In my limited contacts with religious faith over the course of my life, I’ve been hobbled by my own judgments, looking for what was wrong, inconsistent, false, hoping to find nothing wrong, nothing inconsistent, nothing false in any single religious institution. I wanted to walk in skeptical-- No. It's really more accurate to say “walk by skeptical” -- only to be lured in by the siren song of the obviously spiritual, true, and good into a specific faith and practice that would simply feel right. I wanted to be mugged by faith. After decades of waiting, hoping, it's time to try something, anything, different.
So you won't find me reporting on what doesn't resonate with me but what does. I've spent a lifetime - both personally and as a journalist - looking for the mistakes, the flaws, the inconsistencies. This is an attempt to balance that out. (If you need or want those pointed out, there are plenty of recent books doing a fine job of cataloguing inconsistencies and flaws in various beliefs anyway.)
Using the chapter structure of Huston Smith's book The World's Religions, I'm going through the conversion training for the seven major religious traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confuscianism, Taoism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I've stayed in the United States - I am a mom after all - but I’m going where there are a lot of people are practicing that faith. (For instance, I've started with Hinduism as it's the oldest of the major religions currently practiced and I’ve started in southern California as it has a huge concentration of practicing Hindus with more diversity of sects than most any place in the country.)
When it became clear this idea wasn’t going away, that I was considering actually leaving my lifetime career and taking the leap, I started asking for advice. I wanted to make sure there was some chance, no matter how small, that someone who knew a lot more than I did thought this effort might be worthwhile. I went back to the professors who taught the courses I took – Professor Rick Talbott of California State University at Northridge and Professor Amir Hussain at Loyola Marymount University – and to new ones like Professor Christopher Chapple, who’s also at Loyola Marymount and an expert on Hinduism and Buddhism. After many questions and several words of caution, they each have agreed to advise me. Professor Chapple also gave me a tutorial on the history of Hinduism in the United States and its various denominations and spiritual leaders. I spent a lot of time asking, “Now, how do you spell that again?”
“A-n-a-n-d-a. A lot of the names end with ‘ananda.’ It means bliss.”
Afterward, when I asked him which temple I should go to first and who he thought might make the best Hinduism guide for me, the best guide for Buddhism. He said I should just start showing up in various temples and "the right teachers will appear."
Great. I was looking for direction and I got Yoda.
So, that's what I'm doing. The search for that "right teacher" allows me to get me some sense of the diversity of belief within a religious tradition while spending time with the "right teacher" gives me a much more specific understanding of the faith itself. And I’m confining my search to a faith’s more popular branches so that I’ll come away with a stronger sense of each tradition’s core beliefs.