Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Buddhism For Dummies

Something has happened to me. Something wild, something beautiful. I found Buddhism. I've long been interested, but I never indulged my curiosity until now. And I am completely blown away. Nearly everyone not brought up in a religion or those like me who are recovering from a religion can relate to the ache... The gaping wound in your spirit when you've contemplated such philosophical questions as who am I, why am I here? The unbelievable fear you experience while wondering what happens after death, when you would give anything to believe in the Mormon fairytale, would enjoy the soothing release a bishop, priest or pastor can offer when they invent answers to your questions. Answers culled from nonsense and tainted with opinion.

I stopped praying a long time ago. Didn't know who to pray to. My mind was so trapped within the confines of the Mormon God that when I lost him, when I realized he doesn't exist, rather... I lost my spirituality. Until now.

I've been immersing myself in Buddhism. Is it a religion? If you define religion as a belief in a divine or superhuman power to be obeyed or worshipped then no, Buddhism is not a religion. It simply gives people who practice it a way of finding answers, a way of finding themselves, their true selves. Instead of promoting blind faith like many religions Buddhist teachers encourage students to adopt an attitude that is the opposite; be skeptical about teachings you receive, even if they come from Buddha himself, who, incidentally, is not some superhuman dude - he was just a guy in India, a brilliant guy in India who figured shit out.

I was brought up to believe every word the Mormon prophet uttered. In fact, dude could fart and millions would take it as gospel, no questions asked. He could decree polygamy must be reinstated and members the world over would get it on - not because they believe in it but because the prophet said so. I came across something the Dalai Lama has said about Buddhism the other day and the stark contrast to any other religion I know is amazing to me; "if you find that the teachings suit you, apply them to your life as much as you can. If they don't suit you, just leave them be." What? No threats of fire and brimstone if I don't comply? None of the ol' "this is the only true religion on earth" rhetoric most other organized religions tout?

As a Mormon I often asked various leaders within the church about life after death. I was obssessed with details, with knowing if, like the Mormon church teaches, we'll all live happily ever after with our families after we die. But Buddhism points out that the truly spiritual or religious life doesn't depend on how these questions are answered. Whether or not the universe is eternal, I'm still faced with birth, old age, death, sorrow, grief, despair... and the antidote to all of those symptoms of life is learning to control my mind and retrain the way it perceives everything. And to fill myself with compassion.

Okay, enough blathering for now. But here is what I cannot stop contemplating; at the core of all dharma (Buddhist lesson) is the understanding that suffering and dissatisfaction originate in the way your mind responds and reacts to life's circumstances - not in the raw facts of life. So simple yet so hard. Yet it's the truth - your mental attitude is what mainly determines the quality of your life. For all of my existence I have allowed life to control me. I let life happen to me and then bitched about it. I have played the victim. Not out loud, mind you, but quietly, to myself I have played the victim instead of taking responsibility for my decisions and moving forward.

Man. I have been such an asshole to so many people. Many who don't even know it. Bad thoughts, ill will, judging. I am ashamed... and not because some made up God told me I'm going to hell but because logically, I have not beeen true to my real self. I have succumbed to jealousy, fear, anger, envy... all of it. I feel like a recovering alcoholic, as if I'm somewhere along the 12-step program and need to start apologizing to those I have wronged. I'm thinking thoughts and concepts I never have before. But it was there all along, I just didn't realize it. I am so excited about this stuff I feel stoned.