It’s odd whenever someone asks me what my religion is. Quite frankly, I don’t know the answer to that myself. I was born and baptized a Catholic—and once in a while, I attend mass, enjoying the homilies and the lessons that Christ and his Church wish to impart onto their followers. But due to my Chinese heritage, I also go to Buddhist temples every Chinese New Year and during the ominous Monster Month (August). It is Chinese tradition that compels me to visit the temples, and not any religious purpose, but that hasn’t stopped me from delving deeper into the essence of Buddhism. And, at some point in my life, I was also a Born Again Christian. I attended bible studies in a youth center while in high school, and did so for three years until I graduated. There, I heard the words of the Lord in a different light, and my religious zeal that developed then had grown so strong it had nearly converted me to a new religion.
Today, I am not a follower of any religion. I neither practice nor preach the Gospel, nor do I follow any single doctrine or belief. I consider myself an agnostic theist, but that does not mean I take religion lightly—on the contrary, there is a lot that any religion has to offer. We just have to open our minds to the possibility and our hearts to deeper understanding, and find what it is that will make us better—for God or otherwise.
A Christian life
A certain homily from church has stuck with me to this day. It was about how we should treat women. At the time, I had no knowledge of how it was to treat other girls (and thus, high school was a bad time for me). They scared me—I didn’t know how to act around them, and I felt judged for my ignorance. Yet, I found an answer to that age-old dilemma. That homily discussed 1 Timothy 5:1-2, which reads, “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters.” It gave one simple message in one simple text: treat women with respect, as you would your own mother and sister. Granted, it was not the sure-fire way to a girl’s heart, but it was something that made me understand how to act around them, and in a larger perspective, how I should treat others.
The Bible and Christianity place God above all else, but I don’t think that that necessarily means that religion is all about the worship of God. Christianity says a lot about many things—about God, about family, friends, love, happiness, hate, tragedy, discipline, faith, hope, respect, marriage, and the list goes on and on, scattered in the many words and many phrases. The teachings are vast, but it has, in my opinion one very important feature: it shares its ways on how we should build not just ourselves, but also our community, and how we should conduct ourselves to the people around us. We shouldn’t follow the Word of God purely out of religious zeal, I believe, but out of a desire to shape ourselves as morally upright individuals with values.
Buddhism, and the road to enlightenment
I heeded very little to the teachings of Buddhism when I was a kid. Other than chanting prayers, and burning eye-watering incense, I had not learned much from the faith until the latter years of adulthood. In the search of what Buddhism truly is, and what life truly means, I discovered that, in essence, my family had already been following the principles of the religion, even if it seemed almost subconscious in nature.
Buddhism is more a philosophy than it is a religion. Fundamentally, Buddhism is intrinsic, mostly dealing with ourselves than with a higher being. It foreswears wealth and power and thinks of these as sources of greed and ignorance, the true source of suffering. The Eight-Fold Path, one of the most important teachings of Buddhism, helps us understand that we must do what is right to ourselves and our fellow men. The right view tells us to see the world with wisdom and compassion. The right thought tells us that we are what we think. The right speech seeks us to speak kind and helping words as these promotes trust and respect. The right conduct shares that we must look into ourselves before judging others. The right livelihood must be that which does not trample over those around us. The right effort means to give our all to what we do and with goodwill to others. The right mindfulness reminds us to be aware of our own thoughts and deeds. The right concentration urges us to take things one at a time in order to attain peace of mind. It is in this spirit that Buddhism works and delivers its message: to do what is always right. We do right by others, and we do right to ourselves.
I had not understood before why my parents worked and raised us the way they did. They built a business with no intention of growing ridiculously wealthy or famous. Their old friends grew rich, but my parents stayed humble. It was only important to them that they earned enough to raise me and my siblings comfortably. And with the company’s work, they spent more than they should have with each product. My mother always used to say, “OK lang na medyo mag-aksaya tayo, basta matibay ang gawin natin. Sa dulo ng lahat, may kikitain naman.”
When bad things happen, or when people do bad things to them, my parents shrug it off. Karma, they say, and they move on. I had presumed it as cowardice or weakness at first: a wasted opportunity. Yes, it might have been. But soon, I realized that they had something that is not often found in a lifetime—peace. It sounds corny, but it’s true—thinking of wealth and power brings suffering, I believe, and with so many wants in life, we lose track of what makes us perpetually happy. In Buddhism, the material is immaterial. Only inner peace matters.
So, what’s the point?
To keep an open mind is to see what is offered and take it for what it’s worth. Religion often forces us to choose only one. But I believe that holding one set of teachings as absolute truth doesn’t necessarily mean we have to hold another in disbelief. Each has its own way of life, and we can choose to follow whatever we want.
What I have seen in both Christianity and Buddhism is not just about a religion and its followers. What I saw in both is about how we should treat our fellow people. It is about what it means to be human, and to have humanity. What it means to love one another and to do right with one another. And ultimately, to discover that finding humanity in ourselves can bring us to enlightenment in the same way that getting closer to God can. Yes, both religions have fundamentally different cores: one centers on an almighty being, while the other centers on ourselves. Yet both come to teach how we should treat others, and I think that that in itself is reason enough to take both religions as truth.