My husband suggested this entry for our lifestyle section. Actually, he suggested a whole series of entries on this topic (Looking at you honey, you are up next for this one!)
There are many, many Buddhists in Canada. Most of them are immigrants or from Culturally Asian families where they became Buddhist by inheritance, much the same way I became a Catholic by birth. And so, when people find out that I consider myself Buddhist, they are naturally curious. Some friends have asked how I came by the change in my faith, others have hinted around the subject, so I figured I would lay it all out there and explain how and why it came to be in my life.
The story begins way back before I knew anything about Buddhism. Back in high school, honestly. I went to Catholic grammar school and Catholic high school. I was fairly active in my church – sang in the choir, was a lector and a commentator, a minister of the Eucharist. I volunteered for things like putting out the church’s luminaria and I genuinely found peace in my faith. But I had major, major issues with the Catholic church.
I didn’t agree with a large number of the Church’s teachings. I didn’t like the way the church looked at birth control, at gay people, at the poor. The church was rich and powerful, and in my eyes (though some of those opinions are changing with the new pope) the Church as a whole abused their power and wealth. They asked those with little or nothing to give money to support bishops and archbishops in multi-million dollar lifestyles. I thought the Catholic church was run by hypocrites, and it angered me terribly.
I started looking for something else. Call it a journey of faith.
I went to many traditional churches on my quest. I visited a Baptist church several times, and went on several outings with their youth group. I liked the people, but again, some teachings of the church bothered me. I looked into Lutheran and Methodist churches, both of which my grandmother had attended during her life, but they had very similar issues to the ones that bothered me with the Catholic church. I attended a few services at an Evangelical Free church in the south, once I had moved to West Virginia, and while it was a lot of fun – people speaking in tongues, gospel music, dancing in the aisles – it still wasn’t right.
From things I’d been told about my family lineage in Ireland, I started researching ancient Celtic paganism. Some of the things I learned from books made sense to me, but I didn’t know anyone else who practiced and it didn’t seem practical. So I tried out Wicca. I liked that it was earth based, that it was based on harmony with nature – I liked much of what I learned, but there was still an element missing for me.
Shortly after Richard and I moved to Canada, I started researching Eastern Religions. Hinduism was particularly fascinating, but more from a mythology perspective – I liked the stories of the gods and their works, but I didn’t feel any connection to it. Then I picked up a book by Steve Hagen. I read it once, quickly, and it was like coming home. It was like everything in my heart that I believed about the world was being laid out in front of me. It was like coming home.
So I read it again.
And I slowly began to understand, taking my time this way through, what Buddhism was, the very basics. The book includes a very brief history of Buddhism, as well as a brief overview of practice and belief. It wasn’t enough to completely convert me, of course, but it was enough to open my eyes to what Buddhism is, and to light a fire inside of me to learn more. If you are interested in researching Buddhism, I highly recommend both this book and the book “Buddhism is not what you think” by the same author.
I went on, over the next year or two, to read roughly 30 books on Buddhism, from ancient practice to the lives of Westerners practicing to women living on the Buddhist path. I began my own practice; learning to be present, learning to see, learning to be aware. This involved meditation in many different forms, and much talking to myself (hah!) about things to remember, things to think about, things to remember to think about in meditation, and so on. I searched my heart, and found peace and happiness – finally! – in the practice of Buddhism.
What Buddhists Believe
There is no way I can write in one short blog entry about what all Buddhists, everywhere believe. There are many different sects, just as there are many different sects of Christianity, and so some of the more detailed beliefs vary, from one sect to another, even from those practicing in one temple to another. However there are some overreaching beliefs in Buddhism, just as there are in Christianity, and I will try to give those a bit of an overview and explanation.
The Four Noble Truths
1. Life is Suffering: We all suffer, physically, emotionally, mentally – whatever stage of life we are in or how much we try to distract ourselves from it and not think about it, we all suffer.
2. Suffering is caused by attachments and desires: We can be attached to objects, and hurt when they are lost or broken. We can be attached to people, and hurt when they are lost, or when we witness their pain. We can be attached to hopes and dreams, and hurt when they are dashed. We can be attached to ideas, and hurt when they are disproved or otherwise removed from us. Happiness is real, but is impermanent, and its loss can cause further suffering if we do not recognize that impermanence.
3. We can end our suffering: We are in control of whether or not we suffer or whether we achieve supreme happiness – Nirvana. We can choose to remove desire, remove ill will toward others, and remove ignorance from our lives by choosing to live in the moment, treat others with compassion, and learn from every experience.
4. We can achieve enlightenment and end our suffering by following:
The Eightfold Path
1. Right Understanding: Understanding and accepting the Four Noble Truths and the laws of cause and effect, without which one cannot follow the path.
2. Right Attitude: Moving through the world with an attitude of love, compassion and understanding and not letting negative attitudes and emotions like anger and jealousy fester.
3. Right Speech: Speaking kindly to others, without gossiping, lying or using words to hurt.
4. Right Action: Help those you can, and if you cannot help another, avoid hurting them.
5. Right Livelihood: Earn your living in a way that does not harm others.
6. Right Effort: Trying to live your best life, even if you cannot always achieve it. Trying again when you fail, and again and again if you need to.
7. Right Mindfulness: Living in the current moment, being aware and awake, seeing the truth in the world and participating fully in the moment you are in.
8. Right Concentration: Meditating on the true nature of life and the world to become more aware of the truths of your existence.
Well, what does it mean to you? What it means to me is going to be different. Here’s the thing; Buddhists don’t believe in proselytizing. No one is going to try to convert you when you try to come to knowledge, because we believe that everyone has their own path to follow, and every path is going to be different and will mean different things. How could it not?
We are all connected. Long before physics proved it to be true, Buddhist lamas taught that the barriers we see between things, including people, aren’t real. When we touch, we become one, our very particles bleeding into one another. Because of that connection, everyone and everything is precious – you too, dear reader. And you deserve respect and consideration. As such, if you have questions for me, I will strive to answer them. If you are curious about Buddhism, I will be writing more, both about the basics of belief and practice and about what it means in my life, as I strive to walk the eightfold path of Buddhism.