My head debates religion

In my mind, I debate the question of religion frequently. It’s not a daily thing, but rather a repetitive one.

Buddhism American Style

Within Buddhism, each major school of practice has a family tree. Through it, the teachings are traced back to the Buddha himself.  But I find myself unmotivated to learn or even care about the lineage tree.

At one time, I considered this a failing. But I’m coming to accept that my version of Buddhism isn’t going to be the same as a native’s. Although I can appreciate Tibetan culture, I wasn’t born into it. So my Buddhist practices and outlooks will be different from those who are.

I’m going to content myself with just being me, and incorporating Buddhism as much as I can into my daily life. But it may not be reflected in the same manner as those living in Tibet. I don’t know all of the rituals. I don’t know all of the customs. I’m always taking a guess, no matter what I do, whether it’s bowing, prostrating, or chanting. Whether my practice is strong or whether it is weak, I always feel I’m mimicking. I always feel like a newcomer, even though I’ve followed the teachings to the best of my ability for decades.

I appreciate the Buddha’s teachings and, well, isn’t that enough? The rest, after all, is only trappings.

Now, someone raised within Tibetan Buddhism might believe those trappings to be important. If nothing else, they are reminders to keep beliefs and values close at hand. But the trappings themselves are ornamentation. Whether it’s mental ornamentation, procedural ornamentation, or visual ornamentation, all are add-ons. I mean, when the Buddha came to enlightenment, he had nothing. He didn’t have all of these adornments. It was just him and the wilderness.

But I think it’s in people’s natures to want to dress things up. It’s a way of making things seem more beautiful; even more concrete. But it also makes concepts more complicated than they need be.

Why I gave up on church

I felt that way when I was attending the Lutheran Church, too; even though, as far as churches go, they had relatively few procedures and unwritten rules. Yet I felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t raised with the symbols and practices, and copying them made me feel like a faker. Later, I became a Methodist. The Methodist church has even fewer formalities, yet I felt like an imposter.

This wasn’t the only reason I failed to become a church-goer. Frankly, I don’t like going places where one is expected to dress up and display a façade. I don’t like dresses and I hate panty hose. Heck! I’m in my 60s now, and if I don’t want to wear something I’m not going to. And those little dress shoes! They hurt your knees, your hips and your lower back. Give you bunions. They’re vile on women’s bodies, and I’m not going to subject myself.

Are ceremonies necessary?

And when it comes to ceremonies, I’m always faking it.

Even when I graduated from college, the ceremony didn’t feel important or real. But I had to participate because it was important to my parents. At the time, I didn’t own a clothes iron, so I didn’t even press my gown for the procession. I may have been the only one donning a bolt of fabric with giant creases running through it. I could have found someone to help, but I just didn’t care.

While growing up, my family never maintained strong traditions. Granted, Mom always fixed the same meals for holidays, but that was an action she carried out. We had nothing to do with it.

And when I got older, I didn’t see the point of this one ceremonial meal, where you murder a bird and gorge yourself. If you really have a craving for a certain food, honor that craving when you have it. You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas. And if you feel you should give thanks, again, don’t wait for a holiday.

And scheduled worship seems equally pointless. Who are we trying to impress by showing up at a church? God already knows what we are, and what we’re capable of – both good and bad. If he just wanted people to sit around and perform ceremonies, he might have made a bunch of bots. It would have been easier than dealing with all of our individual personalities and anxieties.

The New Testament says that, if one feels they should practice certain rituals, then they should. But if one doesn’t feel rituals are necessary, they needn’t concern themselves.

Does going to church make true believers?

So I don’t think going to church should be one’s goal in life — unless you’re a minister or monk perhaps. It’s not that important. We simply make it important, because we need things to clutch on to – to grasp onto. It’s a way to anchor ourselves so we don’t wander away. But the anchor only works if a rope is attached; in other words, if we’ve been raised with certain habits and truly believe in them.

And sometimes people say they thoroughly believe, but do they? Because Christians in particular are quick to condemn another’s way of thinking. And they often protect themselves from outside influences, afraid they’ll hear something that might make them question. But if they fear so greatly, then the belief isn’t that strong. Otherwise their faith couldn’t be shaken, and they could simply accept others as they are without trying to convert them to self.

At the same time, I’m not criticizing those who follow a tradition or know a religion inside and out. I just don’t think it’s needed. If it makes you feel good, that’s great. If it helps you, even better. If it helps you help others, that’s outstanding. But I think rituals are created because we don’t feel we can hang onto certain ideas without them.

Is money necessary for worship?

Another reason I don’t like going to church is the constant demand for money. I understand it takes money to keep a church going. But, at the same time, I’ve never been able to earn high wages. In our culture, one’s value is linked to income bracket. Going to church simply emphasizes my lack of worth. Instead of helping me to feel good or inspired, it adds an additional layer of stress.

And do we really need a lot of money to worship? Maybe we do – in order to maintain the trappings. But are the trappings necessary?

The Buddha didn’t have diddly squat when he became enlightened. He had nothing. Did it make him less of a person? If it did, then why are we listening to him now?

And Christ had very little, although some churches distorted the tale and said he must have been wealthy, since master carpenters were highly valued. However, I’ve read the New Testament and nowhere does it mention Christ’s carpentry skills or a palatial demand for his work.

Or maybe we’re comparing Christ to our current TV evangelists – and we know how wealthy they are! However, TV evangelists usually teach to the wealthy or those who hope to become wealthy, whereas Christ taught to the poor and often reprimanded the rich.

Are Christianity and Buddhism one religion?

Over time, I’ve come to believe that Christ adopted the Buddha’s teachings, much as the Buddhists adopted aspects of ancestral Hinduism. Buddhism arrived in the world long before Christianity, and the world was exposed to it through extensive trade routes into the East.

Having studied both Christianity and Buddhism, I’ve discovered countless similarities. Here are a couple of examples.

Buddhism is essentially an individual practice. And Christ himself suggested we worship in private.

In Christianity, we are taught that Christ died on the cross for us. That he took on all of our sins.

This is similar to what Buddhists believe. When monks and nuns take their vows, they promise to keep coming back until everyone has been saved. So they are, in effect, condemning themselves for the sake of others. They’re taking on everybody’s sins, postponing nirvana, or heaven, or whatever you want to call it until every sentient being joins them.

Do people join churches out of loneliness?

Sometimes when I’ve joined a church, it wasn’t because of spirituality. I simply wanted to be around other people, and I knew church is a place where many people go. But then, to stay in the group, one has to jump through hoops, and I’ve never been a good hoop-jumper.

Traditionally I’ve had trouble staying with any group because, within them, I lose my voice. Probably because I just don’t care to shout above the fray. I mean, if the group wants to do something different than me or believe something different than me, that’s all right. Maybe those who shout feel a need to be heard; feel insignificant without the group’s approval.

However, I don’t feel that way. I’m okay with being me and sitting alone in the wilderness.

Published by cafsamsel

Carol Fullerton-Samsel is a nearly-native Floridian who lives with her husband of 25 years and three rescue animals. She has a passion for day-hiking and nature, and also enjoys writing. Be sure to visit the TenPaths YouTube channel, which is still in its infancy.

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