Friday, August 6, 2010

Looking for God in All the Wrong Places: My Visits to Non-Christian Places of Worship, Part I

While in grad school, I took a World Religions class (which turned out to be one of my favorite classes) in which I and the rest of the class had to visit worship centers of several other religions. My visit to these religious places of worship was an eye opening experience for me. Many years ago, I visited a Buddhist temple in South Korea and Mosques in Bahrain and Turkey, but until this class, I had not spoken to an adherent of these religions while in their place of worship. I’m not exactly sure what I had expected to feel as I visited these places, but the emotion that was at the forefront of my thoughts was sadness. Looking at the people as they came to worship, I could not help but to feel sorry for them and to wonder just how happy they really are with their god or gods.

What follows, in five parts, is the essay I wrote for the class, with some modifications for these postings here; included are my observations and thoughts as I visited these places. I have used some names within this report, they are real people I met on these visits, as far as I know, they are still active participants in the religions I have them in here.

All these sites are in southern California near the school I attended, Biola University. I started with a Buddhist temple called Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, then I went to the Islamic Education Center in Walnut; followed by the Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada, a Jewish Synagogue. Then came the Hare Krishna temple, Rukmini Dwarakadish Temple; and lastly I visited a Sikh service, which unfortunately, I didn’t record in my essay so I don’t remember name nor exact location that I attended.

Hsi Lai Temple

The Hsi Lai Temple is a beautiful Buddhist temple and compound set on a tree-covered hillside. Its buildings are colorfully painted with red and gold colors, and decorated with pictures and statues made of wood and stone. Walls and signs are written upon in both Chinese and English, pleasantly scripted and very attractive. The courtyard was interwoven grass and concrete, and richly adorned with two gardens decorated with statues and waterfalls. Beside the courtyard was a museum containing a variety of artwork that would attract both the religious minded and the post-modern agnostic alike.

Putting aside the physical beauty of the temple and surrounding grounds, Buddhism is a dark and hollow hole. Our guide, Mr. Al Duffy, did not appear to be a very happy person. Perhaps it was because he was trying to be “professional,” but I saw him smile very little. He claimed to have converted from Christianity to Buddhism, but he was a Roman Catholic, which is actually a pagan, or false Christian, religion, so he just went from one dark religion to another. He told us that Buddhist are not too concern with god, or who or what he/it is; they are concern with the here and now and making their lives and the world better.

Although Mr. Duffy was an Anglo, everyone else I saw at the temple was Asian. The followers of Buddha came into the temple, made an offering of fruit, flowers, or incense; they bowed three times to the statue they was in front of them. Some people would then move on to another statue and start the process all over again. Mr. Duffy said that the people were not worshipping the statues, but were meditating on the moral attributes and dedication of the person the statue is representing. It looked a great deal like worship to me though.

The adherents to Buddhism make four vows and then live their lives in fulfilling these vows; the four vows are: to save all beings, to cease all defilement, to continue to study dharma, and to attain Buddhahood. They follow five precepts: no killing, no lying, no sexual immorality, no stealing, and no intoxication. They find freedom from within themselves, and this freedom removes them from the cycle of rebirth, known as reincarnation.

Buddhists can receive training to become monks. Americans wishing to become monks must go overseas to places like Thailand for training. Mr. Duffy told us that he wanted to be a monk so he went to Thailand, but while there, he changed his mind and decided to stay laity. I saw a few monks at the temple, several males and at least one female. The males were very solemn as they went about their work; I noticed the female monk as she was passing through our group and she smiled as she did so. I also saw several laity workers and they did not appear very happy nor friendly.

As I did with all the visits we made, I felt sadness for the people involved in these other religions. Buddhist are trying so hard to make appeasement, even though they really have no god to appease. They are really just lost sheep being led by wolves.

Next is Islam.

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