Editor’s note: Hannah Krieg is often critical of people who accept the beliefs of their parents, or the first and only option they have explored. When she stepped away from Catholicism, she stepped away from all religion without a second glance. So, Hannah is visiting different places of worship to rectify this hypocrisy and hopefully have a meaningful spiritual experience along the way.
Every time I come home from a new place of worship, I tell my friends how much I loved everyone there and how I am converting as soon as possible. However, this time was different.
When I visited Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, it did not feel like something I could one day love, it felt like something I already loved.
Sakya Monastery, a temple in Greenwood, holds an orientation for Tibetan Buddhism newbies on the last Sunday of every month, followed by a Chenrezi service. Naturally, I cleared my schedule, slipped on the dress I have saved for my adventures in religion (which I would learn was not to Tibetan standards of modesty), and jumped on the 45.
In my past experiences — Abrahamic religions with an authoritarian, male God — religions introduce themselves by expressing the magnitude of their God’s power and love and then their own reciprocal love for the deity.
With Tiebtan Buddhism, we talked about philosophy and kindness. Chuck Pettis, the orientation leader, told us the goal was to be clear like a skylight letting the sunshine stream through.
Pettis made a point that Tibetan Buddhism is more spiritual than it is religious. Earlier this summer, I spoke with Father Thomas Aquinas Pickette of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. Father Thomas criticized spirituality, claiming it an egotistical version of religion that reflects the rampant consumerism of our time.
“Religion is about what we owe to God,” Father Dominic David Maichrowicz, Father Thomas’s counterpart, said.
It makes me think, is it self-serving to believe in the religion that you agree with most? Is the truth really what resonates with us personally?
On the other hand, Pettis claims that Buddhism is not about what a deity owes to us or even what we owe to a deity.
“[Buddhism] is about what we owe to everyone,” Pettis said.
More than escaping the cycle of rebirth and definitely more than worship of a deity; Buddhism is about living with immense compassion for everyone. And I mean everyone — not just honoring your mother and father and loving thy neighbor. According to Buddhism, we must show compassion and love to all sentient beings, even ants.
“We have no reason to hurt small ants because she is my mother in my past life,” Lama Kelsang, lama and translator for Sakya Monastery, said.
After the orientation, we were invited to attend Chenrezi, a service and meditation central to the practices of Tibetan Buddhism.
The shrine was so stunning I was afraid to get too close. I sat in the back, cross-legged on a pillow on the floor.
Unsure how to fill the time before the service began, I did a meditation I learned in orientation. You sit up straight, hands in position, and bow your head slightly. You bring about the feeling of love by thinking of someone care for. Then you send that feeling to someone else with the power of your mind.
I thought of my friends. A smile creeping onto my previously-serious face, my heart felt warmth uncharacteristic to any other place of worship. I sent that love to a friend who recently lost his job.
I thought about who else in my life needs love. I sent some around to people I cared about, but then I thought it would be less self-serving to send it to someone I feel is unworthy of this most sacred gift.
I thought of someone I did not want to think of.
My once-warmed heart froze over. My palms hit my knees. My eyes popped wide open. Suddenly, I was not having some beautiful spiritual experience. I was just a girl in a shrine.
If my poor circulation had not rendered my legs useless from toe to thigh, I would have run out right then.
In that moment, I felt defeated. I knew I was on the cusp of an authentic spiritual experience. The sangha sang chants with no sheet music and made goodness their priority. Their philosophies resonated with me and the golds and bright colors of their shrine transported me far from Seattle, Washington. However, my own unresolved issues prevented me from truly enjoying the service.
Before I started this journey to find a God, something happened. I was desperate to find a reason, find comfort in something, and as a last resort, I started seeking a God for the end of my world.
Maybe an authoritarian, male God can’t help me, but if I can take advice from Tibetan Buddhism and show compassion to everyone, maybe I can find what I am looking for.
Reach writer Hannah Krieg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Hannah_krieg
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