Our textbook for the class was, "The World's Religions" which was written by Huston Smith. One of the first things we learned is that to know one religion is to know none since you have nothing to compare it to. It made me feel a bit sorry for my brothers who have only ever known one religion (Jehovah's Witnesses). Most of my other classmates were younger since at this time (1995) I was 25 years old.
The first religion we learned about was Hinduism. One of its major tenets is reincarnation. I believe wholeheartedly in reincarnation, but not quite in the way that you might think. I don't believe that we die and then go directly into another womb to immediately be born again. I think that we die, cross over, meet departed loved ones, have a life review, and then chill for quite a spell before deciding if we want to return to the land of duality. Some may not wish to go back and that is their right. Of course, this infers that we chose to be born in this lifetime which I also believe.
Some may say, "But I don't remember anything before this lifetime". Well, I don't remember being born, but I obviously was. Living in the physical plane is kinda like being the actor in a play, but forgetting that the play is not reality, but an illusion. It was Shakespeare who said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances...”
So many of us get too caught up in the drama forgetting who we really are. It takes but a moment to remember. After we cross over, everything comes back to us, we remember our mission, and all is well (nderf.org has thousands of first hand accounts which say as much) . I strive to remember that all is well this very minute, that we don't get to live forever, but are already doing so. Karma is also a major aspect of Hinduism. I don't believe everything that the religion preaches, but do admire it. It's the oldest religion of the five.
My favorite of the five is Buddhism. One of the things I like about it is that it's very short on rules and ritual. It consists of very simple steps on how to achieve total spiritual creaminess. I mean, look at the Dalai Lama and tell me he's not enlightened:
Buddhism is also all about going within, meditating. Instead of talking to God (praying), you listen, you breathe. I'd like to go a bit into prayer now. I know that millions (billions?) get much out of saying prayers before they go to bed, upon getting up, and everywhere in between, but I've never been a huge fan of this, especially in the last decade. Though I admit to a greater deal of calmness after a prayer is said before a meal, I personally think that every thought is a prayer and that God is well aware of our wishes, that we don't have to get on our knees and clasp our hands for Him (Her?) to know of them. Speaking of which, why the hell is God male, anyway? Does he have a penis and if so, who would he use it on?
Getting back to prayer, I say 5 affirmations in the morning, but I never really ask for anything. Just seems too presumptuous to me. I mean, who wants to come to Earth and have an easy life? It's like taking a test that's too simple. There's no challenge, nothing to be proud of. I just have faith that all is well and that all is for my highest good. In this way, I am quite unattached to specific results, to things having to be a certain way. On most things, I move very quickly into acceptance. After all, expectation is the mother of misery, something I should've remembered as I went to "The Dark Knight" on Friday evening (I was a tad let down by it).On my other website, I mentioned how a reader at Celebrate Your Life said she saw me as a monk and I gave several reasons why this didn't surprise me. She also mentioned that I should go within more. Another good aspect of Buddhism is that it is a peaceful religion as opposed to Christianity (Crusades) and Islam (modern-day fundamentalists). It's also hard to find a worldview that makes more sense than the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: to live means to suffer, the origin of suffering is attachment, the cessation of suffering is attainable through the Eightfold Path.
In the class, we were required to read a separate paperback book in addition to the section on it in the Smith text. Called "Siddhartha", it's a novel which deals with the spiritual journey of a man who lived during the time of the Buddha. The main character spends the duration of the book looking for enlightenment. It wound up being one of the best books I ever read. During the time we were reading it, I remember the professor telling us to do what we could to find our own enlightenment and to let him know if one of us were able to find it. Wouldn't that be grand, I thought. Another memorable quote the professor liked to give us was "Work out your own salvation with diligence".
Next it was on to Judaism. There was some good stuff to be found there, but it was much too big on ritual and the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, are quite harsh. Add that to cutting off a portion of a newborn babies' pleasure center and I'm gonna have to pass.
Then we studied Christianity. I could tell that many of my classmates were eager to take an unbiased look at it. I'm sure many grew up believing its tenets without having the chance to really examine them. Thankfully, that's what college is all about. As it came time to study the final religion, Islam, I grew a bit wistful. I'd learned so much, we'd had so many good discussions, but our time was coming to an end. Islam was alright, hey, it's good enough for Obama, isn't it, but its rules really went into overkill. Nonetheless, the Islam section allowed for one of the most memorable discussions of the quarter to take place when a Muslim came to speak before us one morning. He brought along the Islamic flag for Saudi Arabia (his country of origin) and put it on the chalkboard:
He talked for a while about the rituals he followed such as praying five times a day on a mat. It's interesting that prayer is actually compulsory for them, something they have to do. The gentleman was quite nice and it was great to hear someone talk about a religion that most of us weren't very familiar with. The highlight came when the young lady next to me asked why the Islamic flag had a sword on it. I had been wondering the same thing. Islam is supposed to be a religion of peace, so why is a weapon displayed? I don't recall specifically how the man answered, but the reasoning he gave was quite weak. So the lady asked him to elaborate. The guy just couldn't justify the symbol and the lady next to me knew it. Ah, well...
The class ended a few weeks later, but I will always look back with fondness on that winter when I learned about some of the crazy (and not so crazy) things that people believe. I humbly include myself among them. The class taught me to be even more spiritual than I already was. When I had time before class, instead of sitting on a bench, I would find a tree and sit with my back against its mighty trunk. On my walk to college in the morning, I would often stop in front of trees and touch them for a few seconds while sending positive thoughts their way.
One of my favorite CD's from the time period was Ace of Base's second album The Bridge. I frequently sang the opening line from one of its songs, "Life is a paradise"...