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In the holy month of Ramadan, Buddhist monks serve Iftar for Muslims in Bangladesh

The initiator of the project, Suddhananda Mahathero and the high priest of the temple believes in humanity being the ultimate goal of humans

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Representational Image, Monastery. Image source: www.aljazeera.com
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  • Buddhist monks prepare iftar meals at the main shrine of Dharmarajika monastery for all Ramadan observers
  • This project began 6 years ago and witnesses a herd of underprivileged people coming to the monastery to receive free iftar meals
  • Social welfare activities are conducted in the monastery, which was established in 1951 in Basabo area of Dhaka

DHAKA, BANGLADESH: “Live your life like everyday is Ramadan and the Akhirah (afterlife) will become your Eid.” The Buddhist monks in Dhaka seem to follow the above quote with their heart and soul. Their actions during the days of Ramadan- holiest season in the life of a devout Muslim all round the world wherein they engage in praying, fasting and believe in giving to charity – is an example of the monasteries attempt to work towards attaining harmony in the society.

Everyday during this month the Buddhist monks prepare iftar meals at the main shrine of Dharmarajika monastery for all Ramadan observers. In the light of the fatal attacks against minorities, which are a common sight in Bangladesh, the Buddhist monasteries initiative rebuilds the faith in the hearts of Muslim devotees to look at a peaceful future ahead.

Photo by: Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera. Image Source: www.aljazeera.com
Photo by: Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera. Image Source: www.aljazeera.com

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This project began six years ago and witnesses a herd of underprivileged people coming to the monastery to receive free iftar meals. The initiator of the project, Suddhananda Mahathero and the high priest of the temple believes in humanity being the ultimate goal of humans. Despite the constant unrest amongst the people and the recent violent attacks in South Asia, the monks of Dharmarajika say they are not worried about their safety and have a very good relation with the Muslim community.

With the aim of attaining Inter-religious harmony, social welfare activities are conducted in the monastery, which was established in 1951 in Basabo area of Dhaka. Their typical iftar box contains potato chops, peyaju (onion tempura), beguni (eggplant tempura), chhola-boot (lentils), khejur (dates), muri (puffed rice), and jilapi (a sweet made of sugar syrup).

Sujan and Krishnapad Das helped Buddhist monks to prepare Iftar meals. Image source: Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera
Sujan and Krishnapad Das helped Buddhist monks to prepare Iftar meals. Image source: Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera

Sakhina, an underprivileged member of the Muslim community says that the free food at the monastery is a godsend gift. “Here, we are granted respect that we were supposed to get from our co-religists,” she told Al Jazeera. Like her there are 300 poor people served daily in a nation of 160 million, a nation in which Buddhists are less than one percent of Bangladeshi population whereas 90 percent of the population comprises of Muslims. In a nation with the given demographic Ramadan is the best opportunity to help poor Muslims.

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The monastery itself is home to more than 700 orphans. These orphans are imparted free education at the school located in the monastery premises. The iftar distribution programme starts at 5:30pm local time everyday but the people start making queues from 3pm onwards. With women and men standing in different queues to receive the packets there are long lines outside the temple everyday.

-This report is compiled by a staff-writer at NewsGram.

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  • Aparna Gupta

    Its really commendable. Every religion believes in humanity and they are promoting it.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Good to hear that the religious gaps are being filled!

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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)