bicycle man

Bicycle Man, Aung Ban

This interim decoration of stupas is fairly common, nowadays. Certain interpretations of Buddhism stress monetary expression of devotion in rather unproductive fashions, like spending a poor village’s every cent on coating its stupa in gold leaf. Oftentimes this gold standard of exterior decorating is preceded by a coat of spraypaint, to make sure that passersby know that you’re almost there. It’s a variation on the theme of keeping up with the Joneses, common (sooner or later, but usually sooner) to every religion that involves humans.

And, as in all other religions, what is remarkable about Buddhism are the people who view these peacockeries as bunk. These are the ones who spend those meager earnings on improving infrastructure, education, and the lives in their community. Often with budgets dwarfed by those of the gold-leafers, they quietly and insistently turn their world around. They bring teachers, rice to seed the field, a doctor, good roads, timber for a bridge, love for a child, or simply and open mind. Rather than declaring their religion, they enact it. In doing so, they make is possible for others to believe, and for humans to become humane. They have my respect.

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