My “Understanding Buddhism and Islam” class finished last week with a surprisingly enjoyable exam. To celebrate and reflect, here are some appropriate and beautiful songs from The Dandy Warhols’ old album Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia (links will take you through to YouTube):
In honour of Islam: Mohammed
Again and again
I get up and say
I only want to get it right
I only want to do the right thing
In honour of Buddhism: Godless
I swear you are,
I swear you are
that you are godless
In honour of Jesus: The Gospel
My sweet love, I’ll take you there
I’ll take you down to water
No more weary, no more tired
My sweet love, I will take you there
I will take you home
And finally, to celebrate the up and coming holiday: Sleep
Well I could sleep forever…
Tonight I went back to class after two weeks of absence and two weeks of break. Somewhere in there I had missed the wrapping up of our Islam component and tonight we moved on to Buddhism.
I have a funny past with Buddhism. I have identified as a Christian in some way or another for as long as I have had memory, but there was a little moment in there, when I was in my mid teens, when I thought that it would be fair to give another religion a geniune look-in. It wasn’t just a random decision. For quite a few years I had been stretching my mind a little bit, trying to come to my own ideas about who God is and what humans are and why the world is the way that it is. I’d read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder and was empowered to think my own thoughts. Saz, Aviea, Elwin and I met together for our “Pancake Philosophy” times, when we would make pancakes and share our own musings about knowledge and spirituality. Of course, usually that just happened without the pancakes. In my Asian Studies subject in year 9 and 10 I was exposed to new Eastern philosophies and spirituality. There were excursions – to the Chinese Gardens, to a Buddhist art exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, to the Nan Tien Temple outside Wollongong. And in the middle of that, a short exchange trip to Japan. Through all of that Buddhism was the most appealing alternate way of thinking so I checked it out – seriously.
A Big Buddha we visited in Japan, somewhere outside of Tokyo
I didn’t hang around there for very long though. Buddhism teaches an amazing view of the world. There is incredibly complex logic that doesn’t make sense at first but becomes fascinatingly clear as you learn to adjust your thinking. However even when the clarity came, the worldview remained chillingly cold. There was no motivation for love. From my perspective, there was no motivation for anything at all. It was beautiful to look at but way too awful for me to actually incorporate into my life.
Baby Buddha, tucked away at the back of the Chinese Gardens in Sydney.
One of our Pancake Philosophy times happened sitting around this guy. I visit him whenever I go to the gardens 🙂
Tonight was a funny throwback to that period of my life. It was weird to revisit Buddha as an adult, now that I am much better at excercising my brain and appreciating different worldviews (thanks uni!) and also fully convinced of how much Jesus loves me (thanks uni!). Interestingly, I found Buddhism both more beautiful and more repellent than I did all those years ago. It’s funny how things go like that.
My Moore College course this semester is Understanding Buddhism and Islam but we are just focusing on Islam for the first half of the course. It’s been a great course so far. Our lecturer has been wonderful and he has collected great textbooks and resources for us. The last few weeks of class have been especially amazing. We had a field trip to the Auburn Gallipoli mosque. We also had a guest lecturer, a young Muslim man who came in and answered a million questions from us about theology and his experience of being Muslim in Australia. This week we are cancelling class to attend a debate at Sydney Uni between a Muslim and a Christian which has been organised by the Muslim student society there. I love that we are getting so many opprtunities to get out of the classroom and actually hear from Muslim people!
The trip to the mosque was facinating. I had never been into a mosque before and it was nice to have a guide for my first visit. It was uncomfortable for most of the girls because it was one of the hottest days in March and none of us seemed to own any summery clothes that cover our arms and legs to the ankle. We were all wrapped up in trousers, cardigans and ill-fitting headscarves. Once we were inside though, no one seemed to mind. It was cool indoors, the air smelled nice and the carpet was amazingly soft under our bare feet. And the artwork! Everywhere I looked there was something beautiful to stare at! I think I spent most of the stime staring at the ceiling instead of watching the guide.
Auburn Gallipoli Mosque
Listening to the guide inside
There is so much to mentally process for this subject. Even just remembering facts about what Muslims believe is hard – it seems like there isn’t always a consistent opinion! Between our textbooks, our tour guide and our guest lecturer I have heard quite surprising and contradictory things. I think so far this has been the the strangest thing about Islam: for such a huge global religion with a strict list of central beliefs and strict ways of expressing those beliefs there is still a lot variation in theology. And there are no central figureheads or denominational bodies to appeal to for orthodox thoughts and opinions. It feels like there is unity regarding the actions of a Muslim but disunity regarding theological ideas. I mean, all Muslims will affirm six core beliefs: one God, existence of Angels, the scriptures (i.e. the Quran), Muhammed’s prophethood, God’s foreknoweldge of everything and the final judgement. But there are different theological nuances underneath all these blanket statements of faith. Maybe this disunity isn’t as much of a problem for Muslims as it is for me as a Christian – after all Muslims aren’t trying to relate to God as one of his children, they are just trying to submit to his will. I guess then it makes sense that they would be more concerned with the actions and thoughts that express submission rather than working trying to understand God’s character, and his relationship with his people and his world, and our own relationship with his people and his world.
Anyway, I’m still a noob, diving into understanding this completely foreign worldview. I think I need to talk to a lot more Muslims to really understand!