Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Challenges of Non-Mainstream Faith

How do you deal with the cultural/societal challenges involved in following a non-mainstream religious path?"

In my life, the challenges that have arisen due to following a non-mainstream religious path (in the US, that would generally mean not being Christian) have been of two types -- external and internal. Initially, the external challenges seemed harsher and more difficult to deal with. But I've since learned that not only are the internal challenges more important, but the external challenges are really internal challenges in disguise.

In terms of internal challenges, my main struggle is acceptance; not wishing for acceptance from others, but being accepting of other's religious choices. Buddhism is a tolerant religion that states that other religions carry value insofar as they develop your inherent beneficial qualities of love, compassion, peace, generosity, and discipline (to name just a few), and insofar as they reduce the poisons of greed, hatred, and laziness. I see adherents of other religions benefiting from them along these lines regularly. I applaud them for finding a religion that suits their makeup. But I admit that I struggle understanding how people can choose certain beliefs--in particular, monotheistic faiths--as my experiences have been so contrary, my insight so opposite, to theirs. It's my own attachment to being right; it's my internal challenge for which I train to develop insight. The seed of this attachment is difficult to unearth, but that's partly why we undertake such spiritual training.

The external challenge I faced was one of being surrounded by those of Christian faiths during times of traditional ritual--holiday meal prayers, religious weddings, etc. I quickly realized, however, that this wasn't an external challenge at all, but an internal one. It was my own insecurity acting out. Experience after experience has proven to me the validity and benefit of my own faith, and each one has helped me to realize my choice is right for me, regardless of others' choices. Now, during holiday meal prayers with family, I just feel thankful for food and family in my own mindful way--I pray in a Buddhist manner. At religious ceremonies like weddings, I practice in my own way by generating loving-kindness for the lucky couple.

I've learned that any external pressure I feel is solely a product of my own internal state, which clear insight can break right through. Such challenges have truly turned out to be a blessing because they have spotlighted areas where my practice was weak, where my views were unwholesome. Now, I am thankful for each and every one of these challenges.


Jeff Lilly said...

Another great post, Mike. Buddhism always encourages one to take the high road, and while it can be difficult to make the ascent, the benefits of doing so are immediately apparent in your own life and the lives you touch.

Something I've found valuable in understanding the odd illogical beliefs of others is remembering (and yes, this is from Zen, and also from Goedel) that all belief systems are contradictory or incomplete when you push them far enough. Remembering this helps me to release my "attachment to being right", just as you say. It also helps to remember, as the Buddha said, that any belief system is just a raft, not the opposite shore itself. :-)

Mike said...

Thanks Jeff! That's a great viewpoint to take.

And see, you know them all! All the similes, all the parables. Wanna take over the Buddhist spot here next time? :)

Jeff Lilly said...

Oh goodness no! I've never made a formal study of Buddhism; your excellent posts are just reminding me of dribs and drabs I've picked up over the years. Keep up the great work!