Today I joined literally thousands of Buddhists in our area as they celebrated the Buddhist New Year at the local temple. I've driven past the temple hundreds of times - an inauspicious building off the highway - but except for a few saffron-robed monks in front had never seen much activity. I never would have imagined our city had so many Theravada Buddhists; they are the ones who celebrate the New Year this weekend. It was a festive, family occasion with stalls selling types of food I've never even seen much less tasted and people wearing jeans, tee-shirts, miniskirts and tank tops. Everyone was welcomed inside the temple, non-Buddhists as well as believers, women as well as men, where people sat together and waited patiently to receive individual blessings from the main monk.
I could not help but compare the experience with the recent CNN program "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door". When the several hundred Muslim families of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, decided to build a 52,000 square foot Islamic center in the middle of town, local residents responded with protests, vandalism, arson, and lawsuits. To me the difference is striking. In my neighborhood, thousands of Buddhists who blend into the general culture in their mannerisms and dress turn out to celebrate their faith at a small, inconspicuous temple. In Tennessee a few hundred Muslim families whose women, children, and even men often stand apart from the dominant culture even in their dress decide to build a large, imposing center and refuse to back down when asked to reconsider. I have the impression that Islam seeks to impose its presence whenever possible, and when that imposition is resisted cries of Islamophobia are quickly heard.
Even though I enjoyed the day, I'm not about to become Buddhist. I like Jesus, thank you, and still have problems with Siddhartha Gautama abandoning his young wife and newborn child forever to seek enlightenment. Even more significantly, I think Buddhism is way too pacifist. Afghanistan was once a Buddhist country, but because there was no emphasis on self-defense they had nothing with which to resist Islam when it steamrolled in and demolished Buddhism there forever.
But I welcome the Buddhists in my neighborhood. And by the way, CNN, I welcome Muslims as well. I would actually love to have "Muslims Next Door".