While in Thailand, I wanted to know as much about Buddhism as anyone was willing to tell me. I am fascinated by other belief systems and why people believe what they do.
One of the things I quickly realised is that Buddhism in Thailand is quite different to what we think of as Buddhism here. In Christianity, there is a major component of grace – you could even say that is the fundamental tenet that Christianity is built on. There is nothing that even closely resembles grace in true Buddhism. It is very much based on ‘what you get is what you deserve’ and earning your way to a better life, whereas grace is really getting what you don’t deserve and could never earn.
Up close, Buddhism isn’t warm and fuzzy with people exercising immense tolerance of others, not harming any living thing or living in a constant state of serenity. I found it to be harsh, ruthless and unyeilding.
My wise 15 year old pointed out that the practise of the religion was like the White Temple. Beautiful from a distance, quite frightening close up.
The pastor’s wife we were being hosted by put it this way – in the West, Buddhism overlays a base of love, kindness and forgiveness, attributes left over from when the West was classed as Christian. So our Buddhism looks and feel different from what is practised in true Buddhist countries. She also talked about how, conversely, when Christianity is introduced into Buddhist countries, there is a tendency for people to simply add Jesus to their ‘spirit shelf’. He is seen as just another god to pray to, as they are used to having multiple gods/spirits of whom they ask assistance.
I found that so interesting. And realised with alarm but stark clarity, we who call ourselves Christians, are just the same in the West.
Do I have Jesus as the only One on my spirit shelf? Or is it crowded, buckling under the weight of many gods?
Self. Money. Reputation. Possessions. Looks. Religion. Righteousness. Financial security. Popularity.
Gods, every one of them. And all things we use and turn to in times of need.
I will even go so far as to say that we turn to these things first and that God is waaaaaay down the end of the shelf. Forget being our Plan A, God is often not even our B, C, D, or E.
How does your spirit shelf look? Is there just one God on there, or many?