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Amgalan, a Buriat Doctor, Speaks about Buddhism Amgalan, a Buriat Doctor, Speaks about Buddhism
by Valerie Sartor
2022-09-21 07:33:35
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Buddhism is a great social and cultural tradition. Buddhism has the power to impart to the ordinary people its own characteristic values and attitudes and has a profound influence on the values of the home as well as the nation. Ling also asserts that Buddhism has promoted an unusually high rate of literacy in Asia. The philosophy of Buddhism encourages social opportunity without economic competition.

When I interviewed Amgalan, a doctor trained in Mongolian and Tibetan traditional medicine, he told me that Buddhist practices reflect a "respect for the environment. They also contain a realistic attitude toward the value of material things. This attitude criticizes plundering and extravagant waste. Also, Buddhist cultures are peaceful; they do not encourage ideas of dominance."

Buddhism is essentially a non-theistic religion, but several types of Buddhism, over the centuries, have evolved and created deities; Bodhisattvas, and gods, including Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism. For Buddhists, more reliance on heavenly powers means less reliance on earthly factors, less reliance on man's supreme need for sustained moral effort and mental discipline.

Tibetan and other forms of Buddhism, like other religions, are concerned with the transcendental dimension - human existence other than the material and the temporal. All Buddhists are also concerned with proper moral conduct and moral attitudes on the part of the individual. What makes Buddhism different from other spiritual practices, especially Western practices, is the concept that the individual can achieve enlightenment without divine intercession. The emphasis is on moral purification, the purification of the body and the mind.

Amgalan said, "As a believer, I feel a sense of the sacred is manifested through my practices. It also comes from my Buriat shamanistic beliefs. This sacred sense can come from a person's awareness of his own dependence on the values and collective life to which he belongs. It upholds me and my people. My beliefs also tell me how to live and how to behave." Humans of all faiths have a need to belong to a collective with which they can identify and which sanctions their existence.

Buddhism is a total view of the world and man's place in it and a total prescription for the ordering of human affairs. All of the major religions - Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism - as they now exist, can be seen as theological ethical and ritual deposits left behind when the civilizations of which they were part lost their distinctive political and economic features. Past civilizations were based upon theistic belief which legitimated the rulers' power.

"Amgalan, tell me something about your beliefs," I said.

"Well, for basic starters, Gotama, the Buddha, was born in the 6th century BC; he was 29 when he was enlightened," Amgalan said. "That's a few years younger than when Christ died for people's sins; he was thirty three, right?"

"What does it mean to be enlightened" I asked him.

"It is a process. The Buddha composed his mind, directed his mind and then comprehended. This comprehension was his way to enlightenment. Buddha found the four noble truths of the human condition: suffering, the arising of suffering, the stopping of suffering, and the course leading to the stopping of suffering. This cycle of suffering is the Tibetan Wheel of Existence," he said. "Suffering: birth is suffering, decay is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are all suffering," he explained, laughing. "Everything suffers and everything changes; we all hate change. But we know that there exists a law of impermanence. This means that all living things are subject to change and dissolution. This change makes them miserable and discontent. We must learn to be flexible, and accept everything as good," Amgalan said.

"Change is hard for everyone," I remarked.

"Yes, because anicca, or impermanence, creates the desire to grasp, to hold on and to get more. This craving creates suffering. We crave things because we have our senses and our feelings - this craving is physical and mental and emotional," Amgalan said. There are three marks of existence: suffering, impermanence, and non-individuality. The last may be hard to understand because you are Western. As a Buriat, as a Buddhist, I know that we are really not separate from each other. Everything and everyone is connected, like a big jigsaw puzzle. We just think we are individuals and unique and seperate. This, too, causes people to suffer," Amgalan said.

Buddhists define anatta, the idea of a permanent, unchanging ego at the basis of the human personality, as a fiction. He explains that the idea that the ego as permanent, as a thing whose interests must be served and protected, and whose power must be magnified, ensures that suffering will continue on earth.

Amgalan went on to explain to me that the Buddha had taken the four noble truths and created a way to live in harmony on earth. "The first is to accept the universal fact of suffering. The second is to realize that craving or desire creates suffering; the third is to accept that a cessation of suffering equals the cessation of craving. And the fourth truth tells us that a cure is possible. We must follow the way of the Buddha. We must become moral through meditation and seek wisdom."

"Are there rules for Buddhists?" I asked him.

Amgalan said, "Yes, when I lived in the monastery in Ulan Baataar, the first thing we learned were some basic moral precepts: They are:

- abstain from taking life
- abstain from stealing
- abstain from unlawful sexual intercourse
- abstain from from telling falsehoods
- abstain from drugs and alcohol

I also learned from the lamas that individuality is a human malaise. We must destroy the ego."

"That sounds strange to me, because I have read that the Buddha exhorted his followers to depend upon themselves for deliverance - defilement and purity depend upon oneself - one cannot defile or purify another. If I destroy my ego, how can I help myself?"

Amgalan said, "You meditate to reach a state of purity. But you do not have to meditate alone. Buddhism developed a new path for the spiritual quest. You do not have to work alone, you can become members of a community. The community is called sangha. This life in the community is for the public good." Buddhists strive to create a community; it radiates a higher morality, and whose positive influence is meant to be spread into surrounding society.

"Tell me about meditation," I said.

Amgalan said, "Buddhists have various stages of meditation. The first stage strives to calm the mind by detaching it from the bombardment of the senses, and from wild, random thoughts. The second stage, is learning to concentrate upon one point. The third and final stage leads toward experiencing calmness and clarity. When you meditate seriously you understand that the fundamental moral nature of man is essentially good rather than evil. Greed, desire - that is the root of human ill," Amgalan said. "Ordinary people are addicted to pleasure and at the mercy of their senses. They are craving to fulfill the desires of their senses, and they wish for praise and fame. This can cause people to commit crimes. Also, ordinary people dislikes illness and resents the good fortune of others, they hate the sight of his own aging body. All of this is due to the fact that people are lacking in wisdom. We must meditate and accept and try to find, through meditation, a way to love life and to accept life and to understand it a little. We strive to do good - that is why being a doctor is the right profession for me; I can help others and in this way help myself as well."


Rabindranath Tagore: The way of the Buddha is "the elimination of all limits of love, the sublimation of the self in a truth which is love itself"


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