Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Challenges of Non-Mainstream Faith

Cross-posted to A Pagan Sojourn

How do you deal with the cultural/societal challenges involved in following a non-mainstream religious path?

In my life, the challenges that have arisen due to following a non-mainstream religious path (in the US, that would generally mean not being Christian) have been of two types -- external and internal. Initially, the external challenges seemed harsher and more difficult to deal with. But I've since learned that not only are the internal challenges more important, but the external challenges are really internal challenges in disguise.

In terms of internal challenges, my main struggle is acceptance; not wishing for acceptance from others, but being accepting of other's religious choices. Buddhism is a tolerant religion that states that other religions carry value insofar as they develop your inherent beneficial qualities of love, compassion, peace, generosity, and discipline (to name just a few), and insofar as they reduce the poisons of greed, hatred, and laziness. I see adherents of other religions benefiting from them along these lines regularly. I applaud them for finding a religion that suits their makeup. But I admit that I struggle understanding how people can choose certain beliefs--in particular, monotheistic faiths--as my experiences have been so contrary, my insight so opposite, to theirs. It's my own attachment to being right; it's my internal challenge for which I train to develop insight. The seed of this attachment is difficult to unearth, but that's partly why we undertake such spiritual training.

The external challenge I faced was one of being surrounded by those of Christian faiths during times of traditional ritual--holiday meal prayers, religious weddings, etc. I quickly realized, however, that this wasn't an external challenge at all, but an internal one. It was my own insecurity acting out. Experience after experience has proven to me the validity and benefit of my own faith, and each one has helped me to realize my choice is right for me, regardless of others' choices. Now, during holiday meal prayers with family, I just feel thankful for food and family in my own mindful way--I pray in a Buddhist manner. At religious ceremonies like weddings, I practice in my own way by generating loving-kindness for the lucky couple.

I've learned that any external pressure I feel is solely a product of my own internal state, which clear insight can break right through. Such challenges have truly turned out to be a blessing because they have spotlighted areas where my practice was weak, where my views were unwholesome. Now, I am thankful for each and every one of these challenges.


Jeff G said...

Your post is insightful and speaks very well to my own experience. My Ex was of a different religious tradition and even though she was reasonably open minded, my own spiritual path got second billing. It was a source of conflict for us and in the end one of the reasons she decided to call it quits.

This has become a challenge for me when considering potential relationships. Is it possible for intimate couples with disparate religious traditions to co-habitate in a peaceful and supportive way? I don't have an answer to that...

Angela said...

Yes, it is definitely a challenge in open mindedness, acceptance and humbleness. The path to enlightenment can be many...