I have grown up with strong religious roots. I have always gone to church and Sunday school and I have always loved to learn about God. My parents worked hard to raise me with a religious base firmly rooted in Christianity. I have never had the opportunity to explore the beliefs of a faith unrelated to Christianity. The way that other people believe is always something that has fascinated me, but I have nonetheless never gotten up the guts to visit the site of a different kind of worship.
I am very glad that I had the opportunity to visit Compassionate Dharma Cloud Monastery, a Buddhist Monastery, with my religion class. I found the experience to be nothing but positive and, in fact, quite relaxing. After the visit, I felt closer to my classmates and closer to my God as well.
Much of our visit was spent meditating. The Buddhist teacher, Thay Tinh Man, who we had the opportunity to visit with, explained that meditation is not a religious practice. I found this to be absolutely true. Meditation is often equated with a spiritual realm where you communicate with some god and fly, but in reality meditation is simply an opportunity to quiet your mind and to be thankful for what you have. It was very refreshing to take a second to live in the now and appreciate everything – from each part of the body to the very fact that we are breathing today.
The Buddhist teacher was very gentle and caring. He took extra care to make eye contact with each of us. He shared the Buddhist belief in a very clear way. He explained to us that Buddhists don’t believe in the existence of a god; that his belief in Buddhism is not so much a religion as it is a way of life. Many of the principles, such as thankfulness and compassion, are easily applied to my personal faith. According the teacher, Buddhism is a very individual belief, but at the same time, it is believed by Buddhists that we are all connected – what we do as an individual affects the whole picture. I also learned that Buddhists believe that Nirvana, their sort of mental Heaven (they don’t actually believe in Heaven as a physical place) is attainable during everyday life. Nirvana is not something that happens in the afterlife. Buddhism is a way of life that is focused on living in the present. It does no good to worry about the future or to regret the past. Happiness is now, in the present. This message of living in the now is what stuck with me the most during our visit.
There are differences between Buddhism and Christianity – the major one being the belief in the existence of God – but, as was explained to me, many Buddhists do not see Buddhism as a religion but as a way of life. With that in mind, many Buddhists are members of different religious communities. Personally, I can see many ways the practices of Buddhists apply to my own faith.
Overall, I found Buddhism to be a very generous and thankful way of life that is deeply rooted in compassion. I find it fascinating and quite sad that both Christianity and Buddhism could be rooted in compassion and yet still be seen, by many, as enemies. I found many more similarities between Christianity and Buddhism than I would have guessed. In the end, I think the Buddhist way of life is very similar to the Christian way of life. Both believe in helping others and both are rooted in the deep understanding that we need to love one another. My visit to this community is just another example of how understanding and respect for one another breaks down barriers and brings us closer together.