religion, part 4: refuge

I have been flirting with Buddhism for over a decade.

Writing that makes me feel a little like a religious dilettante, and in fact that’s a charge I would be hard pressed to refute.  I am serially in love with belief systems.  Each one I learn about is like a window into another lovely way of looking at existence.  When my friend started practicing Wicca fifteen years ago I read everything I could find about it, and immediately started thinking of my life as a passage from Maiden to Mother* to Crone.  I have read a little about Islam, a little about the LDS Church, a little about Hinduism, a little about Jainism, and quite a lot about Judaism and Catholicism.

What has come out of it for me is the realization that, as I’ve tried to show in the previous posts in this series, religion is inextricable from culture.  Every religion formed as part of one or more cultures, and every culture formed around one or more religions.  It’s a symbiotic development.  For a particularly easy example, all of the foot-washing in the New Testament is more about the dusty desert roads in Judea than it is about a specific action needed for salvation.

Buddhism is no different.  Like the other major religions it has its different schools of thought (Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana), but like the other major religions it developed and evolved with the cultures that surrounded it:

Himalayan India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, Korea, Japan.  Extremely diverse cultures, and each gave rise to a unique practice.  I spent a fair amount of time (as a tourist) in Theravada temples in Southeast Asia and never failed to be awed.  Throughout, though, the imprint of the specific local culture was always clear.  The temples in Burma include shrines to nats (local supernatural beings).  Some of the temples in Thailand house massage schools.  In other words, Buddhism is a strong tradition with immutable unifying features (the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Three Gems) in all of its forms, but it has adapted over the centuries to the cultures to which it was brought.

Is it now adapting to the West?  Is a new practice developing in the United States and Europe, as some authors think?

I have read and read and read about Buddhism.  The core of it speaks to me:  the idea, which I also see in the Judaism of my husband’s family, of religion as practice, spiritual practice without the necessity of God.  As I have mentioned before I have been practicing the metta meditation.  I have tried to proceed respectfully, without cultural appropriation, and have avoided diving into a beautiful and established belief system with the enthusiastic destructiveness of the amateur.

The more I learn, the more I want to know.

*Or, apparently, directly from Maiden to Crone.

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3 responses to “religion, part 4: refuge

  1. I agree that religions are interesting for this reason– different perspectives, different life goals, different perceptions (to some degree). I heard someone being interviewed on Jon Stewart about these differences. Let’s see if I can dig it out of the internet for you… ok great, I found it. Stephen Prothero. He seemed to have a really cool perspective on religious differences (from what I could glean from a short, humorous interview). Maybe you could check out one of his books (and then tell me whether it is worth reading, he he).

  2. I love your idea of religion as a practice. That resonates with me. My father is Hindu and my mother is a Catholic-born Baptist-convert. My siblings and I were raised without religion and I’m happy for the space that provided me to evaluate what I like and don’t like about religion. Mostly I don’t like it, but I do think ritual is grounding.

  3. Pingback: troubles with god | ginger and lime

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