Statistically speaking, most of us have been raised to practice a certain religion. Whether it is Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, we’ve most likely been born into a culture that celebrates one of the thousands of religions in the world.
For me, I was raised Catholic, baptized as a baby, received my communion in 2nd grade, and was confirmed in middle school. My whole life I enjoyed learning about my religion and making sure to be as good a Catholic as I could be (there were a few sins here and there, but I didn’t kill anyone so I think I’m making it to Heaven).
When I got to college I even bought a “Jesus Bracelet”—Remember when those were in style? (I made sure to take it off when I’d hook up with someone because that’d just disrespectful to Jesus) I felt that it kept me safe and protected, but it sure didn’t protect me from the personal crisis I was about to face.
Second semester of freshmen year I took a class called, “World Religions.” My best friend was taking it and it counted as credit toward my major so I figured, why not? The first day of class I sat there and was told that the things I was about to learn were going to be hard at times and make me question my own beliefs. I didn’t think much of it. Nothing could shake my 20 year belief in Jesus and nothing could ruin my Christmas spirit.
As the semester went on we went from Christianity and Judaism, the familiar ones to me, to Hinduism and Buddhism. I sat in class one day while my professor spoke of the Hindu creation story, where we are all part of God (Brahman) and have a false sense of self (Atman). In simple terms, my professor was telling me that I was not real. ME. MY BODY. MY MIND. It was all an illusion that my ego had created and once I accepted that I’d achieve enlightenment and be free of any suffering.
I raised my hand, “What? WHAT? So, I have to believe I am not real and then I will be free? Of course I’m real!” My professor responded calmly, “Well can you prove you’re real?”…I couldn’t think of any proof that I was real. My friend Mike next to me could say that I’m real, but who says he’s real? The rest of the semester I tried to think of a reason, and failed.
When my final exam rolled around I wrote at the top, “According to Hinduism, I am not real. Therefore this test is not real and is causing me suffering. I’m tempted to ignore it, but in case the Hindus are wrong, I’ll take it anyway.” I think I got extra credit for that thought provoking statement.
The next semester came and I still couldn’t shake the excitement of my world religions class, so I decided to enroll in Indian Philosophy with the same professor. And let me tell you, we read some crazy shit!
I learned about Daosim, Buddhism, and Hinduism in great depth and realized how much I didn’t know about other cultures and religions. This semester brought uneasiness as well. I found myself reading Buddhist texts and relating to it. How could I relate to Buddhism as a Christian? This of course led me to panic (as I generally respond to things) and question my faith for the first time in my life. I told my professor that I was “freaking out” because my whole life I was raised a certain way and now I feel more connected to a different philosophy.
He laughed and told me to relax. He explained that it was a good thing for me to learn more and form my own opinions. I knew my parents wouldn’t disown me, but they’d definitely be surprised if I told them I was now following Buddha’s teachings. I was surprised myself.
Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I loved learning about other religions and philosophies. I even became a religious studies minor and took more classes on Eastern religions—I couldn’t get enough. When I was going through a problem or a hard time, I had a plethora of material to draw from to get me through it with the right perspective and strength, whether a Christian scripture helped or a Hindu psalm.
I decided that I didn’t need to pick one religion– that parts of every religion are beautiful, pure, and based on living an honorable life. The more I read about these various religions, the more I realized their fundamental values are basically the same. We’re not all that different after all.
So, for this Mantra Monday I want you to not be afraid to challenge your beliefs.
Make a mantra today and see how it makes you feel. Just because it’s Hindu, doesn’t mean you as a Jew/Christian/Sikh/Whatever can’t say a mantra. You might actually like it! Challenging your beliefs can either make your realize that what you believed all along never even made sense to you (you know, just going through the motions because that’s what you were supposed to do) or make you feel even stronger and more confident about what you believe in. What’s wrong with either of those options?
I was afraid to challenge my beliefs because then I’d have to change, think, analyze, and form my own opinions based on me and no one else. It took me a while to accept and be open to new ideas, but once I did it was a beautiful growing experience that has helped mold my morals and values to this day.
What’s your Mantra today? Tweet or comment below with the hashtag #MantraMonday!