On Travel and Religion

I was recently caught in a conversation with someone from the older generation who, in a rhetorical tone, asked me “Do you believe in God?”, “Do you have a religion?”. And faster than I could clear my throat and ask “Why?”, she added…”Because you are a traveller.”. I almost fell off my chair after being pushed by the righteous hands of her judging words. Right there and then it became apparent to me that travel is often, if not always, equated to Agnosticism and travellers are often labeled as profane.

A little retrospection made me realize that I’ve been in a similar conversation one too many times. It’s just that no one has ever asked me that same question as bluntly as she did and I respect her for that. If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t have given this subject much thought. This thought was further reinforced by my obsession with this song that I’ve been listening to a lot these days. A song by Mason Jennings entitled “I Love You and Buddha Too”.

Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho

Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho

To end all the internal debate I had to endure the night after the conversation that stirred up my spiritual concept, I came up with an answer. I represent a tiny speck in the ever growing community of travellers. So whether I end up pushing someone’s buttons or not, I am speaking entirely for my self but I’m hoping that someone else could relate and hopefully validate these thoughts.

Yes I do believe in God and I am a Roman Catholic by faith. The only difference is that travellers develop a high level of open-mindedness over time. One which liberates us from the confines of man-made beliefs, laws and “moral standards” that more often than not lead to differences, conflicts, and even debates. It’s this kind of openness that fuels my passion to travel.

All that being said, I arrived at a conclusion that all teachings from every prophet of every religion are one and the same. It’s the way lesser minds interpret these teachings that tears us apart. From Jesus Christ to Buddha, Rama Krishna to Guru Dev, Confucius to Muhammad, they all teach us one thing – LOVE. Love for ourselves and that of others in the form of compassion and peace. Different scriptures might be translated in different languages and they may contain different parables and be represented by different characters in history but they all preach the same LOVE. So whether you read the Bible, Tao Te Ching, the Mahayana or the Quran, you know where they would ultimately lead you to.

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

I can vividly recall conversations I’ve had with Mariam and Zeena, two sisters from Jordan that I met and for a short while, travelled with in Kuala Lumpur last December. Both blessed with an inner beauty that radiates outside through hazel eyes, their wisdom is made tangible through sincere words spoken in soft, angelic voices. We met at a Hindu Temple near Chinatown and travelled together to the Batu Caves. While most people would see the irony of a Catholic and two Muslims on a trip to a Hindu temple funny, we didn’t because on that day we saw past our religious…..uhm, what’s that term again? Oh yeah “differences”. The very first thing that caught our eyes was the Sanskrit symbol for “Om”. As it turns out, to some, this word means “God is greater” and this became a common ground for my faith and theirs because it is a common phrase for adoration in many religions. We observed several practices and rituals in the temple that day but we never criticized any of them. For some reason, all we talked about was how similar their practices were to that of ours. It was never about differences, but all about “Oneness”

Multi-Faith Cast

Different Religions, Same beliefs

Later that night, after being drenched in rain during our mini walking tour in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, we found ourselves in Masjid Jamek. With their company, I felt so welcomed in the mosque and even offered some prayers of my own. I’ve never felt so at home in another faith’s place of worship and more importantly, I’ve never been more enlightened.

Once again, to answer all doubts, be it of others or my own…

Yes, I am a Roman Catholic and I do believe in Jesus but I believe in Buddha too and many other religions and I would never discount someone else’s beliefs just because they’re preached in a different manner or told from a different book. After all, isn’t that why God gave us this gift? Because he trusts us to make better judgments and make the right decisions that would lead us to the right path in this epic journey called LIFE. Perhaps we tend to overlook this concept because we’re too busy looking for the “One true God” in the “Holiest”of places when in fact He dwells inside each and every one of us.

Pieta

Pieta by Michelangelo in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican

Maybe it’s time we start searching for God inside ourselves rather than somewhere else. And if we still can’t find Him? Then maybe we need to start searching a little deeper…

Because that’s where I found Him!

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