Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

The Forgotten Heritage

January 13, 2011

Story By Monica Lomahukluh

Photos By Montana Hodges and Kevin Radley

Driving through the tight streets of Soc Trang City, strolling through a nearby village, I walked toward the gates of the sacred ground.  I embraced taking the first steps into one of the nationally recognized pagodas, also known as a Doi (bat).  I wanted to feel at ease and that my own heritage, the Native American Hopi Tribe, had some parallels to the Buddhism religion.  Unfortunately, as I got closer to the pagoda, there was a surprising amount of plastic bags, bottles, to-go boxes, and wrappers consuming this so-called sacred land.  Right then and there, I knew we had several differences in our beliefs.

Hopi means “peaceful people” or “the peaceful little ones” in an English translation.  We are humble people from Arizona who don’t like confrontation and highly respect our beliefs.  In our minds, the earth is our god and we, as a people, are the guardians.  The rain is our ancestors.

The Buddhist culture is incredibly magical and the essence radiates out of each carefully designed building on this sacred soil.  I look around and see Monks wandering around the grounds, some with cell phones glued to their ears.

Dr. Le Dinh Bich, a local music professor from Can Tho University, explained the highlights of the Buddhist culture on our tour so I could compare my own heritage to another beautiful culture. He mentioned that it takes years before a monk could reach a pure soul, and when that happens they can become a Buddha.  This is the symbol for the highest deity in Buddhism.  Throughout the discussion, certain thoughts ran through my mind about staying pure in a pile of garbage. How can that be?  We are the earth, wind, fire, and rain shouldn’t we respect each element like our ancestors and not litter on the earth.

As I explored the Doi Pagoda, drumming played off in the distance while I looked down upon a pond where fish were trying to get the slightest nimble of an ear of corn.  Previously, Dr. Bich told our class of the bats that live within the Pagoda’s walls.  These animals never eat the fruit this sacred ground provides.  The Pagoda protects the bats and the bats protect the Pagoda.  This symbiotic relationship is beautiful and needs to be told to the whole world.  Animals were respecting the land more than human beings.  Why can’t we follow in our brother’s and sister’s footsteps?

I don’t know why I thought my heritage and Buddhism had many similarities.  Like Dr. Bich said, “each religion is different.”  Both heritages may have small things in common but they are truly different.  I see differences in stories, teaching, music and dance. Yet no matter what background we come from, we all still smile in the same language and culture.

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