Born Buddhist

on Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Temple in Kuching,Sarawak (LGS)

Regular readers will know that I am a Christian and I have posted about my faith on several occasions. Some have noted that I was a convert and in fact I was born a Buddhist. Molly has asked me why I converted from Buddhism. Here is my answer.

In Malaysia, we have three main races; the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians. When I was growing up, it was practically assumed by everyone including the Government that if you were Malay, you were Muslim; if Chinese, then Buddhist and if Indian, then Hindu. This perhaps is not dissimilar where in many western countries, people are assumed to be Christians especially if they are from a Christian family. This is really a kind of religion by default.

I don’t believe in this labeling. Finding God and religion is a personal matter and we each have to make a decision for ourselves.

Anyway, my entire family was Buddhist in that we were born into that religion. My immediate family were not really practicing Buddhists and hardly knew anything about the religion. Nevertheless, when I became a Christian later, my parents felt I had shamed them in front of all our relatives. I had an uncle though whom I was very close to when I was young and he was a staunch practicing Buddhist as was his family. He was an important role model for me and for a time I tried to copy him as he chanted his prayers and did his meditations. I was proud when he complimented me on saying my prayers well. At this stage, it would seem I would eventually immerse myself in Buddhism.

However, as I reflect back, I think three events changed my way of thinking.

The first was a visit to a Buddhist shrine. Now, at this juncture, I should say that it is very hard to find “pure” Buddhism. Much Buddhism being practiced today, even in the East has been altered by local beliefs and traditions. My mother brought me along to this shrine. I was probably just 6 years old then. I don’t remember the exact circumstance but there was some pressing family emergency and my mother was hedging her bets by offering prayers at several Buddhist temples as well as several Christian churches. I just happened to be there for the ride.

However, that particular temple had a big impact. Can a 6 year old understand the concept of evil? Well, I felt evil and I felt fear. I did not feel it in any other temple or church. Just this one. I felt the evil that resided there and when I looked around I saw the fear in the devotees eyes. They come to the temple to pray for good health and fortune but they came in fear. They were afraid that if they did not show sufficient devotion or make sufficient offerings to their idols, they would be punished with illness and bad fortune. I did not like this darkness that I perceived.

The second incident was when my sister became a Christian. She is 8 years older than me but when we were young, we briefly shared a room for about a year. She was allowed to attend Sunday School because my parents thought it would improve her English and manners. At night, she would tell me about the Bible stories that she had heard. Moses and the Red Sea. Jonah and the Whale. Daniel and the lions. These became my bedtime stories so I learned a lot about the Christian God. However, the most striking thing was the change I saw in my sister’s character. She became a more patient and loving person. Presto, before my very eyes. That made a big impression.

The third incident was the death of my grandmother. I think I was about 13 years old then. She died after a long illness. Her long time nurse was a Christian and claimed that my grandmother became a Christian before she died but this was mostly ignored by my family and she was given the full traditional Buddhist funeral rituals. This included many prayers at different days which I enthusiastically took part in. I remember the wake. The body was laid in my uncle’s house and the monks chanted into the night until about two in the morning. Then the relatives gathered and solemnly discussed who would stay with my uncle’s family and keep watch till morning. What was not spoken was the fear that grandma’s spirit would return to the home instead of progressing on. Fear. Either I was brave or foolhardy but I volunteered to stay on.

She was cremated. Then the family was invited to scoop her ashes into an urn. Again all the adults were frightened to touch her remains. It was an older cousin and myself who did the task. I felt a peace doing it, as if God was assuring me that this was just dust and ashes and my grandmother was safe with Him. Yet when I looked at the rest of my relatives, all I saw was fear.

At that point, I began to realise that the prayers, chants, ceremonies and traditions I had been following brought no peace to any of my relatives, not even my stalwart uncle when they faced death and uncertainty. On the other hand, even though I was still not yet a Christian, I felt that the God of the Bible was with me during this period and gave me peace.

I accepted then that the God of the Bible was a real and living God and not a powerless idol. After that, I stopped trying to be a good Buddhist. That had lost its meaning. I was not yet a Christian either because recognising God is not the same as receiving Him into one’s life and obeying Him. I was not ready for that yet and God had to change my hard heart over another two years before I finally accepted Him as Lord and Savior.

I know that there have been many cases of people brought up as Christians in the west that have turned to Buddhism. I believe this is because they are disillusioned with the established churches. I think if we truly seek the truth, we must look beyond mere practices and traditions and make a personal discovery for ourselves. I have found the words of Jesus relevant and powerful, able to change lives and bring peace and assurance.


Gina said...

"I think if we truly seek the truth, we must look beyond mere practices and traditions and make a personal discovery for ourselves. I have found the words of Jesus relevant and powerful, able to change lives and bring peace and assurance.'

Yes, LGS- This is also what I have found. A certain peace based in letting go of the need for proof. And in doing so, proof or certainty becomes evident, only you no longer NEED it. God's presence and realness are manifested in your life naturally...supernaturally, i guess is the word. I guess they call em the 'Fruits- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,and self control. Something intangible which is worth everything and which changes a person from the inside out. Brings out the best. No longer striving to be good enough, to do something worthy, or meaningful but instead to be led and drawn by love. The old things don't have the same excitment...they stink. But Pure Love is good. Often my old flesh has it's down times and gets caught up in feelings and things that are not good for me. We can drift without realizing and one far away...but it's amazing how with a desire that we are drawn back by Gods loving kindness and forgiveness.... It is a good thing. There are certain teachings which are useful but none will change you into a new creation like the Word, the work of Jesus.

Odat said...

That's very interesting....I'm happy you have the faith you do...I on the other hand, have lost mine over the years due to the exact reason why you left Buddism. But that does not mean I'm not a spirtual person, just not a religious one.

daysgoby said...

Wow, I loved this post. I've never switched religions but have switched branches (Presbyterian to Methodist to United Methodist to United Church of Canada) because of the different attitudes and ways of thinking of the pastors and ministers I've met....

Thanks for this post. You have, as usual, articulated something I never would have found the words for.

Becky Wolfe said...

Praise God for you! I love coming to your blog because of the open & honest way you can reach others on it. I am so thankful for your sister attending Sunday school & God giving you peace at times when others have had nothing but fear! You are a living testimony to Jesus Christ my friend! I pray you will influence more in your geographical circle! Thanks for sharing this personal journey to life's biggest choice.

Ruth said...

well done blog my friend. I just wished I see things as clearly as you do, but I'm still searching.

HeiressChild said...

what a beautiful testimony LGS. i was feeling a little low this evening, and decided to visit one more blog before i shut down for the evening. i'm so glad it was your blog.

you had great perception as a child of six yrs old. remember when Jesus was asking his disciples who people said He was. peter answered, and Jesus said flesh and blood didn't reveal that to peter, but it was revealed by The Father. i believe even the fear you saw in people versus experiencing God's peace was a revelation of sorts. i'm also glad your sister became a living testimony for you to see The Christ in her. thanx for lifting my spirits tonite.

CS said...

Thanks for sharing this history. It was really interesting to me. Especially since i was born Christian and eventually became Buddhist! Although, I think Western Buddhism, which is basically just the practice of mindfulness, is different - no idols, no altars, no fearfulness, no superstition. And it is actually compatible with Christianity, so I was able to add back in Quakerism and be able to be both. I think everyone has to fidn the path that works for them, the one that facilitates peace and compassion.

adelym said...

Wow..I didn't know about the happenings of our family. Seems like it God heard the prayers of my great granny cos I heard the Lord calling me when I was 6 or 7 years old. At 12 I was the first in my family to accept the Lord. I wish I knew more abt our Loh family to know what is God's purpose for us. :)
Thanks uncle for this sharing. You have helped me to understand more about our family.

Molly said...

This was really interesting LGS! My experience growing up Catholic was of being made to do things out of fear or punishment. Like cs I find a lot of things about Buddhism and Christianity compatible. What I've read about Quakers really appeals to me , but don't think there are any hereabouts.

Janice Thomson said...

I'm glad you found what works for you...something you can believe in with all your heart. I would agree with you about Buddhism to a certain extent. I have found over the years that all religions have their good points... and their bad points. Any group or religion that is founded by man always carries with it imperfections because humans are imperfect. One has to ignore all the rituals and rites and follow what his heart tells him because the heart does not lie. In this way one can still attend Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim etc church and temples and be devoted to God.

Josie said...

LGS, I envy you your faith. I was brought up in a Christian home, in the Anglican church. But I feel I have become very disconnected with God. I sometimes feel he does not believe in me. I know that sounds strange, but that is how I feel, as if the telephone wires have been disconnected. I am going through a very, very bad stage in my life right now. Unbelievably bad, and I feel very alone. I pray to God, but I don't think he hears me, because things just keep going from bad to worse, and I feel no peace. I try to keep an outward appearance to the world of "normalcy", but I feel as if I am in a black, black hole.

You're very lucky to have strong faith.

patterns of ink said...

Thank you for doing this. You have a unique perspective that draws people to your testimony. Did you see the film called "The End of the Spear". It was out about a year ago. It's about Jim Elliot and some missionary work that took his life, etc. The reason I mention it is that Amazon culture was based on fear much like you have spoken of here. It's wonderful that friends in cyberspace are comfortable sharing their burdens here. Josie has had some hard weeks that she has been very open about. I have been very occupied with my daughter's wedding and it's sort of hard to give counsel in comments, but Josie, hold on. There's a Selah CD called "Hold on" that you may enjoy. I was at a Michael Card concert last night and he was talking about "lamenting." He has written a book about it. Many of the Psalms are written when the writer feels just as you do. Hold on. Thanks LGS, for letting me make this a three-person comment.

geewits said...

That was very touching. You touched on a concept of religion that I had not really thought of: the local traditions and customs. The reason I turned my back on Christianity was that the churches in North Carolina (the southeast U.S.) were all about hellfire and brimstone. It was all fear-based. "If you don't follow our doctrine, you will suffer and burn in hell for all of eternity." I thought it was awful.

Lorraine said...

Good Post Lg, God is God, and I totally Love Jesus, he's my favourite 'cause I know Him best LOL

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I am so glad that is your personal experience as well. You are absolutely right about how we need to take that first step of faith and then we will see all the proof we want but then we will no longer need the proof cause the greatest miracle is happening within us - God's transformation of our lives. The fruits of the Spirit as you have quoted.

I am sorry that you have lost your faith. perhaps you will find it again. Interestingly, Jesus was also accused of not being religious in his day because he was more interested in addressing the real needs of the people rather than follow rituals, celebrations and ceremonies which are pomp but no substance. we love from the heart and not from following prescribed rules and activities.

We all tend to church hop or may be beacuse we move around physically but when our relationship is right with God, we will find that we will be able to find fellowship and opportunity to serve in any church that is following God's will. Hope you are being blessed and are able to be a blessing to others in your current church.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

thanks for the encouragement. Your blog has been a great blessing for me too. May God bless you in your ministry.

The bible says, "Seek and you shall find. Ask and it shall be given to you." God is not a distant God and an uncaring God. He is everywhere and therefore with us all the time and he wishes to communicate with us. I pray that you will find that He is not far away at all. Thank you for your comment, dear friend.

Thanks for your wonderful and encouraging comments. If you alone was meant to read this post I am happy. I am glad it lifted your spirits. It is God's doing. All of it is his doing. I agree with you that God gave me a revelation on those occasions. The clarity of knowledge and understanding, the perception of fear and evil, all those are not by my natural abilities. To God be the glory.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

It's interesting, I dug up some church history to find out that the church I attend initially was inspired by the Quakers. We were called the Plymouth Brethren. Just a little interesting history.

It is also interesting that your experience has been in the opposite direction from Christianity to Buddhism. In both, the real essence of the religion is often masked by man-made traditions, practices and especially in the east, traditional beliefs of spiritualism, animalism and idols.

I have a colleague and friend who practices a fairly "pure" form of Buddhism and we occasionally have religious discussions. You may disagree but the difference I see is that Buddhism teaches us how to improve ourselves but Christ actually transforms us. For example, Buddhism can teach someone to control his/her anger but Jesus can remove the anger all together and replace it with love. My opinion, of course, and my belief.

It is interesting that in our family in my generation and in yours, God started with one but eventually lead almost all to Him. I think there was a time when we could not imagine your dad becoming a Christian, let alone become such an active leader in his church.

I forgot to share this interesting tidbit. I became a Christian through a conservative Plymouth Brethren Assembly but received most of my early fellowship with Pentecostals. Since then, because I moved a lot and because I am open to attend whatever is the local church, I have been in the following, Anglican, Charismatic Anglican, Baptist and Moravian. So I've chalked up a few changes myself! But they are all God's universal church.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Interestingly, I spent 8 years in a Catholic mission school. So I have experienced some of what you mentioned. It's true that a lot of churches especially the established churches (not just the Catholic) have lost their direction. They are often called "high churches" because they are self absorbed and they no longer reflect Jesus or his message. The Bible does speak of the dreadful consequences of sin but Jesus came not to knock us on the head but to give us a way to return to God. I refer to the story of the Pharisees who brought an adulteress to be stoned but Jesus dispersed them with the words , "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone." Later, Jesus asked the woman, "where is everyone? Has no one condemned you?" The woman said, "No one, lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." Jesus was about giving us a second chance to escape the consequences of our sin. That is love and not punishment.

I hope I won't shock you with this reply. I respect and uphold religious tolerance but don't agree with the univerality of religion (i.e. all religion teaches us to be morally good therefore all religion is good and all religion is therefore the same.) I believe there are wonderful people and earnest people in every religion but if we are honest, all religions teach different things and some religions (Christianity included) is clearly exclusive. Jesus said, " I am the way, the truth and the light, No one come to God the Father but through me." Being earnest doesn't mean that we can't be wrong. For example, people were earnest about the world being flat. Some even earnestly believe that one race is superior to others. That does not make them right. Jesus made some outlandish claims about being God, about dying for us and about rising from the dead for us. He cannot be just a good teacher. He was either a lunatic, a liar or he was who he claimed to be.

I don't believe in forcing religion down anyone's throat. But if you are a seeker, then at least for Christianity, we have to deal with that question of whether Jesus was a lunatic, liar or telling the truth.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thank you for your kind words but I actually am a man of little faith. I am like Peter trying to walk on water but starts to sink.

I have ,however learned to trust God more and more...starting with little things. It's baby steps. But as I realised that God can be trusted to watch out for us, then the faith begins to grow. It is based on experience.

You say that you feel disconnected with God. I'm sorry to hear that but God is there for you. He hasn't moved. Don't just come to him in times of trouble. Spend time to be with him and ask for his peace that passes all understanding. This peace will assure you that God will act for your good even if he does not answer your prayer immediately. God bless.

Happy Surviving Giving the Bride Away!!!!! It must have been one of the happiest moments and one of the hardest of your life,eh?

I am familiar with the story of the movie although I have not watched it. The fear of which you speak is also evident in our forest tribes.

Josie has had some tough times of late. I hope you can encourage her more.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I am afraid that some churches are really about promoting themselves and not Jesus. please refer to my comment to molly too.

Buddhism in Malaysia follows two primary schools - the thai and the Sri Lankan. Apart from that, some temples are influenced by ancestor worship, others by Chinese superstition and some follow toaist traditions.

Great comment. Your words remind me of a song that goes, "I can risk loving you cause the One who knows me best, loves me most."

Margaret said...

Hi LGS, I'm here from Dr. John's after reading his comments and I couldn't pass up a chance to read another testimony. Thank you for so much for sharing.

I was raised Christian and was quite happy with it, until college. Maybe it was all the education I received and other factors, but with all the different religions in the world I felt a need to get to know them and determine for myself which was the right one.

From reading different doctrine, (Tao, Quran, etc.) to attending services and studying the people.

In doing so I feel in love with Christianity all over again. The acts of Grace made all the difference.

God bless. said...

My friend Josie feeling the void.
LGS as a child feeling the void.
Christianity is deep, but it is not a void.
Seems to me it is a highly refined art form that has scooped up much wisdom over the ages.
I sort of side with the Anglicans, but my empathy will end if they take up some of the frivolous social notions of the age.


HeiressChild said...

AMEN LGS! i took religion and philosophy, a required course last year. the 1st day of class, the professor asked how many were christians. there were 3 of us. one dropped out of class and the other one was torn between christianity and muslim because one of her friends was muslim and trying to convert her.

the class was sort of quiet, and i love to talk and share so i was a big class participant in the discussions. one morning i decided before i left home i wasn't going to say anything in class.

hence to say, at the beginning of class the professor called on me asking me questions from a christian perspective. God reminded me i am no longer my own, but i'm to be a light and witness for Him and for others to see and hear.

every week, the professor would call on me asking me answers from the christian perspective. the professor wasn't a christian believer--even thought the Bible was a make-believe fairy tale.

i don't know how many souls may change their lives because of what was spoken in that class, but God's Word doesn't return unto Him void, and it prospers where He sends it, and does the work it's supposed to do.

christianity is relationship with God/Jesus and not just religion. that's a big difference: relationship vs religion.

Anonymous said...

lgs said " I think if we truly seek the truth, we must look beyond mere practices and traditions and make a personal discovery for ourselves."

Wonderfully said.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks for coming by and leaving a comment. I am so glad that you re-discovered your love, as it were. Yours is also a wonderful testimony. By the way, Eeyore is pretty much the character I identify with when I was younger. Hope you'll drop by again. God bless.

Thanks for the comment. It is all about filling a void in all of us. I too am not happy about the frivolous notions of the age making inroads into the church.

I have no doubt that God will honor your faithfulness in testifying for Him and He will ensure that those words will bear fruit. God bless.

toppen katten,
Look! I am speaking in tongues! (LoL). Thanks for your comment.

leslie said...

I can't help but look at the picture of the Temple at Kuching and marvel at the architecture. If religion could get out of the way for a moment, the love could show through.

Cheryl said...

What a lovely story, LGS. My sister became a Christian many years ago, and my parents were so disappointed. We were born Jewish, but not raised that way. My sister made a decision that changed her life. I tried, but so far, I struggle.

Ruth said...

LGS..I have been seeking and have been asking, but don't seem to find the answer. I'm sure God is trying to talk to me, but I'm just not getting it. How can I change that?

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Like many of the others I was also interested in path to becoming a Christian. I think coming into something as an adult instead of as a child is important because you are accepting that what is being offered. Taking what is being offered.

Churches, Mosques, Temples, these things are great for establishing community. Love and faith come from your heart, not the buildings a person visits, they are beyond brick and mortar.


Josie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lorraine said...

Lg Make know mistake I do love Jesus, and Believe in God wholeheartedly but I'm not the slightest bit religions, I have no religion, and because I Love Jesus doesn't make me believe less about other spirits that are as loving and wise as Jesus. Lets call them different branches of the same Tree LOL
I'm with Janice on this
I don't like what's often done in the name of God. We all know that there are no Holy wars...only fear

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Man invests a lot of effort in our places of worship making them grand and awesome. And its true, the architecture and craftsmanship are astounding. I enjoy the artistry that has gone into it too but when it comes to worshiping God, to me simplicity is best or even worshipping in the natural great outdoors cause God and His creation is so awesome, it dwarfs anything we can make.

I guess your family and mine have similarities in those certain regards. "My sister made a decision that changed her life. I tried, but so far, I struggle."
You tried? Can I ask what do you mean? What did you try but struggle with?

I would like to answer you in more detail. May I send you an email? It is past midnight here now so I'll write to you tomorrow night. Till then may God's peace be with you.

I agree fully that it is not about the buildings but the people. I think we will differ though on the point that all religions are the same. For example, not all religions teach love and almost none teach it as the fundamental commandment. All religions do teach about justice or moral standards but not love.

I understand what you and janice are saying but I cannot agree on this. All religions are not just branches of the same tree which lead to the same way. It's nice and unconfrontational to perceive it like that but it isn't true. Not all religions teach love. All religions teach us about right and wrong and about morality and yet they can interpret that quite differently.

Hence in Islam, women have few rights. Men can have three wives and can divorce their wives just by reciting certain text three times. In rape cases, women require three male witnesses to bring charges against a male rapist. Female witnesses are deemed untrustworthy.

In Thailand, Buddhism does not speak out against prostitution. There are also few Buddhist charities helping refugees. In both cases, it is considered their karma or fate and their suffering is part of the cycle of purification in the cycles of life and death.

Ellie said...

A real "from the heart", thought-provoking post. It was an interesting read. I think we all struggle, if we didn't struggle, we would be in heaven already, no?

"I think if we truly seek the truth, we must look beyond mere practices and traditions and make a personal discovery for ourselves. I have found the words of Jesus relevant and powerful, able to change lives and bring peace and assurance."

I say, "Amen"...

leslie said...

No matter what your belief system, I believe in the power of prayer. And I have proof that it works. After speaking at my church on Sunday and asking for specific prayer, I truly believe it has already been answered. And the fact that my daughter openly told me today that she had been praying for my eyes to get better was more proof. Wonderful testimony, LGS! I applaud your openness about your belief in God and Jesus Christ.

Lorraine said...

I know what you're saying Lone G...but that's religion not spirituality, people who are spiritual in any religion would never do to one another the damage that is done daily through Religious belief

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Amen. thank you for your comments.

Thanks for your comments and for sharing about how prayer has worked in your life. Praise God.

Quite. The truth is the Truth. God is God. Religion tends to be man's limited and flawed perception of God. Worse, religion was used not as a way to reach God but to control people. thanks for the comment.

Squirrel said...

What a BEAUTIFUL and wonderful post LGS!

Anonymous said...

I never said they were all the same.
As a rule, All-inclusive statements are bad logic. :>

CS said...

I know this post is long past, but I went back to look and thought I'd add this - it may well vary by type of Buddhism, but my expereince has been that the practice isn't about controlling anger at all, but about experincing it, letting it go and practicing compassion/love in its place. In fact, some of the retreats I've been to have been focused enitrely on the practice of lovingkindness. And, in my own expereince, it fits easily hand in hand with the Quaker practice and with Jesus's teachings about love and compassion. Peace, love, tolerance, compassion - that's the real theme in both as I see it.

eastcoastdweller said...

Absolutely beautiful post, LGS!

You are a rare man, wonderfully thoughtful and sensitive -- probably from so much time spent hanging out with Ladies!

Sarah Nopp said...

That is a lovely story of your finding your path.

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