCN. “Environmental concerns are now at the top of the decision-makers priority list. Absolutely everyone now agrees that we can’t postpone decisive action if we are to avoid major disruptions in all spheres of human and natural activities,” said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN. “Business as usual is simply not an option.”

New English Guide to Kamakura’s Temples & Shrines

We knew the Big Buddha wasn’t the only religious artifact in Kamakura (Japan), but we had no idea there were a full 170 (Buddhist) temples and 40 (Shinto) shrines scattered around the city. Of these, 119 are profiled in a new English book, “An English Guide to Kamakura’s Temples & Shrines,” written by two long-term local residents.

The meticulously researched work is divided into seven districts, each with a sample itinerary for the dedicated culture buff. The small, black-and-white photos aren’t much to look at, but then again, the book itself is small enough to fit in a large pocket and guide you to the actual sights. Other sections include a brief history of the area, sidebars on the finer points of temple-hopping like “omikuji” (fortune-predicting strips of paper) and ema (votive wooden tablets), plus write-ups on attractions like the “10 Famous Wells of Kamakura.” (Beau Miller/Metropolis).

If you are interested to view a short film on the Daibutsu (the Great Buddha), the main spiritual and touristic site of Kamakura, you can watch my film on vimeo.