Respect and Empower Individuals with diverse abilities
Introductory remarks by H.E Gyalwa Dokhampa
Practicing Buddhism is about doing positive deeds, avoiding negative deeds and ultimately taming our mind. However, in many cases, there is a trace of narrow mindedness when we do positive deeds. Many a times, we limit our positive deeds to just going to temples and performing rituals, which should not be the case. Accumulation of positive deeds can be done through offerings to (i) Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for their great qualities, (ii) parents for their extreme kindness to their children and (iii) people who are suffering and in need - to whom our little kindness mean so much to them. All these three offerings are the sources of great merit - abundant and quick like fertile fields. There is no point in saying which is of greater merit. We should realise that benefitting other beings selflessly is the greatest offering to Buddhas as they love all the beings like a mother who love her only child. And if you benefit the child, the mother will naturally be happy.
Now, coming to the particular topic of discussion on “Respect and empower individuals with diverse abilities”, I often hear that some parents feel ashamed of their child or children who are disabled and discard them. So, I feel that if you are a real Buddhist practitioner, taking the opportunity to do something for them is a great opportunity for you to accumulate positive merit, even if it may be for a selfish reason. Doing anything for people who are going through difficulties, is of immense positive Karma (Gewa). And I have said many times that if you ask Buddha for his preference for an offering of a huge amount of money or helping people with difficulty, Buddha will always say, please help other sentient beings and that will make me happy. That is how Buddha got enlightened – being selflessly compassionate and wise. Therefore, whenever we do positive deeds or a Rimdro (rituals), we can expand our thoughts to a greater extent of compassionate thinking. Actually, I have a wish that one day in future, whenever people want to do a positive deed, their thoughts will not be limited to just looking for a monk to perform a ritual or going to a temple. Their thoughts should also include options such as going to Draktsho or Ability Bhutan and doing something for the benefit of the students there, or contributing to build a bridge in a needy community, doing something for the sick people. Irrespective of how positive deeds are done, the merit is definitely going to be positive.
A few years ago, a mother came to see me and she was saying her child is autistic. She had come for a blessing before starting the therapy for her child. I told her not to worry. As Buddhist, we believe in karma, we all have our own cause and condition. Whatever difficulty the child is going through, that is the child’s karma. I am saying this because some people think that because of his/her negative karma, his/her children are punished. This is not true. As a Buddhist, we believe that we are all responsible for our own karma. That is why we do not judge others. As a mother, your job is to look after your children but do not carry the guilt for the child. Secondly, even if you believe that children born with disability has negative karma, and if you judge them and discriminate them, you are accumulating more negative karma. Instead of purifying your negative karma, you are accumulating more negative karma.
On the other hand, if you do good to people going through difficulties, it is of great merit but if you harm them, it is of a great demerit. The merit and demerit is said to be 1000 times more than the consequences of doing the same to a normal person because they cannot take care of themselves and they do not have a voice to raise. I would say that by understanding karma, we should see this as an opportunity to really do something positive.
Also, coming to the teachings on relative truth and ultimate truth, relatively, yes you can say that the children with special needs are more disabled than us. Ultimately, disability or ability depends on our concept. For example, we can walk without a wheel chair but does that make us more abled? Compared to a monkey who can climb a tree without any support, we so called normal people who cannot climb a tree with so much ease, are disabled.
Whether the projection of your mind is positive or negative depends on the situation. When you see beautiful things, you wish for eyes to see such things; but when you hear hurtful things that breaks our heart, at that time you wish that you had no ears. At that time, someone who is deaf is the blessed one. I hope this is not inappropriate - sometimes I say that one of the ways to help the people with different abilities is to get married to them and there is benefit in it. Of course, you can take care of him or her and I often jokingly say that, if you have a wife who cannot speak, then there is no scolding, so that makes it positive. If you have a husband who cannot hear, the wife can shout on top of her lungs but the husband cannot hear so there is no argument. I am sure that sometimes; everyone wishes that his wife cannot hear or her husband cannot speak (hahaha). Anyway, relatively speaking we can talk about good karma, bad karma; but ultimately, I don’t think we have the right to say that we are more special.
To talk a little about community responsibility, in the olden days, it was a privilege to get old, people used to look forward to getting old. They will work hard when they were young, get married, look after their children and when the children have grown up, they say that now I have four children, and they are my fixed deposit, now it is time for me to relax. In many societies, senior people were respected in the society, they were given special treatment and they feel happy to be senior citizens. Nowadays, people are afraid of becoming old because in many societies, people are now judged based on how much money they can make, their productivity and not on seniority or experience which were valued so much in the past. Basically, we are becoming like machines, use and use and when not in good order, kick them out. May be, it is not the case in Bhutan but in many developed countries, they are thinking of only productivity.
However, we do not realize this when we are young, we never think that we will also get old. I am sure all the older people here were also young once. Some people say that we are getting younger but that is not true. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to build a society with compassion integrated in it, as envisioned by His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen, who is the Royal patron of Ability Bhutan. A society that encourages and teaches people not to look down on differently abled people, rather look after the people in need with compassion and respect. With a compassionate society, Bhutan may become a society where being differently abled is a privilege, - how wonderful will that be? Bhutan can be a place where to be old is to be respected because you have sacrificed so much when you were younger. Being old is a wealth of knowledge and experiences that the younger generation can learn from. Think about how wonderful this will be, of course not so much when we are younger but will realise when we become older.
Finally, in my opinion, irrespective of how abled or differently abled a person may be, we should feel that we are same, equal, and show respect. Having this genuine thought would make all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas very happy.