Laos: The influence of Buddhism

As I wandered through the temples at Luang Prabang, then at Vang Vieng and then again at Vientiane, I couldn’t help but feel deeply appreciative of the Buddha and his teachings. As an athiest (at best an agnostic), I don’t believe in the rituals and practices demanded by religion and the rewards associated with practice but there is something deeply meaningful (I am also at conflict internally given also the wars/killings/inequality in the name of a particular god) about religion and the influences in shaping up the culture, psychy and values within a society. Laos is no different. Buddhism permeates through a significant section of the society and I get the sense that the values associated with Buddhism deeply influences the daily life of the people of Laos.As you are aware, Laos has gone through a deep trauma from the secret wars. The scars still remain. Today 600,000 tons of unexploded bombs still remain in the fields of Laos. While this is speculative (and I don’t have any hard evidence supporting my hypothesis), I believe Buddhist practices of detachment, mindfulness, acceptance, reducing longings/desire all have helped the society come to terms with this trauma or atleast accept the impacts. You cannot deal with trauma without understanding how thoughts influence emotions which influence behaviours. Mindfulness and the elements of CBT from modern psychology both help deal with this vicious cycles. One can drink/take drugs/blame the world/god/luck to deal with the scars of bombing or find a new relationship to the reality of the impact from the bombings. And I reckon, the Laotians can teach us a lot about acceptance of the reality of trauma and how to find a better way to deal with one’s problems.Everyday in many places across the country, we have the daily ritual of alms to the monks. People wait patiently to provide food to the monks as they pass through the streets. There is a level of humility, calmness, and respect shown by the locals to the monks. This is a key characteristic of the practice. And this approach defines the fabric of the Laotian society. Most people are humble, calm (I have yet to see arguments, anger), respectful, honest to everyone they meet. I have seen this in small villages, buses, big cities, hostels, restaurants etc.There are temples everywhere and in those temples, some of the most beautiful statues of Buddha. The Buddha Park in Vientiane takes this further: It incorporates Hinduism and Buddhism to showcase the historical influences on Laos. I am not surprised at all. What I didn’t know that the branch of Buddhism in Laos is Theravada Buddhism (Side note: There are two main branches: Theravada and Mahayana). Theravada Buddishm emphasises self liberation through one’s own efforts through the practices of meditation and concentration. More can be read on Wikipedia.As part of my own zeal to continuously improve and grow, I am learning more about Stoicism (Book: The Daily Stoic), Modern Psychology (CBT) , Buddhism and modern psychology (Coursera has a free course) and Health (Podcast: Feel better, live more).The above means my explorations of places is influenced by a larger tool kit of enhanced perspectives, humility, non judgement and empathy. The learnings and experiences from the Camino are being enhanced.And the preparation and practices, I reckon, are helping me appreciate the Laotian society a lot more. And at some level, exponentially improve my experiences as I explore. It has meant giving up on tradition tourist experiences such as pub hopping, adventure activities etc but it has also meant exploring slowly, observing more, learning more and now with a better frame of reference. And that can only be a good thing.

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