If you are non-practicing, can you claim a religion? I raise the question because I’m wondering if I can call myself Buddhist. I was raised Buddhist. I still believe all the things that have been taught to me, respecting all the traditions and superstitions that come with it. However, I don’t go to temple or practice the traditions anymore.
It was always my mother who took us to temple. I think my absence from practicing has a lot to do with her no longer taking me. I’m not sure if I would even know how to worship if I were to start. Is there a correct way? It’s an organized religion, so there must be some sort of structure. My basic knowledge consists of how I am supposed to sit, how I should put my hands together to pray when the monks chant, the number of times to bow my head when praying, what I am allowed to touch, and where to put the offerings.
I know a little, but not a lot. Take for instance, Tak Bat. This is the tradition of giving alms to the monks. I understand the concept, but I don’t know how to “do it”. All I know is you need to feed the monks. Then, there are blessings called Baci or Su Kwan. These are to bless either a home, a marriage, a newborn child, or a death. On these occasions, I try to mimic what everyone else is doing. Strangely, I have strong feelings that I’m not doing it “right.”
When I’m with my husband’s side of the family, they say “grace” to give thanks for meals. I usually just sit there, shut up, and listen quietly.
I do believe in God. I see God as a symbol of a higher power, something bigger than me and my stamp in this universe. I’m not sure I can describe my concept of God as being “conscious”, like some big guy in the sky watching over me.
As I get older, I find myself seeking enlightenment. In 2012, I went to Laos and visited temples all over the country. That wasn’t the plan, but temples are where we ended up going. There is something so grandeur and sacred about stepping inside of temples. A little voice inside me reminds me that I believe in this stuff and it’s very powerful. I can imagine the same emotions are conjured for Catholics when they step inside a cathedral. There is something truly magical about places of “worship”.
To be honest, I feel I’m more spiritual with a healthy dose of Deepak Chopra. I try to follow the concept of love and treating people with kindness, pretty much the basic rules of humanity and most religions. I do it not so much for karma or the belief that if you do good, good things will come back to you. In fact, I don’t expect anything back at all. Granted, that wasn’t always how I saw the world.
One time, my husband and I are stopped at a light and a panhandler asked for spare change. My husband handed him a few dollar bills. I immediately pointed out that he was just going to use that money to buy alcohol. I can recognize the physical signs alcoholism, and he looked like an alcoholic. My husband turned to me and said, “It doesn’t matter to me what he does with that money. I did something to help another person in need. He asked and I gave”. Was that an eye opener or what? Who would have thought, my husband, Mr. Grumpy Pants, would be so enlightened. He is definitely not religious and I doubt he has ever seen the inside a church. I no longer wanted cynicism to be such a big part of me, although this had been my nature for as long as I can remember.
I want to see the glass as half full, not half empty. It takes practice, and sometimes, I have to work on being compassionate, especially toward the stupids. Not to get all “kumbaya”, but parts of me wants to start practicing Buddhism again to help continue my journey to enlightenment. I want to pass this experience to my children and give them something positive. My personal experience with religion has always been good. It has brought me nothing but goodness and compassion. Aside from suffering, that’s what Buddhism is all about, right?
So where do I stand? I’m not sure. Can I call myself a Buddhist? Maybe? I practice it in my heart. I think I’m okay with calling myself spiritual. Needless to say, I’m still baffled people think being a Jew or a Muslim is an ethnic group. Oh well, it makes the world more interesting.