Although sometimes confused as a child, I knew very early on that I was Catholic. I went to church on Sundays, attended Catholic schools and had Catholic friends. As I write this piece from Vientiane, Laos, I am increasingly aware of my surroundings. Buddhist temples dot this beautiful landscape and every morning I see people offering alms to the monks. They say they are “hed boon,” or are literally “doing good” or “making merit.” Perhaps, my parents becoming Catholic was partly an attempt to join those who were doing good.
My experience with Buddhism has certainly helped me to become a better Catholic. The lessons I learned at the temple often times mirrored the teachings of our Lord Jesus, that of love and compassion. Both hold parents in high regard and advocate for the care of the world in which we inhabit. The connectedness of everyone is becoming more and more apparent every day and difficulty lies in what kind of relationship we will have with one another and our environment. Both religions and philosophies also challenge us to question our faith. It is in this struggle that I have come to better know my faith and myself.
In practice, Buddhism teaches us to be deferential, to foster relationships that are fruitful and based on care. In Catholicism, we are taught to care for our community by helping one another, by listening to one another, by comforting one another, and by celebrating Christ’s presence with Christ’s body, the church. Proper understanding of both Scriptural traditions is critical to the practice of both faiths.
I find the repetitiveness of Buddhist chants and Catholic rote prayers allow us opportunities to reflect on the Word, what it truly means for us in our daily lives. Meditation, too, has helped me to focus on the totality of Christ. We can focus on his goodness and his love for us. It has also given me the right concentration and mindfulness we all need, especially when we are plagued with distress and confusion. Such mindfulness helps us to stop and think about how our words and actions affect others.
I used to be hesitant to tell people about my experiences with Buddhism in fear that I would be seen as less Catholic. As I think more about it, the church has always incorporated aspects of other beliefs. We recognize the many beautiful differences we have and we celebrate them. My experiences are a blessing from God. They have allowed me to know him better and myself better so that I can help others know God in ways that only I can.
(Soukhaphon, 28, belongs to St. Michael Parish, Milwaukee. He works as a part-time admissions counselor for Messmer Catholic Schools, and is pursuing a master’s degree in geography at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)