Friday, February 21, 2014

Learning about Buddhism: It's like rock and roll.

I had the privilege and honor to help host another class on Buddhism for interested people from the military community. The last class we held had a less-than-stellar turnout, so I was overjoyed when we packed the house er... temple... this time around. Going to the temple is rejuvenating for my soul - especially on days like today. Having people from all different backgrounds, religions, countries, and languages coming together out of a genuine interest to learn more about each other gives my soul such energy, peace, and hope for the world. 

The priest at the temple where the class is held, Dokuonji, always invites other priests from Zen Buddhism, as well as a priest from Pureland (Jodo) Buddism. The priests are always so incredibly friendly, helpful, and excited to answer questions. They always prepare something for us as well. This time they had coffee, green tea, pastries, and chocolates waiting for us. 

They started off our class by telling us about a beautiful 300-year-old (!!) Japanese painting that they had hanging at the front of the room. They said that even though Feb. 14th has become a bit more popular with the young crowd in Japan, Feb. 15th has long been a special day for Buddhists because it is the day Buddha died roughly 2600 years ago. The painting was a depiction of the Buddha's death, and everyone wept - including all the humans, animals, insects, and plants. 

Each priest gave us a small presentation about an aspect of Buddhism. One of the most meaningful discussions, in my opinion, was from a priest who likened religion to "rock 'n roll." He said that many people ask him things like, "What is the true belief of Buddhism?" or "What is the right way?" and he believes it is like asking someone, "What is true rock n' roll?"
"I may like the Beatles. Another person may like the Rolling Stones. We may argue about which is better. But there are a variety of styles that contribute to the music of 'rock 'n roll.' And in just the same way, there are a variety of styles with regards to religion. Therefore, I believe that there should be no arguing in religion. We Buddhists pay respect to all religions, and all the differences." - Sen San
This was such a good metaphor for me, and fits well with my view of the world's religions. We have SO MANY ideas and values that are the same and it is ridiculous that we all fight against each other as much as we do. The worlds religions believe in compassion, honesty, loving your neighbor, respect for life... and they all try to provide their followers with a way to lead a happy, meaningful life in this short span of time we spend on earth.

It was truly refreshing to be in the presence of a large group of people who are committed to respecting and learning more about those who are different from them.

It was also quite moving to hear one priest talk about his experiences with followers who have had "near-death experiences" during a discussion on Buddhist beliefs of life-after-death. It doesn't matter what language you speak, where you are born and raised, or what religion you belong to.... Near-death experiences are always the same. We heard about many different Japanese individuals who had these experiences and they all described the same images and feelings - beautiful nature, peace, tranquility and often, visits from family who had already passed away.

How incredibly comforting that was for me... a reminder that whatever ideas we might have about heaven, our ideas do not create that place. That place is a place of Truth, and beauty, and love, and reunion. Across the world and through all time, people have had glimpses of that place, and it is unchanged.

It also stresses the point that the details, in the end, don't really matter. We don't have to know all the answers, and there isn't one religion that's got everything right.
"Our lives may look long, but in reality, they are very short. Focus on what you have to do. " - Un San 
"Change yourself before you can change the world." - Fujio san
That is the point of religion: to help us change ourselves and make the best of this short life we have. The nature of our beings will ultimately matter more than what we were able to understand about the Universe with our limited, human minds. Experience and live your religion, don't try to figure out all the unknowable answers. And certainly don't assume you know it all. 

We ended our day with a casual lunch, around low Japanese tables, exchanging ideas and asking questions. Days like today remind that humanity is going to be alright. 

Oh, and I forgot to mention that my kids went with me today! As a homeschooler, I have to find day-time babysitters if I want to do something without the girls. And because finding a sitter during the day is extremely difficult, I just decided to take the girls with me. My oldest swore she was going to be shy around the monks, so I brought their iPad and LeapPad and told them they could just hang out in the adjoining room while all the adults talked for a while. Both of my girls had fabulous behavior, and at the end of the day, my oldest asked if she could come back to the temple with me EVERY time from now on! I feel so lucky to be able to provide these kinds of experiences to my children - ya know... just hanging around the local Japanese Buddhist temple.

The girls also enjoyed exploring the temple and temple grounds, and were particularly interested in learning about all the family altars (burial places) surrounding the temple. 

My daughter enjoyed looking at all the different altars - especially the ones with flowers. 

I cannot express enough gratitude to Fujio san and the other priests for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet with us. And I am even more appreciative of their willingness to try and explain such abstract, difficult concepts in a foreign language. Living in Japan has been great, but the truly wonderful experiences come out of the generosity and friendliness of the Japanese people.

So... you like the Beatles, and I'll like the Rolling Stones. There's no need to argue about which is better.

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