Monday, May 21, 2012

A North Carolina Buddhist Experience

Raleigh can easily be classified as a conservative, old fashioned capital city, tucked away in the depths of the “Bible Belt”.  I tend to agree from time to time based on my many experiences.  However, this weekend I was exposed to a new side of Raleigh that left me wondering, "what other hidden nooks am I yet to discover here and have I been too quick to judge?"

Churches are very much a part of the culture in Raleigh

Sunday morning anywhere in North Carolina, you will find packed churches on virtually every street corner.  But this Sunday morning, I attended a different brand of worship at a Buddhist center downtown.  My friend here was assigned to perform a cultural study and part of that assignment was to join this congregation, recording her impressions and experience.  I went with her out of pure curiosity and as a final effort to uncover just the smallest inkling of diversity in this conventional, seemingly uniform community. 

Outside of Buddhist Temple, The Kadampa Center

What I expected: a very traditional and serious vibe with many people of Indian and Asian decent joining in silence and following strict protocol.  But just entering the parking lot, I saw scores of people dressed in jeans and flip flops, of all different demographics and backgrounds, casually strolling into the modern building in downtown Raleigh.   Upon entering, there were snacks and coffee, kids playing, adults chatting; all very typical “Raleigh” people. 

In the lobby for snacks

We removed our shoes and found a seat in one of the rapidly filling pews.  For the next hour, a monk with a tickle in his throat and an infectious laugh lead us through a very basic, happy sermon, peppered with breathing activities and quiet meditation.  Parts were very reminiscent of my Ashtanga yoga experience in Lanzarote.  There was no preaching or moments where I felt out of place or uncomfortable; just a simple reminder to keep your thoughts positive and be more present in our lives. 

Happy Monk who leads Sunday morning session

A part of me felt twinges of guilt for prejudging the people of Raleigh, southerners, even Americans, for being painfully out of touch and close-minded.  This experience for me served as a pleasant reminder that even here, in a state that recently was caught with egg on its face on a world scale due to passing terribly narrow minded legislation, there are plenty of people who don’t fit that mold.  (Side note for those of you from around the world that caught the headlines about North Carolina’s gay marriage ban:  Many of the people who voted for this were not residents of the bigger cities like Raleigh and Charlotte.  From all the individuals I spoke to since returning back to the state, they find it to be just as perplexing as I do and I’ve been hard pressed to find someone who voted for it to go through.  I also have no intention to offend anyone by making this opinionated observation.) 

A State Divided

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