Exploring My Spirituality
As long as I can recall, the religion listed on all legal documents has always been Buddhism. Today, I am Buddhist. But the journey to confirm that was complicated. I had explored various other faiths, ranging from pseudo-buddhism to Christianity and even a cult.
A lot of us Buddhists view spirituality as something we start to practice in our old age, and this holds true for a lot of people. However, I have always been one to wonder: what happens after we leave? How do things get better?
As a kid, I did not know much about religion, other than that we were Buddhists. I attended two religious kindergartens, the Seck Kia Eenh Buddhist Kindergarten in Melaka, and the Dharma Realm Buddhist Kindergarten in Sungai Besi. At the age of 6, I was brought to the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association Refuge Taking Ceremony at their former main temple in Sungai Besi, given the Buddhist Name "Chin Xiao".
When I started primary school, religion really never struck any doubts in my head. That first year of school, I had witnessed the death of my maternal grandmother and it really made me wonder, where she went. Our family had the exact same dreams about where she was, despite some of the dreamers not being Buddhist. This - made me question my spirituality.
I dived deeper into Buddhism, attended Sunday Dhamma School from 2010 to 2012, achieving a Certificate of Excellence in Buddhist Studies at the age of 11 from Ti-Ratana Lumbini Garden. One of the key takeaways was that in Buddhism, there is no compulsion, no supremacy. You want to leave, you leave. No punishment. You want to explore and come back? No worries. You want to question the Buddha’s teaching? Question ahead. You want to become a Buddha? You can.
In 2012, I moved back to Melaka after staying for KL for 5 years, starting in 2007. There, I tried atheism. I was bullied pretty badly, and by the time my parents decided that I should move back to KL in 2013, I couldn't help but wonder... was this a punishment for not being religious from a divine power? But then I remembered that Buddhism taught the concept of there being no punishment. At that time, I did not know it, but looking back, it was clearly my attitude that was... let's just say... overly persistent in the wrong ways.
When I moved back to KL, since at that time, I did not know what was going on, I dived back into religion. This time, I explored an extreme form of Buddhism. I then read a book from them saying that Mahayana was the only true form of Buddhism (it is not the only true form). Looking back, I would say the book and religious movement is pseudo-Buddhism, considering it condemns the "non-believers" to hell, something which Buddhism says will never happen. This lasted for two years.
In 2015, I found the Guan Yin Citta Dharma Door Association, which in 2017, was labelled by Buddhist organizations as a cult, both in China and Malaysia. But blinded by faith, I dived in and started to learn their teachings. At the same time, I was exploring my sexuality, and I learnt that this cult believed that people who felt like I did would go to hell shortly after I started. They also prayed behind closed doors, and had many strange rules for praying. Therefore, I left. My mom had also started to believe in their teachings, and would constantly nag me to do their prayers and rituals, which I had refused to do so. Besides, in proper Buddhism, it is very well known that as long as you are not harming others or yourself, you deserve the right to do what you believe is the best for you. And the Metta Sutta, talks about how all beings, with no exception, may be well and happy.
But I did not dive right back into Buddhism. That year, in mid 2015, I started to attend a nearby Church in secrecy. There were many bad incidents happening in my life at that time and I was led to believe that those were a result of me "sinning" in regards to my sexuality. I left as fast as I came, once I heard that. I shortly ventured into Taoist teachings as well.
Sure, I would volunteer at the temple (Ti-Ratana Lumbini Garden) as administrative staff (and I still am volunteering now as the IT and multimedia head) and as a teacher for Sunday Dhamma School. I would even try to start up a Buddhist Youth Group (and I still am). But this did not mean I couldn't explore other religions. In June 2016, I started working on my IB MYP Personal Project on Social Anxiety and Depression, where I interviewed a Buddhist Monk who was also a licensed counsellor. I asked him, "Bhante, is it wrong to explore other religions?" He told me, "No, brother, explore all you want." So I continued exploring. I still attended Wesak and Kathina. I even agreed to produce and direct the official event videos for Wesak and Kathina for 2018 and 2019.
Throughout 2017 and 2018, I had explored my faith in so many ways. Many people close to me know that the months towards the end of college and start of university wasn't exactly a good time. For months, I attended the events of a nearby Church. I hid it from my friends at college, considering none of them were actively Christian, and I did not want to be viewed as being different from them in any way. I even got baptised. While all this was happening, I was also writing a script and co-directing a Buddhist Musical (Shoshin, for Sunway University Buddhist Society). During a hard time in my life, I prayed to God even, for the issues to be resolved. Nothing was resolved. In fact, things went downhill from there. Hence, I lost all my faith completely.
(Once again, in Buddhism, we respect and acknowledge all other faiths. The Dalai Lama confirms so, and once said even if other faiths did not work for us, they might have worked for others. So Christianity and psudeo-Buddhism did not work for me.)
Before that, I studied all other faiths and compared them to scientific principles. I noticed - Buddhism, like Newton’s Laws or Pythagoras Theorem mentioned that it would exist even without the Buddha discovering it. It would just not be known to people - yet.
There would be no conformity, and like science, every experiment might have different variables and results.
That was a contributing factor for me to pick Buddhism.
One day, I decided I should go to the temple and pray instead. I then rummaged through the box of Dhammapada verses in the hall. It is believed that the verse that you really need in your life would be the one picked up. Dhammapada 12:165 came up, seven times in a row. Now, you have to understand this is mathematically hard to achieve, mainly because there is only one copy of each verse.
The verse talks about self-reliance, where sure, we can ask for divine help, but the divine and the Buddhas can only show us the path, and that we have to walk it ourselves. I then decided to change my attitude towards many things, and behold, my entire life changed. Then I realized, that sure, we can be any religion and pray as much as we want, but if we do not take action on our part, what difference will there be?
I also don't see much sense in my entire life being planned out by just a single divine being.
For those who believe in that, I have no qualms. Buddhism is inclusive. But my thoughts... That parking space? I got it because someone came out at the time. Good grades? They happen when I study. Crappy life? If one is or was a crappy person. Past lives and all too.
On the 19th of May 2019, I had Affirmation Ceremony of Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem, privately administered on Wesak Day at the Temple. Not many people do the affirmation, and it is simply symbolic, but I wanted to do it anyway. I also had the chance to get a certificate with my preferred name, "Rain" on it.
I also started studying more deeply into Buddhism during a semester break, and learnt that in true Buddhism, we are to respect and acknowledge the existence of other religions, and atheism, and we may even pay our respects to their figures should we wish to do so.
In fact, in a Buddhist Youth Camp that I facilitated for last year, there were Christian and atheist volunteers. I also thought refugee kids with the UNHCR before this at a Christian Refugee Organization.
This was a far cry from the other versions of pseudo-Buddhism and other religions and one cult that I had explored, where paying respects towards other religions wasn't seen as the right or best thing to do.
I also further learnt that Buddhists are not supposed to be superstitious either, it is simply the people who practice Buddhism in Malaysia happen to be culturally superstitious.
Today, I am Buddhist. I am not confined to Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana, or any Dharma Door, I am simply Buddhist.
I also respect and acknowledge all religions out there as well. In fact, some Buddhist teachers have pointed out similarities between Guan Yin Bodhisattva and Holy Mother Mary, as well as Sakra or Sakka (Tiangong or Tigong in Chinese) who is known in Buddhism as the <King of the Kingdom of the 33rd Heaven> and other religious figures.
This is the story of my journey in my spirituality, and I hope you enjoyed reading it.