Buddhism

South Asia: A Melting Pot of Religion

BY ALFIE, A PIONEERS UK WORKER IN SOUTH ASIA

Bells. Today, like most days, our day starts with the sound of bells.

This is not the sound of our alarm clock or our doorbell but of the puja** bells ringing in worship to the Hindu gods. As we step out of our flat, we see the now familiar sight of red and yellow paste mixed with a red flower carefully placed at each entrance to the house. We pass the remnants of the incense burnt earlier this morning in the potted plant by the gate.

Puja. Our landlord’s daughter-in-law has been busy, as she is every morning, ensuring she fulfils her duty of offering puja to the gods on behalf of the household. She carries the burden of the spiritual wellbeing of the family; if something bad befalls them, she simply must not have worshipped enough.

This mindset also pervades the Christians here. One morning a Christian driver let his children sleep instead of waking them in the early hours to pray with him before he set off. Only he and his wife prayed. That day, he was involved in a collision when a motorcyclist made a poor decision and cut in front of his car. The motorcyclist was injured but received no lasting damage. The Christian driver wonders whether the accident would have occurred if he had woken his children to join him and his wife for morning prayers.

Walking through our small town it is impossible to forget that we live in a predominantly Hindu area. There are constant reminders surrounding us – the temple at the end of the main road; the man offering worship at the shrine; the Hindu swastikas that decorate so many houses, calling for prosperity and good luck; the red and yellow paste that adorns the homes, the shop fronts, the shrines, the Hindu statues and the faces of the people we pass in the street – a tika on the forehead of the woman selling us fruit and vegetables or an intricate design on the face of the man walking by.

As we head out of town and travel to a village in the foothills of the Himalayas, we leave Hinduism behind and move into an area of Buddhism. Buddhist prayer flags hang from many houses, large flagpoles stand proud within the village. As we admire the stunning views, we can see them fluttering in the wind, offering up prayers on the householders’ behalf. Having been invited into a neighbour’s home and enjoying their generous hospitality, a peculiar object catches our eye – are goats sacrificed on this object by the head of the household, the witch doctor?

Christians, Buddhists, Hindus. Neighbours, colleagues, friends. All appears to be amicable but below the surface, tensions simmer. Legal proceedings when Hindu neighbours complain the church building is too tall or prevent access unless the church purchases more land at an inflated price; anger when a family member converts to Christianity; new Government laws designed to prevent conversion and prevent foreign influence. Persecution takes many forms. All is not harmonious. On Hindu festival days, most Christians remain indoors to avoid any involvement. Integrated yet segregated.

But there is hope. We met a man, a talented artist, creating beautiful, intricate paintings. He once painted mandalas and other Buddhist imagery but when he became a Christian he prayed that God would show him what he could do instead, as painting was all he knew. A few weeks later, a lady commissioned him to paint a Christian alternative – a mandala incorporating a Bible verse. He praised the Lord! God had given him back his art which he now uses to further God’s Kingdom.