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Recently, I have been noticing my heart. And I have been noticing being in the midst of people of various religions and I wonder about their hearts sometimes. I am primarily writing about this potentially contentious topic because I heard something very meaningful from a friend not too long ago. A friend gave me an article from a fraternity magazine (don’t worry Brothers, nothing secret was revealed, and I am not a member of any) about one of their members going on a fraternity-sponsored trip to Nepal. In this article, the author wrote that one of the most meaningful experiences on the journey was when they attended a highly respected Rinpoche (teacher – usually a monk as well).
The author of the article writes that this Rinpoche told them, (I’m paraphrasing) “Go out and learn about many religious traditions. Then follow the one that helps you to live with an open heart.” I thought this was one of the most profound things I had heard in a while. How many of us, at some point in our lives (especially if we were raised Christian, Catholic, or Muslim – I believe this list should also include Mormon this is a newer “tradition”) had the sharp, distinct feeling that our religion was the best? And how many of us went on missions trips to help others (or directly attempt to convert others)? And if we step back for a moment and analyze that situation with detachment and objectivity, do we now think to ourselves – “Wow that was arrogant!” Or do we honor the excitement and enthusiasm that that religion garnered in our hearts, and that is why we were anxious to tell others about it? Are we able to look at ourselves objectively in this manner?
So what happens if we decide to switch religions? If we bring that fervor (and judgmental view) to a new religion, does it translate well? For me, I was raised Christian. And yes, I went on a Mission’s Trip to Haiti. And yes, believe it or not, in high school, I said what my parents and my church wanted me to say – sometimes trying to convince others about the merits and benefits of being Christian. However, in my heart, I always felt that the Southern, upper-middle-class Presbyterian church that I was raised in was missing something. And this is not a knock on Presbyterians – because with my Dad I would attend a more open, more liberal congregation in an Episcopalian church, and even there, something felt off.
And I thank my karma every day for the fact that when I was 26 years old, I met the Dharma (Tibetan Buddhism to be specific). At first I explored Zen Buddhism on my own, and these books that I read felt closer and closer to be “right” for me, but I did not meet an authentic Buddhist teacher until 2005 (or at least I did not realize I had met one until then). But every once in a while, I find myself reverting back to those good ole days where I was a walking parrot of my parent’s and my church’s views – and I find myself taking on a pretentious attitude when talking about the merits of Buddhism. Ugh!
In Buddhism, it is actually considered a downfall (you could say in a simplistic way, it is a sin) to try to convert someone to Buddhism. They must desire it themselves. They must inquire three times to show they are interested, before one can technically teach them about Buddhism. That is why there are no Buddhist missionaries. That is why the Vatican recently sent representatives to Dharamsala (the seat of the Tibetan Government in exile and the seat of the Dalai Lama) to investigate why the number of Buddhists in the world is increasing – especially without missionaries being involved. And I deeply appreciate the fact that Buddhism, when practiced as purely as possible, is a humble, modest religion. It encourages people to examine themselves, to confront their own vices and neuroses, and to change for the better. And it strongly discourages idle chatter – which includes telling people about a religion they have no interest in hearing about.
So I go back to thinking about how I take this pretentious attitude on the rare occasion when telling people about myself. When this occurs, I MUST recall the words spoken by many teachers, but which I read in that fraternity magazine article – there are many authentic paths to happiness. What matters most is that we soften our judgmental and emotional edges and open our hearts (appropriately). So from now on, it is my intention to rarely ever mention that I am Buddhist. Rather, I want to gather knowledge and wisdom, and if there is ever an appropriate moment to share with someone, then I might be ready.
At the top of this post, I mention that this is a potentially contentious topic. That is because, occasionally I come across people who use their beliefs as a wall to keep their rigid, closed-heart from being vulnerable or from making new explorations into potentially off-limits areas. For instance, if a religion states that you are forbidden from switching religions, don’t you think you should back away swiftly from such an extreme view? If a religion basically encourages people to hold onto their rigid beliefs and therefore maintain a closed, walled-off heart, is that an authentic path to lasting happiness? Perhaps it is what those people need in that moment. But we should always be open to and ready for change.
I am hoping and I truly believe that when people are ready to change, they will generally start exploring and meet with people (or books or other traditions) on their path who will help them transition toward an open heart. But if an entire culture is dedicated to suppression of outside elements and outside (even potentially enlightening) beliefs, then I wonder if that is not a bit barbaric and outdated. So I am not mentioning any names, but perhaps you are getting my drift.
Basically, what I am trying to say with all these words, is that we should consider exploring other religions. Especially if we are a judgmental type. Or if we have never encountered anything outside of our family or culture. We should accumulate knowledge to have an objective rational perspective on many topics, including religion. And most importantly, we should consider being open to and accepting that other paths work for other types of individuals. We should start where we are and mindfully walk our path from there.
And finally, we should take some time to examine our beliefs – is there anything rigid or extreme in there? Are we making progress toward living with an open heart? Are we moving toward lasting happiness? What can I adopt to do so, or what do I need to abandon? In some of my previous posts, I try to provide some answers to these questions and more. Please feel free to browse around in the categories on the right.
Thank you for reading.