From the Cross to Nirvana
The Story of How I Found Buddhism
When I first started writing on Medium, I was a doubtful Catholic going through life blindly with just a grain of faith in my heart. I’ve written a piece about my suicide attempts not too long ago and I remember writing about how my faith was somewhat restored after such attempts. Since then I’ve sort of just been floating about wondering where my belief truly lies and what exactly I believe in.
What is my religion?
I’ve asked myself this question over and over again for so long that even when I considered myself to be a Catholic, I despised the idea of having a religion. Not because I find Catholicism revolting nor do I have anything against religion per se, but because limiting myself to one belief, whereas I believed in other religions and disciplines, confused me. Having been taught that believing in other religions or ‘gods’ was sinful and definitely frowned upon only made me grow weary of religion. Monotheistic religions and teachings sort of evoke the idea that other beliefs are ‘wrong’ and ‘inferior’. These are the religions that elicit fear onto their followers to exercise control and to put doubt into your own abilities as a human being.
A religion that pushes people to think that they do not have the power to change they’re own lives or that they are born ‘sinners’ is not a religion at all. Religion is supposed to help people become better human beings and to be a supportive environment for them so that they can positively effect their surroundings instead of controlling their lives in a way that dictates what they do, eat, or even perceive themselves.
My path in Catholicism only made me hate myself. Being a lesbian (or just being different, really) in a Catholic church is like throwing a rabbit into a snake’s den. I may have not received direct discrimination or judgement, but the lingering stares and whispers as I walked past Aunts and Uncles along the pews of the church don’t exactly scream acceptance or mimic Christ’s actions. Church is supposed to be a place for the oppressed and the ‘sinners’ so that they may feel at home and closer to the Lord; a place of refuge.
I remember having one conversation with a lady at church and she kept saying, “You’re going to hell for your immoral ways and you shouldn’t be going around influencing all these young kids to be like you. Church is no place for the likes of you.”. Well, on the contrary Missus, Jesus said that the church is exactly the place for people like me. I didn’t want to be a part of a community that despised or looked down on ‘people like me’ anyway. A church that ostracizes people because of their differences is no church for me.
A teaching that relishes in self-loathing and promotes the idea of blindly giving your all to an all-knowing entity so that you can deny personal responsibility? No, thank you. You see, I’m not bashing nor am I trying to sound like an asshole or a smartass. They’re half-right. Catholicism and Christianity preach some truth. The only thing I find false in their teachings is that they teach you to be submissive to the idea that ‘God’ controls therefore we let ‘Him’ decide and that ‘He’ intended it to be this way therefore it has to be this and that. I refuse to be ignorant to the circumstances in my life and leave it up to a divine entity I am not sure exists nor have seen or heard of any sufficient evidence of it being real.
I’ve studied Buddhism for a very long time. I first learned of Buddhism from my father and I really delved into the teachings when he passed away 4 years ago. I did my own research and just googled stuff on my own time when I felt a little lost. Buddhism seemed more compassionate and understanding to me. Finally! A way of life that allows me to be myself and is a ‘religion’ that aims for me to become the best that I can be. A religion that has actual evidence and proof of the possibilities I have and the potential to reach enlightenment. A religion that teaches that you, yourself, have the capacity to create your own destiny and that you hold the truth. An empowering way of life that pushes you to undergo suffering with hope and knowledge that you can go through it and you have all the answers within you to overcome your challenges. The philosophy behind Buddhism is to eliminate mental suffering, which is exactly what I needed. Clarity and piece of mind to help me along this journey of life in becoming a better version of myself, in becoming a better human being, and somehow making a difference.
Through chanting and meditation, just as Christians and Catholics pray and reflect, we find the answers and the truth within ourselves, although not in a ‘God’. We do not believe in solely surrendering ourselves to a ‘God’ or that ‘He’ is the cause of all and will ‘bless’ us and whatnot. Buddhists believe that through “positive thoughts, words and actions create positive effects in the lives of individuals, leading to happiness.” (“The Simultaneity of Cause and Effect”, Sokka Gakkai International: Buddhism For Peace). Cause and effect is what causes all phenomena, it is the concept of karma. Each individual possesses the truth and all the capabilities of becoming truly enlightened and attaining Buddhahood. The bridge that separates us and ‘God’ allowing ‘Him’ to be far more superior than we are suggests that we have no control over our circumstances and that we are helpless to the world around us.
“Buddhism is characterized by an emphasis on the possibility of inner transformation — a process of bringing forth our full human potential... it is only by squarely facing the challenges that confront us amidst the harsh contradictions of society that we can carry out the task of changing our own lives and the world for the better. Taking responsibility for transforming our own lives is the first step toward creating a human society based on compassion and respect for the dignity of all people’s lives.” (“Human Revolution”, Sokka Gakkai International: Buddhism For Peace).
I chose to follow Buddhism because I believed in the same principles that it teaches. It made more sense to me more than Christianity and Catholicism ever did. Buddhism is the truth. It provided the answers to the questions I have been asking myself for so long and gave me peace. I was set free. It is also how I found ‘Her’.
So, now what?
Well, I received my Gohonzon on April 4th this year so that means I am an official Buddhist and a member of Sokka Gakkai International. It’s sort of ironic because I am now a Buddhist and in about 2–3 months I will be shipping out to Great Lakes, IL for Recruit Training for the United States Navy. I know how this sounds! Since I found Buddhism, I’ve become more calm and accepting of the things I’ve gone through in my life. Through chanting and meditation, I’ve learned some hard truths about myself and am making the necessary changes so that I may reach enlightenment. Since I met ‘Her’, ‘She’s’ brought me a newfound purpose in Buddhism as well as a more positive outlook on life.
In regards to me being a Buddhist and enlisting, I believe it will help me face the challenges I will encounter as well as become an amazing sailor. In the face of adversity, my Buddhist practice will be my greatest tool and guidance.
I feel like my path into finding Buddhism and officially becoming Buddhist was necessary before I ship out to training and join the Navy. Ever since I started really practicing and chanting, I’m more in tune with myself now. I was so nervous about everything and I was constantly at war with myself that I couldn’t be around people or had any motivation to do anything. I didn’t even have any motivation to prepare myself to go to training! My inner struggles that I’ve been having ever since my move from Guam have been festering inside me looking for something to latch on and grow into a negative and destructive habit. Now, I’ve let them all go. I’ve grown, I’ve found peace.
I’ve slowly gained control over my alcoholism as well as my suicidal tendencies due to meditation and surrounding myself with my SGI family whom are always there supporting me and giving me words of encouragement.
I plan to continuously strive in my devotion to the study of Nichiren Buddhism as well as my relationship with my SGI family, my love, and everyone I encounter, most especially plant the seed of Buddhism in the hearts of others as I journey into enlistment. Maybe one day those seeds will rise from the mud and become lotus flowers that blossom from enlightenment and love.