Buddha at tree roots

Viktor Nonong Medrano

Here on Lulu Island, locals and visitors alike share an interest in religiology, although, in comparison with Japanese in Japan where I lived before, they are not really too spiritual.

On the cold night of the 7th of December of 2016, local Lulu Island time, I encounter my neighbour Nerria on my local street. She is a fervent Roman Catholic from the Cebuano-speaking part of the Philippines. She is wearing white pants, a white winter jacket, and long spotted white boots. We stand in front of her yard. Her white husband Bruce tries to warm up his white truck by driving repeatedly around the block, his driver's side door being frozen shut, so he has to go through the passenger's. It has just snowed a couple of days before, the ground being still with residual snow and some ice.

Nerria starts off by telling me about miracles in her Roman Catholic domain. We talk about me being baptised twice. Firstly, I was a baby Roman Catholic baptised in the Philippines. Secondly, in the early 1990's, in the Tōkyō Megalopolis, a Japanese woman by a train station told me to follow her to her temple. There, I changed into a white gown, then the adherents immersed me wholly in water. I changed back to my clothes, then we prayed in the temple. The woman led me to a restaurant for a bowl of hot rāmen. And we parted. It was one of the NRM's, New Religious Movements, in Japan.

I tell Nerria that according to Jehovah's Witnesses, She'ol or Hades is where people go when they die, as they become separated from their spirit and become without consciousness. The body is the soul, which is different from the spirit, according to Jehovah's Witnesses. My Filipino friends Leo and Amy, both from the Ilokano-speaking part of the Philippines, are Jehovah's Witnesses.

Nerria does a hard-sell about Roman Catholicism, then for comparison's sake, I tell her more about Jehovah's Witnesses. I describe to her about Millennialism, which is not part of Roman Catholic beliefs. Only 144 000 people are bound for Heaven. People from the dead will be resurrected after Armageddon for the physical paradise on Earth for a thousand years. At the end of this Millennial Reign, with an ensuing war greater than Armageddon, Satan, being a tool of God, will be released to test humankind. Those who pass this test will live eternally, and those who do not pass this test may dissipate, although Scripture does not fully describe their fate. It will be a distillation.

I tell Nerria that I do not stick to one religion, especially after my parents, paternal grandmother, and a cousin converted to Protestantism, such as Baptist and Pentecostal, from Roman Catholicism whilst I was still a teenager. I tell Nerria that I do not try to intrude to the many Christians in Canada about my religious explorations that go "beyond Christianity." I study Shintō, Dào, Hinduism, Buddhism, other different forms of Animism, and so on. Such is personal, and I do not try to intrude on others, who may find them difficult to understand.

I tell Nerria that Jehovah's Witnesses only commemorate on Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar, as it is the date of Jesus' death. They do not celebrate Pagan Christmas, Halloween, etc. The 25th of December was originally the commemoration of the Roman Sun God before Christianity. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jesus did not die on a cross, but on a stake.



Nerria is a staunch monotheist, as she intrudes to me the notion of one God, as Christians feel lonesome. I have no heart to tell her that some people like the Japanese believe in many gods or spirits, which they call kami, kamigami, or kami-sama, pervading all of Nature. Even Jehovah's Witnesses, I have learned, sometimes allude to polytheism.

Both my and Nerria's feet start to freeze. So we end our long discussion about religion. As we part, I say, "People here are not spiritual!" We both agree that they just care about work, watching television, etc., like drones. She says, "I pray for them!"

Amardeep is a storekeeper at a local 7-11 here on Lulu Island. I see him there often after midnight. Usually wearing a dark turban, he is a bearded Sikh, but he looks more like a Greek or Persian, because his olive skin is lighter than most East Indians'. He tells me interesting things about Bharat, also known as India. There is a kind of mango that is juicy and pulpy inside, and Amardeep and friends puncture one to suck out the juice. Whilst visiting, he tells me that he did not use much English in the United Arab Emirates, but he used much Punjabi or Hindi amongst the many migrant laborers there. There are many Filipinos and South Asians there, but they cannot stay for good or become citizens.

Amardeep likes Arabic music, although he does not understand the language. We share a common interest in the Muslim German rapper Bushido and the Lebanese Nancy Ajram. I like the music videos of the Algerian Khaled. I tell Amardeep that sometimes understanding the lyrics of a song is just too distracting. I like ambient or more postmodern Arabic beats.

From what I understand about Sikhism, Sikhs do not believe in Heaven or Hell. They neither desire Heaven nor fear Hell. Like Hindus, Sikhs believe in spiralling reincarnation until union with God. They are monotheistic, unlike Hindus, though. They think God has no gender.

Long ago, Greeks colonized parts of India. In the Indo-Greek Kingdom, there was a blending of Buddhist, Hindu, and ancient Greek traditions.

There are people who believe that God is not like a person. Pantheism is the belief that God is the whole universe, whilst Panentheism is the belief that God contains the universe, or God is the universe and beyond it, as if a smaller bowl is within a bigger bowl.

In Hinduism, Hindus divide themselves into two camps: those adherents that believe God is impersonal, as Brahman, and those adherents that believe God is personal, as Krishna.

Focusing on a language for learning and maybe socializing can be a religious experience in itself. I am an Esperantist for Esperanto, and I am a Lojbanist for Lojban. These two have different functions for me. Both have decades' worth of history, already. As symbols, Esperanto is the colour green, and Lojban is the colour purple, violet, or lavender. Colours matter to some.

Auspicious beginnings had these two languages for me. I discovered Esperanto in the suburban central library of Lulu Island and the "grey castle" Main Library in UBC when I was a teenager or was in my early twenties during the 1980's. However, it was not until 1997 when I actively learned Esperanto, participated in Esperanto Web forums, and went to Esperanto meetings in Metro Vancouver. We Esperantists met in cozy Asian restaurants, in fast food outlets, and on the glorious mountain of SFU. Meanwhile, I discovered Lojban on the Web in 2002, and I learned it sporadically over the years, as it is really an eccentric hobby.

The fusion of white and non-white cultures is creating new spirituality in this world. In the Philippines, a hybrid of a Pacific Islander or some other Mongoloid with a Caucasoid is called a Mestizo. This mix is analogous in Canada with the Métis, being partly Amerindian and partly Caucasoid. My first Esperanto meeting was in a Latin American restaurant called La Quena on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver, BC, back in 1997. The quena is a traditional flute of the Andes. Incidentally, I am from the Tagalog-speaking part of the Philippines. Being the Philippine national language, Tagalog is perhaps the second language of most Filipinos, who may speak three or four languages, including maybe English. There are about 200 languages in the Philippines, most being indigenous Austronesian, but three, Tagalog, Cebuano, and Ilokano, being large and regional. Many Spanish words are embedded in Tagalog vocabulary, so in a sense, the Philippines is still partly Hispanic, although today, it gravitates towards the Anglosphere.

My spirituality is eclectic, as if it were a strange, ravishing stew with various spices and other ingredients from farflung places!

Having snowed more heavily the previous day, and the streets being full of fluffy snow, on the afternoon of the 10th of December of 2016, I see Nerria arrive in her black Mitsubishi SUV in front of her yard, on the street. I am walking on my way home from the local ice cream parlour Dairy Queen. She is wearing a blue jacket with a blue scarf. Out of the car, she is carrying a chrome metallic cross with Jesus' sculpted figure on it. She says that she is taking it home from their auto body shop in Steveston Village. I tell her that my family has a similar cross, but made of wood; we brought it to Canada from our home in the Philippines. I say that after my father became a Baptist, a Protestant, he removed the metallic figure of Jesus from the wooden cross because Baptists forbid "graven images" of heavenly persons. The Muslims have the same kind of belief, as they decorate their mosques more with elaborate sculpted calligraphy. Roman Catholic churches are full of sculptures. It is their art that other people admire. I know that such art enhances their spirituality. Meanwhile, I see Baptist and Pentecostal churches being more bare and Spartan, their focus being that the adherents are the church, not the building. These Protestants still wear business suits on Sundays, as if their church were just another office.

Nerria goes on with a hard-sell spiel about Jesus dying for "everyone's sins" and about the "reality" of Hell, and it is Hell that she fears. I tell her that really this Earth is bad enough. I say that this Earth "is like Hell." She is an obstinate Roman Catholic. Christianity uses fear as a motivator, much as does Islam. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that a "benevolent God" is not "cruel." What some call Hell, She'ol or Hades, is a place where people just "sleep" in a way, according to Jehovah's Witnesses. A Japanese anime called Night on the Galactic Railroad based on Esperantist Kenji Miyazawa's writings tells of how people should not fear fire too much, even repeatedly. Japan's Ministry of Education recognizes this anime.

In my many travels, I have seen how adherents use objects for worship. In Buddhist and Animistic Thailand, there are these small shrines, like little ornate houses on a columnar pedestal, everywhere. In Hindu Bali, Indonesia, on the floor, offerings in little leaf-woven trays full of flowers and bits of food are ubiquitous. Objects are tools for focusing on spirituality.

Nerria says that her religion promises "eternal life." I retort somewhat cynically that nowadays, many "moderns" do not want to live long. Maybe in Ancient China, people enjoyed living more, so a goal of Dào was to seek physical immortality. Many religions do promise "eternal life," physically or spiritually, in any case. In Buddhism, adherents do not consider spiralling rebirths opportunities, but burdens. The goal is halting this spiral, towards Nirvāṇa. Similarly, Hindus do not consider spiralling reincarnations opportunities, but burdens. The goal is halting this spiral, towards Moksha.

Buddhists believe in the Non-Self, a soulless existence, as rather a "stream of ever-changing consciousness" or "karmic tendencies." Meanwhile, Hindus do believe in a constant Self, a soul, whose goal is to meld, as a droplet, into the Ocean God, there being two camps: those adherents who believe they lose individuality, and those adherents who believe they do retain individuality.

Jainism is a religion that is little known in the West. It balances the Non-Self with the Self, as Jains consider both concepts as true simultaneously. Jains think that reality is like a big elephant that blind men try to make sense by just touching different parts, as knowledge is indeed merely partial. Jains believe in non-absolutism or open-mindedness. Common to Eastern religions is non-attachment.

My spirituality is eclectic, as if it were a calm cup of tea infused by dried flower petals and herbs from mystical places.

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