Pictured above, Plum Village’s walking Buddha garden
Most of my mothers pregnancy was spent in Plum Village, a Zen Buddhist monastery in the teachings of Thich Na Han in France. I was not born there but when I was three months old my parents went back to France and spent a few years in the monastery. We go back to the monastery almost every year. It has created my fathers ideology, his outlook on life and on everything, it is and always has been a huge part of my life too. The monastery is my second home and yet if someone asks me what religion I believe in I can’t get myself to say Buddhism. It is not because I don't like the teachings, quite the opposite really, in my mind they seem right, yet I don't say Buddhist because the words “religion” and “belief” don't seem to be the right words for Zen Buddhism and also I don't feel like I am being true to Buddhism.
My understanding of religion is going to a temple or a church or a mosque with a sort of superstitious love, in a sense for help. You can’t do that with Buddhism, you can’t go to someone and ask them for things, in Thich Na Han’s Buddhism you are actually never supposed to ask for anything because you are supposed to live completely in the present and not think about the past or the future. What you want out of life or what you want to get rid of, no, you have to stay in the moment and be alive! Breath! Know you are alive, know you are lucky to be alive and live by that. This is incredibly difficult for a dreamer like me and so since I don’t follow this very basic teaching properly. So, I guess I am not a Zen Buddhist? You are not supposed to hurt anything, you are supposed to be vegan in the perfect following of this form of practice, but until very recently I have not even been able to give up meat, forget dairy. A few months ago I gave up chicken, meat, pork… basically anything that does not live in the sea. My reason it that they are treated badly in their lives whereas fish live in the sea so their death is the only bad part of our consumption and death is natural so… its ok but I know my actual reason is that I really like fish and seafood in general, and can’t give it up! And, so again I am cheating my practice. Most of all I realize I am cheating the practice by thinking of all of these things. I am not supposed to go through every step and I am not supposed to say that I am Zen Buddhist, even Thich Na Han doesn't say that, no, the whole point of the practice is to not think of it as a category but as a way of life, it is a group of steps that help you reach a fulfilling and happy life. I mean to follow them, but I don’t, so I’m stuck, I have no idea what I am and what I believe.
I really hope Christianity has got the heaven thing right because it sounds lovely (I could do without the whole idea of hell though). I love all the different gods in Hinduism, their different forms, the different things they stand for and I find it fascinating. I respect the way that the Muslims pray, it gives me a great sense of worship and community, its beautiful. The discipline held by the Jains, I have great respect for them too. I love the sort of mix between religion and culture and being that the Sikhs have, I don't know a lot about Judaism but just their strength of faith through the ages really amazes me. Confucianism’s ideas really seem to be the values that we are taught from a young age, all of them really do something for me but again they just seem like labels that highlight different ways of life that all lead to one cause, being a good person and being happy. Sorry, I know I’m rambling but to me religion is a part of life, a path that is there to give people meaning and hope but also community and love. That is what I have got out of my practice, a way to be, a path and even if I don’t follow it, it still gives me a purpose something that is right and worth living for, it gives me hope in humanity because of what it stands for, and it has given me a home and a lot of loving friends, it has created my family and I think that is the most important thing about religion, it gives us and everyone around us an identity.
Nandini is a 11th grade student at Woodstock School (Mussoorie) and is currently enrolled in a class that focuses on identity and migration.