When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?
– Shepherd Book, Serenity.
That there was a quote that launched a thousand thoughts over this Memorial Day weekend.
It started on Thursday night when I watched Serenity with some friends. As a Browncoat—fan of Joss Whedon’s Firefly series and the subsequent movie–I’ve watched this movie several times.
At the core of it was about faith, not in a religious way, but a belief in something so strong that one is willing to live by it and die for it.
A kind of faith I’ve always witnessed in my friend Nora’s quiet grace.
We were up in her family’s cabin this weekend in Big Bear. We planned to head down the mountains and into the spa on Sunday evening. Not one to miss church, Nora asked if we could drop her off at church for Saturday mass for an hour or so, knowing that I’m Buddhist and Brandon would burst into flames upon crossing the threshold.
I asked if I can accompany her and said yes, just as she’s always done.
You would ask why a Buddhist girl–given, I was educated in Catholic schools my whole life–would want to go to church where she has no business of going. Well, for one, I’m in support of my friend. And more importantly, you could say that the Spirit does move me. But only when I’m in church with Nora and her family.
Nora and her family really do go by the word of their God. Their door flung open to this cynical sort-of Buddhist at Christmas time. Their arms embrace me in their house of worship despite being of a different creed. Whatever I may be, I’m God’s creature too. And Nora, my best friend, accepts my mad, hedonistic way and puts up with—and forgives– our occasion jabs at Christianity as a whole. Bless her heart.
As I quietly watched Nora went through the motions in mass, I marveled at the strength of her faith. It is a part of her. It is who she is.
That makes me wonder about my own faith. What do I believe in, if I believe in anything at all?
For damn sure, organized religion isn’t for me.
I could call myself a lapsed Theravada Buddhist. But could one be considered a religious person if she actually disagrees and/or questions parts of the doctrine?
I was raised to be a Buddhist in a country that Buddhism is a national religion. My grandmother was definitely more religious than anyone I know. My mom was more religious than any of us in the family as my dad is more of a scientist. Some of her friends are even more so. I can’t really blame my disinterest on my generation either as some of my friends are even more religious than me. My “cousins” go to temple almost weekly with their parents while I could barely force myself into one once a year for the anniversary of my mom’s death.
I believe in Buddha’s teachings and believe that karma is real, so I’m very Buddhist in that regards. I’m a Buddhist because I believe in doing no harm unto others. I believe that what goes around comes around. I believe in the consequences of my action. I believe in moderation, taking the “Middle Path”. (Hey, I said believe in it…doesn’t mean I practice all the time!) I believe in generosity. I believe in finding happiness within myself.
What I don’t believe in is the structure of the religion itself.
Even when I was young, I always wonder why women couldn’t become monks. Why did we have to do so well in this life so we could be reborn as a guy so we could be a monk to have a better shot at nirvana? Why can’t I just do really good now and get to nirvana? Nobody can answer that for me. It’s just the way it is.
I found some research that said that women actually weren’t banned from the practices and were actually female monks back in the early days of Buddhism. Somehow through time, we were written out of the book, quite literally.
Gee, poorly transcribed and/or translated holy text handed down from generations? Why does that sound familiar?
My last straw in all of this was the sermon that was given when I went to the temple for my mom’s anniversary a few years back.
The monk was talking about how monks are our gateway to nirvana—how supporting the monks and the temple nets you more karma points than doing anything else on your own.
Are you kidding me?
Did he pretty much just say, “Yeah, you can feed the hungry on your own and it’s like putting pennies in the piggy bank. But if you feed the monks or donate money to the temple, it’s like getting your karma matched by corporate and you’ll get to your goal sooner”?
I’m sorry, Mommy, that you will not get the crap ton of good karma by way of me donating to these monks.
And since when has making karma become some kind of sports or something you expect to do? Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of doing good if you’re doing it for the reward of good karma?
That was the moment I lost my faith in organized Buddhism. And that’s why, it’s probably more appropriate to call me a Theravada Buddhism-based spiritualist.
So after all of this, what do I believe in enough to die for? What do I have faith in?
I have faith in being of service. Making someone’s day a little better, that I have faith in.
My Mater Dei’s friends and teachers are going to die of shock. LOL. My Catholic school also drilled into us the importance of service, not only to God but to the community. After all, our motto is “Serviam”—“I will serve.” Sure, in the most religious of context, it meant “I will serve God.” But you do that by serving God’s children.
But hey, kindness and compassion is also in Buddha’s teaching. That’s where it all started, I am sure. But the bottom line is the same.
It’s not just about volunteering or raising fund for the poor, to me, everything I do to help someone counts. Holding open a door or spotting someone his/her lunch. Pitch in a buck when someone is a little short. Even doling out random compliments to strangers, that ought to make his/her day.
Brandon is also a generous man. More than once he’s offered to help strangers jump-start their cars. When no one would stop to assist a bicyclist who crashed on the sidewalk, he did. And that’s why I love him.
Whatever we can do that ends in putting a smile on someone’s face, that’s what I believe in.
The Cult of the Smiley Faces? I think it has a nice ring to it.
What do you believe in?