07 December 2006

Writing letters, again

from S. Pihlaja mysonabsalom@gmail.com
details 8:35 pm (0 minutes ago)
to *******@drba.org
date Dec 7, 2006 8:35 PM
subject Buddhism and your podcast
Dear Rev. Heng Sure,

Recently, I have been listening to the Berkley Buddhist Monastery Podcast while I run on the treadmill at the gym. I initially got interested in the podcast just because I was interested in learning a little something about Buddhism, but I found the podcasts comforting in an odd way. As you have said, like I heard it before. I realized why I felt this way, not that I had heard it before, but because you sound a lot like Garrison Keillor, the great Minnesotan storyteller. The messages are always thought-provoking and interesting. I have really appreciated them. I find the Chinese engaging, especially as a Japanese student. As I copy Chinese characters onto flashcards, I get more curious. I am also reading your three steps one bow e-book. I told a friend that it felt like I was reading about a religion, while my church in Chicago was simply making a club or a television show.

I grew up an Evangelical Christian. My family was (and is) pretty committed. My father has always been an elder at the churches we have been members of. I grew up memorizing scripture, was baptized when I was 11, was a student leader in the youth group, and in college too. I was incredibly confident in the whole thing.

But an odd thing happened when I graduated from college: I moved to Japan as a short-term missionary, teaching English at a small church in Fukuoka City with a friend of mine from high school. My experiences in Japan and with mission work really did a number on me. I decided to leave mission work, but stay in Japan and have been slowly fading towards agnosticism since then. This isn't for lack of effort—I would very much like to regain my Fundamentalist fervor and get back to where I was, but it seems that whatever I had, I lost, and it isn't coming back.

This all leads me to my questions for you, about religion and Buddhism. If you have any time to spare to respond to me, I would be incredibly grateful. If not, I completely understand and will keep listening to the podcast.

My first question for you is about meditation and bowing. I find the three steps one bow story to be incredibly interesting, but I wonder about the hypotonic effect of these kinds of practices. That is to say, if you do any repetitive action, focusing on a text (be it religious or otherwise), it seems to me that the text is likely to take over one's minds and become more compelling, applicable and true. Prayer and Christian worship music or scripture memorization seem to have the same effect. If you say it over and over again, it becomes true. Can you explain the difference between hypotonic disengagement and meditation or bowing? I haven't done either so I guess maybe this puts me at a disadvantage to understanding them.

Thanks again for your time and the podcast.
Stephen Pihlaja
Niigata City, Japan