I was riding the train with a friend on our way home when my attention was captured by a Buddhist monk who boarded the train with two other monks beside him. They wore their usual red suit, a pair of sandals, and some wooden beads hanging around their waist. I found the courage to come near them, and inquired what the beads are for. The monk replied that they are for counting the times one says the mantras in a prayer, which is similar to the use of the rosary among the Catholics. Before we got down, the monk handed me a picture of their god, and instructed me to pronounce the name of the goddess repeatedly every night to ask for good fortune. He also gave me a card with the address of their temple, and told me to visit during days when I am free.
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That night, as I went to bed, I remembered what the monk told me and brought out the picture of the deity. Although I felt absurd about the idea, I must admit that I tried pronouncing the name of the goddess as it was written below the picture in order to ask for some luck. However, after saying the goddess’s name ten times, I grew reluctant, not knowing what to think of while pronouncing his name. Personally, I did not see any essence to what I did, and second, I feared that I might be calling on someone to convert me at once to the Buddhist faith. Nevertheless, the picture of the goddess made me develop more interest in the belief.
Curious about Buddhism, I paid a visit to the monk’s temple and learned a lot about their faith. The temple, which was similar to a pagoda, was so serene in all its angles. There was peace and quiet everywhere the place, while some monks were holding a ceremony in one area. The monk I met in the train was so surprised and happy to see me. He toured me around the place and explained a few ideas from which I gathered wisdom.
The monk explained some important aspects of the Mahayana Buddhism, including universality, enlightened wisdom, compassion, and salvation. Founded on Buddha’s teachings, the Mahayanas believe that everyone is capable of attaining Nirvana, “the supreme state free from suffering and individual existence” (Religions of the World n.d.) or material desires. It is a state where a person does not care for material belongings, the pleasures of the flesh and other worldly desires. In realistic setting, a person who has reached Nirvana is not easily dumbfounded finding no food to eat in his refrigerator, or panicky when his bank account is empty. Given this, the Buddhists believe that it is possible for every person to attain this.
Another belief among the Mahayanas is the sunyata or emptiness. This belief is well expounded in “Hannya Shingyo” or “The Heart Sutra.” According to this text, the world is empty in that nothing is permanent in this world. Seeing the world as such allows the person to give highest regard to their enlightenment and salvation. Thus, people’s recognition of such emptiness in the world is considered wisdom.
Similarly, the Mahayanas also promote compassion and Bodhisattva-ideal. For them, everyone should show compassion and strive to provide everyone with comfort, regardless of their status in life. Poverty should not be a hindrance to helping and giving service to others. Furthermore, the Mahayanas also believe that salvation can be attained through one’s effort to reach enlightenment. Unlike other religions that claim salvation despite transgressions, the Mahayana Buddhists strive for enlightenment to reach their end goal of salvation.
Finding out the beliefs that Mahayana Buddhists have, I realized many things. In the past, I used to view Buddhism as a religion limited to the Eastern and the antiquity. Judging from the way monks dress up in public, I thought all along that their philosophy is truly behind the present age. However, noting their beliefs about Nirvana, or the ability to denounce worldly desires, I realized that this idea is very timely and practical. Considering the fast-paced life that we live nowadays, people find material things the most important aspect of their lives. Mahayana Buddhists thus teach us to focus on the more important aspects of our lives, such as our family and community. Therefore, the next time I encounter a monk in public places, they would serve as a reminder for me to renounce my worldly wishes. Although I do not practice their faith entirely, I support their view to show compassion to others similar to the way Buddha taught his followers.
“Nirvana.” N.d. Religions of the World. 21 July 2009 <http://library.thinkquest.org/28505/inde.html>.
“The Heart Sutra.” N.d. 2 June 2009 <http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/heartsutra.html>.