Monday, July 25, 2011


In an attempt to give a synopsis and not a social studies lesson, the following notes are just a few facts about the religion of Buddhism that comprises approximately 3.25% of the Indian religious population. That means that by 2008 about 30 million Indians living in India were Buddhist. Just before I list some interesting details about the faith, keep in mind that the simplistic nature in which I express the thoughts, precepts and ideals of this intriguing faith are not in any way to demean its followers, but rather to give clear and concise definition to those (like myself) who may not be familiar with the religion. I do not want to cause confusion with cumbersome terminology, but instead simply convey the overall theme of what these devout adherents believe.
-          Siddhartha Gautama founded the Buddhist faith somewhere between the time period of the 4th and 6th BC. He was known as the Buddha, “the awakened one”. He was not and is not however conveyed as a “god”, but a wise teacher.
-          The word Buddhism comes from the word “budhi”, which means to awaken. It ‘s origin is found in the life of founder Siddhartha Guatama, coming into use around the time Guatama experienced “awakening” at age 35 after a spiritual quest to end suffering.
-          A fundamental belief of Buddhist is that “enlightenment” can be achieved by self denial and by eliminating earthly desires. One gets to this point through meditation.
-          Buddhism is practiced all throughout Asia, not just in India, with followers throughout the world of approximately 350-500 million. Some of the more saturated regions are in Sri Lanka and Japan.
-          There are several Buddhist schools. The teachings are all similar, but vary based on the path one may take to “liberation” or Nirvana. Nirvana literally means “blowing out”, referring to blowing out the flames of “greed, hatred and delusion”. Nirvana is apparently the pinnacle; the place one has reached when he or she is what Christians might call “sanctified” or “saved”.
-          Also taught in the schools are “the three jewels”; there is the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Dharma is the truth. The Sangha is the community. Taking “refuge” in the “triple gem” is declaration that one is a buddhist and is on the path to freedom or “liberation”.
-           Monasticism is a big part of the Buddhist religion. The monastic portion of the faith (meaning monks and nuns) comprise the Sangha or community. This area is the most important support role. These chosen people are “responsible for preserving and spreading Buddhist teaching and for education”.
-          The specific details of the life of the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, are highly debated by scholars and historians; therefore I will not speak to those sacred myths and/or facts. What is apparently true, according to author Michael Carrithers, is that "the outline of the life must be true: birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching, death”. Gautama founded the faith and certainly instituted the most important aspect, the monastic practices, after he discovered that torturing one’s self and painful self denial was not the way to end suffering. Nor was the opposite, self indulgence, beneficial. He found the “Middle Way”, which all people Buddhist and other faiths alike could almost certainly profit from.
The most precious take away from this ancient teaching is that it promotes peace, enlightenment, wisdom, love and benevolence.  Followers of Buddhism, unlike some other believers, do not endorse that they or their faith are absolute, but instead teach tolerance for others’ faiths.
Although not exhaustive, the above are just a few highlights of the Buddhist faith. Interested in finding out more? Check out these web sites:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Indian Religions

This segment of COUNT DOWN TO INDIA is being presented as a favor for my ever inquisitive, super intellectual, type A hubby. Since our decision to embark upon our journey to India he has had many questions but none more pressing than the one I am about to address. Being a Christian man himself, he is fascinated by other religions, especially those that seem vastly different from our own. Therefore, he put in a special request. “Can you tell me,” he asked, “about all the various religions that coexist in India?” The Hindu faith has been at the center of most of our topics in COUNT DOWN as it comprises roughly 85% of the religious Indian population. We have also touched on Islam a bit. BUT are there more religious influences in this culturally diverse land that sprawls throughout Southeast Asia? Could it be that as diverse as the land, from ancient to metropolitan, plains to forests, beaches to mountains, so are the people and the beliefs they hold dear? We are about to find out…
As with some of the subjects that we have explored so far, an Indian Religions part II is imminent, partially because there is too much info to cram into just one blog and also because to truly understand any topic as mystifying and precious as someone’s faith, to rush through a generalized overview would be distasteful. Consequently, we embark upon this subject matter with tolerance, curiosity, admiration and open mindedness, keeping in mind that understanding, perspective and appreciation is the final goal, not religious conversion.
Four religions actually originated in India Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.  Sikhism makes up 1.9 % of the religious influence in India and is the smallest major faith. But what is Sikhism? Sikhism borrows some of its fundamentals from Hinduism and Islam, like the concept of universal brotherhood. Its followers denounce idol worship and circumcision. The faith was founded by a man called Guru Nanak, he and other gurus compiled writings from the most renowned gurus to build the basic components of the faith. Guru Granth Sahib was declared “eternal guru” and presented the thought to his followers that “all humans as equal before Waheguru”. Waheguru, by the way, means supreme being or god.
In case you have not guessed, the term guru, used in America and across the world to describe a person who is smart, brilliant or an expert in his field is based on the Indian word guru meaning one who is regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom, and authority in a certain area, and who uses it to guide others…
Sikhism founded in the 15 century is intriguing and satiated with wise counsel and still guides the life of many Indian people today .
Up next we will take a look a Buddhism…stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Dreams can be modified. We may very well have to put our dreams on hold given the recent turn of events in India. This beautiful exotic land has been hit by terror...again. Delhi is on high alert and people are petrified. Our plane is set to land in Delhi, in September in the midst of the very locality that had the bombings. To go or not to go, that is the question? We will have to seriously think about this one.

CNN: INDIA Bombings

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Visa to India

Whew!! I am wiping the sweat from my brow. We just finished the tedious visa application process and all I can say is wow! They ask for everything you have save your first born. BUT as promised…HOW TO GET AN INDIAN VISA.
First things first, what in the world is a visa? Visa literally means “paper that has been seen” and is from the Latin word charta visa; it basically states that an individual is authorized to enter a certain territory.
It is not enough to possess a passport, an American I.D., birth certificate, marriage license, your airport ticket and a major credit card. No, no, to enter some countries you also need the “paper that has been seen” as well. Apparently, some embassies in certain countries require a visa to “identify the traveler” and keep its home country “safe”. I suspect that the fees they accumulate upon receiving each visa application is probably a pretty good motivator as well.
Does one need a visa to enter any and every foreign country? NO. Some countries have reciprocal treaty arrangements with the United States of America, thus U.S. citizens are not required to obtain a visa before or upon entry into these certain countries. Countries that do require visas from Americans have various stipulations (some quite stringent), that must be fulfilled before visitation is granted. Even after these rigorous regulations have been followed, a visa can be denied upon whatever arbitrary directive the country decides upon. In the event the visa is granted and a traveler has safely arrived at his destination, a visa is not a “ticket” into the country. It is merely a verification of identity of the applicant and therefore entry can still be denied.

In our case we paid $118 PER PERSON for outsourcing fees, consulate fees, shipping fees and other miscellaneous tid bits. There are outsourcing companies, mediators,  “go-betweens” and a bunch of red tape. But after all is said and done you are really just applying to the embassy of that particular country.  You are in essence saying, “I am safe, can I please come in?” Once all of your paper work is received they will determine if they will grant you a visa. This process is true of obtaining an Indian visa specifically. The particulars and fees may vary between countries and to know the exact procedures one would have to check with the embassy of the country they would like to visit.
Guidelines change from time to time. For example, just recently, Australia became a country that requires U.S. citizens to obtain a visa before entry. However, it is a simple electronic process that does not require the sacrifice of your family heirlooms and every other document you have in your safe deposit box. Other countries curious travelers may be interested in visiting are listed below:
You need a visa for:
You do NOT need a visa for:
Note: Be aware that all of the countries that do not require visas do however require passports. Those that require visas also require passports. Your visa is stamped inside your current passport.
Note:  When visiting another country, various other fees can be accrued and can potentially become very expensive (visas, passport acquisitions or passport renewals, baggage fees, etc). Be sure to factor these fees into the price of your trip during the planning process.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Random stuff I was surprised to learn about India

Remember Arsenio Hall and the “things that make you go hmmmm”? Well if Arsenio were still on the air he would have a lot to “hmm” about over the following random nuggets of information. As a matter of fact, a couple of them I would not have even believed myself if I had not gleaned them from such a reputable source as National Geographic.

1.       Every 50 years bamboo blooms in the Mizoram state in India…AND INDIANS DREAD IT!  We here in America love our bamboo for flooring, blinds, decorations, etc. But it is not welcome in India. When the maturing, heavily saturating bamboo breed, infestations of rats move in. The rats devour the bamboo as their main course. When all the bamboo is gone, crops like rice take a hit and farmers lose money.

2.       In parts of India they really do care about their workers. Folk called "dabbawallahs" are employed to carry food to office workers. As a matter of fact the literal translation is “one who carries a box”. I actually wouldn’t mind having one of those.

3.       I must admit, there are some interesting ways of dealing with the bodies of those who have passed on in this country, like above ground graves or maybe crematories, but who ever heard of just leaving a corpse on the ground (no casket to speak of) to rot. Seems unsanitary, not to mention disrespectful of the person's remains, but with the people of Parsis in India, this is exactly what they do to the deceased. More specifically, they leave them on the ground for vultures to eat. Unfortunately, the vulture population has declined and bodies now just lie there until they decompose. Hope to miss that part of India!

4.       Hyenas are not the prettiest or sweetest animals in the animal kingdom, but their reputation is really bad in India. In Tanzania, Africa and India it is believed that witches ride on the backs of these mischievous creatures. And to think, I always thought witches rode on brooms!

5.       In America, every October 31, we dress up and go door to door saying “trick or treat” to get candy and other goodies. Though the origin of this practice maybe a little sketchy to some Christian believers, most of us partake in the tradition at least to some degree. India has its own colorful holiday. Literally. In the Indian festival Holi, which is celebrated in the spring, people run through the streets making mischief and fun by throwing colored powder on each other. This is called the festival of color. I wonder if that powder is by MAC or Fashion Fair?

Next time you want to strike up a conversation at the water cooler or you want to look well versed in the knowledge of the world, break out one of these interesting facts.
All information found in National Geographic’s: Guide to India