Temple in Kuching,Sarawak (LGS)
Regular readers will know that I am a Christian and I have posted about my faith on several occasions. Some have noted that I was a convert and in fact I was born a Buddhist. Molly has asked me why I converted from Buddhism. Here is my answer.
In Malaysia, we have three main races; the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians. When I was growing up, it was practically assumed by everyone including the Government that if you were Malay, you were Muslim; if Chinese, then Buddhist and if Indian, then Hindu. This perhaps is not dissimilar where in many western countries, people are assumed to be Christians especially if they are from a Christian family. This is really a kind of religion by default.
I don’t believe in this labeling. Finding God and religion is a personal matter and we each have to make a decision for ourselves.
Anyway, my entire family was Buddhist in that we were born into that religion. My immediate family were not really practicing Buddhists and hardly knew anything about the religion. Nevertheless, when I became a Christian later, my parents felt I had shamed them in front of all our relatives. I had an uncle though whom I was very close to when I was young and he was a staunch practicing Buddhist as was his family. He was an important role model for me and for a time I tried to copy him as he chanted his prayers and did his meditations. I was proud when he complimented me on saying my prayers well. At this stage, it would seem I would eventually immerse myself in Buddhism.
However, as I reflect back, I think three events changed my way of thinking.
The first was a visit to a Buddhist shrine. Now, at this juncture, I should say that it is very hard to find “pure” Buddhism. Much Buddhism being practiced today, even in the East has been altered by local beliefs and traditions. My mother brought me along to this shrine. I was probably just 6 years old then. I don’t remember the exact circumstance but there was some pressing family emergency and my mother was hedging her bets by offering prayers at several Buddhist temples as well as several Christian churches. I just happened to be there for the ride.
However, that particular temple had a big impact. Can a 6 year old understand the concept of evil? Well, I felt evil and I felt fear. I did not feel it in any other temple or church. Just this one. I felt the evil that resided there and when I looked around I saw the fear in the devotees eyes. They come to the temple to pray for good health and fortune but they came in fear. They were afraid that if they did not show sufficient devotion or make sufficient offerings to their idols, they would be punished with illness and bad fortune. I did not like this darkness that I perceived.
The second incident was when my sister became a Christian. She is 8 years older than me but when we were young, we briefly shared a room for about a year. She was allowed to attend Sunday School because my parents thought it would improve her English and manners. At night, she would tell me about the Bible stories that she had heard. Moses and the Red Sea. Jonah and the Whale. Daniel and the lions. These became my bedtime stories so I learned a lot about the Christian God. However, the most striking thing was the change I saw in my sister’s character. She became a more patient and loving person. Presto, before my very eyes. That made a big impression.
The third incident was the death of my grandmother. I think I was about 13 years old then. She died after a long illness. Her long time nurse was a Christian and claimed that my grandmother became a Christian before she died but this was mostly ignored by my family and she was given the full traditional Buddhist funeral rituals. This included many prayers at different days which I enthusiastically took part in. I remember the wake. The body was laid in my uncle’s house and the monks chanted into the night until about two in the morning. Then the relatives gathered and solemnly discussed who would stay with my uncle’s family and keep watch till morning. What was not spoken was the fear that grandma’s spirit would return to the home instead of progressing on. Fear. Either I was brave or foolhardy but I volunteered to stay on.
She was cremated. Then the family was invited to scoop her ashes into an urn. Again all the adults were frightened to touch her remains. It was an older cousin and myself who did the task. I felt a peace doing it, as if God was assuring me that this was just dust and ashes and my grandmother was safe with Him. Yet when I looked at the rest of my relatives, all I saw was fear.
At that point, I began to realise that the prayers, chants, ceremonies and traditions I had been following brought no peace to any of my relatives, not even my stalwart uncle when they faced death and uncertainty. On the other hand, even though I was still not yet a Christian, I felt that the God of the Bible was with me during this period and gave me peace.
I accepted then that the God of the Bible was a real and living God and not a powerless idol. After that, I stopped trying to be a good Buddhist. That had lost its meaning. I was not yet a Christian either because recognising God is not the same as receiving Him into one’s life and obeying Him. I was not ready for that yet and God had to change my hard heart over another two years before I finally accepted Him as Lord and Savior.
I know that there have been many cases of people brought up as Christians in the west that have turned to Buddhism. I believe this is because they are disillusioned with the established churches. I think if we truly seek the truth, we must look beyond mere practices and traditions and make a personal discovery for ourselves. I have found the words of Jesus relevant and powerful, able to change lives and bring peace and assurance.