My Taiwanese friend, Jane*, is a devout Buddhist.
I remember a class in high school on Buddhism, learning the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and words like enlightenment, nirvana and karma. But high school was a long time ago and I was curious as to exactly what my friend believed. So I asked Jane if she would share with my coworker, Amy, and I more about her beliefs. We sat down with our coffees, ready to talk.
An individual experience of Buddhism
“Everyone experiences Buddhism differently. What I share with you is only my experience of Buddhism.”
Jane shared with us for over an hour and not once did she talk about ‘noble truths’ or the ‘eightfold way’. Instead she talked about loving her family, the importance of listening to others, respect and treating all people equally.
Each week Jane travels an hour to attend a class run by a Buddhist teacher. The class lasts about an hour and includes studying Buddhist Scriptures. As she talked about the class, she raised her hand as if to hit a small gong. I’ve seen Buddhist monks do this on TV.
I asked her the significance of this. “Oh, that’s just a gong to help us know when to move onto the next part of the class.”
Curious about how they study the Buddhist scriptures I said, “You have seen Amy, I and others in the coffee shop study the Bible together. Is that how you study the Buddhist scriptures?”
Jane said, “Oh no. We must be in a quiet place. It is important not to bother people around us.” It seems to be a much more private practice.
Jane continued. “There are thousands of Buddhist scriptures. From the time that Buddha died, (he had to die as he was a human), his enlightened spirit has been inspiring teachers to write more scriptures. The teacher must write down exactly what he hears the Buddha say and include the name of the teacher who is receiving the lesson, where it happened and the date. The scriptures are then classified into different topics which address things like family and work.”
At the end of the class, the teacher encourages people to go home and spend time with their family. My friend Jane is particularly devout so stays behind to teach a class herself.
Jane acknowledges that there are some good and some bad Buddhist teachers out there. She chose her teacher, who lives in Japan, because she believes that what he teaches matches up with his life. He particularly teaches the importance of treating people with love and respect in public as well as in private like with your family. If she does something wrong, Jane is quick to repent. She bows her head and quietly prays to Buddha.
The Four Noble Truths?
Our time was coming to an end. “Jane, thank you so much for sharing what you believe with us. But please, what about ‘The Four Noble Truths’ and the ‘Eightfold Path’?”
Jane looked shocked. “The Four Noble Truths are very deep. This is only for teachers. Many Buddhists don’t even know about those things,” she said.
Really? Jane’s experience of Buddhism was not what I had read about. I guess it’s true – You never really know someone unless you sit down with a cup of coffee and ask.
– Linda, Church Planter
(Donggang, Pingtung County, Southern Taiwan)
* name changed for privacy