A Matter of Faith

Shepherd Book's quote

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?

Shepherd Book's quote

Also a quote of Shepherd Book’s | Flickr @ Of the Fountain

5 Comments

  1. divacowgirl   •  

    I hate the word religion. I am not part of a religion, I practice my faith…although some times not very well.

  2. Brandon   •  

    I very rarely speak of my faith because I wasn’t raised by the bible. My grandfather was far and away the greatest imprint on my understanding of faith. One of the prime lessons he always had was “question everything, but rarely do it out loud”. Learn about other religions, understand why they believe what they believe, and most importantly do not presume to force your beliefs on others, for they do not have the same life experiences you’ve had to form your belief system.

    I was raised on stories of Vikings, Knights, Cowboys and Indians (Seminole). With these grandpa always had a moral to the story or sometimes a full blown ethics lesson. I’ll break down a few lines on each to explain and those that know me will understand a little more about where I come from.

    Vikings: In many of the stories heroes save the village from some form of evil. However, the villagers generally brought this evil upon themselves in some way or another and let issues spin out of control until someone with “hero” status stepped up and fixed the problem. Moral to the story, don’t let a problem sit around so long that it festers into “evil”, be the hero fix that which is wrong whenever you can. Villagers never were to be looked up to as they were part of the problem not the solution, don’t be a villager.

    Knights: Not talking Templar’s here, talking King Arthur. Defenders of the weak. Take care of those who are unable to take care of themselves. There isn’t much that needs to be explained here other than knowing that if you are part of that round table protecting and serving those that need people who are willing to put their life on the line in service to something greater than themselves is truly a path to righteousness.

    Cowboys: Cowboys are a rough n tumble lot. Many of the stories were about lone wanderers who’s morals and ethics were fluid during any given situation. These stories often told of bad guys doing good things. It was a reminder that perspective in a given situation is as often as if not more important than the end result. In addition the lone cowboy stories also reminded me that sometimes you can’t expect help from outside, if you want help, help your own damn self.

    Indian: These were always the most simple yet deep stories grandpa shared. I could write for days on the stories he told but that would spin into my pure abject hatred of the “green movement”. We are insignificant specs in the weave of the universe. To place ourselves above the needs of mother earth is audacity at it’s finest. Our only purpose in life is to be a caretaker, be at peace with those that share this world for it is the only one we have. Oakley’s family were freaked out once when I picked up a gekko and took it outside to place it in the bushes rather than smacking it with a broom. My grandfather would have been quite upset if I killed a lizard for doing what lizards do. Who am I do deem it should die simply for climbing a wall (hopefully to snack on a mosquito). I do not presume to be the one who chooses live over death on a whim.

    Many times I hear friends talk about “God has a plan” or whatever cliche they have to justify their actions or validate their inaction on any given subject.

    Day after day I live my life knowing no matter how troubled our relationship has ever been (after 10 years of being together we’ve had rough times)
    I have never been unfaithful to my wife.
    I do not drink to excess.
    I do not steal.
    I help those who need help when I can (not just when it’s easy).
    I honor my parents by doing what is expected of me.
    When faced with $75,000 in debt I paid my obligations off rather than declaring bankruptcy, because it’s the right way.

    I often get looked down upon by my holier friends who rarely live up to the ideals they claim are so important to them and I try not to judge them as they judge me. It’s difficult sometimes to not call them out on the bullshit they spout in the name of “God” or “the bible”.

    I was taught by my grandfather to be better than that. Until the day I die I will strive to fulfill my role as I was taught to be. Viking, Knight, Cowboy, Indian, Brandon. Believe in yourself, challenge yourself, trust in yourself but always keep in mind if the phone ever rings and “God” is on the other line be prepared to move your ass because if you truly are part of the solution you better do what he/she tells you to do.

  3. oakmonster   •  

    Just for the record, we freaked out about the gecko because, well, EW!?! Nobody ever touches the gecko!!!

    Brandon was the only one immune to the gecko. I’m deathly afraid of those little guys. And as I found out that day, my older brother is too. LOL!

  4. Nora   •  

    I’m humbled by your compliments and observations! As a person of faith and practice, I’ve found the structure and the tools in religion helpful to finding deeper meaning in life. It is also comforting to be a part of a local community, and a larger international community, of faith. The people that I worship with and interact with on a weekly basis keep me accountable and humble as well. Some of the most amazing experiences I’ve had while traveling have occurred in churches around the world. It is important to know what it is that you believe, especially in the coming months. I think things in the world are going to get much worse then they are now, so the time for determining where you stand is now.

  5. somsarin   •  

    Dude, Talk to Mr.Tuktun about the whole ‘gecko-phobia’! There used to be a big one that loved to stop crawling above our front windows. And that totally prevented Mr.Tuktun from entering the house via the front door! I think now that we have 2 strayed cats that have declared our house their permanent resident, the gecko(s) have disappeared wa. KU

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