Beginner's Mind: Part of the Ocean: On Buddhism and Islam

- through Francois Leclercq

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Beginner's Mind is a special BDG project bringing together insightful essays written by American students who have taken experiential learning courses related to Buddhism. Some authors identify themselves as Buddhist, for others it is their first encounter with the Buddhadharma. Everyone shares their thoughts and impressions about what they have learned, how it has impacted their lives, and how they might continue to be involved in teaching.

Aisha Shams wrote this essay for his brutal Buddhism class at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Psychology student Aisha also enjoys spending her free time watching BBC Earth and exploring contemporary poetry.

Part of the Ocean: On Buddhism and Islam

I consider myself religious, although that doesn't mean I practice regularly. In fact, I allow myself the freedom to interpret certain rules and beliefs as I wish. This is because I grew up with the understanding that religion is deeply personal. Both my parents are Muslim, but the Islam they know and believe in is very different. My mother has influenced me the most, in terms of approaching, questioning and thinking about religion and what it means to me. Because it gave me the resources and power to question "divinely ordained" beliefs, I learned to view religion not as something that is imposed or blindly followed, but as a truth that I discover slowly, little by little. Religion taught me gratitude. This motivates me. In the worst times, religion gives me resilience.

When I saw this course, the title, Brutal Buddhism, immediately piqued my interest because “brutal” is a word rarely associated with Buddhism. The popular and orientalist understanding of Buddhism is muted, presenting Buddhism as an inherently peaceful religion which, if followed, makes one incapable of resorting to violence or harm. In this way, Buddhism seems almost detached from the real world of imperfections and people prone to violence and prejudice. Buddhism is sometimes glorified to such an extent that people often find it unusual for Buddhists to commit murder or genocide, forgetting that they too are humans who experience feelings of rage, contempt, and exclusion.

In this regard, I found that of Edward Said Orientalismthat of Satish Kumar Buddha and the terrorist, and Thomas Tweed's article on "Why Are Buddhists So Nice?" » the most enriching and instructive.

In Kumar's book, there is a conversation between Ańgulimāla and a woman who is giving birth. The latter is consoled by Ańgulimāla, who encourages her to accept and embrace the essence of pain: “Pain is a part of life. By accepting it, its intensity is reduced. Don't resist it. (Kumar 111) The fact that pain is natural and temporary, that it is to an insurmountable phenomenon, is a detail that we tend to forget and, sometimes, consciously reject. This reminder that pain is temporary is simple but a beautiful fundamental truth about life.

I found several intersections between Islam and Buddhism during this course, and one of those intersections is the idea of ​​non-attachment. Islam encourages people to be humble and shy away from material wealth. Similarly, Buddhism teaches the idea of ​​no-self and that it is imperative to “empty oneself of ambitions, likes and dislikes.” (Kumar 72) Attachment is clinging to and being tied to an idea or place. It implies possessiveness and a sense of belonging, the existence of "mine" and "yours", giving rise to the three poisons.

In Buddhism as in Islam, it is important to recognize the fleeting nature of attachments to the world. In Kumar's book, the Buddha says to Nandini: “Be the wave and know that you are part of the great ocean of existence. » (Kumar 73) When we are at the sea, or anywhere outside and closer to nature, we feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It's massive and hauntingly beautiful. In such moments we are both humbled and satisfied: we know there's a reason we're still here.

There is more than one Buddhism, just as there are several “versions” of Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. Faith, in my opinion, is rebuilt each time we take a moment to recognize some form of higher power. Instead of viewing it as a discrete set of symbols and meanings, religion must be understood in the context of the culture in which it exists – and, more importantly, the individual who believes. A. Helwa notes in his book Secrets of divine love: “Awakening to faith is not a one-off event, but a reality which is continually revealed. » (Helwa XXI)

With every ritual, inferred belief, and legend I encounter, I come closer to the absolute, divine truth present in all religions: love.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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