Friday, October 16, 2009

The Gods Drink Whiskey by Stephen Asma

For the majority of people, Buddhism is linked to Tibet and the Dalai Lama. In this book, we learn about Buddhism in Cambodia called Theravada Buddhism. As it turns out, associating Tibetan Buddhism as "the" Buddhism is like associating Mormonism as "the" Christianity. Only about 6% of the world's Buddhists are Tibetan Buddhists (out of roughly 400 million Buddhists).

Asma was invited to teach Buddhism at the Cambodian Buddhist Institute to a select group of students. He covers his journey through a new country and new version of Buddhism in this really well written and engaging book.

*Tibetan Buddhism encourages deities when in reality Buddha did not want deities. People should be focused on themselves and achieving nibbana (enlightenment or cooling - having a cool heart). Although holy relics are still sacred to Theravadan Buddhists - such as Buddha's eyebrow or tooth.
*The title of the book comes from the fact that whiskey is offered up to the spirits to keep the peace. Families and businesses have little spirit houses where they make offerings to keep the bad stuff from happening to them. And in this case, spirits like whiskey.
*Theravada Buddhism is mixed with a bit of Hinduism and most still worship Vishnu and Shiva, even though Buddha says there are no gods. Most religions are a mix of others and one would probably be hard pressed to find a pure religion.
*Theravadan Buddhists meditate on corpses. This is to pound in the fact of impermanence. I don't think I want to do that.
* Cambodia is a hot mess. Politics, assassinations on the streets, Khmer Rouge. It's no wonder the peace of Buddhism is practiced.
*Penises aka phallic symbols are worshiped by some.

There is a ton more information and it's all very interesting and gives a great perspective of religion in Southeast Asia.
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