When I first turned to Buddhist practice, family members and friends had a hard time understanding. My dad even assured me that he had checked our genealogical line as far back as he could – which was about five hundred years – and had found out that our family had been devout Catholics all along. According to him, I was the first one to change religion. Perhaps that was not completely true: somewhere deep in my heart still lives the boy who attended mass and went to communion, and when returning to St. John’s cathedral in my home town of Den Bosch every few years, I can’t help but light a candle for the beautiful mediaeval image of Holy Mary. Also, fortunately, my dad later really came to appreciate Buddhism and was very happy to witness the abbot’s installation ceremony at Zen River not long before he passed away.
Last Sunday, I attended a wonderful public talk by the Dalai Lama in Brussels, and he emphasised the unity between all religions. He actually seemed not to even encourage Westerners to become Buddhists but rather to deepen their experience of the traditions they were raised in; as if he wanted to stay away as far as possible from any type of religious ideology – even a Buddhist one. And this really struck a chord in me. By adopting another religion, it is almost impossible to stay impartial to one’s former persuasion. On some level, I believed that Buddhism and its well-tested and age-old principles could make for a highly necessary shift in our modern society. But, if I understand the Dalai Lama well, it is not so that Buddhism can transform the world. Rather, Buddhism can, like any spiritual practice, transform people – you and me – and then it is up to us to transform the world.
Still, I find it miraculous how one can sometimes feel at home in a completely different environment, appreciate music or food one did not grow up with, and have an unexplainable penchant for speaking another language. During our sutra-reading class on Saturday afternoon we are now onto the famous last chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra and, as each one of us present recites a paragraph out loud, I can hardly keep my eyes dry. The vastness of perspectives this sutra offers, with the abundance of bodhisattvas from so many different realms, opens my heart. It presents a universe that has never been created and will never vanish, yet transforms continuously, enabling us to generate compassion for all beings throughout space and time. The sutra also indicates very clearly the responsibility we have in our particular situation here and now, and enumerates the various stages aspiring practitioners need to go through in order to make a real contribution to the world. God works in mysterious ways; he seems to have made me into a Buddhist.