Cult or Culture (part 6)
Evelyn was supposed to meet us at a local restaurant to join the carpool but she was late, just as she was late for the new hire orientation where she first met my Mother. We had to leave without her to get to the ceremony on time. Here’s where an entire marching band serenaded me waving red flags, but somehow I managed to ignore every single flag. One red flag read you don’t know any of these people another one read you don’t know where they are taking you another red flag read why do we have to leave now can’t we wait a few more minutes for Evelyn? Another flag, the biggest flag of all, waved back and forth the words maybe I don’t even want a Gohonzon let’s forget the whole thing! But I disregarded each red flag and I got in the car. Off to the faraway mid-western suburb we went, to the “Buddhist” Temple.
The massive acreage of temple grounds was serene, with plush greenery and white flowers. Tucked deep into a winding road lit with dim lanterns, was what looked like a five star sushi restaurant. The temple had the same calming smell of burning incense as the Culture Center had. Once inside, our shoes were customarily confiscated and we sat on long wooden benches with no back rests.
Petite Japanese men wearing white robes, played drums, with cloth covered sticks. They were not playing a tune as much as they were simply keeping a rhythm. I was excited. I was suspicious. Why was Evelyn late? Why did I get into a car with a woman I had only met once and three others I did not know at all and let them drive me to a “Buddhist” temple somewhere in the secluded mid-western backwoods? Worse case scenario I’d be killed and sacrificed on the altar to appease the Buddhist gods. Best case scenario I’d have a stellar out-of-body religious experience. Neither happened.
After a while the drumming stopped and a hand full of us shakabukus lined up for our moment with the high priest. The moment took about 3 seconds for him to hand us each a narrow white rectangle envelope with a bow ribbon printed on its’ front, then nod, which was our cue to return back to our backless benches. No instructions. No vows. No master/grasshopper flashbacks. Nothing more than a quick, here ya go, now sit down – all expressed with the slightest head nod. Not quite the religious experience I was expecting. But then again I didn’t know what to expect. I could have been killed and eaten so I guess the experience was rather banal. I didn’t feel any different afterward; nonetheless, by their criteria I was now a “Buddhist”.
Armed with my new “Buddhist” practice I expected my life to become a life of serenity and wisdom, as depicted by the Buddhists on TV. I assumed I’d be able to answer complex questions, in no time, with ancient Eastern secrets. I expected to leap tall difficulties in a single bound. Why not? I was a Buddhist now, for Christ’s sakes!
But all that happened was I continued using the words Nam Myoho Renge Kyo like an Asian abracadabra, while a different Culture Center member called me everyday to tell me about a different meeting I needed to attend…TO BE CONTINUED