By Deb Avery
From my experiences on this planet, religion has taken the experiences, daily practices and habits by extraordinary people over the ages, and turned it into a complicated, sometimes dogmatic, highly ritualistic and exclusive way of living.
All religions are based on people and experiences, class and gender restrictions at the time, and many other variable attributes of culture, idealism and local legends and beliefs.
In saying this, I don’t mean to diminish religions that have built upon experiences that have led people to a better way of life, inspired an awareness of the ever changing, evolving world we live in, and those that do not go against scientific evidence. For instance, I don’t think there are many people in the world today that want to belong to a religion which include the beliefs of The Flat Earth Society.
Yet, there are still many religions that hold strong to patriarchal rules that are outdated and cause harm to both men and women. The evidence of goddess worship in ancient times, way before most modern religions were even established, is often considered blasphemous, sinful or simply uncivilized.
As a woman, a lover of nature, and someone who tries to live life by causing the least amount of harm as possible, I find a lot of issues with the beliefs and rituals of most religions.
Many years ago I met a lady who changed my views of Western religions and schools of thought.
She was originally from the Philippines and I had never met a person so calm, peaceful, full of joy and with such a good (Bodhisattva) nature. Annie was Buddhist. Her life had been full of suffering and yet her heart remained open, loving and giving.
We were both living in a closed country in the Middle East with many restrictions that applied to women. The only time we had anything close to freedom was when our group met at the Dead Sea in Jeddah to camp, snorkel and dive for the weekend. We began a close friendship that unfortunately was destined to end way too soon.
Two days after returning from a camping trip, Annie’s husband of 10 years suffered a massive heart attack at the age of 36. Being an expat, she had 48 hours to leave the country. Being Annie, she handled it with a patience, strength and acceptance that totally blew me away. When I returned to the US a couple of years later I began my studies in Buddhism.
This study and learning continue to this day. And while I greatly admire the teachings of the Buddha and resolve to live my life based on the dharma, there are a few things that just do not resonate deeply for me. One of those things is that, although it has come a long, long way, patriarchy is still alive and well in many of the traditions within Buddhism.
Almost 10 years after first meeting Annie, I found something that resonated so deeply in my heart that I had to learn more. I read a book entitled, Confessions of a Pagan Nun, by Kate Horsley. Call it fate, destiny or coincidence, this book led me to my Celtic ancestors and their deeply held beliefs in nature. Now, with the dharma and the knowledge and beliefs of my ancestors, I have finally found a feeling of completeness.
And while I resonate with the free spirit and open mindedness of the Pagan religions, there are still some reservations about some of their pathways.
At least patriarchy is not a problem, but a few of their beliefs are still not in total alignment with my modern, inquiring mind. So where does all this leave me? In very good company, I think.
To me it is important to be eclectic in my knowledge and beliefs. It is also important to be able to grow and change my beliefs if science or events prove that some of them are not quite accurate.
My studies and experiences have led me to believe that Buddhism is a wonderful practice and philosophy, but as with every other religion, there has been so much added to a personal spiritual, mind awakening experience by one person so many, many years ago. And just as in the Protestant religion within the United States, there are so many off shoots and branches who believe their way to be the true way.
However, unlike most other religions, Buddhism is open to scientific examination and willing to change if need be. This, along with the nature of kindness and compassion, is why I remain a follower of Buddhism.
I do not have formal teachings—most likely I will die without formal teachings. But for me, this is okay. Teachers are wonderful and can help us when we are struggling and give excellent advice based on their personal experiences. There is much to learn from them. But my nature is more solitary and my intuition and life experiences go along way in guiding me in life.
There is also much to learn from nature and the world around us. There is always so much to learn from our own experiences if we only keep our heart and minds open and our egos as small as possible.
We must each follow what resonates with our own spirit—our being. I have found mine as a Pagan Buddhist.
At least for now.
Editor: Dana Gornall