Chicago Trip II

November 17, 2009 at 11:24 am (Real Life, Spiritual, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

Part I

Well, I’m at work again and should be working on a paper, but my brain is still too fuzzy. Having this opening shift on Tuesday is not my favorite. Anything that requires me to wake up at 6:30 and brave the cold is not my idea of fun. But, that’s okay. I’ll make it through the end of the semester. So, since I don’t want to work on homework, I ought to work some more on all the Chicago stuff. It was such a great trip, and I really enjoy the processing of information that comes as I write this.

Well, I ended last time at the mosque. By then we were running pretty well behind schedule and needed to get back into the city to visit our last location of the day. This time we were on our way to a Soka Gokkai information center. Soka Gokkai is a branch of Buddhism that is centered around chanting and contemplation of the Lotus Sutra. We were greeted by a band of flag waving members, a victorious song playing in the background. They clapped and cheered, welcoming us to the center, and ushered us into a comfortable room to sit and learn. Two young guys came up to begin introducing the beliefs and quickly moved on to their chants for the evening. The main part of this chant is the repetition of a single phrase, “Nam myoho renge kyo.” They use something that looks like rosary beads in order to engage the sense of touch, and at various times strike a metal bowl to produce a beautiful ringing. The chanting is hypnotic, but a little unsettling as well. After a short while. the two men stood and closed the golden doors that housed a page of writing, revered as the Gohonzon. From there, another man joined them to further explain the beliefs of the Soka. Each gave his testimony, to borrow a typically Christian term, of how this chanting had caused positive change in their lives. By doing so, it awakened the inner Buddha nature and allowed the self to accomplish more through this determination. One man told the story of how he had gotten into college despite being from the wrong side of Chicago, how things had fallen in place to clear his debts. Hearing this, all I could think was that this chanting had so little to do with it. This religion, while appealing to many, seems to unfulfilling to me. There is nothing more than who you are, no source outside. Any benefit comes solely from the self, and so there seems little purpose in all the chanting. The main task is to create good causes, by chanting and doing good for others. That is admirable and I will never discourage someone from helping others, but it seems like religion without any real sacrifice of the self. In the end, it felt more like a relaxing, meditation than religion.

That evening, we had some time to spend in the city, though only a few hours. I went with some friends to the Hard Rock Cafe and spent way too much on delicious food, but it was a time for fun and fellowship. We discussed a lot of what we had seen and it was obvious that most of us were still figuring everything out. Soon, we had to head back to the hostel for devotional. There, we sang songs to praise God and then had a chance for anyone who wanted to, without comment, read a passage of scripture. It was very uplifting. Exactly what we all needed after hearing so many different viewpoints and having so much to think about.

Saturday came early, though we did have a little more time to sleep. We still had to be on our way bright and early to see all we had planned. We began at a Synagogue for Sabbath worship, where we met some of the nicest and most informative people of any encounter. It was obvious that they were more than happy to explain to us what they were doing, why they did it, and what it all meant, and it was definitely helpful that i knew the story of Judaism as well as I did my own faith. The two are forever intertwined. They sang mostly in Hebrew, explaining throughout in English for all the visitors. After numerous songs and passages, the Torah was brought out and read from for a fairly long time. After more songs, the rabbi stood up and presented a lesson about culture and Judaism that was very interesting and, fortunately, in English. Worship, a two and a half hour process, ended with a song led by the children, announcements, and then a reception. They had prepared cakes and drinks for us, and we all ate and talked before returning to the auditorium to ask questions. Our friend there was more than helpful and gladly answered any questions we had. He was a amiable, kind man and it was a pleasure to hear him speak and articulate so well the answers.

These two different meetings contrasted so sharply in my mind. Both are ancient faiths (though Judaism is the older by far), and both spent most of their time in a language that I was hopeless to understand, but they were really so very different. Soka Gokkai says the power is within the self, the inner Buddha nature, to accomplish all. Judaism relies on God among the whole of Israel to provide and save. One had very few guidelines, another has many times been defined by their multitude of regulations. In Judaism, I see people who have sought and found something everlasting, but I cannot say the same for Buddhism. Those in the Soka temple were looking for temporary relief in this world through inner strength, but Judaism finds comfort in the Lord. I do not know the Lord’s intent for those practicing Judaism today, and I would feel very arrogant trying to determine the Lord’s mind and will for anything, not to mention something so huge as the eternal fate of His once-Chosen people, but I do know that, if I had to choose one religion of these two, one would be fulfilling and provide something that I could truly call religion. Not that I would convert, of course, because I think Christianity is the way, but in a purely hypothetical realm.

And next time I will conclude with the trip, speaking about the Hindu Temple and Sikh service. Both were very interesting and inspiring, in their own way, but that must wait for a later time.
Until then,

God Bless.

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