Vater unser, der Du bist im Himmel,
Geheiligt werde Dein Name,
Dein Reich Komme,
Dein Wille geschehe,
Wie im Himmel als auch auf Erden,
Und vergib uns unsere Schuld,
Wie auch wir vergeben unseren Schuldigern…
… In nomine patris et filii spiritu sancti
Religion is a fascinating topic, precisely because I am of neither extremes (not a religious person, nor am I an atheist), and I fall into a gray area of classification.
Essentially, to me, religion is just a set of principles (and sometimes, rules) that govern us on a higher, metaphysical level – those that even ethics and morals could not cover. It is the belief in this set of principles (be they just principles, or ‘deitified’ into what people call God or Gods or whatever physically-or-verbally represented form that each religion has), that this set of principles (or its representation) has a higher ‘power’ (usually ascribed by the believers – and no, it doesn’t have to be ‘powers’ in the literal sense of the word, but the ability to do something beyond our usual means that causes us to feel awe or fear, or something equally emotionally-moving) to potentially impact on our thoughts or doings, or our surroundings.
Note here that my point contains caveats; including:-
– it has to be a belief, or faith strong enough that it goes beyond your usual morals/ethics, that it requires the belief in a higher power to consider it a religion
– it can be a representation (namely, deities, or God/s, or merely a set of principles, in the case of atheists – and yes, atheism is almost like a form of religion, just that they believe in the power of the natural, the sciences)
– there is a potential to impact, but it does not necessarily mean that our religion and the actions of the deities (or the principles) will and always will impact upon the things we do.
Anyway, I digress.
What am I? I’m no more religious than your average person – or maybe not. I think religion should be a very, very personal thing, and it is between yourself and your set of ‘higher principles’ (or, in some cases, God). No one should tell me how I worship or deal with God, or my principles.
By the conventions of society (where kids worship whatever the family worships, up until a certain point where they decide they might have another faith that suits better), I was born a Taoist-Chinese … cue lots of deity-worshipping, before we switched to Buddhism (where things are a bit more philosophical, middle-path and all that jazz). I was particularly amused as a child when I was told that some deities (angels?) are irked by certain things (ridiculous – they sounded almost like vengeful jealous Greek gods from old mythology books), to which that negates the whole concept where the Higher Beings are supposed to be benevolent, etc.
And of course, by society’s conventions, there are certain practices that got me cringing very badly at the sheer inequality of it. For example, it is said that when a woman menstruates, she is ‘filthy’ and hence, not allowed into sacred buildings or to pray. I find that notion preposterous, because if God/Higher Being Up There thinks it’s dirty, they should just eliminate menstruation altogether. (This rides upon the assumption that God/Higher Being(s) Up There are also the Creator). Why the inequality? And if we’re all God’s child/creations, shouldn’t we all be loved equally? And for something biological that’s out of my control (yes, I certainly didn’t ask to menstruate – it’s a tedious monthly thing), I think it’s idiotic to deny me the right to worship just because of that. Hell-o, I didn’t choose to menstruate. (Higher Dude Up There, you hear me? Idiotic. Now smite me. Or the humans who created such biased ‘rules’ in your name.)
But I digress, again.
Alright, so now I am primarily a semi-agnostic-philosophical-Buddhist (namely, I think Buddhism as the ‘religion’ where I find most common ground in with my own personal self, but I don’t treat it as a religion, but a philosophy of life; I believe there’s a higher being out there responsible for all the awesome things we have around us, but I don’t know nor I actually care who the Real Dude Up There is, nor I think Real Dude – or Dudette – cares, because it’s such a petty issue anyway)… which could work both ways – yes I’m religious, no I’m not religious. Selective religiosity?
Now to the point of my post.
What does a semi-agnostic-philosophical-Buddhist pray for, if she does pray?
In Chinese custom, every 1st and 15th of the lunar month, there’ll be prayers. And yes, my family observes that. Do I? When I’m conscious. But what do I pray for while I clasp the josssticks in my hands?
I pray for a meaningful life. I pray that I get to live my every moment to the fullest. I pray that I will be able to do so, with the clarity of heart and mind.
I think it is absolutely ridiculous to pray for certain things like material wealth (or a boyfriend, because yes, some people actually do) or things like happiness, even. Yes, happiness. You don’t pray to be happy. I think happiness comes from you, not from God, and God doesn’t automatically swish His/Her wand or hand or whatever and voila! happiness. No, doesn’t work that way.
Prayers are essentially things we want to tell ourselves, but only masquerade it in a form where we address it to God. Yes, you want a boyfriend, you need companionship, but trust me God’s not going to make you a handsome man and toss him onto your lap. Go out there, meet people, do something. Yes, you want a new car, but God’s not going to drag you to the showroom and pay the salesperson so you can drive a Porsche out. Go out there, work hard, get money, buy the damn car, do something. Yes, you want to be happy. God’ s not going to swish His/Her wand, and magic doesn’t happen. Go and identify the source of your unhappiness, and work it. Work it.
There are, also, prayers, where you pray for the wellbeing of others – a father praying for the recovery of his son, a friend praying for her friend’s safe flight to a new world, a daughter’s prayers for the health of her parents. Yes. It is almost intimate – you share your own concerns and private fears/hopes with the One Up There, but once again, nothing happens if you don’t do anything. The father still has to go out, and source for financial aid to help his son. Emotionally, prayers give you faith, give you hope, that you can emotionally hold on to make sure that you will work towards realising the prayer itself.
It is, in essence, a form of self-fulfilling prophecy (if it works). If it doesn’t, it isn’t that God is abandoning you – you’re just not working hard enough to make it happen.
Prayers aren’t bad. I think they’re a good thing, but I think we need to be aware of what we’re praying for, and the purpose of it. I still pray. I tend to stick to my usual “Dear Kuan Yin, I want to live my life to the fullest. Just so you know. Thanks.” I pray, and I will make sure it happens. If it happens, I’ll send a thank-you note to God. If it doesn’t happen, either I keep trying or see whether it is truly something I should expend more effort on, or let it be. God/religion is too easy an excuse to blame shit on.
And, as mentioned earlier, my religion is between me and my own God (or my own set of principles). Sometimes the dialogue in my head during the prayer session runs like a conversation with a friend. I think, if God’s really all-forgiving and all-cool, God will be trading fistbumps and high-fives with me.