Monday, January 11, 2010

Buddhist Impressions: My Own

So when I was 13 I was lucky enough to live in Malaysia for a year. Every day was interesting; the food, the landscape, the lovely people- It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

Many of the little experiences that made up my year in Malaysia were about religion and culture. I learned about Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. I learned about the holy month of Ramadan (and that the people didn't actually NOT EAT for a month *chuckles at own ignorance*), Deepavali (the Hindu festival of lights), Chinese New Year, and the Chinese moon cake festival. I also learned that Muslims don't (i.e. are prohibited) eat pork, Hindus don't eat beef, and that some Hindus and Buddhists are vegetarians. I learned other stuff, too, but you also have to keep in mind that, well, I was 13. Many of the conclusions I came to were nebulous at best, but they were good enough for me at the time. But what I learned kicked off a curiosity that could not be shaken.

One of the things I was curious about was our next door neighbors. They were Chinese Malaysians, and every morning an elderly lady would come outside with three incense sticks, and bow many times (in sets of three), towards the east. I didn't mean to stare, but this mystified me. (Now that I know a little more than back then, I can't help but wonder if she had been bowing to the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.) I also remember all the earthy-smelling stores in Melaka that sold religious supplies- Buddha statues, joss sticks, altars, shrines. I don't know why, but I ended up buying a small Buddha statue and a huge bundle of joss sticks for 10RM (about $3). I guess that was an investment!

Finally, I had learned about Buddhism in 9th grade, and I vaguely remember having to memorize the 5 precepts. Interesting, I thought. But it would be a long time for me before Buddhism was no longer shrouded in mystery. I would probably attribute this fact to popular culture, lack of information resources (remember, I'm a child of the 80's, I didn't grow up with the internet) and by own lack of spiritual direction. But there you go, that's my story of personal impressions!

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