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As I was growing up in Turkey, a country that most common religion is Islam, I did not get to see people who believe in different religions and beliefs. Comparing Islam and Buddhism helped me realize that there is a huge variety of religions with different religious beliefs and practices. The approach to the beliefs and practices of Buddhism, which are very different from Islam, are fascinating for me. This being said, the opportunity to explore this brand new religious belief system and practices are the reason why I decided to focus on Buddhism for my site visit essay.
After choosing which religion to do my site visit on, I started looking for different Buddhist services and I found a temple in Brooklyn that is relatively close. The Brooklyn Zen Center located in Unit 2A at 505 Carroll Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11215 seemed like a good option for me. I decided to attend the service called “Friday Night Zen” which ran from 7 PM to 8:30 PM on December 6th, 2019. Even though I did not get to experience different religions until I arrived to the USA, I have always been open-minded and respectful to other religions which helped me with his particular experience. In general, mosques look really astonishing both outside and inside, however, the Brooklyn Zen Center had a plain look. As I was walking up the stairs, I started to feel nervous, mainly because I was worried about being judged due to the lack of my knowledge of the beliefs and practices of Buddhism compared to the other people who will be attending to the service. After walking through the metal door that had Buddhist symbols on it, I was greeted by an elderly woman, who was completely bold and dressed in a black robe. I felt welcomed by her as she directed me to the right direction, where I removed my shoes and placed them on a shelf with other shoes. After I walked by the kitchen and dining area, I arrived at this big room where other people were waiting. The majority of the people who were attending the service were relatively young. Even though I was 10 minutes early, the attendance was more than I expected early. As I walked to one of the mats that was placed on the ground, I took a look around the room. I could not help but notice the beauty in the simplicity of the room. The walls of the room was white bricks and the floor was wooden. There were several stands around the room with Buddhist symbols on them and flowers placed not only on the stands but also between several black mats that had round pillows on top of them. All the mats were placed around the room with a clear view of the middle of the room where I assumed the instructor’s mat is placed. Across the instructor’s mat, there was a golden gong and a waterfall made with black stones. The design of the room and seeing other people ready to meditate made me feel relaxed as I was instructed to bow before sitting cross-legged on one of the mats. There were two other people coming in right after me and once they took their seat on their mats, the meditation was about to start.
At first, I realized that I was subconsciously thinking about how different this religious experience has been so far compared to Islamic religious experiences even though it was just starting. One of the first things I realized was the lack of movement during the meditation whereas in Islam, there are a lot of different patters of movements. Even though I was relaxed earlier, I felt anxious once the meditation started. Even if no previous experience was required to attend to this religious experience, for some reason, I felt like people around me seemed relatively familiar with this Buddhist meditation. It took me a while to get out of those thoughts and I started thinking about my life and everything around me. I thought about my family, education, basketball, and how those three aspects of my life correlate together. I came to a state of appreciation for my family for their help and support through all the good and bad I have experienced. I also came to the realization that I took their role in my life for granted and how everything became harder since I came to the USA for my education and basketball career. While I was wandering through many different thoughts and memories, I did not realize how fast the time went by and I heard the sound of the gong. The person who used the gong was facing the other way and also had a similar black silk robe. Everyone again bowed and briefly started cleaning their pillows and mats. Later, everybody was escorted to the dining area and all members gave a short introduction about themselves. It was at this moment I came to the understanding that the people in that room were as new to this experience as I was. The same woman who greeted me when I arrived, loudly, stated: “We are all Buddha.” At first, I did not realize that the event was over because even though I did not know what I was expecting, I thought there was something planned for after the introductions. Then I thought, maybe the whole idea of introducing ourselves was instead of limiting this experience with a bunch of people doing their own meditation in a room, knowing a little bit about all those people made us an actual group who were together throughout this experience.
After I left the building, I realized this experience was way more effective than I thought it was going to be. The word “meditation” tricked me into thinking this experience was going to be somewhat physical, like yoga, but it turned out to be a mental meditation. This experience helped me with self-discovery and critical thinking. I did not expect that sitting in one position in silence for a relatively long amount of time would be this much beneficial for me. I felt relieved and calmed after concluding my thoughts and thinking about some memories. In addition, the level of stress I felt prior to meditation decreased drastically.
Overall, what I have learned from this event and my knowledge of Buddhism prior to this event give me an idea about this religion. My understanding of other religions and general religious knowledge has increased, but also I realize that there are so many other religions that I do not know about. All those people who believe in other religions and have different cultural, spiritual, religious, etc. backgrounds and I would love the opportunity to learn about them. Specifically for Buddhism, I realized that this religion has a lot to do with self-awareness and knowing about your inner self, which might be hard to achieve at such a young age. Besides this, I am really grateful for this experience and the welcoming behavior demonstrated by people who are participating at Brooklyn Zen Center. This opportunity makes me want to explore and learn more about other religions, and overall gives me a greater appreciation for the religious diversity within modern society.
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