Malaysiakini Letter

Okay for Dalai Lama to shake hands with women

John Fam  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to the letter Dalai Lama shakes hands, Anwar Ibrahim dances .

I honestly do not understand why Buddhistd are generally shocked by the Dalai Lama shaking hands with women. I understand that in the Theravada tradition - also known as the Hinayana or ‘Smaller Vehicle’ as practiced in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and also Malaysia - the monks cannot accept a gift directly from a female.

Normally a piece of cloth is placed and the female devotee will put whatever offerings for the monks on a piece of cloth. The aim, I believe, is to avoid physical contact with the opposite sex. You would note that on the other side of the great divide, you can commonly see on the streets of Bangkok, Thai monks smoking cigarettes or a cheroot.

This practise may be frowned upon today but there is nothing in the Thai Buddhist cultural practise to suggest that smoking is not permitted. Perhaps during the Lord Buddha’s time - that is now more than 2,500 years ago - smoking was an accepted norm or no one has discovered the pleasure of tobacco or ‘weed’.

The Dalai Lama is a man wearing two hats, as a religious figure he is the head of the Gelupa Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and as a politician, he is the head of the Tibetan government-in- exile and has its headquarters in Dharamsala, India. The Gelupa Tradition belongs to the Mahayana school of Buddhism and it is also commonly described as the ‘Great Vehicle’ as its coincides with the second teachings by the Lord Buddha.

It is not wrong to say that the Mahayana School is an extension, expansion and addition to the Buddha’s first teachings. There are no clashes in the basic practises in both the schools in that the core belief of the ‘Triple Gem’ appears in both the Theravada and the Mahayana school.

The differences that we see are cultural differences and interpretation of the Buddha Dharma. Smoking is definitely not accepted in the Mahayana tradition. Suffice for me to say that the Dalai Lama beingTibetan, practises Tibetan Buddhism also known as Vajrayana Buddhism or commonly know as the ‘Diamond Vehicle’ and sometimes described as Tantric Buddhism.

The whole point is this. To make a general statement that Buddhists are generally shocked by the conduct of the Dalai Lama shaking hands with Cindy Crawford or Hilary Clinton is far from accurate.

As a matter of fact, it is a non-issue for most Buddhists generally and I have not heard a whimper of protest from Thailand’s monastic community over this. The Dalai Lama is highly-respected and cherished by the Thai Buddhist community and the Dalai Lama has visited the country several times.

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