A few years ago, out of curiosity and in the hope of encountering some benevolent souls, I went to a Buddhist centre in London. I could see the practical benefit in the exercises being taught and listened to some wisdom words, but was far less impressed with the paradigm of shared beliefs being propagated. There were several comments that jarred me, such as hero-worshipping and speculating in earnest as to who was the greatest recent guru; or the retelling of fantastical cosmologies as a matter of fact. My mind was truly decided, however, when music and singing were attempted: no doubt the purpose was to emote joy, but the result was blank and joyless for me. Nothing close to truth would create art – the expression of the soul – that uninspiring.
At the end, the assembly exited the front door past two Buddhist religioners standing on either side, giving their goodbyes. The first person was everything I had hoped to find there – she clearly just radiated a sense of peace, compassion, joy and love. The second, who from the literature seemed to be the leader of the place, did not have the same effect on me; I had a feeling of disquiet and, to be honest, slight revulsion. I recognised that all too familiar look in his eye, which should not have been there in a person purporting to teach spirituality. Yes I can see you, I thought at the time, before leaving and never going back.
I think that practising the religion is great if it can help a person grow into the state of consciousness of the woman I encountered. More importantly though, the experience lasts in my memory because of the contrast presented to me between the two people: Do I want to be more like the one or the other?