Why I’m (trying my best to be) a Buddhist

I sank down into the aeroplane seat and blew out, long and hard. Wow. I was moving on, leaving Nepal. And I was truly heartbroken to, although we were yet to leave the tarmac. I touched my beads around my neck almost unconsciously, but realised there was no need. I felt at ease. I felt so truly at peace, like I had for quite a few weeks now.

The plane was in the air and escaping the Kathmandu valley before I had even realised. I looked longingly out the window, and wondered whether I should have left at all, with so much love for this country’s people, culture and landscape.

I was exhausted. The man next to me smiled and leant back so I could watch dirty Kathmandu disappear as the jet slipped out through the gaps of the mountains, and left the smoggy, hidden city behind. We had flattened out before I realised that I had just had the most painless, stress-free aeroplane take off since I was a child. My youth and adult years have seen me a fretful flyer. Paranoid, frightened, and always gripping the sides of chair is the usual ‘me’ when it comes to taking off and landing.

I spent four weeks in a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Nepal, living with the nuns to whom I taught English, participating in prayer and festivals. At the Losar New Year festival I had a private meeting with the nunnery’s Rinpoche (a holy man a step down from my sect’s equivalent of the Delai Lama) and he gave me a Tibetan name, and cut a piece of my hair, and basically, made me a Buddhist.

I was raised a Catholic, and am grateful for that. But I was always a cynical little Catholic girl. I absorbed the wonderful, loving elements of the religion, but questioned everything I didn’t understand or agree with. Intense reading of non-fictional books on religions of the world and the supernatural meant that even as a youngster, I believed in reincarnation, and other things that didn’t fit into the Catholic doctrine, and found myself observing the congregation, thoughtlessly reciting prayers and creeds, wondering whether they were actually believing everything they were saying.

After high-school I went with a new friend to watch his worship band at the local Baptist church, and then entered into an intensely religious year or two of my life. God was important to me, I had so much faith, and I listened to Christian rock. This was a wonderful time of my life, but at the same time, brought much pain and conflict to my soul – issues like sex before marriage, having gay friends who I loved and respected, the interpretation of the bible were a source of much inner debate and confusion. I slipped back into what I would only say was non-practising Catholicism, a faith always lit largely due to my amazing love for religious history, and interest in the unexplained, such as the many appearances of the Virgin Mary throughout history.

My first night in Nepal I went to dinner with another volunteer and he asked me the question – “Do you believe that Jesus is the son of God?” I realised that no matter how I tried to say that I did, no, I didn’t. I believe that he existed, and he was a wonderful, spiritual healer, and he was one of the many prophets to come to the world with a message of love and compassion, but when it came to the Holy Trinity, I wasn’t really there on all three sides.

Perhaps I was always destined to call myself a Buddhist. When I was younger I used to threaten my poor mother that I would run away, to Tibet, to become a Buddhist nun. And at the age of 26, I did this, and unexpectedly found Buddhism to offer me a faith and lifestyle that I loved and respected. (Travelling after my time in Nepal with my non-religious boyfriend, also changed my opinions on so many aspects of Christian history – where I used to see amazing monuments as great symbols of faith, I have come to see them as symbols of greed and hardship – the church denying the people their livelihoods to build these massive structures.)

This is not meant to be a Christianity bashing. I have a god-son, who I will enjoy teaching about Jesus’ message, and always be there though his religious life, and support him in whatever his spiritual journey might entail. I was a Catholic when I undertook this role, and will not dodge my responsibilities.

Buddhism is faith in people, and the world. It is about compassion and love, and about Karma. You get what you give, you pay it forward, and all you need is love. I have always believed that we are all part of the greater living entity of the world, and we are affected by the good and bad that flows in and around us. It is also about impermanence – everything is coming and going – from people to possessions, to pain and happiness. Nothing will remain for ever. This is an amazingly freeing concept once you begin to feel it.

Meeting up with my boyfriend in Thailand after flying in from Nepal, he watched as I opened my backpack to find that a sunscreen explosion had occurred in my bag. There was sunscreen over at least half my things. “Oh! Sunscreen has exploded in my bag!” I said, and proceeded to calmly extract, and wash my things. Troy watched me do this with amazement, expecting at any moment that I would cry, scream, swear or break down. Later he said that he thought I was having a mental breakdown. He also watched as I calmly allowed people push in front of us in the passport queues, something I never would have let go without a narky word or my blood boiling, or at least obscenities under my breath. “It’s okay, love. One day someone’ll push in front of them, and they’ll know how we feel now.”

Cliched and preachy, I know, but true. I was Zen. To my boyfriend, I was a new person. His stress-head, tension headache suffering, depression prone girlfriend had been replaced by a cool, calm and Karma-ed up person with no fear, no regrets, and no worries.

Sadly though, I have lost this Zen-ness since leaving Nepal, and leaving the nunnery. Life here can be stressful. It is also full of ‘things’. My life in Nepal was very simple. There was only food, love, fun and prayer or meditation. But I’m sure I can find this Zen-ness again, even in a busy, working, materialistic life.

So this year, I will try to regain that unbelievable feeling of freedom, love, calm and fearlessness that made be a better, more pain-free, and happier person last year.

A great book exists – “What makes you not a Buddhist” by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse.


When free speech goes too far

No more, there can be no more of this. Yes, Margaret Court is free to speak her mind about her God, her opinion on society, and her thoughts on what is wrong with the world and the people therein. But, no. Enough is enough.

When someone, especially a high-profile individual begins to say damaging things – truly, truly damaging things – and the mainstream media freely publishes these opinions, then we, as a society have let it go too far.

How dare she make children feel that they are wrong? How dare she put those thoughts into their heads? How dare she use her tennis fame to make people feel unnatural, not right, make them feel as though they have done something wrong and that they must change.

Who is going to stand up and care for these children when they read these judgements? Who is going to help repair their minds when they begin to question themselves, and the way they are.

It has gone too far now, and something must be done.

Education and support for young people is no longer about corporal punishment and anger. Education and support is now about love, care, and understanding.

I was once very religious. Religion tore me up inside. I recently read through a journal I kept at this stage of my life. Every night I was berating myself, hating myself, exploring the diabolical dichotomy of being a servant of God, and a young adult in a loving (and sexual) relationship. I was raised a happy Catholic, and then turned to New Age Christianity, and became very involved. I was still happy, but as it continued, as I went to this church and heard my friends say that people having sex before marriage needed to repent, that gay people (I already had many gay friends) needed to repent, I fell into a confused, befuddled, difficult time of my life. My mum told me once that the only thing she wanted me to remember was that I should be wary of having hang ups about sex, and my religion. I appreciated her honesty and her awareness of the real world that I was living in.

Margaret Court is living in her world, but her world does not equate to every person in this nation’s real world.  She is worried about ideals and marriage and traditional roles of men and women. Well maybe, transition and change will save the relationships of Australians. With divorce rates high, why must she attack the loving relationships and families that might just happen to be built around a loving companionship between two people of the same sex?

Enough is enough. Her right to free speech is forfeited with the damage she is causing to young Australians.

Religion and Laws – a Union Made in Idiocracy

First of all, I am not anti-religion. I think there is so much goodness that comes from Religion, and I count myself lucky that faith has played an important part in my life. Religion has shaped the person I am, and contributed to countless wonderful memories of my childhood and youth.

(If you are wondering – and this is a blog for another time – I was raised a happy, but cynical Catholic, independently became an intensely religious Catholic attending New Age Christian worship, and now identify myself as someone who holds Buddhist beliefs, somewhere I sort of always knew I would end up.)

But in today’s society, Religion is compromising freedom and peace. It has long been a catalyst for war and conflict, death and destruction, but today, something as simple as a person’s freedom of sexuality is  squashed by scripture written and wrongly translated and interpreted variably for centuries.

It shocks me that people can use their own religious belief as an argument against a person who does not subscribe to that, or any religion, or indeed within a general societal debate. How does that make sense? How can someone who is Christian argue that gay marriage is wrong because the Bible says so, and expect their interlocutor to accept that as a valid argument?

Our world is based on morality, ethics and laws. The laws are there to uphold the morals and ethics – religion should play no part in our law making. It disturbs me that former most powerful man in the world, George Bush Jnr, admitted that God advised him to “end the tyranny in Iraq”. I don’t have a problem with George Bush being talked to by God, or indeed, him taking advice from God, but I have a problem with George Bush using God as his reason for going to war, or for doing anything in the political arena.

Marriage has been conventional in our world for so long, but is it generally believed now, today, that every person MUST get married? No, many couples do not ever get married. They have families, they have love, and they have wonderful lives. But if they wish to, they can get married.

So marriage is not essential. But heterosexual couples can, if they choose, get married. So if this is a right, a choice, that can be made by heterosexuals, why can’t same-sex couples make the same choice?

Now, I assume that those people basing their issues with gay marriage around scripture know that polygamous marriage is rife within the Old Testament? Oh what’s that? You didn’t know that Tony Abbott? So, Polygamous marriage should be OK? No? Oh I see, you are basing your decree on same-sex marriage on you picking and choosing what part of your religion you like, and expecting the rest of the country to go along with it? Hmmm…

I am just angry, and confused. I read an article this morning, quoting Margaret Court as saying “We have them in our church. I help them to overcome. We have people who have been homosexual who are now married.”

WHAT?! I believe in the power of prayer and all, but changing someone’s sexual orientation? To me that just screams messing up someone’s soul. I know how religion can raise you up to feel wonderful, but then, it can completely drag you down when you find hypocrisies and complexities in your life that occur when you are trying to live by a doctrine in today’s society.

This is a messy blog, and I know I may be trying to simplify something not so simple. But you know what, maybe I can boil down my point(s) to this:

Marriage is not essential in Australian society to be legally united with someone.

Therefore, it is a choice. But only heterosexual couples have this choice. They don’t even have to be religious to make this choice. So why can’t same-sex couples?

Some people who are against same-sex marriage use religious belief as an argument. This is invalid, because we are a secular, multicultural country.

I don’t get it.