This isn’t a column about religion, well, not intentionally anyway. Bear with me. I didn’t grow up with religion as a part of my life. So, I’m somewhat curious about particular views. This curiosity led me to a local Tibetan Buddhist education center.
I had researched Buddhism in one of my master’s courses, namely women in Buddhism, and its adoption by about 1 million in the United States. Aspects of the religion, such as a tolerance of other views and how it is the individual who is responsible for his own happiness or despair, intrigued me. But it’s usually with great trepidation that I attend a place of worship. I decided to dip my toe.
A ‘like-minded’ group
Visiting the center was a very different yet enjoyable experience. You are warmly welcomed, asked to remove your shoes and offered care for your children.
As I glanced around the room, my would-be fellow worshippers seemed “like-minded.” I wanted to see myself in them. They seemed so sure of themselves, so comfortable in their skins, yet independent enough to oppose their familial religiosity to pursue their own journeys. (I am making an assumption that Buddhism was not their parents’ religion, but hey, these are my superficial, stereotypical notes and I’ve crafted them as such.)
This visit to the Buddhist center went so well that I urged my husband, who like me didn’t have a very religious upbringing, to come along the next Sunday. He emphatically agreed. We loaded up the kids.
An unexpected lesson
It happened to be a day much different than the center’s usual schedule. They had a program that included titles like ‘Venerable’ and ‘Honorable’ before a few of the speakers’ names. I was nervous. The special guests began chanting and performing a ritualistic ceremony. The chanting, done in the Lamas’ native tongue, went on for no fewer than four hours. It was beautiful at times, melodic, provoking meditation. Every once in a while, one of the teachers interjected a joke to keep the mood light amid the seemingly serious business at hand.
Into Hour 3, my kids, who may have been rethinking their shunning of attending the kids center to play, were beginning to pull at every parent’s heartstrings with, “Mommy, I’m thirsty. I neeeeeed water.” To which my reply was, “Shhhhhhhhhhhh!” Not knowing how important or sacred this ceremony might be, the last thing I wanted was to be the family to invite bad karma.
Perhaps my youngest wasn’t the only one needing a respite, because out of the blue, a woman about three rows in front of us stood up and broke the chant with “Excuse me? Can someone tell me what page we’re on?”
One of the center’s spiritual leaders replied that there was no text. The Lamas continued with their ceremony, unfazed.
How true for life. There is no text. No instructions. No real do’s or don’ts. Yet we often allow fear to be our ultimate ruler. I may even allow other’s expectations to mold my actions or perception of those actions. Some say it’s a question of dogma. Steve Jobs 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University clarifies the sentiment: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
It may be time to give the center another try. As I embark on my own path, I kind of like not having a text. I’ll write it as I go.