By Cassie Colby | firstname.lastname@example.org
I live in a world where I am surrounded by western religions and relics: crosses, “I love Jesus” t-shirts and paintings of well-fed baby angels. In the end, all of that is fine with me, since a huge pet-peeve of mine is religious intolerance. As a Buddhist, that is essentially the basis of our teachings – acceptance.
When I tell people that I’m Buddhist, I’m usually bombarded with questions, comments or both, sometimes silly or offensive. The worst comment I’ve heard so far is that chanting sounds demonic.
Now, if you know me or have talked to me, you know I’m not one to worship the devil. I take pride in my personality.
It’s always unfortunate when I hear someone judge something they’ve never heard before. There’s always a way to find something beautiful in unfamiliarity.
In more lighthearted conversations, the questions I usually hear are, “Oh so you believe in that fat guy Buddha right?” or “Are you a monk?” No, I’m not a monk and no I do not rub fat Buddha’s belly. Just like Christianity, there are many different sects of Buddhism.
The sect I practice is Nichiren Buddhism. Essentially, Nichiren Buddhists believe in the idea of “human revolution,” which is a process of inner transformation through challenges in our lives. Ultimately, through overcoming challenges we can better our character and society.
Through my various religious experiences with other religions, I’ve been able to find connections in different teachings. As different someone may think Christianity is in comparison to Islam, those who have faith in either religion are often working towards the same goal. Everyone wants to better themselves, his or her surroundings and society.
Growing up, I accepted the fact that I would never encounter someone outside of my religious activities or gatherings that I went to school with. In this aspect, I always felt alone, like an outsider.
Luckily, while attending Flagler, I befriended another student from Africa who is Muslim. I asked him so many questions about how he thought others viewed him.
I was excited to meet someone as religiously different as I am. I felt like we were in the same boat, floating around in a sea or bibles, grape juice and communion wafers.
He told me that in a post-9/11 America, being Muslim has its rough days but he still believes in his religion regardless of the hate and ignorance that he faced. He seemed to forgive others who have judged him.
I remember being fascinated when he told me he would follow the daily prayer schedule, regardless of if his roommate was in the room. When I had to pray in the morning and in the evening, I would quickly rush through it when my roommate was around. Some days I would completely skip it all together.
As our friendship grew, I noticed that I was learning a lot from him and his experiences. In many ways he helped me realize that it’s okay to be different, to not believe in what every one else believes in and to keep my faith.
Seeing a fellow student having similar experiences helped me cope with my feelings of embarrassment and anger for being different.
Before I met my friend freshman year, I felt hesitant to tell people my beliefs regarding religion. Even though he transferred sophomore year, our short-lived friendship had a huge impact on me while living in Florida. The connection that can happen between people of two unfamiliar religions is beautiful.
My friend embraced his religious diversity, which helped me feel comfortable with myself. I’ve learned to accept my differences and to celebrate the uniqueness of my religion.