Monday, October 12, 2015

crunch crunch crunch today i heard the leaves go crunch crunch crunch

below is my religious autobiography i wrote sometime a month ago in early September.  for this assignment there were a few requirements to be fulfilled such as highlighting definitions of religion from a given rubric and from a personal point of view.  ok, well this is me . . .  . . . . . . 

13th October 1994 – my eyes opened, and here I was, born and alive. This little girl hails from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – a rainbow nation, as I like to call it. “People here don’t ever look the same,” once said by a friend who was visiting Malaysia. Indeed, the country is multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural! It is known that we have three main ethnic groups: Malay, Chinese, and Indian. However, the nation is now filled with many others from countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, China, Korea, Pakistan, and so on. As for religious affiliations, people in Malaysia practice Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and other indigenous religions. Diversity is just something we have to live with!

            First off, I am Roxanne Chong Kar Yee. I have a Chinese name; in America it would be my middle name. But I mostly go by Roxanne or Rox, even my own grandmother no longer calls me by my Chinese name. I was born into a Taoist family. Most of the times, on paper documents and when talking to others, we generally tell people we are Buddhists. This is because Taoism isn’t quite recognized as an official religion in our nation, and it is not very known to people in general. I am Chinese by blood, so most people would expect me to speak Mandarin or some Chinese language or dialect… but, I don’t. Not quite. The first language I learned was Hokkien, but when I enrolled into primary school, my mom taught it would be best that we actively learned and spoke English at home. At the age of 7, my siblings and I had completely transitioned from Hokkien to English. No more Hokkien. “Eh hiau tia, beh hiau kong” (“I can listen, but cannot speak”) This phrase I had learned to use with aunts and uncles at Chinese New Year reunions and gatherings. Today, my ‘first’ language is English (Malaysian English, of course). I also speak the Malay language fluently, and know enough Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien to enjoy simple conversations, and probably to order food from hawker stalls.

            At age 7, religion was something normal to have, something everyone had. In Malaysia, we are surrounded by people who practice different religions. In school, the Malay Muslims would say “Assalamualaikum” and our Indian Hindu neighbors would perform rituals for respective festivals. On Sunday mornings my Christian friends would go to church, and at home as Taoists we would pray to Guanyin. Religion was for everyone, praying was for everyone, I had thought. However, I do not recall much of how I first learned about God, as my parents did not educate us much on religion. They said they had not taught us much about religion, but I believe it can all be found in our values and our lifestyle. From around the age of 7 and onwards, I had seen religion in the rituals we perform, such as prayers. My mother would pray the morning and evening of every day, and everyone in the family would pray during Chinese New Year, Hungry Ghost festival, and other festivals or occasions. Religion was all about rituals, and praying to God.

For many years, I would ask my mother “What should we say when we pray?” I found out later that my mother always prays for our health and safety, if not for our education. Religion then became something that made us feel safe, and something for us to be optimistic. Once in a while, my father would tell us stories about reincarnation. “If you do many bad things in this life, you may just become a dog or some kind of animal in the next life!” Oh, a dog is not all that bad, I think. But, perhaps it was an easy example for us young kids at that time. My father also once said “If you eat the seeds of an orange, you will turn into an orange tree the next day!” We hardly ever listen to mythical or sacred stories relating to our religion, or perhaps I have just mistaken them for my father’s humorous stories… But, whenever myth was heard, myth always came with doubts. I remember disregarding many of them.

Fast forward to the age of 17, and here I was – fresh out of secondary school. I had spent several months at home before I came to America for college. Those several months were a lot of time for contemplation, especially on existential matters as well as about the self. “Why do we exist?” “Is there really a God?” “What is my place in the universe?” “Is happiness overrated?” “What is normal?” I later learned and defined religion as something optional. Wikipedia and such pages on the net give you plenty to learn and to think about. When I came to Truman, I attended meetings by Freethinkers, Stargazers, Plants Life, Art History, cultural clubs, and other societies that pushed me to be curious. I became awfully pushy in being curious; it was not exactly the healthiest way to learn. I was disconnected from family for quite a bit, as I wanted to forget the attachment and whatever feelings that would distract me from college and from the day-to-day functioning. Not knowing then, but heartless was what I was trying to be.

Religion was an option. God was an option. I claimed to be atheist, but after a while it did not feel quite right. A little too extreme for my views, I thought. Well then, an agnostic I shall be. It fit perfectly when I had found it; exactly what I needed was to suspend my beliefs about God and other supernatural things… Many things were happening, and were felt – I became depressed, and very pessimistic about life and people. I often thought about dying and ending my own life. At age 19, religion was nonexistent to me. At age 20, many things once again were happening, and were felt. I enrolled in Cognitive Science and Weird Science within the same semester, which did me much good I believe. I had heard all these many times but only finally learning to embrace now… “Let go” “Go with intuition” “Embrace uncertainty” At age 20, this felt like the right time to learn about religion. For all that I have so far experienced, I wanted to learn more about religion, especially the one my family grew up with. What does it mean to be a Taoist? Do we believe in reincarnation as well? Do we believe in the existence of a deity? How do we pray?

At age 20, I also went home for summer break, and worked at a pre-school. I loved the kids that made every thing in the world funny, light, and non-serious (including reading a book entitled ‘God Made’), but I also loved the conversations I had with my co-workers. One was a 64-year old Malay Muslim, Teacher Anne, and another was a 55-year old Indian Hindu, Teacher Santhi. They both brought me to Buddhist temples, where we saw people praying and reading mantras, and where we also had vegetarian meals (I am a vegetarian for over a year now, it has only recently dawned on me that my views on eating meat is very identical with the perspective from Buddhists and Hindus!). Teacher Anne once said, “My dad says, “If you want to be a good Muslim, you have to learn about other religions”” What wonderful souls I had met and had heard about. This summer break was also a time where I spent many moments with my mother, sharing thoughts we had never shared before. She had finally told me what she believes in (she doesn’t necessarily believe in God, but she believes in a higher power out there that has control over events that we don’t have control over. She also very much believes in fate, and thinks that praying can be comforting). Religion was finally a comfortable conversation.

At age 20 and almost 21, religion became many things. Religion is something for humans to feel safe and hopeful. Religion was a collection of myths, rituals, and doctrines that I have yet to fully discover at home and in religions class. Religion is a reminder to people for how to be good human beings (by being kind to others, and by not doing harm to ourselves or others). Religion is a reason for people to get together, and especially, to connect. This is true, I believe, whether those people are of the same or different religious backgrounds. Religion is something that I feel. This inner experience is something I have yet to fully discover, although I believe I am on my way to discovering it. Today, religion is many things to me and I can’t seem to put it all in one sentence or one definition. If I had to, it would be “Religion is a way of life” but I have been told it is too vague of a definition. I tell people my family and I are Taoists, but to this day I don’t quite know what that means. If not a Taoist, I think I am definitely a seeker – a seeker of Taoism, or any sort of faith that I can resonate and closely identify with. So, if not “Religion is a way of life,” then it definitely is “Religion is a process or a journey.”