Thursday, April 03, 2008

Many Paths to Enlightenment

At sangha a couple of weeks ago we had an interesting discussion about why we are not all on the same path.

Because the sangha is open and free to all who are interested, there seems to be many drop-ins and drop-outs. A lovely lady whose name I do not recall shared how happy she is on her spiritual path and when she started she just knew she would be there for the rest of her life. I admired her stick-to-it-iveness, as I have been honored to cross paths with many such spiritual traditions on my road to englightenment but have never found one that I believed would be forever.

One woman spoke up and said that studying mindfulness makes her a better Christian. Another shared that Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to go back to our "spiritual roots" and make peace with (or practice) the tradition you were born with. She went on to state that being Jewish and being Buddhist do not conflict with one another.

I myself have always been attracted to the serene nature of Buddhist philosophy. And living in Florida away from my Vietnamese family, listening to Thich Nhat Hanh on my iPod reminds me of home.

I went through a period of my life where I tried on religions as casually as one does clothing. I might put it on and look in the mirror, being careful that it fits. Maybe I'd even purchase and wear it several times. But eventually the clothing or the journey wears out and becomes threadbare, or even worse, sits in my closet for years having barely been used. So I go to the store for another one.

This consumer attitude to my spiritual journey, while seemingly negative, has had an impact on how I view the world. Being raised a Southern Baptist, I was taught that everyone was going to Hell but us. I was so naive about the tradition I was born into (Christianity), that until a couple of years ago I didn't even know that Catholics were Christians! By exploring what the world has to offer spiritually, I came to believe things that were very different thatn the way I was raised.

What's even more rewarding, is that I gained a respect and appreciation for people from all parts of the world without barely leaving my hometown of Washington DC. And I found a comfort in knowing that there are others who believe things I do, even if it is outside my hometown tradition.

But now I find myself wanting to go deeper spiritually than I ever have before, and I get overwhelmed by the choices available. So I go within, and realize that the seeds have already been planted in me, I must only nuture them in order to watch them grow.

As a Christian and a Buddhist, one of the best books to help me feel better about my spiritual choices is Living Buddha, Living Christ. Though I don't own a copy, just thinking about the title helps me remember that its okay to have more than one spiritual ancestor. When I first met my Vietnamese family, I was always intrigued how my aunt's mother prayed the rosary daily in French but would also chant in Vietnamese as she offered a plate of oranges to the Buddha on the kitchen table. Now I understand that there are many paths to enlightenment. It's okay to not choose between them.


Yap Wai Yen said...

Being a fan of Thich Nhat Hanh, I find your post spiritually uplifting. "Living Buddha, Living Christ" is indeed a good book to read and highlights the notion that there are many paths to enlightenment. Afterall, every path to a religious/spiritual journey starts from within. I also find Thich Nhat Hanh's two other books good for the soul, "Buddha Mind, Buddha Body" and "The Heart Of Buddha's Teaching". Keep blogging!

Yap WY

Sharon said...

Thanks for the kudos! I've read many of his books, but have not yet read "Buddha Mind, Buddha Body." My sangha uses "The Heart of Buddha's Teachings" all the times.

Can't wait to read your blog!