"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”
Exactly which God were our founding fathers referring to when they wrote this? Did they think that hundreds of years later, over 200 religions would be practiced?
My experience with religion is much different from others within the country itself but within the black community. Growing up, I didn’t learn about Christianity or God, I learned about Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that was originated in Asia; it is often used to promote peace and self-awareness.
My mother became a member of a Buddhist organization in the early 80s, after years of finding hypocrisy in Christianity, and finding a religion that better suits her beliefs. Years later, my mother would be the sole reason as to why my father, sisters, and myself would know what Buddhism is. As a kid, I didn’t have a full understanding of religion, but I knew something was different. It was in the first grade when I notice that the religion practiced in my house was different from other kids, even from some of my own family members. I didn’t go to Sunday School and I wasn’t in the children’s choir, so I learned about Christianity bi-curiously through my cousins and my grandmother. On Sundays, my mom would take my sisters and I (and sometimes my dad) to the organization. We were all involved in some activity there, and as early as I can remember, there was always the concept of peace and non-violence talked about, from the adults to the children. Our Sundays were pretty different, to sum it up.
While other kids were reading the bible, I was being taught to chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo (yes that is a real mantra that is chanted, and yes it’s the same thing you see Angela Bassett do in "What's Love Got To Do With It"). Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo means devotion to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra.
While other kids were going to church and learning gospel hymn, I mostly learned those hymns through my family or through TV.
Even though my family still celebrated Christmas and I got Easter baskets as a kid, I didn’t go to church. To be honest, there aren’t any special holidays in Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, so I’ve never experienced any special religious holidays or celebrations.
While everyone in my class was taught to pray to God, I was taught to chant.
And when I would hear about churches and Christian groups banning and abandoning gay people, or shaming women for abortions, I would often ask myself, “what kind of religion is that?”, since I see members of the LGBT community all the time at the SGI Center, and there was never a real hierarchy.
I kept this from everyone at my school for the longest. I didn’t think anyone would understand my religion, let alone that I technically didn’t pray to a higher being. That changed in the 6th grade when a friend asked me why was I having my birthday party on a Sunday. At that point, I knew people were going to find out sooner or later. When I was in the 7th grade, I told my two closest friends that I was Buddhist, and to my surprise, they were shocked and thought it was super cool. I didn’t tell anyone else until I entered high school. Ironically, I ended up going to De La Salle, one of the best Catholic High Schools in the city of Chicago. As the years went on, I became more and more open about it. I thought to myself, they’re going to figure out and wonder why I didn’t know any of the prayers or know how to run a Mass. Although, I will admit, going to De La Salle did teach me that Christianity didn’t fit me, but a lot of what I experienced there helped open my mind and taught me lessons I still carry to this day. When I got closer towards graduating high school, I thought I was going to live my life as this free-spirited Buddhist who was still able to live this All-American life. That quickly changed.
From the summer of 2009 to the summer of 2011, it was world wind. While the summer before my senior year of high school showed me the flaws in my own religion, college is where it broke down for me. College is where you learn who you are; as well as learn what people’s true colors are. My first two years of college consisted of myself mostly fake smiling for people. As much as I don’t regret college, I’ll admit those first two years weren’t the best, and I was highly considering transferring. Along with that, I found myself losing interest in Buddhism, mainly because I didn’t see anyone living up to their words. There were times where I’ve witness other members of the organization talk to other members, my friends, and even myself with the utmost disrespect. I remember times when I felt people cared more about my participation in the Buddhist organization than my well-being or just getting to know me. I remember disagreements and drama that left me in the middle and left me figuring out who I can and cannot talk to. I remember feeling as if there were limited people I can trust. Honestly, I remember feeling as if people put the organization before me, and that’s a feeling I still carry to this day.
It was too much drama and I had too little of hope; I’ll never forget the day when I just decided to pull a Lauryn Hill and stop going to up to the organization. I needed a break from Buddhism and religion in general. As much as my mother, sisters, my friends, and their friends reached out and tried to get me to come back, I couldn’t gather the energy to do it. I couldn’t be around people who couldn’t listen to me and see the happiness I wanted for myself, yet expected me to put everything into what they believe in.
Fast forward to 2016. I am at a much better place as far as my relationship with Buddhism. While I am not as active as my mother would like me to be in the Buddhist organization, I still consider myself a Buddhist. I wouldn’t change religions because I still believe Buddhism fits into my world and life beliefs. Buddhism taught me the concept of cause and effect, the how’s and why’s that we, as humans, go through. Buddhism has also shown me the importance of communication and non-violence. The teachings of Buddhism has helped me overcome situations, see things from a more clear perspective, and has helped weed out the negative people in my life. I still talk to most of the friends I’ve made in the organization, and I’m not ashamed to admit that they inspired me and taught me a few things. Whether I’ll go back to the organization or not is up in the air, but I do know that no matter where I go in life, I know that with the lesson I’ve learned in Buddhism, my road to success and happiness will be clear and easy to handle.