Getting out of your comfort zone
Description of Experience:
One of my Anthropology class assignments was to have a "culture experience". I had to either visit a cultural museum, cultural center, ceremony or wedding. So I decided to visit the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist Cultural Center located in the south side of Chicago. I was very excited to visit the center because I had drove pass this building many times before but I had never paid much attention to the name in front of it. The center was opened on June 28th, 1995 as the center of activities for SGI-USA members in the Midwest. Because everyone is welcome to attend and participate I was not surprised to see such a diverse community come together for prayer and peace.
I was a bit nervous as I entered the building, I was greeted by a staff member and he offered to give me a tour of the cultural center. I had no idea what to expect from the people or the place. After a few minutes of walking around I felt very much at peace despite being surrounded by strangers. I think I felt this way because I got good vibration from everyone I encountered. Everyone was very warm and welcoming. The staff member answered all my questions as I observed all that was happening at the center. I noticed that there weren’t any priests (making my comparisons to the Catholic Religion). They followed the Lotus Sutra, the foremost of the Buddha’s teachings; it asserts the inherent dignity and equality of all people and indeed of all life. What surprised me was that their altar didn’t have a fat Buddha statue instead there was a script called a Gohonzon (the physical object of devotion for all humanity) it is merely a mirror for the inner self, metaphorically speaking. I was confused so he explained that it is a way to see inside, to begin changing what you don’t like and strengthening what you do like.
Their basic ritual, which included chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, reciting sections of the Lotus Sutra, and offering silent prayers, is carried out diligently each morning and evening. The chanting was new to me, “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” I heard this over and over again in the many meeting rooms in the building. This phrase literally translates as: devotion to the Mystic Law of cause and effect through the Buddha’s teaching, or sound. The word Renge means Lotus flower and it’s one of the eight auspicious symbols and one of the most poignant representations of Buddhist teaching. I thought the chanting was really interesting; the repetitive of the phrase had a rhythm to it after a while of listening to it.
I know it will take some dedication to slow down with my busy life style. I have always wanted to meditate and reflect on my own life, unfourtunately I have never had the opportunity or the know how. I'm hoping someday to meditate and practice yoga.
Goal of Project:
- My initial goal was to meet complete strangers in a new environment.
- Observe people in a different cultural setting other than my own.
- Understand that culture goes beyond your ethnic background.
- I learned to respect people from different cultures, religions and beliefs because no one culture is above the rest.
- I learned to be objective while making observations of other cultures.
- I learned the importance of having an open mind.
"The mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work unless it's open"
Lessons Learned/Learning for Life:
I’ve always had a deep respect for a culture that stands for peace. I was familiar with some of the Buddha’s philosophies and teachings from online research and reading on the subject. I’ve had to explore outside my own culture to find what brings peace into one’s life. I would like to share my cultural experience with people who are unfamiliar with the subject of Buddhism, so they don’t have the same misconception I had. I would like to encourage anyone who is looking for peace and happiness in their lives to look into Buddhism.
Impact of Experience:
Since my Soka experience I try not to have any bias prejudice when first meeting people, especially in the work place. Since my exposure to another culture I have an understanding of ethnocentrism. This experience sparked an interest to learn more about other cultures. My curiosity and friendly, easy going personality enabled me to work in the Customer Service field for more than 10 years. I’ve met and worked with people from all over the world like Turkey, Ireland, China, India, Egypt, Ethiopia, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Russia, Greece, Iran, France, Poland, Guatemala, Philippines, and Italy so far. I truly feel blessed that I have worked with such a diverse group of people.
I’ve learned a great deal about each culture and I feel that I have traveled the world. I remember trying to learn some words from their native language. I have tried food from each culture. I welcome the opportunity to experience new cultures and to meet people from other countries. I wish someday to visit faraway places like India, Australia, Greece and Japan. But most importantly my experience at Soka was spiritual in a way because it allowed me to see how other people reflect on their life and I know I have the power to change my life too.