Once upon a time I fell in love with Christianity.
I went to church twice a week and made the sign of the cross each time I went down on my knees. I memorized and repeated prayers as I counted through my rosary’s beads. I sang songs in the choir and lit candles around the alter and I bowed my head before each high hanging porcelain sculpture of the savior. I confessed and repented each of my sins, wore a cross around my neck, and read the Bible from cover to cover.
But I had questions; Why can God only speak through men from behind the alter? And why, in exchange for my blessing, must every practitioner of differing faith be damned? And if Jesus taught us to treat each neighbor as our self, then why are there exceptions if he is black, poor, Muslim, female, or speaks a language we don’t understand? And if any act can be forgiven, why have we never apologized (or even recognized) the trail of blood that bought and brought the conversion of Christianity to the Americas?
Christianity put a finger to its lips and hushed me.
So I turned my back, and walked away.
And then one day I met Buddhism.
I was told, “Take only what you need, and anything you don’t like just leave,” and then thought to myself, “Now here’s a religion in which I can respectfully believe!”
So I went to the temples, clasped my hands and bowed, or even made rounds of full body prostrations to humble myself to the ground. I counted on the beads of my mala repetitions of Tibetan mantras memorized (only as I knew them) as segments of sound. I adopted the 8-fold path into my daily life and was careful to always circumambulate in only directions clockwise. I lit butter lamps and participated in pujas and made mindful walking meditations around towering white stupas. I meditated hour after hour cross-legged on a cushion, wore an eternal knot around my neck, and studied the ancient Sanskrit sutras.
But I had questions; If the female form is equivalent in power for progress towards enlightenment, then why do all the high lamas reincarnate only as men? And if Buddha did not want anyone to sculpt his image for praise, then why do we meditate with visualizations of him with a crown on his head, his body high upon a throne raised? And if all sentient beings are created and respected as the same, then why is a “perfect rebirth” into the human realm considered supreme? And if unattachment to the physical is a true precept of this religion, then why do we circumambulate ornate stupas painted in gold flake and housing relics of old lamas from whose bones appear pearls? And if Buddha promised us the path to enlightenment could be attained entirely from direct experience, then why does Buddhism prescribe a disciplined routine of prostrations, meditations, circumambulations and memorizations?
Buddhism shrugged its shoulders, smiled softly and said, “Fine then. Find your own way.”
So I took a deep breath and, once again, heaved my pack upon my back. Taking pursuit of my own trail knowing not what would lie ahead but quite happy to leave all I had learned “I’m not” in the past. And as I stepped back in alignment with personal truth, direct experience, unattachment, meditation and mindfulness, I, for the first time, looked down to see that the path was littered with a million dusty footprints of evidence. Yes! Imprints of feet, from a thousand past pilgrims, that all faced forward in one direction forming a one-way path for those for whom returning wasn’t an intention.
And suddenly I felt soft hands slip into the left and right of mine, and a secret whispered softly in two voices of kind;
In the left…
“Between my words and the Bible exists a great void, which everyone moved quickly to fill forgetting that in stillness is my voice.”
In the right…
“And the Sutras I did not want written but only whispered from ear to ear. You don’t need to know Sanskrit to understand, all you need is silence to hear.”
And in both…
“The path of the pilgrim is one we’ve both walked. We’ve left you our footprints to follow, alongside the voice of your heart.”
“Now continue child. Walk mindfully. And keep it in your head, that it’s for you, and ownership of your own enlightenments, that on this road, alone, you tread!”
The hands let go of mine, but my pack became lighter. And one humble tear of thanks bowed down my cheek, as I brought my hands together and lifted my respect, love and appreciation for this most precious piece of guidance graced upon me from higher.
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