I believe I might be becoming a Buddhist. For a skeptic like me, this is surprising. I always assumed religion was for superstitious, irrational folks who believed in virgin births, talking bushes, invisible gods and an afterlife. These ideas are not for me. I believe that scientists are the best teachers of where we come from and how the universe works. Better, anyway, than the people who wrote our holy books thousands of years ago, back when microscopes didn’t exist and people thought the sun circled the earth.
But I’ve come to see that despite its faulty claims, and its ability to stir up intolerance and violence, religion has its gifts. Through it, people come together to celebrate the mystery of being alive, they participate in ancient rituals, they create beautiful art and music, and, if they listen to the best teachings of their faith, they develop compassion and sympathy for others.
I’ve been interested in Buddhism for over a decade, mostly through the books I’ve read about it. But I’ve been meditating regularly for the last three years now, and in recent months, I’ve started frequenting a local Zen center, attended a couple of retreats, and begun to think of this way of life as an actual option for me.
One reason I’m attracted to Buddhism is that it doesn’t have a God. It has some mythological tales of deities and demons, but no creator and/or personal God. Buddha was simply a man who lived a few hundred years before Jesus, and who taught “the origins and end of suffering.” Buddha taught that a sense of peace and compassion, and eventually a mind-blowing awareness of one’s unity with the world, could be developed through meditation. By learning to still the delusions, desires and hatreds that plague us, we could see what we really are: an integral part of all that is, rather than a separate, struggling being. As the old joke about Buddhism goes:
What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.
I’m not there yet, but in a few short years, I have come to a happier, calmer place in my life. I’m more devoted to my family, friends, coworkers and students, and less likely to succumb to self-destructive tendencies. I have a long way to go, but I can see a path now.
Many Buddhists believe that we are reborn into this world over many lifetimes until we achieve nirvana or enlightenment. Like other secular followers of the dharma, I can only accept this idea metaphorically. I see how parts of me will live on after I die: through my son, through the myriad results of my actions, and through the energy that my lifeless body will yield to its environment.
All things pass away and are eventually one. I believe this idea can bring great peace to suffering hearts. It has certainly brought some to mine.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.