I was raised Catholic. I attended Catholic school through eighth grade. I got to a point where I tried really hard to be the best Catholic I could be. I became an alter girl, I joined the choir, and I helped out in the Church in whatever ways I could. My parents (namely my mother) became disheartened with the church and decided to try something else. We tried a variety of non-denominational churches, Lutheran, and finally Methodist, where we ended up staying and being baptized.
Again, I tried to stay involved with the church, because I liked it at the time. I volunteered a lot running an after-school program and food drives. It was fun, but as I started getting older, I started questioning a lot of the church teachings. Methodist really wasn’t all that far off from Catholicism as far as I could see. Essentially most of the principles were the same or similar. Worship God, don’t steal, don’t murder, ect. The don’t steal and don’t murder parts made a lot of sense, but it was the worshipping God that just didn’t line up for me.
Now I definitely feel like there is something larger than us, but I have a hard time believing that there is some guy up in the sky who judges us and loves us, and makes all of these rules for us. I don’t think “he” cares if we worship “him” or anything like that. I believe that higher power lies in nature and natural order. If I could equate God to anything, it would be electricity. Electricity is in our brains, it changes the atoms of matter, it flows through everything. In my opinion, “God” is simply our interconnectedness.
I claimed to be an Atheist for a while, because I didn’t see God in the way that most religions do, but really that didn’t describe it since I still believe in a higher power. I went with Agnostic for a while, because I couldn’t line up with anything else, so I guessed that saying “I don’t know” was the closest I was going to get. Either way, I really didn’t care what I called myself, but “religious” wasn’t one of those things. I was into philosophy, and the questions alone were enough for me, I didn’t have to have the answers.
Religion has always fascinated me, especially how people flock to it, and even more how people will turn their backs on what seems like the right thing to do just to defend it. I mean look how many people have been killed simply in the name of God! I still believe there are underlying reasons behind these kinds of killings, but there are always those groups that will strive to make their position make more sense by throwing God into the equation. Anyway, my fascination with religion has caused me to do a lot of reading and research on religions simultaneously with my philosophy research. In this reading, I discovered Buddhism.
Of course I had heard of Buddhism throughout my life, but it was pretty basic. I knew about this Siddhartha Gautama guy, and enlightenment, and meditation, but aside from that, I knew nothing of what Buddhism had to offer. Buddhism is a religion of peace. It is barely a religion at all, and it turns out that some Buddhists practice other faiths as well. Some have even said that Buddhism has made them a better Christian. Buddhism doesn’t have a distinct God or gods, and there is no heaven or hell. Everything is based on reducing your attachment to material things, realizing your interconnectedness with everything else, and radiating compassion for others. The more good things you do, the more good things come to you. It sounds right up my alley.
I continued reading and diving deeper into the religion and I continue to find myself being pulled and drawn to it. I want to be a Buddhist, and I want to be darn good at it. I found a Buddhist sangha in my area and I plan to attend a service on Sunday, the first day of the new year. I thought what a better way to start a new year than by joining a new group of people with likeminded views? I have spoken with a few members of the sangha as well as the abbot and I am very excited to attend. I had thrown off religion for so long but I think I have finally found a place where I belong. I have skeptical family, but those family members know nothing of Buddhist practice. I intend to show them through my actions how wonderful Buddhism can be.
Ever since I made the commitment to the Buddhist way of life, my outlook has changed. That isn’t to say that a negative thought doesn’t come along, or that I don’t do something that is not in line with my beliefs sometimes. I am new to this. The great thing about Buddhism is that there isn’t some damning action that removes you from salvation. Buddhism is all about getting better and improving yourself. If you do something “bad” it is your job to learn from it, understand why you did it, what harm it caused, and make a vow not to make that same mistake again. Buddhism is about growing and becoming a better person, and I love that.
I’m excited to start a new year with a new religion. These past few weeks I have been preparing myself for my practice and easing myself into the Buddhist way of life. I have been writing out my goals and what I expect to gain and lose from my practice. I have been integrating small parts of the process into my daily life each day. I have been practicing yoga (before I had surgery, but I had to take a slight break), meditation, and trying to be more mindful in everything that I do. It is amazing how hard it can be to actually focus on every action before you do it and while you are doing it, but when you do, you find yourself making fewer mistakes and actually enjoying what you do. Even the simplest things can be enjoyable if you allow them to be.
I am glad I finally opened my heart and allowed myself to accept a religion. I guess it just takes finding one that truly sparks a fire in your heart. I hope that all of you reading this find what you are looking for, whatever it may be. Just remember, true happiness isn’t found in things, but within your heart. Namaste.