I have been a free thinker since I was capable of independent thinking. Until recently, the thought of embracing a particular religion did not enter my consciousness, but I do know, and indeed subscribe to, the imperative of morality, of human decency.
My understanding of religions, their origin, their core beliefs, and their ways have been gleaned from what I see and read on a daily basis, much like experiencing other aspects of life like going in and out of a revolving door, never stopping long enough to delve deeper into their inner teachings beyond the outward manifestations of their respective followers and adherents.
I see churches, temples, and mosques, and now synagogues since I moved to US. I know of Sunday services and Friday prayers but have never participated in one as I’m not one of them. In terms of frequency, it’s the Buddhist temple that I’ve entered the most and hence, most familiar with, including the ceremonies conducted therein. However, none of these “visits” is of my own volition. Instead, they are a consequence of accompaniment, my wife that is.
As is the case for most Chinese families in small towns where Buddhist and Chinese cultural practices, notably ancestor worship, are well-mixed, my wife took to Buddhism at a young age, though ostensibly for observing the ritualistic roles of praying and paying homage. But we are both tuned in to the Buddhist precepts of compassion and giving, more so as a result of our moral upbringing rather than actualizing the Buddhist canons of doing the virtuous and seeing beyond self.
When I went into engineering after high school, the primacy of the scientific way that reveres empiricism and objectivity dominated my thinking process, leaving no room, or shall we say, no motivation, for faith-based beliefs. My favorite reads were fiction and non-fiction works on the material world where happiness of the self is central, eschewing discourses on religions that seemed superfluous then.
The only admission that I granted to the higher beings may have been some utterances made while walking in the deep of the night, along a deserted road, greeted by dancing greenish beads accompanied by occasional howling from their owners (these would be the dogs and small town legends have it that dogs howl when they see denizens of the other world). As you can see, even a rational-thinking dude like me was wont to invoking the divine for reassurance and protection against the wandering spirits, just in case. And yes, those would be the midnight trips I made to my future wife's home. Typically I would take an evening train from KL, and disembark at Paloh around 2am, and would then walk alone to her house, a 15-minute brisk walk, the briskness by force of circumstances if you know what I mean.
It was in the last couple of years that I started sitting in on dharma talks while ferrying my wife to attend such occasions. And I started developing an interest in reading on Buddhism: free Buddhist texts on display during the above occasions, Buddhist websites as well as Buddhism-based articles via email. It’s like a whole world of Buddhism-related information superhighway just opens up and I’m happily zooming along, making frequent stops along the way to savor the offerings.
My library loans started to veer toward the Buddhism genre: books by the Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard and other western authors, giving me an opportunity to compare notes with those writings by Chinese masters such as the Venerables Chin Kung, Tsing Yun and Shen Yen.
At the same time, I have also started translating some of the Chinese Buddhist writings into English and feature them on my blogs. Concurrently, I’m also finding that I’m better able to control my temper and become patient, not as easily irked as before should things not go as I expected. It could be a combination of me becoming mellow with age or the nuggets of Buddhist wisdom gradually seeping into my sub-conscious. Either way I find that I’m better able to focus on the task at hand, mindful of the here and now.
Practically, I’m already a Buddhist practitioner, both in thought and in action. What I have yet to do is to formalize the infusion process by taking Refuge in the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha), unlike my wife who has already taken it twice. I think I will do that in due course, in my own time, when the conditions are ripe.