Bhutanese Buddhist monks play volleyball at Rabdey Dratsang in the southeastern district of Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan, 9/3/09. Five decades ago, Bhutan -- the last Himalayan Buddhist kingdom -- was a feudal, medieval place with no roads, proper schools, or hospitals and scarcely any contact with the outside world. Today education and healthcare are free and life expectancy has risen to 66 years from less than 40. Rather than GDP, it is unique as a nation in measuring GDH ("gross domestic happiness") as its main indicator of progress (Reuters/Singye Wangchuk).
Few people seem to be aware that Buddhist monks invented chess. Who? When? Where? Chess is a Chinese invention. Modern Chinese are sometimes surprised to realize that modern the game of chess -- as well as agriculture, shipping, astronomical observatories, decimal mathematics, paper money, umbrellas, wheelbarrows, multi-stage rockets, brandy and whiskey, and much more -- all came from China (chineseculture.about.com).
A famous sporting tradition from India, which is still practiced vigorously in Tibet, is the sport of debating. Far from an intellectual exercise in calm reasoned argument, it's more oratory and style with inextricable paradoxes and showmanship, stereotype texts and logical hoop jumping. Players (who are all in training) slap their hands together as if to say, "Ha, try to get out of that one!" to which the other player either admits defeat or shoots back: "Ha ha, burn, now let's see you try to wriggle out of that answer!"
Equestrian pursuits are still popular in rural areas. Young novices (samaneras, who may look like monks, are only bound by ten precepts, rather than 227 Vinaya rules) are seen here in Laos going horseback for almsround. It's not about galloping and showing off, but more about noble Sakyan (who were from the warrior caste) dignity and good sportsmanship. In areas with few roads and many hazards, the equines can be of great help. Siddhartha Gotama (who became the Buddha) had a horse, a gorgeous white stallion named Kanthaka.
With great care, one may sneak up on monastics engaged in sporting activities that do not at first blush appear staid and sedentary. Here novices are seen enjoying the most popular sport in England and Asia, cricket. Most time is spent engaged in spiritual pursuits, it's true, but the body is a vehicle to spirituality, not an obstacle. Meditation is torture without yoga, which makes the body flexible and limber and was originally invented in order to enable and prolong sitting.
There's longhorn blowing, cooking, sewing, levitating, water gathering... Believe it or not, there are even "blood sports." These are usually played with young soldiers whose coaches yell instructions from inside parliamentary buildings and paramilitary barracks. The soldiers themselves, well armed and in proper game attire, are almost never hurt.
The lightly clad Buddhist monks, nuns, and novices however are not so lucky. With scores frequently in the 100:nil range, matches are increasingly viewed around the world but growing less fair by the day.
Images (widely available on the Net) are too gruesome to show here, but may be hinted at in this cartoon about a 100-yard dash with live rounds in Burma and Tibet (both prompted by government-sponsored Chinese League opponents).
Fresco at Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet showing men with "nine skills," traditional sports including horseracing, archery, wrestling, carrying stones, tug of war, yak racing, acrobatics, and so on, 17th century (Tibetdaily/China-Hiking.com).
- Sri Lanka cricket promoting religious discrimination?
Buddhism has nothing to do with the British invented sport of cricket. Further, Buddhism does not plead to God or gods for divine intervention in their favor.... (Daily Mirror).
- Jazz music great Sonny Rollins
...though Jazz St. Louis' press program informs of his "legendary sabbaticals," one of which involving the study of Zen Buddhism in Japan and yoga in India... (The Current).