Religion and me

A lot of these blog posts are about my politics, what I believe is wrong with the world, mental health, and my experiences. Something I am quite private about is religion, especially as I find it difficult to express and celebrate my religious beliefs out of fear of being shunned or deemed as ‘that weirdo’. I respect that there are many religions in the world and they are all equally beautiful with wonderful traditions, culture, and heritage. This blog post isn’t aimed at demeaning any other religion, so if you do criticise what I believe and tell me I’m ‘wrong’ then you have missed the purpose of this post and the purpose of me. By all means, please do question me, I like it when people genuinely want to learn more about my religious beliefs, however, I will not tolerate any kind of abuse- not after I’ve suffered a lot already.

I suppose I should start from the beginning… I was brought up in a house with two baptised parents, however, neither are practising Christians or believe in Christianity. My dad is a humanist while my mum is an atheist and I went to non-secular schools. I found that at school, especially secondary, the Religious Education curriculum was dominated by Christianity and while I understand that it is the dominant religion in this country (over 20%), I couldn’t help but think it really wasn’t for me. At school, I was slightly eccentric (still am) and was often bullied for not standing up for myself, when really I just didn’t see the need to react back with nastiness- that just wasn’t who I was. I wore a lot of bracelets and necklaces with spiritual emblems, like the moon and stars and my interests were in Greek Gods, astronomy, and astrology- typical spiritual things. Yet, the defining moment when I really began to question the idea of religion came when I was 14 and I was told my 17-year-old cousin had aggressive stage 3 cancer called Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma with only two weeks to live. I remember my mum and my aunties crying their eyes out so much, but putting on a brave face for me and my sister. It was then that I experienced a lot of negative religious sentiment surrounding the idea of ‘God’, as my auntie questioned why this would happen to her innocent child. Thankfully, my cousin is now okay and has been in remission for 6 years, however, this really struck a chord with me. To me, I just couldn’t believe that there was a higher being.

When I left school, I did a typically ‘unspiritual’ and ‘un-Buddhist’ thing and joined the Royal Marines Band Service. I remember them asking me on my audition if I could ever kill anyone if it came down to it, I lied and said I could because I wanted to be a military musician that badly. I knew the way I thought and what I believed about human beings and life would come into conflict with my job, so I let them try to change me. I became tougher, stronger, more agile, however it didn’t change how I felt. I knew that I had taken an oath to protect the Queen and Britain, but I found it so difficult to express my beliefs that were completely different to Christianity. I found that my Humanist traits to believe in the good of the human race were in major conflict with our enemies. I found it hard to admit to other people who I didn’t believe in a God and that I’m not a Christian, as I felt the military had a big gravity towards Christianity more so than in school. I never told anyone how I felt, every time I brought up something remotely related to Dharma I was laughed at and told I was a hippie.

When I left the military, I still found it extremely difficult to be accepted. One of my first days of being a civilian, I was (naturally) devastated from losing my job and my life. It was around my birthday and I headed into Exeter with a friend when a monk approached me with a book about the Vedas (non-orthodox in Buddhism). Naturally, I listened to him and accepted his gift of the book while my friend was rolling her eyes at me. Even though he approached me to talk about Hinduism, he was the first person to see how troubled I was by what had happened to me. He told me I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I am, what I believe, or where I am from as religion has no colour. He passed on information for a Buddhist meditation centre and told me he hoped I could find peace- the first person not to dismiss me as some crazy hippie. I took his advice and went to the meditation centre, at first I was scared that I didn’t know enough about Buddhism, I only knew what I believed and it turned out my core beliefs fit the Western Buddhism school. Western Buddhism incorporates a lot of Humanism and fits my idea that although there is great suffering in the world, there is something one person can do to end another suffering. Traditional Buddhism is about being enlightened, about ending your own suffering so you can teach others, however, my beliefs are more practical- I believe in the power of the human race to end suffering and I will dedicate my life to ending the suffering of others over my own.

It might all sound a bit utopian to many people, but I truly believe even the smallest acts can have a lasting impact. I know world suffering will not end in my lifetime or maybe even many lifetimes from now, but I am determined to touch as many people as I can with the Buddha’s words. In terms of practising, it has been hard to touch people in the way I would like too because of my own grief and stupidity. However, I truely believe that if I hadn’t been meditating, using my prayer beads, drawing, and talking to people who I wouldn’t be here today. I keep my religion very private, but talking to people and asking for help when I was at my lowest just reinforced my idea that the human race is a driver for fundamental good. I meditate every day, limit my alcohol consumption, and use my prayer beads with the hope that one day I will get the opportunity to inspire and help those who need it most. It does get difficult, often I am plagued with self-doubt, but I have my tattoos to remind me that there is a greater force for good and it starts with Siddhārtha Gautama and the human race.

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.

 

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