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By Albert Leung, Staff Writer

I can't say that I am a God-fearing man. I am more curious about God and religion than anything else. My parents rarely showed a pious side unless during someone's funeral or straining times. Religious practices weren't prevalent in my upbringing and only exposed to me by only a few family members. I find now that I am constantly in contention with what to believe is true: fate or chance.

I can't say that I am a God-fearing man. I am more curious about God and religion than anything else. My parents rarely showed a pious side unless during someone's funeral or straining times. Religious practices weren't prevalent in my upbringing and only exposed to me by only a few family members. I find now that I am constantly in contention with what to believe is true: fate or chance.

Despite being somewhat of a mathematicaster, my mind always jars over whether bizarre life occurrences are indeed divine intervention or merely dictated by probability theory. It is difficult to think that my life may be running a course which an almighty being has already inscribed. I hope that I get some choice in matters concerning my entire existence. If something is actually watching me go about my vapid life, does it tune in all the time?

Religion was never a subject I particularly wanted to understand more until my late teens following my father's passing. My immediate family never spoke much about the topic and the only memorable exposure to religion I've had was from my two grandmothers and my aunt. My paternal grandmother was an unwaveringly devoted Buddhist and my maternal grandmother has piously practiced Shinto for almost 15 years. Each played a strong role in introducing me to religion as a child.

My first religious exposure, that I can recall, was with my grandma on my father's side. She was the most gracious and kind-hearted person I've ever known. She regularly retreated to the local temple to pray and aid the local monks. As a tyke she taught me how to correctly hold the incense; how to appropriately bow; how many times to bow; whether I should be on my knees; who I was praying to; and how to insert the incense into the incense holder. One of my fondest memories of my grandma, besides the squeamish cheek pinches, were these words, “If you're ever suffering, in pain or stressed, just pray to Guan Yin and she will help you.” This I practice occasionally and, whether it is the merciful Guan Yin or not, it does manage to quell my soul. The effect could also be because of how those words remind me of my gentle-spirited grandma.

Despite growing up with her influence, my father wasn't much of a believer. Most of his siblings are similar to him and don't exhibit much of a religious side. One of his older sisters converted to Catholicism, though she doesn't talk much about it. My father never spoke about God, Buddhism or anything religious. I'm not sure if it was just his way of rebelling against his mother or that it never grasped him. Similarly, my mother grew up without much interest in religion either. Partly it was because her mother hadn't had much interest in it till she found Shinto religion later in life.

My maternal grandmother wasn't a particularly religious woman until my aunt introduced her to Shinto about 15 years ago. With that, she found her religious calling. Shinto is a non-Buddhist religion originating from Japan. Having grown up in Taiwan when Japan occupied the country, her lifestyle was shaped by a strong Japanese cultural influence. Shinto connected with her upbringing and managed to ignite her religiously. She would have morning and evening prayer rituals every day which I could hear throughout the house. Once she started to understand Shinto practices, she convinced my parents, my sister and I to start exploring it as well.

For a short time during my childhood, my father, mother, sister and I tried to practice Shinto with my grandma. My grandma was living with us at the time and she would remind us to pray or to join her.  As a family unit we'd recite a small part of the Lotus Sutra over and over for 15 to 30 minutes. As a child, I couldn't grasp the reasoning behind praying or understand the religion. I only understood, from what they said to me, was that it would only do me good. Unsure of what I should think about while reciting, I focused on listening to my mom's or my sister's voices. Sometimes I'd think about school, TV shows or going outside to play with my friends. We attempted to stick to the rituals and the prayers but after a brief stint we fell out of practice. None of us have picked it up again since.

This is as close to devout as I have ever been. In my younger days, it wasn't an interest I felt like exploring. Now, though, as I come to understand the world through life experiences and see family members pass, I've become intrigued in my grandmothers' beliefs. My mother says that my grandma on my father's side never imposed her beliefs onto anyone but rather taught you and brought you to the temple if asked. Unfortunately, I don't have that opportunity now, which saddens me a bit. Though despite that fact, I don't necessarily feel lost either. I am in a comfortable place and enjoy the challenge in seeking more understanding. But in the end, I think I must realize that some things that occur in the universe can’t be explained. Some things just happen and maybe neither science nor religion has a good explanation.

 

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