'Are you religious?'

by Apr 10, 2013 4:37 pm Tags: , , ,

Stephanie Wong is a Spartan Daily staff writer.

Stephanie Wong is a Spartan Daily staff writer.

Some children remember waking up to the smell of bacon and hearing the echo of a parent announcing that breakfast was ready.

I remember waking up to the smell of incense and the faint voice of my grandma praying every morning.

She would stand by the window with a special necklace in her hand, running each bead between her thumb and forefinger, softly reciting words that were absolutely foreign to me.

Although I grew up in a family where Buddhism was always present, I never fully dove into the religion myself.

I never learned the teachings of Buddha, but I would go to temple with my grandma when I was younger.

I remember kneeling on small, cushioned platforms and bowing my head to statues and altars before standing back up and adding an incense stick to a pot that was filled to the brim with them.

When my grandma did this, she would kneel, bow her head and mumble soft words to the altar or statue in front of her.

Sometimes she would tell me to ask for something when I bowed my head.

Of course, I had no idea what to ask for.

It was probably something along the lines of a good grade on my multiplication test or that I wouldn’t have to eat asparagus for dinner that night.

I never really understood what I was supposed to do at temple or why Buddha was important because I was never taught about it — I also never asked.

I grew up sitting on the sidelines of a religion I knew nothing about.

When people ask if I’m religious, I’m never really sure how to respond.

Usually I tell them I’m not, but sometimes I get confused.

Just the other day, a friend asked if I was religious.

I started telling him that I wasn’t even though my family was basically Buddhist, but he responded with, “Oh, so you’re Buddhist then.”

I was at a loss for words and couldn’t respond.

I wouldn’t consider myself Buddhist because I don’t know much about Buddhism and I stopped going to temple as I grew older.

His statement made me think about who or what I believe in.

Right now, I’m not really sure who or what I believe in.

Whether we like it or not, all of our lives are affected by some sort of religion one way or another.

I’ve attended public schools all my life, so I was never required to take any basic religion courses, and never cracked open any religious texts of the sort.

I guess I just wasn’t curious enough about religion.

I grew up around many Christians, and whenever the topic of religion came up and I didn’t understand a reference that was made, I’d just brush it off.

I figured since I wasn’t associated with their specific religion that I shouldn’t bother trying to understand what they were talking about.

This mentality went on for a few years until I finally realized that basic knowledge about religion would’ve really helped me understand more things.

I took a class at SJSU called “Magic, Science and Religion," and the “religion” portion stumped me.

I didn't understand the references to Adam and Eve, David and Goliath and Noah’s Ark that were made in class discussions.

I never learned about them and I never minded, but at that moment, I felt completely lost in the classroom.

Was I the only one Googling “David and Goliath?”

It may sound naive, but I didn’t think biblical references would affect me.

Ever since this happened, I’ve been noticing more religious references I never thought much of before, such as what would happen after someone sneezed.

Some people say “Bless you,” while others don’t.

I used to always say it, but realized I only did it because everyone else did.

I began to wonder why jumping on the “Bless you” bandwagon was an automatic reflex that seemed so normal.

I tried not saying it but I ended up feeling rude because I was the only one who kept silent amid a round of echoing “Bless you's.”

Should I have said “Gesundheit” instead?

I learned in class that Anthropological theorist Felicitas Goodman once said religion is an adaptive strategy we use to cope with the unfathomable.

This hit close to home because I can remember several different occasions where I turned to religion when I was struggling.

I remember sitting on my bed with tears rolling down my cheeks, hoping and praying that someone or something would help me get through whatever sticky situation I was in.

All I wanted was a sign to tell me that everything would be OK in the end, and I think the faith I had was both in the universe and within myself.

A few weeks ago, I sat in on a club meeting for the Soka Lions, SJSU’s Buddhist organization.

I had no idea what to expect, and I was having a horrible afternoon, so I tried to put my bad mood aside and hoped for the best.

The meeting started out with members chanting in front of a scroll.

I had never chanted before that day, and it took me several tries to get the chant — “nam-myoho-renge-kyo” — correct.

I felt awkward for about a minute, but after more members started trickling into the room and voices got louder, something happened.

I can’t explain what it was, but all of a sudden my voice went from almost inaudible to practically confident.

It seemed like as the volume increased the more comfortable I felt.

The chanting energized me in a way that I didn’t think was ever possible.

The best part of this experience was that although I had trudged into the meeting in a bad mood, after chanting, I felt like my mood had taken a complete turnaround for the better.

I felt so pumped up and happy after this experience that I decided to go meet with the Soka Lions again for their weekly Wednesday morning chants.

Although I’ve started to do research on Buddhism and begun chanting, I still wouldn't consider myself Buddhist or even religious.

I’m still unsure of what it is I believe in.

All I know is that religion has always found its way into my life one way or another.

I think I may keep going back to Buddhism because it teaches people that the solution to their problems aren't found in the outside world, but they're found within oneself.

I think it’s time that I learn a little more about a religion that has always affected me and the way I live.

Maybe this way I can comfortably answer the “Are you religious?” question someday.

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