Thursday, August 13, 2015

Belief systems are incredible. Most of them are thousands of years old,  they dictate how people view and act within the society they live in, they are responsible for the construction of empires and art, and we, as a global people, use the timeline of one to determine what year it is-even though our planet is some 4+ billion years old.

I am, by no means, a seasoned spiritualist, so I won’t pretend I know things I don’t about the two religions I am even most familiar with… But I do know that at the plainest, most stripped-down point of every religion, there is the belief that love rules all.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we can all love unconditionally without much effort on our part like Jesus did, we can’t all discover our own Bodhi tree on a whim and reach enlightenment without any leadership (or any formal training, for that matter) like Siddhartha-it means, that at the basis of every religion, there is the ultimate goal to do the world some good.

This is translated culturally and personally-there are denominations within religions, and nobody shares the same mindset psychologically. This means that everyone’s relationship, everyone’s compass, is different when considering their belief system. We may as well just ask people what version of the truth they understand. Because none of us are wrong. Even-though I don’t agree with it myself-those who cause emotional, intellectual, or at most, physical, distress have truth in their minds that at the deepest part of their being is ultimately going to do the world some good.

Personally, I grew up in a Christian household. I was baptized Catholic, but my family and I attended a Lutheran service for a few years of my early life before we just stopped going. In this time, I had experienced just enough church and not enough life to internalize a lot of morals that made life confusing. Science classes made me uncomfortable. By the time I was in eighth grade I had stopped going to church for about two years, but it still irked me to learn that we would be educated on the theory of evolution in the required Earth Science course. I almost pulled my teacher aside in order to ask how religious privacy wasn’t infringed upon by learning the theory, but I’m oh so glad I didn’t. It enriched me enough to motivate an active search for a happy medium between science and Christianity-to the point where my mother had to discourage me from visiting the local store that read “Christian Science Bookstore” because she assured me it was not exactly what I thought it was. It was more up Tom Cruise’s alley.

Philosophy became an important part of my life as I grew, and it hit me one day in Chemistry class as we were learning about matter and anti-matter, that if when the two come together to create nothing and there was nothing until the big bang occurred, there had to be some sort of catalyst to incite the creation of everything. ‘Creation’ is a typically Biblical term if used singularly, and symbolizes exactly that-the creation of everything. So if God was the Creator, why couldn’t He have been the catalyst to separate matter and anti-matter? Science could take over from there, and everyone would be happy. This was followed by mulling over the idea that thoughts must have energy because they create the motivation for us to speak, move, breathe, etc. etc. etc., and/but since energy cannot be created or destroyed, where could that energy go/come from? They go into nothing. They come from nothing. Which is God’s territory, if this theory holds water. Therefore, the Christian Heaven exists in the Nothing, our thoughts exist in the Nothing, and this supports the idea that even silent prayers are heard by the Christian God because our thoughts would go directly to Him.

Theory time over for the present being, I began to grow away from Christianity because most Christians I was familiar with during my early years supported many ideals I did not support myself. This hyper-conservatism of their beliefs made me believe that if they were Christians, I had to behave and believe that way myself to label myself a follower of the religion, and I was not down with that. My faith heavily declined, and I became a hopeful agnostic.

Freshman year, my World History class did a project on world religions. My group was assigned Taoism (you may recognize their most appropriated symbol-yin and yang), and I was immediately entranced by the idea that a religion could support faith on a philosophy without a deity. Taoism itself relied on a more pantheistic approach, which was more of a one-ness of the universe and seeing a Godlike beauty in everything in existence-which sounds suspiciously like the monotheistic maxim that “God is everywhere”.

If you’d like to learn more about Taoist principles, click here for the Wikipedia page, or click here to visit a blog I literally just discovered, deemed incredibly worthy to plug, and probably have to go read in-depth after I’m done posting this because it’s very intriguing and I may have just found my newest religious endeavor.

The former relation between the two religions became the basis of support for my newly favored personal philosophy that all religions are part of one, true, global idea that just happened to be culturally translated because each pioneer of these religions had to lead in such a way that their people would follow. Like I stated in the first paragraph, each idea is experienced personally. These personal experiences create a cultural experience. These cultural experiences create a societal experience. These societal experiences create religion.

Most recently, I’ve become more interested in Buddhist philosophy. Eastern religions (more philosophies than anything else-they’re either pantheistic or lack a deity figure all together) and I vibe well together, it seems. My motivation to begin actual research and practice peaked late winter 2015, when Maija and I both decided to pursue the nonviolent, simple path we correctly predicted it to be.

From the recently completed Meijer Gardens Japanese Garden-three years and millions of donated dollars in the making. (There isn’t a single nail in any of the constructed buildings-the traditional building style was preserved as best they could.)

We tried attending worship at a temple near us, but the overwhelming majority of attendees spoke fluent Vietnamese and no English. We tried to crash-course ourselves into the Vietnamese language, but after two attempts to understand a service in a completely foreign language, I decided to keep my practice personal. Maija was more gung-ho. She decided to begin attending (she still does) services at an English-speaking place of worship downtown, and I’ve watched a phenomenal spirituality emerge from her.

For awhile, my religious growth was on hold. My meditation of choice was yoga, and with a new job, exams, and keeping myself sane through all of that, I could do nothing but regress in regards to my practice. Then, I decided to kill two birds with one stone (which is really against Buddhist principles; I told you I regressed) and make my required reading over the summer for AP Lang a memoir I had seen quoted numerous times and had become drawn to in Buddhism tags in various places on the internet: Dharma Punx by Noah Levine.

I prefer a badly-lit original photo to a well-lit impersonal photo copied off the internet any day.

The plot follows the narrator through an early life filled with disdain for the hippy generation his parents were a part of, his discovery of the Punk scene in the 70’s, his tumult over the societal schemes he believed were repressing his generation, suicide attempts, and his eventual recovery from alcohol and drug addiction as he grew into a Buddhist practitioner-all while still attending punk shows, skating, and collecting tats.

The book was written in a way that left things to be desired as someone who appreciates style and voice and all those uppity literature terms, but for someone interested in learning how to delve more into the philosophy, this was exactly what I was looking for. It provided the explanation of someone’s journey, as well as small excerpts of information on the principles of the religion, and even included a mindful meditation guide at the end. While it didn’t convince me to realign my priorities just yet, it did make me more mindful of how important discovering the world’s religions are to me and how growing spiritually helps me feel more fulfilled. Once I’m a little more learned in Buddhist philosophy and doctrine, I’m thinking Taoism and Islamic Sufism are next.

Much love,


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