Life sentence for chorten ( stupa ) vandalism! Somehow the penalty seems as sacrilegious to life as the vandalism crime is to any faith.
Before democracy, Buddhism was the official state religion of Bhutan. A natural Faith for a Buddhist Kingdom. And with the introduction of democracy, Bhutan has been declared a secular nation. However, in most cases, anything that is part of or related to Buddhism is still considered sacred and equally sensitive as when Buddhism was the state religion. This deeply entrenched emotion in most cases is important because Buddhism was not just a spiritual faith in Druk Yul. It was and still is central to our culture, tradition, cherished heritage and infact the guide and guidance of everyday life. Even so, under Democracy, I had hoped for a more considerate and reasonable national attitude towards those criminals involved in chorten vandalism.
Chortens or stupas are scattered all over the wilderness of Bhutan. These religious monuments are different from temples in terms of preservation and protection. The temples are usually placed in the custody of caretaker or a Lam and serves as centre of religious and cultural activities of a community. Whereas chortens are left near abandoned and often never attended to. It is a fact that religious sentiments that a Buddhist has for temple or chorten or a scripture or even a statue of a Lam are equally deep and sacred. Perhaps that is why whether a criminal robs a village temple which is protected and regularly looked after by the community and a chorten left in the geographical wilderness, the penalty under the law of the land is same. It is life imprisonment for robbing a temple or vandalising a chorten.
It would be considered sacrilegious to suggest that attacks on religious properties does not warrant heavy penalty. But a distinction needs to be exercised between vandalism of a derelict chorten left always unattended and that of robbing a community temple. Also though religious properties are sacred and we have a duty to protect and preserve, is it really a correct way of Buddhism to avenge so mercilessly? Most robbery or vandalism are committed out of greed for wealth. Not for reasons of animosity towards a particular religion. Is it possible to do away with life imprisonment for any robbery unless caretaker was physically attacked? And could the level of penalty vary between robbing temples and that of act of vandalising an abandoned chorten?
I believe that even under a secular nation, Buddhism must remain the primary national Faith. Buddhism is the hallmark of our sovereign heritage. For this reason, I had earnestly appealed during the national exercise in the framing of the Constitution that Buddhism should be preserved as the state religion whilst endorsing the freedom of practise of other Faiths. However, as a born Buddhist and with renewed maturity in my faith in the goodness of Lord Buddha, I am disturbed by life imprisonment sentence for chorten vandalism. Our religion an art of compassion and our law relating to it " life imprisonment " a terror of life and living.