Religion and the Buddhist Adventure

Journey to the Pristine    Photo Credit: Beata Ratuzniak

Dateline: Placa Espanya, Barcelona, Spain

Religion is a blistering topic. More often than not, it rains fire and brimstone when it’s discussed. Yet, this is a theme that is supposed to induce love. God is love, right? At least, that’s what the Holy books propagate.

We’re expected to transcend our animalistic tendencies for the good of all. But it’s the case that the minute we don’t have our way, our civilization vanishes. 

My journey to this theme began at Placa Espanya, a popular part of Barcelona that is home to the bull-fighting ring turned commercial center. A visit to this area is highly recommended if you’re in town.

Over a plate of absolutely delicious Catalan cuisine, Elizabeth, an average height, pretty and dark complexioned lady from Ecuador tells me she is a Buddhist. I thought my ears failed me. Eeeeeeh? What did you say?  “I am a Buddhist. I practice Buddhism.”

 First of all, I’ve never met a black person that is a Buddhist – they’re usually Muslim, Christian, or African traditionalists. Secondly, the first time we saw each other, I was surprised that someone as dark as me hails from Ecuador. Pardon my knowledge of geography – Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, I know. Ecuador?  Naaaa. I am wrong. Apparently, there are many black people across South America but they seem to be invisible.

I wanted to hear the beginning and end of this story, so I probed. Elizabeth tells me that she was seeking spiritual illumination for many years. This quest remained with her when she uprooted herself from Ecuador to Barcelona. Five years ago, a friend invited her out, without revealing the destination. They turned up at the doorstep of a Buddhist temple. By the end of the visit, she had experienced an inexplicable awakening. The rest is history.

My curiosity was fired up. I just could not let it go. It was therefore, inevitable that my Buddhist adventure would be born. I told Elizabeth that I would like to visit a temple to see things for myself. She was delighted.

The Temple

It’s a Tuesday evening. The place is sequestered in the ground floor of an apartment building. Nothing obvious warns you of an impending temple. It’s very easy to miss the tiny sign in the corner: “Centre Culturel de Soka Gakkai d’Espanya.”

We step into the waiting room, which is almost empty except for a piece of furniture and some reading materials. Then the door opens up to the main hall. A robust wave of Japanese chants hit my face – “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”, “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”, “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.” My eyes dart around rapidly in random directions. People are sitting in an upright position with legs jammed together, palms clasped with prayer beads embedded in them, and raised half way between the forehead and the chin.

We hurriedly plant ourselves midway in the room. The hall is austere. Rows of simple chairs are placed on the left and right facing the lectern, giving way to a centre passage. Someone who appears to be a leader is seated on the podium chanting into the microphone with his back to the audience. Several other worshippers take turn to lead as well.

At the podium, a giant book like a scripture, seats in an open cupboard that is drilled into wall. The leader signals the end of a set of chants and the start of another phase by hitting a metal bowl with a short metal stick. It sounds like a bell: “Gong, gong, gong, gong.” It’s a repetitive process.

There are at least one hundred people and the service lasts for two hours with breaks in between and a short time for “preaching” from a scripture-like magazine. Recall Jehovah’s Witness magazines?  It’s similar with a different content.

I would later learn that there are different types of Buddhism and this centre practices the strand from Japan called Soka Gakkai. The centre meets twice a week and even has other gatherings comparable to the Christian cell or house fellowship. Explaining Buddhism in detail is beyond the scope of one blog piece. Suffice to say that it was indeed an experience. Most importantly, my knowledge was enriched!

Here’s my take. The choice is ours to make on the sort of spiritual journey we embark on, if at all we do.

Back Home

When I was growing up, my parents immersed us in Church as if Armageddon was approaching the next day. Activities were endless. Monday house fellowship; Tuesday Bible study; Wednesday midweek service; Thursday choir practice; Friday night vigil; Saturday repeat choir practice; early morning Sunday school; main Sunday service; several meetings after service. It never stopped.

I’m not complaining, although I grumbled sometimes. Having said that, I learnt so many things. Spirituality provided an anchor that was very helpful in turbulent times and still is. I felt grounded.

When I became a grown woman, travelled the world and discovered the lies and half-truths surrounding religion in general, I recoiled. For example, when I learnt that the pictures of Jesus and Mary that hangs in the Roman Catholic Church are not real, I shouted (in my head) “get me out of here.”  That is not the Lord Jesus Christ they were preaching to us about?  Chineke! (God in Igbo language).

You need to have seen my face. I was utterly confused. My background from getting baptized in the Anglican Church, attending a Roman Catholic boarding school and being raised in Pentecostal churches explains that confusion. Years later, living in the UK and discovering that many people did not have a religion, was another shocker. What is going on? Didn’t your ancestors come to Africa during colonialism (again, in my head), waving the Bible in the name of missionary work?

The more I travelled, the more perplexing the world was to me. Sometimes, I wondered about the evil that exists side by side with proclamations of religion. It baffled me terribly. In my country Nigeria, people are very religious. Churches and Mosques have enormous loud speakers mounted everywhere. If you live near one, you need earplugs, believe me! Yet, it does not necessarily reflect in general behaviour.

At other times, it was difficult to understand a world system with spectacularly rich parts and superbly impoverished people. It’s not a simplistic issue but something is not right.

It took me years to detangle the maze. Some answers came from my father, who is now late. Clarity came through reading and introspection, more travel, listening to my guts, etc. The bottom line is that I no longer have any illusion. While it may perform some altruistic role in society, I believe organized religion has also wrought tremendous damage in the world.

It’s a difficult one. What are your thoughts? Please share and have a great week!

 

8 Comments

  1. People that do not understand religion have messed up religion!
    I am a Muslim and I speak for Islam. I appeal to non-Muslims to read and understand the Holy Qur’an thoroughly, to observe those who practice Islam as instructed by Allah SWT and conveyed by the Prophet Muhammad SAW; they will understand how ideal religion is and how organized our way of life would have been.
    My religion was given a bad name by those that did not understand it. They caused “tremendous damage” to the world. Islam is perfect!

  2. Our understanding of religion differs. Religion might have many parts as practiced by its adherents. I might speak of religion as Sociology, Politics or as Theology. Within these praxis, religion can build a society through it’s social content and character. Religion can in another occasion detect the people’s choices in a political process, and infact, on and on. The ultimate place of religion resides in those who practice such religion.

  3. Your writing style is so rich, you hold one spellbound! Humans has done a lot of damage to religion and not the other way round. Think about it, it’s human that are full of faults and not religion. Most religion especially christianity which is my sect, are perfect. But humans can’t resist greed, selfishness and thirst for power. They bastardised religion and now turn around to pretend these religion in itself is detrimental.

    I find solace in God. I find peace in him. I find protection. I find comfort. I find security. I find hope, I find joy. I find the strength to face each new day. I find forgiveness. I find beauty. God is my backbone. I find my God in christianity, in Jesus the crucified one. The Bible enriches my knowledge, provides the wisdom. I thrive in its completeness.

    But I am civil enough to allow people the room to practice their faith.

    I have never found anything negative in being raised a Christian. I actually wish I had the energy and time to invest more in my faith. It’s a glorious beauty, my amazing crown.

    In we make choices. Religious freedom is paramount of suchchoices.

    You enrich me with your experiences in Barcelona Constance. Please keep writing

  4. An awesome article! Many of us have gone down this same road of personal discovery with the apparent conflict between religion, and how ‘believers’ actually conduct their lives, and engage in the global community. I think the essence of religion is to act as a sort of home training for its followers. My Dad bless his resting soul, shared this with me. At this point in my life, it seems it’s all about good versus evil, which plays out in the lives of human beings. We as individuals need to choose what side we wish to operate in…and then find a spiritual system of beliefs to guide us on this battlefield of a journey. I am still looking for that system, and until then, I will continue to speak to the Creator on the ‘good side’, in my private space. Great article Constance!!

  5. Great article. I agree with Obiagel. I seriously don’t know what state I would be in if the Holy Spirit had not helped me to commit my life to God through the saving Grace of Jesus. Yes I was born into a christian family so you could legitimately ask wasn’t that the deciding factor in my choice of religion. I say no and fully believe Jesus when He say’s He is the only way to the Father.Where I was born and how I arrived at my decision is best answered by God. The same goes for the billions truly converted to Christianity from all continents irrespective of their family and ethnic backgrounds.throughout the last 2000 years.
    Faith in Jesus is God given as the bible relates and “salvation” is not by good deeds. Is it any wonder Christianity has been resented and hated by opponents throughout the centuries and proponents of it often resorted to violence and all sorts of tactics not intended by a loving God. Many so-called Christians are not and often some who are, even leaders, operate in the flesh and not in the Spirit. As I have gotten older I have seen many carnal behaviours in churches.At times leaders who are not equipped for leadership and who jump to the latest fad. But when we seek to do good, humbly understand our need, that we often fai, then the New Testament is able to instruct us as the inspired Word of God both in its general and specific wisdom as would be expected from Father to child.

  6. I’m not surprised you visited a Buddhist temple and my guess is that a visit to the Jewish Synagogue is loading. Your openness to issues of religion is commendable ; it’s like the Hegelian world spirit in search of actualization.

    The mistake is that we tend to equate religion with godliness, they are two different things. Sincerely, I hate religion because of its divisiveness and hypocrisy. Our relationship with God is the most important thing in the life of an individual not the religion. Godliness is when we observe the divine injunctions and show love to one another. That’s why some people say their religion is love.

    Religion poses great danger to the world because it is now a tool for manipulation and exploitation of people. The early religion that was considered good is gone, what we have now is the adulterated type with no godliness and therefore cannot be trusted.

  7. Felix, I’m waiting for your Nigerian Jewish friend oooo! He promised to take me. Is that not so? Remind him I’m still waiting. Thanks everyone for your comments. It’s great to see the level of engagement with the topic

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *