Thursday, 15 October 2009

A Mixed-Up Shook-Up Boy

The singer, Willy De Ville, had a song called "Mixed-Up Shook-Up Girl" so I paraphrase him to muse on religion/spirituality. The "What's it all mean?" or "There must be more than this" perplexities of human life.

This morning I did a yoga class with a Tibetan Buddhist nun. She is a Kiwi, I think, but she has been a follower of Tibetan Buddhism for many years. I find myself more and more drawn to Buddhism. It just seems to make such good sense!

My Mum is a Catholic and my Dad, now dead, an Anglican, but he had to sign a paper saying that his children would be brought up Catholic. How well I remember seeing Dad sitting up in bed in his pyjamas reading the Sunday newspaper while Mum prepared my little brother and I for church at 7am! We used to say, "Why can't we be Anglicans too?"

Around the age of fifteen, I said to my Mum who was a regular church-goer, "I think I'm old enough to decide now and I don't want to go to church any more." She was very disappointed, but she respected my decision. I think for my Mum she was an old-style churchgoer. The weekly ritual gave her comfort and solace and a time perhaps for quiet contemplation or meditation. That was her spiritual method so I didn't scorn her for it, it just wasn't for me.

What I didn't bother to tell her was that I thought some of the churchgoers were terrible hypocrites. We were living in a sort of middle-class dormitory-type suburb and even as a teenager, I had discerned the personalities of some of the local businessmen and women. Some of them were terrible, money-grubbing shysters who'd think nothing of stabbing their neighbours in the back metaphorically and then on Sunday they would come to church and play the part of fine, upstanding citizen of the community. To my idealistic teenage outlook, this seemed the worst hypocrisy - to be a bastard six days a week and then think that one hour in church could wipe the slate clean for another week of reprehensible behaviour.

There were many good, well-meaning churchgoers who tried to lead good lives, but this painting on the pious face sickened me and I wanted no part of it.

But I always had a spiritually-seeking component to my nature. Like many teenagers and young people during the 70s, I read a lot of books by Herman Hesse. "Siddharta", the thinly-veiled fictionalised life of Gautama Buddha, was probably my favourite, but I enjoyed many of his other novels as well.

Then when I was 20, I set off for some overseas adventures, starting in Australia, but then travelling overland from Bali through Java, Sumatra, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. I met many wonderful people, but I observed that the generally most tolerant and mellow people were the Thais and Sri Lankans. Both countries were predominantly Buddhist. Coincidence? I think not.

After 9/11, there has been a lot of suspicion of and distrust surrounding Islam. I think this is largely unjustified. One of the most spiritually beautiful people I ever met was a devout Muslim fisherman who lived in relative poverty just outside the township of Singaraja on the northern coast of Bali.

I think it was the Buddha who said, "There are many paths up the mountain." So it probably doesn't matter what spiritual path you follow as long as it feels right to you.

I believe that all religions seem to share the same basic tenets: love and tolerance for your fellow humans and all the creatures who share this planet with us. It seems to be the human interference after the scriptures leave the mind and mouth of the master eg. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Yahweh etc. that taints the religious practice and pollutes it with human failings. How many wars have been waged in the name of God?

So follow whatever guru you must or follow your own heart, but try to love your fellow humans, try to foster peace, try to be kind to animals and to our Mother Earth who gives us life and nurtures us.

As the wonderful Irish comedian, Dave Allen, used to say at the end of his TV programme, "May your god go with you."

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