When you plan to go and study abroad, there are many things that cross your mind. You think about the type of experiences you want to have and the type of adventures you might encounter. It might even cross your mind the possibility of falling in love or meeting a lifelong friend. For days before coming to Bhutan I felt "butterflies" in my stomach picturing the different outcomes and things I would learn. I imagined myself in many different scenarios.
For one thing I thought that I would come into terms with the spiciness of Bhutanese food and embrace it (for which I have to some extent miserably failed). I also thought that I would be hiking quite a lot and that I would get into shape. In reality we have hiked a couple of times, but I really wish someone would have told me that most of the time I would find myself wearing a kira and in need of high heels. I also wished for roommates with whom I could learn things about Bhutanese culture and share my own culture. Looking back at the past couple of months I have many good memories with my roommates that I will always cherish. I know that in the future when I think about my time with them, there will be an inevitable smile on my face.
Then, there are the things you don´t expect to deal with, experience, or learn from when you are abroad. It is the kind of things that break your heart... and spirit. The hardest was dealing with the death of a good friend. My friend Ruslan passed away after he had a cycling accident back in September. I thought he was too young to die, he had so much to give and I was deeply saddened by the idea of not talking to him ever again. If I had been at home I would have found some sense of comfort by going to church and praying for his soul. My friends and family members would have told me how he had become an angel and that he would eternally be looking after us from above. My way of dealing with his departure would have been very different from the way I experienced it in Bhutan. I came to understand the idea of death and reincarnation from a Buddhist perspective to cope with my loss.
The moment I heard the news, I broke into tears. I couldn't help but to sob uncontrollably. My friends were trying to calm me down "don´t cry anymore Mari...". The first thing they told me was that "crying for someone who is gone, will keep their soul attached to this life". They explained to me that if he had been a compassionate and giving person he would surely reincarnate into something good in his next life (cause and effect). They asked me about the things he had done in this life and I narrated how he was such a loved person by everyone who knew him, how he had been so committed to Special Olympics when we were at high school and his love for his family and friends.I remember Ruslan as always willing to learn from others and always striving to become a better person. I found myself thinking back at all the good deeds he had done in life. I remembered him making jokes and smiling in my room and being there for my roommate when she needed some good advice. I also thought about when he lead the independence parade in Costa Rica dressed very proudly with his Latvian traditional clothes. He also helped me to overcome my fear of cycling in the town where we lived. He encouraged me to try it out and prepared all the equipment for me.
One of my friends then smiled back at me and said “he had surely accumulated a lot of good karma". On that same night, I sat with a very close friend of mine and we talked about the impermanence of things. He told me that even though he was Buddhist himself he had had a hard time dealing with loss, but that it was important to realize the impermanent nature of everything, not just regrading to death, but also to relations and material possessions. I thought about my parents and my other friends, and how sometimes we think that their existence and presence will be permanent. We take things for granted. Once they are gone we are left with a huge hole inside that we don´t quite know how to deal with or fill. On the next day I went with him to a monastery and lit some butter lamps for Ruslan. I closed my eyes and prayed that wherever he was, he was safe and happy. An old lady who was there also prayed in Dzongkha for his soul. That day I learned that I could also find spiritual comfort in a monastery far away from the churches I'm used to, or even in prayers which language I can’t understand. Sometimes it is all about the intention and faith.
I had more conversations with my roommates regarding reincarnation and their believes in death. My roommate Rinchen assured me that everything you do in life has a cause and an effect (not only in your present life but in future ones as well). She said that it is believed that people who have done wrong in past lives are born into animals such as cows, pigs and chickens, which are consumed by other people, and undergo a great deal of suffering. On the other hand, if good karma has been cultivated in past lives it is very likely to be born human again. Those who have accumulated good deeds could also be born as monks or very wealthy and healthy people. Something that I found very interesting was the way Bhutanese families deal with the loss of a member. She told me that when her grandmother passed away they consulted an astrologist about what her future reincarnation would be and the different rituals and pujas they would have to perform in order for her reincarnation to take place. She also told me that in fact the 4th King is considered to be a reincarnation of the Lord of Compassion (no wonder why he was born as a King of Bhutan).
In my religion which is Catholic, we are taught to find comfort in the belief that the person who is gone will find eternal happiness and peace in heaven next to God. They become angels who guide and protect us. I find so interesting that in Buddhism, the family in a way helps their relatives’ soul to reincarnate into a new and better life through different rituals. In a way the life of a person ends with their death and a new one starts following their reincarnation. The good and bad deed that they have done in previous lives carries over. According to my religion we have a funeral and display the corpse for two or three days before burring it, and we pray for the person's soul to reach heaven safely. We also dress in black as a sign of respect. I'm not sure if Ruslan is an angel, a monk, or even perhaps a future king, but either way I can look back and smile at the great life he had and all the different ways he touched so many lives while he was alive.
Miss you hermano.
- Marijose Vila Class 2013