While in most American Hotel rooms you still find the Gideon Bible, in Northern Thailand you might find the Teachings of the Buddha or Karma For Today's Traveler by Phra Bhasakom Bhavilai. While Judaism has 613 commandments, there are only 5 rules in Buddhism: no lying, no stealing, no killing, no adultery, no alcohol. Buddhist monks must abide by 227 rules. If desire is but the beginning of suffering according to Buddhists, then Buddhist monks have been said to "eat to live, rather than live to eat." When the westerner first looks at a Buddhist temple he might question the presence of the Naga or fierce serpent which guards the entrance. Why such a ferocious presence at the entrance to the sanctuary of a religion known for compassion? But as legend has it the serpent had wanted to be a monk and had been turned down since he was an animal. The Buddha then made him a protector of the shrine as a kind of booby prize. Buddhist culture is one of humility in which the eyes are always cast down. Thus the representation of love is far different, with lovers rarely locking eyes as they do in Western literature and films. And when someone brought up in a country like Thailand, which is 95 percent Buddhist, does business with Westerners, he has to totally change his persona. He or she has to allow for the kind of eye contact which is a gesture of respect among European and American business types. MatthewArnold differentiated between the Hebraic and the Hellenic, strictness of obedience versus spontaneity of consciousness. Buddhism, which venerates mindfulness and the importance of being in the now, is more similar to the idea espoused by the Greeks.
Watercolor by Hallie Cohen
This was originally post to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, culture and art)