Saturday, May 14, 2011
Hello and Happy Saturday!
I wish to thank G*3 for his very interesting interview last week. I very much enjoyed reading it and I thank you so much for sharing your journey with us G*3!
Today we have a new post so please welcome AnnMarie.
AnnMarie is a Buddhist and I know you will enjoy her interview as well!
Here Is AnnMarie's Introduction:
AnnMarie is an aspiring novelist and poet. She grew up in a devout Catholic family and has written numerous poems (and one novella) about the experience of being Catholic. Now she practices Buddhism. She still studies Christianity and has a blog about where Jesus would have stood on our political issues. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in American Literature and Culture, and acknowledges that Christianity has historically played a huge role in our culture. She currently works as a librarian assistant and is studying to get her master’s in library and information science. She has a husband and a young daughter who is ten months old.
1) What religion do you practice?
I consider myself a secular humanist. I practice Buddhism because I find that its practices are in line with my values of intellectual inquiry, self-awareness, serenity and wisdom.
2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
I am a convert of a sort. I was raised Roman Catholic. When I was growing up I was quite obsessed with Catholicism and wanted to be a nun. My beliefs changed quite drastically as I got older and was exposed to a more diverse group of friends and people with other viewpoints. I still retain a lot of knowledge and interest in Catholicism and Christianity in general, and think that it will always be a part of me, a major part of my background.
I didn’t need to do anything to “convert” to Buddhism. I just needed to learn about the beliefs and decide whether or not I accepted them. I also had to learn how to practice meditation and why. I approached Buddhism at first the way I approached Christianity as a child--by studying its texts closely. But now I approach it as a simple, thoughtful, fully-aware way of life.
3)Within your religion are there degrees of observance (ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal)? What are the defining differences between the degrees of observance?
As a Catholic there were certainly many degrees of observance and I would say that my family ranked either highly conservative or orthodox. I spent much of my childhood memorizing facts about saints and dogmas and even competing with other children to win competitions about that. My family prayed the rosary every day. For a while, I voluntarily spent my school lunches in the church going to Mass every day at twelve.
There are also degrees of observance within Buddhism, although I’m not sure they can be classified this way. There are three major sects of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. These sects all have different denominations and traditions which are mostly a product of culture and history. I have had the most familiarity with Theravada Buddhism, although I reject most of the fanciful stories that have been passed down about the Buddha as being highly improbable (much like, say, the Nativity stories about Jesus). But I also studied Taoism which had an influence on the way Buddhism would be transmitted to East Asia. And for a bit I studied Nichiren Buddhism, which is a Japanese Mahayana tradition.
4)Within your religion what degree of observance are you ((ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal) ? Why did you choose this degree of observance?
I observe certain practices in line with Theravada Buddhism, which is considered to be the “original” tradition associated directly with Siddhartha Gautama. I recently adopted a vegetarian lifestyle, although I added fish back to my diet for health reasons. I also read Theravada texts and practice meditation.
5)What is the Afterlife within your religion? For example: what happens when a person dies? Are there places for reward/punishment? (such as a Heaven/Hell concept)
In Catholicism, there is definitely a concept of Heaven and Hell and a concept of Purgatory also--this is a realm sort-of in between Heaven and Earth, where you go to perfect your soul before it meets God in Heaven. I used to believe in it strongly but as an adult I no longer see any point to believing this. It’s too easy to write off people as “going to hell” and too easy to assume that you are “going to Heaven” if you do everything you’re told and obey all the rules.
In Buddhism, the belief is that when you die, you are reborn again as a completely new person or animal. You do not have a “soul” that travels from one life to the next, but your energy, thoughts, actions and volitions produce another life at the moment of your death. Because we all crave life, and that craving for existence is what mires us in this world of endless suffering. When you stop craving, you start the wheel turning in the other direction and you have the opportunity to really get a glimpse of what there is beyond life. That’s Nirvana.
6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
In my opinion, there is no such thing as heaven/paradise. It’s not practical to me to waste time thinking about. It’s a manifestation of our ego’s desires. There is no such thing as hell either. Most Buddhists believe there are different realms, some are pleasurable and others are painful. I don’t know if I agree. I think the thought of either a pleasurable or a painful afterlife is neither productive nor practical. I just think people get reborn over and over until they no longer feel the craving for this world.
7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
The invitation to think critically, and to question everything. The Buddha said “Don’t believe in anything because you heard it from someone or from one of your books. But if you have verified it from your own experience and your own experience tells you that it has value or truth, and is conducive to people’s good, then accept it and live up to it.”
I’d like to say a few words about Christianity too. I think Christianity has many good points, including the concept of loving all people (echoed also in the Buddha’s words five hundred years earlier). Jesus and the Buddha had a lot in common: they were outlaws, they were mavericks on the fringe of their own religion and interested in transforming it into a more global, all-embracing belief system. They both went out and preached kindness to all beings, charity to the poor and courage in the face of evil. These things still resonate with me whenever I open the Bible.
8) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
Not being raised Buddhist, I don’t have much familiarity with Buddhist holy days. I think they are celebrated differently depending on what country you’re from. I don’t celebrate any holy days or observe any rituals or traditions. For me, that’s not where the heart of the religion lies.
Catholics have many holy days throughout the year, and almost every single day is the feast day of a saint. I used to know many of them but now I rarely observe any of them unless I’m doing it out of respect and love for my parents.
9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
I have been blessed with a very diverse group of friends ever since I was in college. My friends are Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, and Atheist.
10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
Yes. I have celebrated Sikh and Hindu holy days with my friends, and have been to weddings in many different religions. I also continue to join my parents in celebrating their Catholic religion on the holy days that are important to them, such as Christmas, Easter, and others.
11) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
I think anything that subjects women to abuse or oppression is horrible, and I don’t care who objects to my opinion on that. I think if women want to wear a burka that’s up to them--but the simple fact is, not all women who wear a burka want to. Besides, would the women who say they want to wear one still wear it if they knew there were alternatives and felt that they would still be accepted if they didn’t wear one? I think there are a lot of cultures in this world whom we historically absolve from their abuses for reasons of “tolerance” when we should make our fundamental goal the freedom and happiness of all people.
12) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi, iman etc) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
Currently, Buddhists do not have an official order of nuns, and this is unfortunate. They used to, but the order died out and the religion requires a certain kind of succession to establish a new order. There are a lot of Buddhist women who choose a religious life but it is not in an official capacity.
In Catholicism, women do not hold religious office but they are invited to enter the religious life as nuns. I wanted to be a nun for a long time. I was always drawn to the mystical and the spiritual. Now, I’m a much more practical person, interested in the here and now.
13) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
I have visited several Buddhist temples and meditation centers and although there are some who conduct their services in a different language for people of a different culture than me, I have found a couple of Buddhist groups who have been welcoming and friendly.
Catholics don’t segregate, but they do alienate people who are different, like homosexuals for example.
14) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
Catholicism used to affect my views on abortion, although I always felt that gay marriage should not bear the stigma that it has for Catholics. I do not feel that gay marriage would even have been an issue for Jesus. He hardly ever talks about it. Today, these “hot-button issues” have become tools for the more conservative political groups in this country to get people to forget Jesus’ constant cries for equality and charity, and to get them to vote against things like social welfare, unemployment and education by focusing on irrelevant issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Buddhism does affect my decisions on abortion, although it would not influence my voting preferences. I believe that people should vote based on what’s best for the country and not based on their own personal convictions. Fortunately, Buddhism is very accepting of gay marriage and I am happy that this religion embraces alternate lifestyles.
15) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
I know it’s a pretty likely thing so I will not feel shocked in any way. I actually have a dream that one day all my children will be seated around my table, each comfortable and confident in expressing their gratitude for the food before them in his/her own way.
Unfortunately, I never felt that my parents would react calmly to me rejecting their religion. That’s why I wish to maintain a certain level of anonymity here. I feel like they’d be very upset and would never see it in a rational light.
16) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?
Absolutely not. I think nothing could be more pointless. If somebody does not believe in my religion, it simply means that they will continue to be born and reborn according to their own actions and live with the consequences of everything they do and say and think. That’s what karma is. Nothing changes for them at all, whether or not they are Buddhist.
17) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
Hm. There are plenty of people who claim to practice Christianity (Republicans for starters) who do not actually practice its basic tenets of charity and tolerance. Then again, there are people who practice Christianity only too well--in all the worst ways.
When it comes to Buddhism, I can only say that I have heard of Deepak Chopra and seen some of his interviews, and it irritates me when he speaks for Buddhists because I do not think he is actually a Buddhist. I gather this from some of the things he has said about “God” (Buddhists don’t believe in God) and the “soul” (Buddhists believe there is no soul).
18) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.
19) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?
Absolutely not. If anything, Buddhism tells me that I--not God, not some savior or Messiah, but just I--have the power to cultivate my mind and my actions and improve my way of living and improve my consequences. It’s totally empowering.
20) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
Catholicism used to give me peace of mind in the practice of the sacraments, that I could get “in touch” with God and have a relationship with him. But it also gave me deep conflict when I began to question the existence of a God and question the cruel and intolerant views of the Catholic Church. Now, Buddhism gives me peace of mind. It gives me tools for improving my life, improving my mind, and yes, cultivating a sense of serenity and peace. It’s not the beliefs that give me comfort primarily, but the practice of meditating. Meditating will change your life. It will make you a calmer, happier, more in-tune person. It will teach you the meaning of awareness of all your thoughts and actions. It will open you up to the stores of insight within your own mind.
21) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
I believe in rebirth. Reincarnation is slightly different (although you may say it’s a matter of semantics). I see reincarnation as being a concept related to the idea of “soul” or “self” which I do not hold to be true.