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September 08, 2023




I began a loose affiliation with Buddhism back in the late sixties when I moved to Thailand.  I was surrounded by wonderful Thai people who practiced the faith.  Now, I will define Buddhism in terms of a faith to influence the mind rather than a religion.  More about that later, but it evolved for those of us in the “black and white days” who exposed ourselves to bad folks that it might improve our odds in those situations.  If any of our aircraft fell out of the sky in Laos, it would probably not help at all other than to calm us with a short meditation mantra on the way down.  In fact, on two occasions, I was awakened by a fellow passenger to alert me we were heading toward an apparent crash which always upset me as why wake someone to tell them they are about to die?

On the other hand, if we made it through a crash, we believed we could buy our way out of Pathet Lao captivity by handing over parts of a gold chain around our neck from which a Buddha image was affixed.  Now, the bad guys could have cared less that we might have been a Buddhist, but we believed it might keep us calm in our unforeseen journey ahead. Moreover, if we handed out a few links at a time, they would most likely just shoot us and take all of it. The secret word here is it gave us a measure of comfort which is the underlying pillar of Buddhism.

In 1968, I purchased my first Buddha image from a young, smiling Thai girl in Ayutthaya, Thailand which is shown below.  It currently resides on my nightstand, but it has been many places over the past 55 years.

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Over the years, I have had several Buddha images that I wore around my neck.  It is unacceptable to purchase your own image and most preferable to have a loved one gift it to you.  As you might guess, when Joey and I married, I received a 14th century Buddha which I have worn for some 38 years or so.  Some guy in Uganda tried to steal it by grabbing the chain from behind but the thick gold chain failed to break and protected the Buddha image though the Ugandan did drag me down the street in a semi-conscious state.  There you go—nothing could break the marriage or the chain. 

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Recently the Indian Ambassador to the United States, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, said Buddhism was among the greatest gifts of India to the world some 2,500 years ago.  It is practiced in some 100 countries with the teachings of Buddha imparting a philosophy rather than a religion.  Interestingly, Buddhism has all but vanished in India.

Dr. Alexander Berzin and Matt Lindén, recognized experts on Buddhism, have made it clear that the practice of Buddhism is open to everyone regardless of their cultural background or religion.  It does not involve faith in God or gods as the core evolves around an appreciation of Buddha’s teachings—ethics, compassion, and wisdom.  The result is we aspire to refrain from harmful actions and actively engage in positive ones beneficial to ourselves and others.  Central to this philosophy is the Sanskrit word “mantra” with “man” meaning “mind” and the suffix “tra” meaning “tool.” Mantras are phrases of words and syllables recited repeatedly as an aid to concentration to create a beneficial state of mind.

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The traditional mantra is:  Buddham saranam gacchami (I take comfort in the Buddha), Dhammam saranam gacchami (I take comfort in the teachings of Buddha), and Sangham saranam gacchami (I take comfort in the presence of fellow Buddhists). The mantra is repeated for at least two more times and preceded by “dutiami” (second time) and “tutiami” (third time).  You might notice the similarity of the second and third counters to Latin and the romance languages that evolved from Latin.  There is a bit of Buddhist history even in modern times.

Recently, the senior students in our favorite village of Ban Ta Klang, Thailand, gathered for a Buddhist road trip to Surin, Thailand.  Special “away” days are important to show the students there is a bigger world outside of their small village.  If you look closely, you will see their teacher, Rachel Mae on the left, has joined as well which illustrates a broader world to her as well. 

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You will note that education has moved forward most everywhere with a microphone and Buddhist principals presented in a written form to add clarification.  Also, no shoes are worn in front of a Buddhist image and the feet are never pointed and raised toward the image. 

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In keeping with Buddhist tradition, the students are preparing packages for the Buddhist monks to “tham boon” or make merit.  If you walk out on the streets near a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, you will find wrapped packages of soap and non-perishable food products available for sale to gift to the monks.

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 You should know that I do put my money where my mouth is in so far as “tham boon” is concerned in Thailand.  I provide gifts to monks and even built a new toilet facility when the Abbot of a nearby Buddhist temple asked me to lend a helping hand to his monastery.  When he asked me, he was entering The Siam Hotel and I thought he was asking in Thai where the toilet was located.  I eventually caught on when a specific sum of Thai baht was mentioned. 

Over the years, I came to know him well and even joined him in numerous mantras.  Nonetheless, at times he would break into something new and fortunately our friend, Khun Jill, was always there to help. Also, my “religion” of choice on record at The Cleveland Clinic is Buddhism.  There are always a few eyebrows raised but never any questions, perhaps out of fear, I would break out in some strange Buddhist mantra.  When your mind needs a relaxing tune-up, you now know where to go. By the way, the operative admonishment in Buddhism is “refrain from” rather than “thou shalt not.”  A very close Buddhist friend once told me that even if one slipped in following any “refrain from” stipulations, it was not that serious and you would not even know about it your next reincarnation. 

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