And since this is a somewhat private diary, I thought I’d share a somewhat private story. I was chatting with my mom the other morning and she said something about me spending Easter Sunday in a temple. She wasn’t offended or anything. It was quite the contrary actually and, for a southern Protestant who ardently believes that the Greatest Generation truly was great, she’s become quite progressive in her mid-life. She did, however, have a couple things to say.
“Oh, you’re not going to raise your children Buddhist, though.”Flashback to 1988. The Hogan family is enjoying Chinese cuisine at the only place we ever enjoyed it: The Golden Dragon (which is still there). From the street, you could see the large yellow and red pan-Asian dragon that towered over a portion of the parking lot and whose tail curled in to form an awning over much of the sidewalk leading to the doors. On either side of the double-doors were two fishponds with several full-grown koi in each. I would always toss pennies in them even though a prominently placed sign forbade such behavior. Little George Hogan didn’t care, though. He was the baby of the family and very much the little brother who wanted to show off to his big sister. She never seemed all too impressed.
Once inside, however, the ambiance of the restaurant seemed to change. I’ve been to tons of Chinese restaurants in America, Korea and China, but this one still stands out. The layout of tables made it more like a maze than a dining establishment and the lights were so dim that there were only a couple ways one could make their way through the restaurant without tripping. And I never did see a kitchen although there was a lot of talk of it.
On one wall, there were candle-like light fixtures shining upon dynastic Chinese armor and, besides the light which spilled in from the front doors, there was only one thing that marked the path: a giant bronze Buddha. It was, in fact, Happy Buddha, but I assure you, he was not a jolly character in my impressionable eyes. Remember, little George Hogan was a trouble-maker. Nothing serious, but like a chigger, I could certainly get under the skin with relative ease and irritate even the most patient of people. As a lazy management tool, my mother (I'm quite certain that my father wouldn't have come up with this) decided to make that four-foot Buddha --an eternal symbol of non-violence and compassion-- a murderous, menacing character.
"You you keep this up, then the Buddha will take you to the back and chop you up."Before judgment is loft upon my mother, this was said in relative jest. She was always very fair to people and other religions; it was just a fun(ny) tool to control a bratty little boy who probably would have preferred to be eating down the street at the American restaurant, rather than the darkened Asian dive. Regardless of how tongue-in-cheek this threat was, it planted a somewhat distrustful and fearsome seed in my spongy mind. I knew that this particular Buddha wouldn't eat me (he was a statue), but Chinese people had some sort of connection to Buddha, were they going to eat me?
I know there's a tendency to overanalyze these types of things as we get older, but I guess I've been wondering why it was so automatic for an middle-aged progressive American women to assume that her son wouldn't consider raising his children Buddhist. Even more so, I've lived in Korea (a largely Buddhist nation), traveled around Asia a lot and am married to an Asian women. Is it that farfetched?
This highlights one of the things I've noticed about Buddhism: they're not trying to recruit people by denouncing, rejecting or minimzing others. Their message is there for those who seek it. I’ve talked to many Korean Buddhists so far and not a single negative word has been breathed about the other major religions.
Buddhism seems to be like the adult in a room for of screaming children.