Something I learned the first time I walked into a Zen Center in my city fifteen years ago: meditation techniques may be central to Buddhism, but those who practice and teach its techniques don’t ask that you officially call yourself Buddhist to join in. You can, but you can also be Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, a theist, deist, an atheist, agnostic, a witch, a clown, have a fancy for hobbits, elves, unicorns, and dragons, or do Parkour or be a hardcore surfer or rock and mineral collector. It really doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe, disbelieve, or spend your time doing; meditation is an exercise of mind and body designed to bring peace into the lives of all.
“Religions are the fingers of one hand pointing to the same moon.” This is how Nonin Chowaney, Abbot of the Nebraska Zen Center Heartland Temple, explained the Buddhist perspective on religious practices as I stood among a small group of people—some Buddhists, others not—in the sunlit kitchen of the center after an hour of the morning spent in sitting and walking meditation. Drinking the tea offered and looking from face to disparate face, I considered how nice it would be if everyone could so easily see the simple relationship that exists between all of us as we find ourselves facets of this world.
Whatever you practice, we have only one source from which we were derived from and which we will, however that works, slip back into. A single source that creates and receives our energies and, being from the same source whatever that may be, we are all unified to each other in the very simple way of existing together in this reality, on this planet, as members of the same intellectual and emotional species. Together.
My mom and aunts went out to look at arts and crafts one weekend when they came across a small statue of a Buddhist monk in meditation, legs crossed in Lotus position, palms in the upward mudra position that allows for the free flow of energy through the body—the give and take of positive energy during meditation. My aunt commented that it looked like something I would appreciate, and so the little monk was brought to me as an unexpected gift. For me, having a family that understands and accepts diversity adds to my passion to help others find our connections more readily despite how different we seem in look, behavior, or belief. Coming from a predominantly Catholic family, having been baptized and raised in Christianity, and now fitting comfortably into the Muslim faith, no one in my circle of loved ones fears, judges, or denigrates the journey I’ve been on and where I’ve settled in. And no one worries about why a Buddhist monk statue sits on our balcony.
Sitting with the little, peaceful monk on warm early mornings to catch the remainder quiet before peoples’ daily routines make their ways into the neighborhood, his contemplation undisturbed by the world around him, I think of the many ways we pray or otherwise think spiritually; the natural flow of methods within us as naturally embedded as melody is within the bird’s psyche. A look to the sky, and I see the big sun blinking down, knowing that between sun and earth is the one, single moon that centers itself in our nighttime vision of the sky.