Young Voices: Buddhism and autonomy: learning to grow

Young Voices is a special project by Buddhistdoor Global bringing together insightful essays written by high school students in the United States who have taken courses based on experiential learning rooted in Buddhist teaching. Inspired and running in parallel with BDG Beginner’s mind project for college students, Young Voices provides a platform for these students to share essays expressing their impressions and perspectives on their exposure to Buddhadharma and its relationship to their hopes, aspirations and expectations.

Melissa Damasceno wrote this essay for his “Listening to Buddhists in Our Backyard” class at Phillips Andover, a high school in Massachusetts.

Prior to this spring, my knowledge of Buddhism was limited to the brief unit I quickly memorized before taking an AP World History exam. Of course, I knew the basic biography of Siddhartha Gautama and the global impact of the Four Noble Truths, but my knowledge of how Buddhism manifested itself in contemporary society, especially in the United States, was virtually nonexistent. .

I grew up practicing an incoherent mix of Christianity, Catholicism and Brazilian spiritualism, none of which ever reassured me. As I got older, I slowly drifted away from organized religion, uncomfortable with the shame and guilt thrown at individuals who “lost sight” of their path. Why spend time practicing faith if my whole life was decided by someone I couldn’t see, hear, or feel? Why Three Lord’s Prayers fix my mistakes? How could anyone have the authority to tell me that I lived my life badly, and why was God the only one to decide what made me a “good” or a “bad” person?

I projected these experiences onto other systems of spirituality and wondered how anyone could find solace in religion if its fundamental foundations were based on the all-consuming fear of a higher power. I thought the same of Buddhism: the Five Precepts and the Noble Eightfold Path were just ways to “please” a higher entity to avoid being punished, whether in this life or the next.

My perspective changed the moment we entered our first Buddhist temple and spoke with the youth group coordinator about how people have changed and benefited from being part of this community. My original understanding of Buddhism has been challenged; it was not about doing what the Buddha wants in order to avoid punishment, but rather learning from him and using those teachings to stimulate inner growth. I was able to see it in all its colours, its beliefs and its practices which go beyond a dialectic of fear and comfort. Throughout the temple visits, what struck me most was the principle of self-reliance—learning from in instead of relying on religious figures to show you a path.

Life can be incredibly simple and you have the power to make it simple. This was my main lesson from our first visit to Chùa Tường Vân, a Vietnamese temple in Lowell, Massachusetts. After guiding us through a short meditation, the resident monk, Thay Thích Tâm Hỷ, spent time explaining in detail how most of our problems can be solved and how we have the power to eliminate sources of stress in our lives. He spoke about the importance of finding solace within ourselves and how meditation should be a way for us to escape external stressors and regain stability, all located in.

At the American Wisdom Association, a Chinese temple in Billerica, Massachusetts, Venerable Manzhong explained that following Buddhist teachings and becoming familiar with the Dharma does not serve to “please” the Buddha or a higher power. From her, I learned that the Buddha is not simply seen as an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good spiritual being who can inflict pain on anyone, but rather is seen as a teacher who guide on a peaceful path to personal fulfillment and meaningful connections with the world.

The nun explained how the self is impermanent and how people are not bound to past versions of themselves – we are constantly evolving. Every decision we make is a step towards the person we will be tomorrow, or the person we will be in another life. Weaving principles of impermanence, she reassured us of our ability to rely on ourselves to solve our own problems, instead of begging others to inquire for us. It ranged from wisdom on navigating long-term romantic relationships to the role the Buddha plays in helping us achieve clarity. “You don’t pray to the Buddha to intervene and save you from your troubles; you pray for the strength and wisdom to do it alone. Everything you need to find peace and simplicity is already there. Just seek it out and, more importantly, trust it.

Hearing these reflections, I was completely struck by how I believed people found meaning in faith systems, mainly because I had never come to that level of comfort and security. I grew up knowing that God would solve my problems for me and that following his words and requests was the way to ensure those solutions would come to fruition. Ignoring him was not an option. In Buddhism, it is the opposite: you hold the power to change for the better, and this change is not for the Buddha but for you.

Conceptualizing this core belief ultimately changed the way I view faith as a whole. I finally understand how people find refuge in spirituality, and I’ve been able to detach myself from the punishing and frightening manifestation of Catholicism I grew up with – a revelation I wouldn’t have come to by reading chapters in a textbook. . I now see Buddhism for its many facets, and I know that I have only touched on how people find refuge and seek to grow in a spiritual community.

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