Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Rotary Club Of Thimphu Serves The Living, As Well As The Dead

It sounds almost morbid – but it is true. The Rotary Club of Thimphu has gone beyond serving the living and the corporeal. In what could be the first among hundreds of thousands of Rotary initiatives around the world, our latest service project embraces the cause of the dead and the lifeless.

During early April, 2017, the Central Regional Referral Hospital, Gelephu had written to us for the donation of deep freezers, in order that they could preserve the dead bodies that cannot be moved out of the hospital, on religious grounds. Having obtained the permission of the Ministry of Health to do so, we swiftly organized the purchase and delivery of three large 308 liters capacity box freezers.

In my capacity as the Club Secretary, I drove down to Gelephu day-before-yesterday (Sunday) to officially hand over the freezers to the hospital authorities.

Dr. Tapas Gurung, Medical Superintendent of Gelephu Central Regional Referral Hospital along with some hospital staff pose for photo shoot during handover of the donation

As I drove back to Thimphu yesterday afternoon, I could not stop wondering if there was any merit in what we did – spend time and effort and precious money behind an endeavor that is solely intended to preserve something that is destined for the funeral pyre, to be turned to ashes. Of the millions of ways in which we could demonstrate our sense of charity and spirit of giving, why choose the preservation of lifeless bodies, as a cause deserving of our compassion?

At the end of my ponderous return journey of over 8 hours, I was in no doubt that the cause was indeed a worthy one. This conviction stems from the Buddhist belief that the dead, however poor or rich, literate or illiterate, highly spiritual or totally unaccomplished, deserves a worthy send-off, on his/her journey into the netherworld. In my experience, for the Bhutanese, the mourning of the cessation of a life is ten times more evocative, than the celebration of the birth of a new life. It is for this reason that some Bhutanese families go bankrupt, preparing for, and conducting the last rites for the dead and the departed. Thus, preserving the physical remains of the departed, in order that the bereaved family is able to conduct a fitting and dignified ritual and last rites, can qualify as a meritorious act, deserving of praise and commendation.

To give to those who you know will not say “THANK YOU” for your act of compassion, I believe, is truly selfless. To act for the cause of the mute, the defenseless and the incapacitated is, in my opinion, the highest form of Buddhist charity.

THANK YOU: I would like to offer my thanks to all the Members of the Rotary Club of Thimphu, for readily consenting to my request for this act of kindness. The money used for the purchase of these three freezers was originally destined for our “Education & Lifeskills Fund” that is being created – to provide scholarships to the living and the needy. Our Fund is so much poorer as a result – but we hope to be able to build the Fund to a total of Nu.2.0 million by the end of this financial year, from the current total collection of little over Nu.1.4 million. Our final target is Nu.30.00 million.

To my none-Buddhist readers: In our Buddhist belief, some deaths occur on days/nights that are considered inauspicious – depending on the astrological sign of one’s birth. During such occasions, the body of the departed cannot be cremated and, in some cases, it cannot even be moved out of the premises where the death had occurred. The body has to remain in the same place and cannot be cremated for a period of time until the astrological calculations permit for it to be moved to the cremation grounds for cremation. Until that time the body needs preserving, most often by putting them into freezers, to prevent decay and deterioration. This is where the freezers become useful.

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