Art by @iceicepop
A field trip in middle school like any other. Except it wasn’t. We drove down the mountain in our yellow school bus. To downtown Denver. To visit the Denver Buddhist Temple. Two worlds removed from mine—Urban, Eastern. My parents didn’t love the idea. They, or their Christian culture, said Buddhist temples made you bow to ornate, false gods when you went inside.
I arrived with a religious exemption note. One of my teachers, also a Christian, didn’t seem to mind. She took me to walk around downtown Denver instead. The rest of my classmates walked inside the temple. Past the bamboo and Buddhas, pagodas and trickling water features. Outside it was warm and smelled of spring. I wondered what was inside the temple I was forbidden to enter. Whether or not or how they would make me worship. I wondered if a bow meant worship and if God tell the difference. I thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel. They refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol and were cast into the fire. Yet, they didn’t burn. An Angel of the Lord saved them and God praised them for their faithfulness. So, in a way, I felt special. Maybe even in a holy, all-consuming-type way.
For lunch afterwards we all went to the McDonalds on Colfax. The McDonald’s was two stories and we ate on the second floor. My classmates asked me where I went. I made some excuse, suddenly feeling embarrassed. Then our food came and we forgot about the entire morning.
My college friend Jake later told me that a Buddhism is not a religion, a “buddha” is simply one who is with all the sense of reality that is possible with their material and mental capabilities. He and my friend Abby once lived in a Buddhist retreat center near Goldendale, Washington.
I think now about Jesus and Buddha. Sometimes even Muhammad. How far their messages have gone around the world. And how distorted they’ve become. Crushed through the teeth of men and religious hierarchies and nation-states hungry for power. Made into something corporate, manufactured, violent. Corporate Buddhism retreat. Christian right-wing nationalism. Violent extremists who claim Islam. I want to return to the the well. If there is such a thing...
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