A friend of mine’s daughter has a school project on different religions. She was asked to interview people with different beliefs and then work through her own. Pretty cool! I wanted to share my responses to her questions because I rarely discuss my religious views.
Ooh this is a lot of thinking for me and I love all the questions! As you read my responses, remember that I can only answer for my own beliefs and not that of anyone else who has studied or practiced the same religion/philosophy. My worldview is shaped by many different things so I would like to give you some background. I was raised Lutheran and both of my parents were raised Lutheran. I attended Sunday school, church, and then confirmation classes into high school. In 9th grade I was exposed to many other cultures and religions by attending an international school, making friends who were born in different countries and into different religions, and by my world studies and literature classes. I was raised in a smallish town in Michigan that was mostly white, Christian and middle class. It really got me thinking and questioning and looking around! I started exploring Buddhism and it just fit my personality and beliefs. By 12th grade, I began attending a Korean Buddhist temple and learning the specific customs and practices of that sect of Buddhism. If it had been a different sect of Buddhism that I had had access to, I probably would have been a part of that. Just circumstances playing out. After high school, the temple arranged for myself and my friend to go to Korea to visit and do a week retreat temple stay. I have since continued to study under that sect of Buddhism but still celebrate some of the Lutheran holidays because they are important to my family and are a chance to see them. Okay, now I can begin!
1) Do you identify with an organized religion or philosophy? Are there any religious/philosophical labels you are comfortable with?
I identify as Korean Zen Buddhist or Choyge Zen and the Kwan Um School. I am not an official member of the Kwan Um School but that doesn’t keep me from being able to attend their temples or practices. I generally just say that I am Buddhist as I will read and contemplate teachings from other sects of Buddhism such as Tibetan.
2) What do you believe about the origin of life? Does this origin have some sort of importance to your beliefs, or does it not influence them at all?
I actually do not know what Buddhism says about the origin of life! I guess I should read up on that and see where my opinions and beliefs lie. The Dalai Lama loves to incorporate science into his teachings so I bet he has spoken on this before. I believe in evolution in general. In Kwan Um Zen, we refer back to Don’t Know Mind. It has allowed me to say “I don’t know” about some things and be okay with that. It could be about something current like I am having a bad day and feel overwhelmed. I could let this press me down and worry about why these things are happening to me, what else bad is going to happen next, or, I could practice Don’t Know Mind and relieve myself of suffering and worrying. How were the solar system, earth, flora and fauna, and people created? I don’t know and I’m okay with that.
3) Do you believe in a higher power or divine being(s)? If so, what role do you believe they play in your world and/or your specific beliefs?
I do not believe in any gods or divine beings. Some sects of Buddhism were greatly influenced by the spiritual practices of the people in the region as Buddhist pilgrims spread from India throughout Asia. They incorporated the local pagan beliefs and traditions into Buddhism over time. This is something that fascinates me about Buddhism! Within Choyge Zen, there are beliefs in ghosts (good and bad), protector spirits, ancestor worship and homage, as well as belief in Buddhas and Bodhisatvas. One tradition that I remember specifically from the temple in Korea was the hungry ghosts that lived in the sink drains. You were not to wash any particle of food down the sinks because it could choke the ghosts and make them hungry. Logically, it would be a way to teach people not to waste food and it made me become very conscious of this as ensured my bowls were perfectly clean after every meal.
4) What do you believe happens after death?
One of the reasons I was initlaly drawn to Buddhism was the belief in reincarnation. I found a site that you took a quiz on what your beliefs were and it matched you with different religions and ranked them in order for you. When it came to the question about what happens after death, I knew reincarnation was what I believed. I have read quite a bit on this over the years in order to formulate a general view, but I’m also okay not knowing all of the specifics. I believe that there is a collective consciousness and our individual soul joins that after we die. I don’t know where all these souls/consciousness hangs out but I don’t think physical space matters at all. Maybe it is like thoughts that don’t really exist anywhere. I also don’t think time matters in the same way it does to us now. After that is reincarnation as a new physical person. I believe we have some choice over this and that we can come and go from the fetal body for part of the pregnancy. Chinese beliefs put the soul entering the body around 18 weeks gestation, which lines up what I experienced with the pregnancy of my son. After a certain point, the consciousness stays and does not leave again. One book I read, discussed reincarnation and each subsequent life as a chance to polish a dirt encrusted diamond or gem. Each life we work through more issues, become better people, and clean off another layer of dirt. Another book discussed these lives as a chance to experience all walks of life and sides of conflict. In one life I might be in a tribe of people at war with another tribe. The next life I might be a member of that second tribe in order to gain compassion and understanding. Yet another book discussed souls being grouped together like on branches of a tree where we cluster together in subsequent lives. We might feel a strong connection with someone we meet but don’t know why and that could be explained by having had relevant relationships with them in past lives or a need to work through issues we left unfinished in those past lives. If I wronged someone greatly in this life, it gives me comfort that I will be able to remedy that and seek forgiveness from them in another life. All of these things are part of my beliefs on reincarnation and what happens after death.
5) Do you have a moral or ethical code? If so, where did it come from? Does it change? If not, how do you make decisions? Do you have some model by which you live?
I don’t think I’ve tried to put my moral code into words before. Buddhism has the precepts, hundreds of them, but the first 5 are your basics. (Find them her jttp://www.kwanumzen.org/?teaching=on-the-five-precepts). With buddhism, every day, every minute, is a new attempt to live up to your own standards and morals. My basic values are honesty, respect, kindness, communication, forgiveness, and love. I try to remember the Buddhist teachings I have studied when faced with difficult circumstances. Some of them I learned in odd places and times in my life but they are reinforced by the core values of Buddhism. Looking at the first precept, it can be interpreted on many levels (I think of it like the compass in The Golden Compass). I vow to abstain from killing. Okay, so no killing other humans. Then what about animals? Bugs? Inflicting physical or emotional pain on another person intentionally or out of carelessness is also considered killing in Buddhism but is much deeper than killing animals. And what about killing someone’s dreams? There is constantly a new way for me to look at my own moral code and see it from another angle, delve into it a little deeper. And if I mess up, I forgive myself and start anew while reminding myself of my core values.
6) Does life have meaning? If so, how do you find meaning or purpose in your life, or in the lives of your community? If not, how does this influence the choices you make?
This one is hard for me. Since I do no believe in a higher power and I do not believe in fate or destiny, then what is the meaning and purpose of my life? I don’t really know what I am here for besides improving myself for the next life. I do know I was meant to be a mom and that is a huge part of my life. My purpose now is to help guide my son to be the best possible person he can be. Maybe whatever his purpose in life is will be my purpose, getting him to that goal.
7) Do you have any rituals or traditions that you and others who share the same beliefs partake in? What are some of them, and why are they important?
As I mentioned in one of my other answers, Buddhism is full of rituals and traditions. Bowing/prostrating is important to Buddhism in general and to me personally. When I went to temple regularly, I did the 108 bows as a meditation. They focus and clear my mind as well as show my dedication to practice. There are also bows for the altars, ancestors, and protectors. You bow to your elders and monks and nuns. There are important holidays such and Buddha’s birthday and the Chinese new year. They are about honoring tradition and celebrating with your Sangha (Buddhist community). Within Korean zen, there are ceremonies for the 100th day of a baby’s life, wedding ceremonies, and ceremonies for when a loved one has died. I am less familiar with those.
8) How does your worldview manifest itself in your life? How does it impact the way you live?
I’m not certain of what you mean by worldview. Basically, Buddhism believes that we are all connected and all actions and events are connected. We are all one. When I keep that in mind, I remember to be more compassionate with people in frustrating situations and to try to think of life from other peoples’ perspectives. I find people and the human condition fascinating and am always trying to learn about and understand other experiences.