As my family sadly observes, and as religious friends of mine sadly shake their heads at my obvious heathen ways, I am not a devotee to any religion or faith, with perhaps a leaning towards humanism. This does not mean though that I do not seek to understand why religion is important to others.
Of the sights that our past long weekend (14 – 17 May 2015) had shown us, one of the most unusual was that of the Buddha Museum in Traben-Trarbach, with over 2,000 Buddha statues covering over 4,000 square metres.
At first glance one might wonder how one could make mere statues seem interesting, especially to nonbelievers, but the written explanations allow one to discover meaning in each pose and gesture and explore how Buddhism is interpreted and practised in many different lands like Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan, Burma and in lands where Buddhism is not a tradition as well.
(For example, why is a Buddha Museum in Traben-Trarbach, Germany, of all places?)
I seek to understand religious belief and impulse, not so much as an attempt to reconcile myself to my mortality, or a search for something / someone beyond my mere humble self, but I struggle to understand the religions so I can perhaps understand what drives people to these religions.
It is easy to hate what you don´t fully understand. It is easy to separate “Us” from “Them” and proudly declare that “We” are superior to “Them” because “They” do not believe as “We” do. Because “They” are different then surely “They” must be wrong.
And so often the argument goes…Because it cannot be proven that X does not exist, then therefore X must exist. This is an argument which a rational person has a hard time swallowing.
So one might argue…why bother?
We bother with religion for reasons mentioned above: to reconcile ourselves with our mortality, to search for something / someone beyond our mere humble selves to comfort us through the pain and sorrow that life sometimes presents us with…
But, as well, it is also a question of traditions and community that lend these practices a reason to embrace and celebrate our humanity.
We invoke ceremony to the joy of birth and to the sadness of death as well as to the passages that our lives take…maturity, a bond of unity with another, a surety that habit and ritual lend to our ever-changing, out-of-our-control lives.
People will come and go in our lives, but faith remains and is carried on from generation to generation as an immortal continuance of our mortal humanity. For this, religion is praiseworthy.
What I dislike is when religion is used as an excuse to hate someone or to fear someone or to control someone, to force them to share your beliefs whether your beliefs fit their lives or not.
Fear has triumphed over freedom of speech, even in democratic nations. Legislation curbing freedom of speech is the polar opposite of what all democratic governments are granted political power in order to protect, but fear has made us choose security over freedom to feel and think for ourselves what we choose to believe.
I want to understand why a man dying over 2,000 years ago matters so much to Christians.
I want to understand how a people who have suffered so much over millennia still cling so tightly to Judaism.
I want to understand the Hindu when he says “The Great God is One and the learned call him by different names”.
I want to understand the deep drive that fills the Muslim soul to see Mecca at least once in life.
I want to understand what a Buddhist means when he speaks of the need to eliminate desire from one´s life as it is the cause for suffering.
And most importantly it is my hope that in understanding one another´s beliefs that we can find a way to co-exist in harmony, appreciating the lessons each religion brings.
I applaud both the courage of the Museum in choosing an area so alien from itself to demonstrate its uniqueness and I admire the courage of a community to allow a Museum so alien from itself to remain.
Maybe the Museum is merely a collection of weird looking statues, but what it represents is a positive change towards mutual understanding.