Shifting Perspectives: My relationship with religion and with Buddhism

- 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 of the authors identify themselves as Buddhists, for others it is their first encounter with Buddhadharma. All share their thoughts and impressions on what they learned, how it impacted their lives, and how they could continue to engage in teaching.

Cindy Yang wrote this essay for his Buddhist Modernism class at the University of Southern California. Cindy is a freshman triple major at USC in economics, religion, and business administration. Cindy is committed to connecting capital to socially responsible endeavours. Cindy enjoys studying languages, training, meditating and contemplating the big questions in life.

Coming from a multi-religious, inter-religious and atypical Chinese home, I grew up with my Buddhist parents, my atheist grandfather and my Christian grandmother. I went to Sunday school with my grandmother, visited Buddhist temples with my parents, and learned atheistic philosophies from my grandfather. Growing up, I sought opportunities to volunteer with Tzu Chi, a Buddhist humanitarian organization, conserved the environment with local monks, and taught hundreds of underprivileged children. Ultimately, I realized that religion doesn't just serve as a set of beliefs, but can be a portal to a more equitable and innovative society.

Armed with this conviction, I declared my religion a major and signed up for lectures on religion. I took two different religion courses last semester: REL 121, The World of the New Testament; and REL 301, Introduction to the Study of Religion – gaining in-depth perspectives on Western religions. This semester, I hoped to learn more about Eastern religions, study the religious roots of my family (especially my parents) and gain another non-religious but academic perspective to perceive, analyze, observe and evaluate the functionality of Eastern religions, especially Buddhism.

I had already tried meditation. My parents built a small shrine with their good friends (Taiwanese and Tibetan monks and nuns) in Shanghai (what a combination!). With the smoldering incense and the harmonious sound of sutra recitation, I sat on my bodhi-mat and tried to meditate. In this process, my father sang the Diamond Sutra and closed my eyes to listen, think and meditate. The process usually took 10-15 minutes and I sometimes fell asleep (sorry to say). While I was sometimes able to concentrate, more often than not I felt dizzy.

In this class of Buddhist modernism, however, things are different. I realized that I was now meditating actively, whereas before I was meditating passively. Now I try to consciously focus my mind and thoughts in one place, but before I was passively listening to my family's songs.

When Professor Zu introduced me to mindfulness meditation, I still had a lot of trouble concentrating. My mind turned to many other random things on my first attempts. In fact, other thoughts crept into my mind, and I kept thinking about them: my border collie, unfinished homework, upcoming tests and quizzes, and messages from my friends. . . things like this swirled around my head. After considering methods to stay mindful and aware during meditation, I practiced the RAIN* method of meditation, found a safe, undisturbed place, and asked myself to calm down, reflect, and meditate for a certain period of time.

The changes are obvious and observable. After months of successful meditation (failed practices), I became more aware of what was going on around me. The amount of time I was able to concentrate increased tremendously; I don't nap all the time, I don't feel lightheaded most of the day, but rather live with an energetic body and a compassionate heart.

My words and actions also changed. I used to be very confused about the philosophy of emptiness in Buddhism. What is the meaning of life if everything is full of emptiness? To solve this problem, I sought to learn the facets of religion in the lecture, concerning the relationship of religion with ecology, war, economy, education, politics and many other subjects. .

For starters, Buddhism and ecology are interconnected, as Buddhist philosophies of promoting a heart of compassion, kindness, and tolerance can lead us to care more about the environment. Buddhism also justifies that religion is not just about individual liberation, but collective wisdom for the betterment of society by promoting love, mutual understanding, and sustainability.

Additionally, I learned about the relationship between politics and religion, as politics generally refers to constitutional power while religion relates to spiritual power. But this spirituality is often used with political power. For example, contemporary Japanese Buddhist movements are explicitly socially engaged with the goal of achieving world peace. Many practitioners do not isolate themselves but rather do social work to ensure their beliefs are shared. I realized that religion itself is more than a spiritual belief: it is an interdisciplinary study deeply connected to all aspects of life.

As I learned them, I became more careful about how I spoke because I'm aware that every word has an impact – it can be kind or hurtful. I also became more compassionate and tolerant towards my family, friends and people from other cultures and religions, as I recognized that we share the same planet, so it is important to learn, to respect each other, to understand and treat each other with kindness. I am also aware of the power of religion, which is much more than spirituality or belief. It can become a tool to provoke war and racial discrimination, a method to promote peace and mutual understanding, and a pathway to a better self and a better society.

I believe that religious literacy is the key to the 21st century, as our planet becomes more diverse and interconnected. I am very grateful for having taken this course, for having familiarized myself with religion, for having broadened my vision of the enormous impacts of religion in different fields and fields, for having broadened my perspectives and for having reassessed my family history and myself. I look forward to continuing my study and interest in Buddhism by reading the sutras and scriptures (I am currently reading the Diamond Sutra), taking more related courses on Eastern religions and promoting religious literacy to the general public by highlighting the importance of religion in contemporary society. I am particularly interested in the relationship between ecology and economics and religious studies. I want to investigate the impact of ritual economy and the impact of religion, and how people should use different religions to build a sustainable society for our planet.

All in all, I'm grateful for this amazing opportunity to be able to take this class at this age, and I look forward to continuing my journey of awakening. I would describe this course as a door that opened my world to Buddhism from an academic perspective, showing me different facets of the religion and pushing me to become a better person to build a better society.

* RAIN meditation has four steps: 1. Recognize what is happening; 2. Allow the experience to be there as it is; 3. Investigate benevolently; 4. Natural consciousness, which comes from not identifying with the experience.

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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