Monday, June 22, 2015

From spiritual free-agency to choosing one path: A Buddhist Perspective on Interfaith Relations

For the past four years, interfaith has been my religion. My personal spirituality, and much of my writing, were defined in terms of combinations—combinations of elements from many different religions. I was a Baha’i who had blended beliefs or practices from Native American traditions, various “New Age” movements, Reform Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even a few “earth-based” pagan paths I’ve encountered. I was as much a student of interfaith collaboration for my own personal quest to define my belief system, as I was for the sake of promoting unity in diversity, and helping create more hope-affirming and cooperative alternative news media in the Metro Detroit area.

The by-product of this was that my personal faith became so customized, that I could no longer accurately call myself a Baha’i. I resigned from the Baha’i Faith in September, and went total “spiritual free-agent.” After a few months of this, I realized my lifelong inclination toward blending religions and putting my own spin on them was no longer bringing me spiritual fulfillment or contributing to my sense of purpose in life. At the start of this year, I found myself at a spiritual impasse while coming to terms with the death of one the people I cherished most, my grandfather John Christian Huber. During this difficult period, I had a conversation with my friend Tony that triggered me to embark on a whole new—and far more fulfilling—spiritual quest.

This quest has culminated in my becoming a Buddhist. In August, I will officially become a member of the Soka Gakkai International(SGI), the lay organization of the Buddhist denomination established by Nichiren Daishonin in Japan in the thirteenth century.

There are many reasons why, after so many years of considering at least some level of spiritual free-agency the best fit for me, I have embraced contemporary Buddhist practice with a level of dedication I never had for any other spiritual path. I still see value in the Baha’i Faith and other paths I’ve walked; I just finally came to terms with the fact that these religious customs and their conceptions of the origin and nature of the universe do not personally resonate with me.

I’ve heard Buddhism described as “non-theistic,” thus many people discount it as a philosophy instead of a religion. Rather than focus on a central God, Buddhists in this tradition see the Universe—us, our planet, everything in and around it, and all the spiritual realms which intersect or run parallel to it—as part of an interconnected whole, that is ordered by the Mystic Law of eternal cause and effect.

Nichiren Buddhism takes the emphasis away from many of the practices typically associated with Buddhism—such as yoga-based meditation, temple devotion, and adoption of Asian culture—and places it on personal growth. The SGI calls this growth human revolution, with the purpose of living happy, fulfilling lives, helping others do the same, and promoting world peace (kosen-rufu) from this perspective, rather than advocating service to God as the only valid path to fulfillment in life. My daily practice of Nichiren Buddhism, and my participation in southeastern Michigan’s Nichiren Buddhist community, have led me to far more human revolution than monotheistic devotion ever did.

Re-evaluating my approach to interfaith involvement from this new perspective, I realize that I am now able to, finally, appreciate the value that different faiths have for their adherents, and celebrate the diversity of options we have to choose from, without the burden of feeling I have to absorb something from every one of them in order to really connect with people practicing those traditions.

I intend to have more interfaith adventures, so I invite—and encourage—you to keep reading. My primary motivation for continuing to write about interfaith experiences and insights here is the same as it has always been: To give you a brief informative look at what people in different faith groups are really like, as an alternative to the fear-based, two-dimensional news coverage you’re probably more used to hearing about them, if you’ve even heard about them at all.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to continuing this journey with you!

Karla Joy


Image: "Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo 08-02-2015" by Karla Joy Huber, 2015, Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, gel pen

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