My Encounter with a Buddhist

One of the reasons I like remote jobs is that it allows me mingle with diverse people beyond my border. I have been handling a project for months now which allows me to deal with an unusual number of Japanese. I have gotten particularly close to this detail-oriented one who also happens to be a Buddhist.

Being the curious type, and especially because Buddhism confuses me, he has taken me under his wings to teach me about his religion.

With 376 million followers worldwide, Buddhism is the fourth largest religion. Buddhism derives its name from the Sanskrit word “budhi,” which means “to awaken.” It all started almost 2,500 years ago, when Siddhartha Gotama, also known as the Buddha, at the age of 35, became enlightened. Like other religions like Christianity and Islam, my friend also refuses to call it a religion but a ‘way of life’.

Siddhartha Gotama was born into a royal family in Nepal in the year 563 BC. He realized at the age of 29 that riches and luxury did not ensure happiness, so he looked into the various teachings of religions and philosophies of his time to discover the key to human happiness. After a period of intense study for 6 years, he became ‘enlightened’ reaching the state of Nirvana. Nirvana is a place of perfect peace and happiness, more like a state Christians expect to reach when they get to heaven or Muslims when they get to Aljana Firdaus.

Following his enlightenment, the Buddha spent the remainder of his life, until his death at the age of 80, teaching Buddhism’s Dhamma, or Truth.

Buddha makes no claim to divinity; he does not see himself as God. He simply saw himself as a man who shared his personal path to enlightenment with others. When I asked him why Buddhists worship Buddha, he told me that’s a misconception and that while Buddhists occasionally pay homage to the images of Buddha, they do not worship him or to ask for favours. He insists that they respect the Buddha because of what he and his teachings represent. He said that a Buddha statue, with hands lovingly resting on its lap and a compassionate smile, inspires Buddhists to strive for inner peace and love. Bowing to the statue expresses gratitude for the lessons learned, he explained.

In Buddhism, there is no God. No Satan. No hell fire. No angels. No demons.

Buddhists believe that life is a series of sufferings, including pain, aging, disease, and death.

And that this suffering is caused by craving and aversion, i.e., we have expectations from things and people. This craving deprives us of contentment and happiness, which we never run out of. In humans, this desire is so strong that it generates a powerful energy that leads the individual to be born again. This is what the concept of Reincarnation in Buddhism stems from. Only those who have achieved Nirvana cease to be reborn.

To achieve this state of Nirvana, Buddha’s teachings must be taken to heart. The teachings make you realize that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained. Buddha’s teachings will allow his followers to give up useless cravings and learn to live each day at a time. Nirvana is when they reach this state.

Everything else we discussed was all about how to reach Nirvana.

Before now, I always thought Buddhists, unlike Christians and Muslims, do not proselyte. And indeed, as odd as it seems, the vast majority of Buddhists do not seek followers. They do not go around preaching. As I got to find out, the notable exception is Nichiren Buddhism, a Japanese Buddhist movement popular in the West, Korea, Malaysia, Brazil, and some parts of Africa. Do you know the American singer, Tina Turner? She belongs to this Buddhist sect.

When I asked my friend about his particular sect, he was quite empathic that his Buddhist sect is the only correct sect practising the dictates of Buddha. That intrigued me because I am familiar with this kind of dogmatic stance in the country I live.
The story of Nichiren Daishonin, the founder of Nichiren Buddhism, is particularly fascinating. In many ways, he is the Buddhism version of Martin Luther. Nichiren was a fiery preacher who lived centuries before the great Protestant reformer. He preached about his way as the only way. He made enemies with rival Buddhist schools of thought and rebuked the rulers of Japan. The state banished him twice, and several of his followers were executed. He never backed down.

In any case, I was curious that my friend spent so much time with me teaching me all I asked. He enthusiastically sent me materials which quenched my thirst. Alas, there was a catch. This morning, he asked me how far gone I had made up my mind to become the first Nigerian Buddhist he knows.

I was taken aback. This was one captivating system of belief but he is clearly mistaken.

Because when he understands why he dismisses all the other possible religions, he will understand why I dismiss his.

I hope he stays my friend.

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