A curious girl, who is also my long time learner, asked some questions about religion. “William, what do you believe?”
“I believe in what is real,” I responded, feeling a little odd, “Why?” I continued.
“My dad believes in Buddhism,” she said. “But when I went to summer camp in the United States last month, people there believe in Jesus. The children would memorize, and could recite different chapters and verses from the Bible. And when I talked to them, they all said that their God is the real thing. So who is telling the truth, my dad, or the children?”
“Why are you even at church in the first place? Was this part of the camp program?” I asked.
“Well, every Sunday we had to do a Bible study. And it was sooo boring!” driving her head to the couch.
“Haha..” I said with a chuckle. “You know, there are five major religions today. Buddhism - as you know - Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. There are other smaller sects, but they do not have many followers. The easiest way to understand them is to think the five religions as five different houses - like the Hogwarts houses in Harry Potter. If you look carefully at each house, they would have different designs, colors, shapes and symbols. Inside, you’d also see the walls, windows, paintings are all different, too. This is normal because each house has its own architect and designer - a temple looks different than a church. Also, within each house, there are occupants and people who worship the place. Of course, the people in each house would follow and believe their place is the only true home. Sometimes, they’d fight with one another to defend their beliefs.”
“So...which religion do you believe?” she asked.
“When I talk to people about religion, they usually have some kind of judgement toward what I believe. But what they don’t realize is that I was raised as a Catholic for twenty years. In college, I went to different churches - even Protestants - to perhaps, learn something new. None of them gave me the answer I was looking for, so I left the church business. Then I found the love of my life, and we got married under the Catholic church. Still, I felt something was missing. Years later, call it luck, coincidence, or whatever, I found a meditation teacher. I followed him to different temples, did all the various rituals from four in the morning until six in the evening. While on my journey, I discovered there was this kind of meditation, or that kind of meditation. There were thousands of instructors teaching different circuses of meditation. I mean, they were deliberately confusing people about the meaning of meditation itself. Finally, I decided to just step back, and focus entirely on meditation without any relationship to a system, a method, or a religion. This brought me to the conclusion that any organized religion is nothing more than a group of people sharing the same imagination.”
“Can people create their own religion?” she asked.
“Well, that’s what people are doing in India now. You can go to any house in India and they’ll each have different gods. Literally, every local person has his or her own God. But don’t take my word for it. In fact, don’t believe in what I have said. You have to go and see this for yourself - if you’re interested. You have to study them, sometimes live with them. Once you’ve explored, and you are fully aware, you’ll see the same pattern over and over again amongst the different religions. By then, hopefully, you’ll discover the truth.”
The universe is big. I believe something powerful and eternal created this universe. Something that is sacred, deathless, timeless from eternity to eternity, and has no beginning nor end. Something that is not put together by thought. Or written by some monks from Jerusalem two thousand years ago, when in fact, earth has existed for billions of years.
That said, the stories we read in any scriptures are nothing but projections of the writer or writers. The only difference is how many people have and share the same imagination. And if you simply believe in what they preach, then you are living under the same delusion.
It is very difficult for people to see outside of their single religious home. They were brought up under a certain belief, oftentimes without choice. It seems obvious that this is just another form of conditioning.
During the pursuit of my spiritual awakening, I’ve also realized that conceptions of the divine - of gods, of deities, of saints - are merely differences in imagination, and all religions were created based on the fear of death. If you ask a Christian minister: “What happens when I die?” He’d say: “For sure, you’ll get to the pearly gates. You’ll be in paradise and in heaven.” Give that question to a Buddhist monk, and he’d answer: “Depending on your life merits, you’ll be reborn either as a nobler person, or a useless pest.” But let’s not talk about them because they’re just too depressing.
Today, I wake-up every morning without bondage to any religion. I never felt better to be free from the sanctions, the dogmas, and the beliefs. What I felt was missing, is now, complete. Sandra however, is still obliged to believe what she’s been taught since she was young, and has not had the courage to see the other side. And I respect her decision, because being married - apart from listening and caring to another person - is also about respecting each other’s space and choice.
Perhaps, it is more important to think about the ramifications of our actions, and how we can use the knowledge we have to build a better society and a better life. And you need not cling to any particular religion to do such act of kindness and humility.